Welcome to everybody at all seven of our locations, including our newest campus, Gainesville! Thanks for being part of what God is doing here at NCC and letting us be a part of what God is doing in your life. We continue the series ‘Work the Plan’ but before we jump in, let me put one thing on your radar. In two weeks, our next issue of Traction Magazine will release. It will give you the 411 on all of our small groups here at NCC. You will get a lot of articles and tools that will also help you come up with a game plan for spiritual growth in 2014. We will give you a Bible reading plan for the first six months of the year and we will also highlight a variety of groups that can help you with anything from your physical health. If you are struggling with an addiction, and who hasn’t at some point in their life? We’ve got some groups that can help you with that. And then you’ll find some suggestions on books to read and apps to download. So it is going to be awesome! It releases in two weeks and we will put copy in your hands.
Let me flash back for one moment to last weekend when I asked you to consider doing a 10-day Daniel fast at some point in the month of January. I’m not going to talk about it again this weekend other than to re-issue that challenge. I’m going to do my Daniel fast from January 21 to 31 and if you haven’t determined the dates yet, that is the first step. Find 10 days in your calendar to fast. Then, once you determine those dates, then you define your diet. It is not too complicated. Traditionally, a Daniel fast is fruits and vegetables. I just want to let you know that to prepare for my Daniel fast, this weekend I’m taking Lora out on a date to Fogo de Chao! I will eat enough meat for 10 days! And then I will fast meat and eat fruits and vegetables. I think sometimes we feel like we have to cover ourselves in ash and wear sack cloth but what I’m saying is fasting, we can have a little bit of fun with it too. I think you prepare yourself it. You ramp into it and psych yourself up almost like a boot camp. I think fasting is a boot camp, so determine your dates and define your diet. You might do a sun up to sun down thing, which is cheating a little bit because it is winter and the days are so short! Or it might be a liquid diet but whatever it is, determine the dates and define your diet and let me throw one other thing out there, the purpose of fasting isn’t just to cut certain foods from your physical diet, it is also to add something to your spiritual diet. In fact, let’s just start with a huge helping of Scripture! When you fast, you’ve got to eat some serious Word. You have to devour some Scripture. That is part of the purpose of a fast. And of course we want to be praying and worship and I’ve found fasting can help us do those things. I believe this Daniel fast will set the tone for 2014.
Turn over to Luke Chapter 8 and I want to talk about the power of a single seed. But before we get to the parable of the seed and the sower, I love the preface to this particular parable. Luke includes it in his gospel for a reason so we probably shouldn’t skip over it. So, the first few verses of Luke’s gospel, Chapter 8
Soon afterward Jesus began a tour of the nearby towns and villages, preaching and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom of God. He took his twelve disciples with him,2 along with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons;3 Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and many others who were contributing from their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples.
Have you ever noticed this part of the Bible? Let me pause here for a moment. If you purchased one share of Coca-Cola stock in 1919 and simply held that one share, by the year 2000, it would have split into 4,608 and that original $40 investment, if you had kept re-investing the dividends, would be worth about seven million dollars. Now that we are all depressed! If your great-great-great grandparents had purchased one share of the original Coca-Cola stock in 1892, that $100 investment would be worth 7.34 billion dollars. I just want to put us in an investment frame of mind. I love that Luke includes these women in his gospel. They form an investment club, if you will, and put all of their stock in Jesus. They were angel investors. They got in on the IPO, the initial public offering of kingdom stock. The first woman mentioned is Mary Magdalene. She had not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, but seven demons cast out of her. In other words, she didn’t just have an issue, she had lots of serious issues! But she was there from the very beginning wasn’t she, investing in Jesus and in the gospel message and in the kingdom of God that Jesus announced. Then what is interesting is she was there at the very end too. When all the disciples scattered, who was at the cross and who was at the empty tomb? Mary Magdalene! And by the way, Augustine referred to her as the apostle to the apostles. I like that.
