Summary: The Gospel rarely appears so lovely, as when it is most oppressed. God’s work is never on such perfect display as it when it is under the greatest trials.
Everyone loves a story. Stories are remarkably powerful things. They stir-up our imaginations and excite our affections. They instruct us and inspire us. They intoxicate and influence us. They linger with us, often becoming more precious and poignant and powerful over time.
During His earthly teaching ministry, the Lord Jesus, who was the master teacher and preacher, often used stories and illustrations as He instructed the crowds of people who flocked to hear Him. Many refer to these types of stories as “parables.” There are about fifty different parables of Christ recorded in the Gospels. In fact, about one-third of all of Jesus’ recorded sayings are parables.
Just as marriage is not merely a slip of paper and a big ceremony, the Christian faith is not merely a one-time confession of Christ accompanied by occasional church attendance. Throughout the River Valley, multitudes of people claim various religious experiences. Some have had a religious experience as a young child… others have seen visions and heard voices… and still others give only mental assent to the Bible’s doctrines. So many people claim to have genuine experiences that make them a “Christian” [use air quotes here.] Yet, many people have religious experiences that FADE over time.
What makes Christianity more “sticky” in some? What is the proof that determines if a person truly follows Christ? Or, what makes a Christian a Christian? How can you confidently know if you are a truly follower of Christ?
Today, we continue a sermon series, entitled Digger Deeper. This series is designed to answer, “What is a true follower of Christ look like?” It’s designed to answer questions just below the surface that affect the surface. Throughout the series, we’re digging for bedrock in the words of Jesus Himself. Surely, the founder of Christianity will give us solid answers on what His followers look like.
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.’
‘Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty’” (Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23).
Lukewarm faith is alive and well in churches today. The Barna Group reports that about ten million self-proclaimed born-again Christians have not been in church the last six months. Nearly all of these ten million people say their faith is important to them, but their spiritual life has nothing to do with church. Rodney Stark surveyed members of prominent evangelical mega churches and found:
• Only 46% attend services weekly;
• Only 46% tithe;
• Only 33% read the Bible daily;
• Only 44% witnesses to Non-Christians.
Contemporary Christians report that they are not satisfied with their spiritual health. In recent survey, the same church members who considered themselves “Christ-centered” or “close to Christ” also viewed themselves as “spiritually stalled.” The “spiritually stalled” spend more time showering and talking on the phone than reading their Bible in any given week. The problem of biblical discipleship is a colossal problem for contemporary churches. Members often don’t know where to turn to connect with other believers on a meaningful level. Pastors feel pressurized to preach short, airy sermons aimed at the practical and psychological ‘needs’ of the people. Church members see churches as service-providers where little time is focused on feeding the people the Word of God.