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The story of Jim the farmer

January 3, 1999 -

Topical Scripture: Mark 4:1-20

Every day in America 108,000 people move; the government issues 50 more pages of regulations; 40 Americans turn 100; we purchase 45,000 new cars and trucks and wreck 87,000; 20,000 people write letters to the president; dogs bit 11,000 citizens, including 20 mail carriers; we eat 75 acres of pizza, 53 million hot dogs, 167 million eggs, 3 million gallons of ice cream, and 3,000 tons of candy. We then jog 17 million miles to get rid of it all. We are busy people.

As a result, time is our most valued currency today. In every survey I’ve seen, people would trade money for more time, every time. Wouldn’t you?

If someone could show me the best way to use the little time I have, I’d listen. When this new year is over, I want to have spent it in the best way possible. I want the joy of knowing that my life this year has been worthwhile. Don’t you?

So, what will bring us our greatest sense of joyful satisfaction and significance? I’d like to answer that question with a parable today.

My parable

A young man and his wife moved to rural Mansfield, outside Fort Worth, to become pastor of New Hope Baptist Church. Someone suggested that they do some landscaping around the parsonage and plant a garden. It looked easy, and they were foolish, so they gave it a try. And they failed abysmally.

One year the pastor scattered grass seed around his back yard, but some got on the concrete porch. Before he could sweep it back into the bag the birds found it and ate it all. And he learned that the ground must be broken up before the seed can sprout.

The next year they planted where the old driveway had been. Even though it was grown over and they raked and weeded and watered, the limestone just under the surface was their undoing. The plants shot up quickly, but couldn’t get rooted and died. And he learned that the ground must be plowed down before the seed can grow.

The next year their garden started well. But they hadn’t pulled all the grass burrs and weeds out of the soil, figuring they wouldn’t hurt things. They were wrong. That year while others harvested their gardens, this couple mowed theirs. And he learned that the weeds must be pulled before the seed can survive.

Sometimes the birds eat the seed; sometimes the plant dies for lack of roots, or because of weeds. And sometimes the seed bears a great harvest, even a hundredfold. In each case the seed is the same. When the ground is broken and plowed and weeded, it can grow.

But in no case can the seed grow without a farmer. And that’s the point of Jesus’ parable, and of my horticultural failures as well. The seed needs a farmer. So does the gospel.

It is clear that the seed in Jesus’ parable is the gospel; cf. v. 14, “The farmer sows the word.” Matthew’s version calls it “the message about the kingdom” (Matthew 13.19). The farmer shares his faith, explaining the gospel to others. This is your job and mine.

If you have seed, you must sow it. It’s no good in the bag, or in your hand. It only makes a crop when it’s in the ground. If you’re a Christian—if you have the seed of the gospel in your heart and life—you must sow it. So must I.

What joy!

But we know all this. We know we should share our faith.

We’ve all heard the Great Commission: “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” We know that Jesus’ last words to the church were, “You will be my witnesses.” We know we are supposed to take Christ to our city and world. But if you’re at all like me, the thought of evangelizing others is not always a pleasant one.

Let’s be honest about it—if we liked witnessing, we’d do more of it. But the facts are clear. Scholars in evangelism estimate that ½ of 1% of Southern Baptists share their faith regularly in any given year. One percent of the Christian church’s growth is by conversions from outside the congregation. And you know that Park Cities can only document twenty-two adult conversions in 1997, though we are one of the most mission-minded and mission-giving churches in America.

If you’d known this was going to be a sermon about witnessing, how would you have felt about it? Guilty? Bored? Uninterested?

Here’s the surprise: the Bible consistently connects witnessing with joy. Not boredom, or guilt, but joy. Hebrews 12.2 says that Jesus saw his saving mission this way: “For the joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross, despising its shame.”

In Jesus’ three famous parables about lost things we find the same reaction. When the shepherd finds his lost sheep he rejoiced (Luke 15.5); when the woman finds her lost coin she rejoices and throws a party (v. 9); when the father finds his lost son he is thrilled (v. 24).

Here’s how the angels feel when someone responds to our witness by becoming a Christian: “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (v. 7).

Here’s how Paul felt about the preaching of the gospel: “Because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice” (Philippians 1.18).

Even when they were punished for witnessing, the early Christians rejoiced in the privilege of sharing their faith: “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 5.41-42).

Now, what did these early Christians know that we don’t?

Why joy?

First, they knew that the seed is good news. The “seed” in the parable is the “word” (v. 14); Matthew’s version calls it “the message about the kingdom” (Matthew 13.19).

Unfortunately, we’ve made the gospel into bad news: you’re a sinner, and you’re going to hell. Some preach on hell as though they liked it.

But the simple fact is, “gospel” means “good news.” This is the definition of the word. This is amazingly good news: you can be forgiven for every mistake you’ve ever made. God loves you and has an incredible plan for your life. You can accept his love, receive his forgiveness, and gain eternal life and significance right now!

This is good news, and we always like sharing good news. The staff has heard Leroy Summers tell us that his grandson has moved to Dallas, until we feel like he’s our grandson, too. The boys love it when I come in from church on Sundays, and the Cowboys are winning and they get to tell me. A doctor loves to tell a waiting family that the surgery was a success.

We hate to tell bad news, but we love to tell good news. How do you see the gospel?