The second woman mentioned is Joanna and her husband is Herod’s chief of staff! Stop and think about this. Her husband gets his paycheck from the Roman Empire! And then she re-invests it in the kingdom of God. How cool is that! Then there is Susanna, Luke doesn’t say anything about her, and then many others who are unnamed. Let me make a simple observation, a good reminder at the beginning of the New Year. The most secure investment you can make is in the kingdom of God. I want to tell you that when you invest in National Community Church or any other kingdom cause, for that matter, from Compassion International to World Vision, anybody that is preaching and practicing the gospel, it is the most secure investment you can make. And make no mistake, you are buying shares in kingdom stock. When Jesus said do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven when neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. We know that is true. If you own any stock in other companies, when you open up the newspaper or get online to check stock, where do you look first? To whatever company you own stock in because that’s the one you care about! The whole market can crash as long as my stock is doing ok, right? When you invest your time, talent and treasure into the kingdom of God, your heart is there. That’s all you care about because everything you are and everything you have is invested in that eternal kingdom.
This is amazing, stick with me, investment mindset, the most secure investment you can make, this is awesome, the greatest ROI, return on investment, eternal dividends that are out of this world. Pun intended! Compound interest for eternity. And we thought one share of Coca-Cola would be good. How about a share of God’s kingdom?
I came across this recently and when I find something that I think you might enjoy, I usually try to share it. It reveals how much money you would have if you had invested in the stock of a company instead of buying one of their products. In 1972, you could get a toaster at Wal-Mart for $15.95. If you put that cash into Wal-Mart stock trading at four cents a share, your Wal-Mart stock would be worth $30,403 today. Could you do without toast for that $30,000? In 1982, you could buy a Ford Mustang for $6,572 or you could have invested the money into Ford, the stock was trading at 26 cents, you could have purchased 25,277 shares which would be worth $399,375. And in 1990, the Macintosh Classic cost $1,500. The stock was trading at $6.45, you could purchase 232 shares, I checked it, 50 day moving average of Apple stock, $549, would have netted you $127,368. Here’s my point. I want to buy as much kingdom stock as I possibly can. No one ever bet too much money on a winning horse. The winning horse is the white horse that Jesus will jockey when He returns to rapture his church! Can I get an Amen?
Let’s jump into this parable.
4 One day Jesus told a story in the form of a parable to a large crowd that had gathered from many towns to hear him:5 “A farmer went out to plant his seed. As he scattered it across his field, some seed fell on a footpath, where it was stepped on, and the birds ate it.6 Other seed fell among rocks. It began to grow, but the plant soon wilted and died for lack of moisture.7 Other seed fell among thorns that grew up with it and choked out the tender plants.8 Still other seed fell on fertile soil. This seed grew and produced a crop that was a hundred times as much as had been planted!” When he had said this, he called out, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”
If you didn’t know any better, you would think that Jesus was a farmer, not a carpenter. Most of the stories He told had some kind of agricultural metaphor to illustrate spiritual truth. I honestly think it is because one of his best ideas was the seed. One of his greatest creations was the seed.
11 Then God said, “Let the land sprout with vegetation—every sort of seed-bearing plant, and trees that grow seed-bearing fruit. These seeds will then produce the kinds of plants and trees from which they came.” And it was so.
And we just keep reading. If you had never seen a beautiful watermelon that is green outside and red inside, would you ever in a million years imagine it came from a little black seed? There’s no way. If you saw that little black seed, you hadn’t seen it and didn’t know what it was, you wouldn’t believe it could produce something so beautiful and, yay, so delicious! If you had never seen a tulip or a rose or a carnation or a sunflower, you would never believe that it came from a seed, a very non-descript seed that is just planted in the ground. And that is true of everything. But my favorite is the redwood. A mature redwood measures up to 22 feet wide, 367 feet tall. You stand in the shadow of a redwood, it is like standing in the shadow of God. When I went out to Yosemite and I saw those trees, magnificent creations of God! As a point of reference, 367 feet is a 36 story skyscraper. As another point of reference, the Capitol is 289 feet tall. The root system of a redwood goes down 13 feet and stretches out in an 80 foot radius. It can live more than two millenniums because of its unique ability to recycle and regenerate in ways that we don’t have time to talk about. Here’s the amazing thing, the redwood was once a tiny little seed like everything else, the size of a tomato seed you plant in your garden. And for those at our urban campuses, a garden is a place in the ground where you plant things that can go! A mature redwood produces up to 400,000 seeds of its own kind every year. My point? It only makes sense that Jesus would use a seed as a metaphor to describe a profound spiritual trust because it is one of his most amazing creations.
9 His disciples asked him what this parable meant.
11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is God’s word.
The most amazing seed in the world, more amazing than aloe or stevia or ginseng or St. John’s Wart, is the Word of God. The Word is an incredible seed that can take root and bear fruit in our lives unlike anything else. This is the only Book that is living and active and sharper than a double-edged sword. The seed of the Word of God is a powerful thing. The prophet Isaiah described it this way in Chapter 55:
As the rain and snow come down from heaven and do not return without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my Word that goes out from my mouth, it will not return to me empty but it will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
In no uncertain terms, the key to spiritual growth is planting lots of seed. There is no substitute. There is no short-cut. There is no exception. You’ve got to let the Word germinate in your spirit. You’ve got to let it take root so it can bear fruit.
So let’s get down to brass tax. If you do one thing this year, one goal, one habit, one resolution, make it a Bible reading plan. If you don’t have a plan, you cannot work the plan.
A number of years ago, I heard J. I. Packer say something that was life changing for me. He said any Christian worth his salt reads the Bible from cover to cover every year. Let me be the first person to say that I have not read the Bible from cover to cover every year. Let’s level the playing field. Is there anybody here this weekend who has read the Bible too much this past year? No! All of us fall short. But I couldn’t argue with what J. I. Packer said and I think one goal, one habit, one discipline that could foster more spiritual growth in your life than anything else would be to read the Bible from cover to cover this year. What about prayer? What about worship? Well, if you don’t read the Bible, what do you have to pray about? You don’t know what God is saying. And if you aren’t reading the Bible, what are you worshiping? The Bible is where God reveals who He is and what He has done. So the Bible begins to form a basis for our prayer life and for our worship life. What I’m saying is, get into God’s Word every day. When you open the Bible, God opens his mouth. When you close the Bible, God closes his mouth. It is that simple. Closing the Bible is the equivalent of doing this. It is pointing the remote at God and hitting the mute button. It is saying to God I don’t want to hear, I don’t need to hear what You have to say today.
We take the Bible for granted. Zoom out with me for a second and let’s see if we can appreciate the Good Book a little bit more.
In his edition, Light Magazine, ranked the 100 most important events of the last millennium. At the top of the list, ranked as the most important event of the last 1,000 years was Johan Guttenberg’s printing press. Now for what it is worth, Guttenberg got the idea from the olive press, concocted a cheap alloy of led and tin and meticulously calibrated a mold and developed smudge-resistant ink from lamp black, turpentine and linseed oil. In case you ever go on Jeopardy. It required two years to set the type face for the first Guttenberg Bible. An average of one day for one worker to set one page. Finally, in 1455, Guttenberg printed 200 type-set Bibles. Before Guttenberg, there were 30,000 bound books on the entire European continent. By 1500, but 50 years after Guttenberg’s printing press, there were more than 9 million books in circulation. Before the printing press, monks would spend an entire lifetime making one copy of the Bible on parchment. They placed an estimable value on one copy of Scripture because an entire life had been devoted to copy it so that it could be put into someone’s hand.
Now, fast forward, two billion copies of the Bible have been printed in the last 100 years. That’s 38 Bibles every minute every hour every day for the last 100 years. We take the Bible for granted. You can choose any number of translations or types or covers ever colors. You can choose large print or ultra-thin. What we forget is that 500 years ago, the Bible was chained to a pulpit. In 1525, William Tyndale, an English contemporary of Martin Luther, undertook a translation of the New Testament. Tyndale’s translation was the first printed Bible in English. Wycliffe had done some work but the first printed Bible in English. Eventually, Tyndale was betrayed by his friend, Henry Philips, to the Imperial authorities and was arrested in Antwerp in 1535 and held in a castle and tried on a charge of heresy in 1536 for translating the Bible into English and was condemned to be burned to death. Tyndale was ultimately strangled to death at the stake and then his dead body was burned. Now, the strangulation didn’t entirely work. He revived when he was set on fire. Those who were eye-witnesses record that when he was revived, his very last words were a prayer and his prayer was this, ‘Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.’ Within four years, his prayer was answered and at the same king’s request, four English translations of the Bible were published in England and those Bibles became the foundation for every other Bible including the King James Bible, the Bible that I happen to be reading through this year. Someone died for this. That’s my point.