Second, they knew that sowing is a process. We think we don’t “succeed” in witnessing unless the person becomes a Christian then and there. Because this seldom happens, we think we’re not good at it. The apostles knew better. They learned from Jesus that sowing and spiritual conversion is a process

If you’re like me, when you witness you feel as though you’re on trial, and the person you’re talking with is the prosecutor. You just hope you’ll not fail. But in fact, Jesus is on trial and the person is the jury. The Holy Spirit is the defense attorney, Satan is the prosecutor, and you’re simply called to the witness stand.

Your job is to tell what you know when the Spirit calls. You may be the first witness on the stand, and never hear the verdict; you may be the last, and hear the jury’s decision. Either way, you and I are simply witnesses. We’re not the one on trial—Jesus is.

Sowing is a process. Don’t think you have to see the verdict rendered, the harvest grown. Just do what you can as God leads you. And relax—he’s in charge, not you. Success is faithfulness. And when we’re faithful to God, we find his joy.

Third, they knew that the crop is eternal. Unlike my garden, which lasted until the fire ants took possession, this crop bears eternal fruit.

It’s wonderful when cancer goes into remission or the surgery is successful, but we will still die one day if the Lord tarries. However, human souls are eternal. They live forever, somewhere. The Bible says they will be in the bliss of heaven or the torment of hell, for all time and beyond time.

This is why taking part in someone’s eternal salvation is more important than curing them of cancer or even the world of cancer; more important than feeding a hungry man or even ending all starvation; more important than winning a war or even abolishing all war. Helping eternal souls go to heaven is the greatest work of all, and thus the most joyful.

In weeks to come you’ll hear a great deal about The Seed Initiative. All I’ll say today is that this is the most comprehensive strategy I’ve ever seen for helping a local church find the joy of sharing. It’s not just another program, but a God-given opportunity for us to discover the greatest joy the human heart can know: the privilege of sowing the seed of God’s love and seeing it bear harvest for all eternity.


For today, I simply ask you to agree with this fact: seed needs a farmer. Have you received the seed of the gospel into the soil of your heart yet? Or have you been concrete, limestone, or grass burrs?

If you’ve received the seed, would you decide today that you want to share it more fully than you ever have before? That you want the joy God can only give those who sow his seed? That you’ll be a farmer with me in this new year?

Roger Simms walked slowly along the highway. He was tired, and the suitcase he carried grew heavier by the minute. He was anxious to get out of his army uniform and see his parents and girlfriend again.

A car came into view, and Roger stuck his thumb in the air. To his surprise, the sleek, black Cadillac pulled over for him. “Thank you!” he said to the stranger inside. “Glad to help,” the man said. And they began to talk The driver’s name was Mr. Hanover, and he owned a business in Chicago.As they drove along, the Holy Spirit began to prompt Roger to witness to Mr. Hanover. But he couldn’t, he told God. He couldn’t talk to this distinguished looking businessman about spiritual things.

Finally the Spirit’s urging became so strong Roger couldn’t ignore it. “Mr. Hanover,” he said, “I would like to talk to you about something very important. I want to talk to you about your soul.” Steel gray eyes pierced Roger’s, but the man made no reply. For the next few minutes Roger poured out his soul as he explained the gospel to the man. Finally he asked him if he would like to receive Christ as his Savior.

To Roger’s astonishment, the man abruptly pulled the car to the side of the road. The businessman bowed his head over the steering wheel and began to weep. Through his tears, he prayed and received the salvation only Jesus can give.

A few minutes later he dropped Roger in front of his home. “Thank you,” he said. “This is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.” He gave Roger his business card and said, “This is where you can find me if you are ever in Chicago.”

Nothing could contain Roger’s joy, that he had helped this man come to Christ and receive eternal salvation for his soul. This was more important than anything else in the world to him.

In a few months Roger and his girlfriend Beth were married. Two years later a little boy was born to them. Roger began his own business, and it began to prosper.

Then he had to make a trip to Chicago. As he was packing his socks, he found Mr. Hanover’s business card, given to him years earlier. He decided he’d look the man up, just to see how he was getting along.

It was a Tuesday morning when Roger stepped inside the impressive doors of the Hanover Enterprises. A receptionist sat at a desk in the plush room before him. “I am Roger Simms,” he said. “I would like very much to see Mr. Hanover.” A strange look came over the woman’s face. “That is not possible, Mr. Simms. Would you like to talk with Mrs. Hanover?”

Roger was puzzled, but consented. Almost immediately he found himself face to face with a woman, in her mid-fifties, who extended her hand. “You knew my husband?” Roger said, “Yes, he picked me up when I was on my way home from the war.” “Can you tell me just when that was? I mean, what day?” Roger was sure: “It was five years ago in the spring, May seventh.

Mrs. Hanover was visibly nervous. “What did you talk about that day?” Roger hesitated, then said, “Mrs. Hanover, we talked about spiritual things.” She was incredulous, as he went on, “I talked with him about his soul.”

Her lips began to tremble. “And what was his response?” “Mrs. Hanover, he pulled over the side of the road, and gave his life to Christ that day.”

The woman began to weep—sobs from deep within her soul. Roger was confused and upset: “What is going on?” Finally she answered him: “I had prayed for my husband’s salvation for years.” “And where is your husband, Mrs. Hanover?” “He is dead,” she said. “He was in a car crash after he let you out of the car. He never got home.”

But he did, and all of heaven rejoiced. All because Roger sowed his seed. Now, who will be your Mr. Hanover this year?

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