Let’s get practical with three simple steps. Number one, choose a Bible. Choose a Bible. I grew up with the NIV, New International Version. About 15 years ago, I discovered the New Living Translation, the NLT and it became my translation of choice. When I quote Scripture in a message, 8 times out of 10, it is the New Living Translation. But then what I do every year, to rediscover the Bible, is I choose a different translation. Last year, it was the ESB, the English Standard Version and this year I’m going old school, the King James Version. It is written in Shakespearean language that can be tough to decipher but it is probably the most poetic version of the Bible. And I love it! Choose a Bible.
While we are on the subject, can I remind you that your life is a unique translation of the Bible. Let’s forget NIV, ESB, NLT, KJV. I am the MAB. I’m the Mark Batterson version of the Bible. Last week, I preached from Psalm 90 but we focused on the phrase teach us to number our days. But verse 9 is one of my favorite passages this year. Psalm 90:9 in the King James Version, is says we spend our year as a tale that is told. I love that! I want to tell a tall tale of God’s goodness and God’s greatness. So one of the questions that the Lord gave me at the beginning of this year, one of my prayers, Lord, make me a better translation. Make me a better translation because I am the only Bible that some people will ever read. So, go online, go to a bookstore, choose a Bible.
Number two, choose a reading plan. You can find dozens of reading plans by downloading the U-version app. They have a daily reading plan that you can tailor. You can read through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. You can read through it chronologically. You can get a dose of the Old Testament and a dose of the New Testament. There are hundreds of Bible reading plans. My recommendation is that you choose one and then you work that plan. It can’t be eany-meany-miney-moe. You’ve probably heard about the guy whose Bible study method was the flip and point. He would flip open the Bible and then point because he needed a word from God. So one day, he did that and slipped open to Matthew 27:5, Judas went and hung himself. He thought to himself that was not very uplifting so he flipped again and pointed to Luke 10:37 that said go thou and do likewise. So that doesn’t work so well! You need a plan beyond the flip and point. I have an app on my phone and it is the key to my physical health, I’m convinced of it. I track everything I eat and all of my exercise. And when I don’t track what I eat and my exercise, I lose track and I get off track. In other words, my physical health gets totally derailed if I’m not tracking it. That’s why we need a Bible reading plan. Because if you don’t keep track, you will lose track and you will get off track and you will derail and one thing will lead to another and it will be weeks and months since you last picked up the Bible to read it.
John Quincy Adams, our sixth President, was more than a distinguished statesmen, he was an avid student of Scripture. I don’t have time to talk about his political resume although it is interesting, he was the only President to have served in Congress before and after his presidency. What most Americans don’t know about Adams is his practice to read through the Bible in its entirety every year. It was during his 10 years as a diplomat overseas that Adams became concerned that his youngest son, Charles Frances Adam, learn how to study the Bible. As a result, he wrote nine letters between 1811 and 1813 just teaching his son how to strategically study the Bible. Those letters were actually published in book form in 1848. Not a bad example to follow.
So choose a Bible, choose a reading plan, and number three, start reading! Jewish rabbis said that every word of Scripture has 70 faces and 600,000 meanings. When I first discovered that, I fell in love with that idea. 70 faces. In other words, the Word of God is kaleidoscopic. It is like, who was it that said you never step in the same river twice? You never read the same verse twice the same way. What is amazing is, the same Spirit of God that inspired the writers of Scripture helps illuminate those Scriptures to us as the readers. The Word doesn’t change, but no matter where you are at, it is omni-relevant to our lives. You can read the Bible your entire life and never get to the bottom of it because it is so full of truth.
Psalm 119:99 says I have more insight than all my teachers for I meditate on your statures. This is going to sound sacrilegious but the Bible is not meant to be read, it is meant to be meditated. Reading without meditating is like eating without digesting. Reading is the way you get through the Bible. Meditating is the way you get the Bible through you. The goal isn’t to be a speed reader and get the A plus for reading through it the fastest. The goal is, how are we going to let the Word of God get through us? How are we going to let that seed take root and bear fruit in our lives?
So choose a translation, choose a reading plan, and start reading. But don’t just read it, pray it, memorize it, meditate it and then translate it with your life.
We are going to skip to the end of this parable. Verse 15
15 And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest. We live in a culture that celebrates 15 minutes of fame instead of a lifetime of faithfulness. I think this parable is a corrective. The key word is patiently. We want things to happen in the speed of light but in God’s kingdom, they generally happen at the speed of a seed planted in the ground. One of my favorite plants is the bamboo. When it is planted, there is no visible growth for up to five years. You wouldn’t know that you planted anything but during that time, it is growing a root system that stretches for miles. When it finally breaks the surface, it can grow at an astounding rate of two and a half feet per day. Within six weeks, it can grow to a height of 90 feet. The visible growth is a by-product of the invisible growth that was happening beneath the surface. This isn’t complicated, we’ve got to plant the Word in our heart, in our spirits and it might not break the surface for a long time but that day is going to come that you need that promise to stand on. The day is going to come when you need that verse you have memorized. Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee. I said it last week, let me say it again. Do no despise the day of small beginnings. Tiny little seeds, that’s how everything starts. We tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in a year and we underestimate what God can accomplish in a decade. But you’ve got to plant the right seed and it starts with the Word of God. The longer I live and lead, the more I believe in long obedience in the same direction. I ripped that off from Eugene Peterson. Long obedience in the same direction.
I met with a 78 year old pastor this week who has pastored the same church for 41 years. I find myself more and more trying to hang out with people like. By the way, I was hoping I wasn’t being rude but I asked him, ‘How do you know when it is time to quit?’ I will not forget what he said to me. Without stopping to think about because he knew, ‘When I lose the burden to pastor people, when God stops giving me sermons or my physical health fails me. Until then, I’m going to keep on keeping on.’ I love that.
Let me close with this. A number of years ago, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea of the 10,000 hour rule in his brilliant book Outliers. One of the studies he cited involved violinists at Berlin’s Elite Academy of Music who were divided into three categories. You had your world class soloists, your professional level violinists and your amateurs who were definitely above average musicians but would never play professionally. All the violinists began playing at roughly the same age and practiced the same amount until they diverge at the age of eight. The researchers found that by the age of 20, the world class soloists had logged about 10,000 hours of practice. The professional violinists has totaled about 8,000 and the amateur musicians had practiced about 4,000 hours. They did the same study with pianists, found the same pattern. What is fascinating to me is that they didn’t find a single musician in the world class grouping that had practiced less than 10,000 hours. There was not a single exception to the 10,000 hour rule. Neurologist Daniel Levitin says that the emerging picture from such studies is that 10,000 hours of practice is required to achieve a level of mastery associated with being a world class expert in anything. In study after study of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, what have you, this number comes up again and again. No one has yet found a case in which true world class expertise was accomplished in less time.
You can’t cheat the system. There are no short cuts. And that’s true of everything. If you want to improve your physical health, you need to put in time and effort. But if you exercise for 30 minutes three times a week, it will add up to better health. If you don’t, it won’t.
Here’s my last point. You cannot break the law of sowing and reaping. Galatians 6 says do not be deceived, God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The word ‘deceived’ in its original language means to wander. To wander is to move in a direction without a destination in mind. No plan. Don’t be deceived. God cannot be mocked. I love this classic quote from Dallas Willard. He said not going to London or Atlanta is a poor plan for going to New York. That’s obvious but that’s how many of us approach our spiritual growth. I’m definitely not going to Atlanta. I’m not going to London. But how are you going to get to New York? What is your plan to get from here to there? God cannot be mocked. It literally is to turn your nose up at someone, in this case, God. Bad idea! A man reaps what he sows. Here’s my translation, if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you will keep getting what you’ve always got. The way we say it around NCC, if you want God to do something new, you can’t keep doing the same old thing. You have to do something different. Health is a harvest, wealth is a harvest, holiness is a harvest, everything is a harvest. You cannot break the law of sowing and reaping. It will make or break you.
So what are we going to plant in 2014? This is less about planning and more about planting. What seeds are we going to plant in 2014? Let’s start with the Word of God. It will not return empty.
Lord, help us to not just be hearers of your Word but to be doers of it. God may be take this word to heart and put it into practice. God help us establish this discipline, this habit. May your Word, the seed of your Word, take root and bear fruit in our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.