Blake Holmes teaches on the parable of the sower in Mark 4. In this parable we learn that God offers His word as an invitation to know His great love for us that results in a changed life. Blake unpacks the descriptions of the different soils described in the parable and challenges us to evaluate the receptivity of our hearts to God's word.

Scripture References: Mark 4:1-20 , 2 Corinthians 4 , Matthew 6

Blake Holmes

About Blake Holmes

I am the proud husband to one beautiful bride and the father of four children. Currently, I serve as the Senior Equipping Pastor and Director of the Watermark... Read more

Message Transcript
Good morning. I want to start us off this morning by asking you a question, and I'm going to go ahead and tell you that those under 40 are at a distinct disadvantage. What are these? Note cards, yes, but a little more specifically, letters. Yes, to the general eye these are letters. To me, these are gold. You see, I happened to date during a time where there was no iPhone, no email… Can you believe that? Some of you are like, "How did you live?" That's right. No email. No texting. No iPhones. No Facebook. No anything…except the letter. I got an opportunity one summer to go study abroad and was living in London, and my girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife, was at Pine Cove at a Christian sports camp, leading kids and all of these fun activities where there were other guy counselors running around, and I couldn't communicate with her as often as I wanted to. Truly, I'm sitting there… I'm in London. This is an opportunity of a lifetime. My professor is like, "Hey, we're going to go see the Churchill War Rooms." You know, Big Ben, parliament, going to France, Eiffel Tower. All of those things were great, and I was looking forward to all of those things every day, but I didn't look forward to anything as much as I looked forward to the same blue paper, because every day she wrote, and it was on blue stationery. Even if I got other letters during the day, the thing I always raced for was the blue letter, because I wanted to hear from her. So I'd rip this thing open. Some of you have never had the mystery of a letter. Like, handwritten. I would look at it. Fellows in here, you know what I'm talking about if you're over 40, if you ever got a letter like this. Everything matters. The salutation, how she greeted you. Was it just your name? Was it "Dear [your name]"? Was it some nice little pet name? What did she say? Then was it just the basic kind of "How are you?" at the beginning, which everybody seems to start with. You get through that. How did she end the letter? Did it have just a heart and then her name? Did it say "Love"? Did it say, "I love you"? Then you were getting somewhere. I mean, a heart and then her name… You got that from just casual friends. I know you have emoticons and all that stuff now, but this meant something. You would look at how she signed it. I looked forward every day… What was in the mail? A heart and then the name. I'm kind of thinking, "Well, is she talking to some guy counselors right now? What does heart and then the name mean?" I wanted to know what she wanted to share with me that day, and I was anxious to write her. Let me ask you something, and I want you to think about this. How anxious are you to hear from God's Word? How excited are you every day to want to know what God has to say to you? How many of you believe…I mean, sincerely believe…that this book right here contains the very Word of God and he wants to communicate to you? How many of you believe that? You see, truly, every day… Yeah, there was Big Ben and Parliament and all of those other things, but I wanted to know what Rebecca had to say to me. Do you open up the Bible believing God, today, wants to communicate with you because he loves you and wants to share his message with you? This morning, we're going to talk about the priority of hearing God's Word, and not just hearing but responding to God's Word. If you brought your Bible, turn to Mark, chapter 4, or if you brought your phone, dial up Mark, chapter 4. Times have changed. We're going to look at a parable. A parable was just an extended analogy, if you will, that was told by Jesus to engage listeners. It was to create reflection but promote action. This parable is called the _parable of the sower_. It is the parable that unlocks all of the other parables. How do I know that? Because I'm going to read you Jesus' story, his parable, and then in verse 13 you'll see that he says to them… His disciples ask him questions. They say, "Hey, what does this mean?" He says, "Do you not understand this parable? How, then, will you understand all the parables?" In other words, "Hey, this is central to everything I'm about to tell you." This parable is repeated in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It is told three different times. It is the parable of all parables. It's the foundation. "You have to get this one right," Jesus is saying. The book of Mark has kind of two primary teaching sections. It's not known for its teaching as much as it is its miracles. In Matthew Jesus gives five messages. In Luke he gives parables. In Mark there are a lot of miracles. There's not a whole lot of teaching here, but when he starts his teaching ministry he starts with this: the parable of the sower. It's a parable about hearing and responding to God's Word. We're going to see three things this morning. The first thing we're going to see based on this parable is that the Lord invites all of us to know and follow him. The Lord has a message he wants all of us to hear, all of us to understand, and it's an invitation. The second thing you're going to see is that some of us will accept the Lord's invitation and others will reject it, for a variety of reasons. Then we'll talk about how we can accept the Lord's invitation. Turn and look at Mark, chapter 4, and I want to set the setting for you so you can understand what's going on. It's found in verses 1-2. **"Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them…"** I want you to picture for a second. Jesus' ministry has really just begun, and there is a large crowd that has gathered around him. The people in this crowd represent a lot of various responses to Jesus. You have the _skeptical_, the people maybe in the back who have their arms crossed. They're not smiling. They're not really excited about Jesus' message. In fact, they feel threatened by it. They're skeptical. They're hard-hearted. They're sitting there, and they're kind of like _this_. "What are you going to say to me today?" But they're drawn, because they've heard rumors about this one who is to come who claims to be the Messiah, who evidently gives sight to the blind and allows the deaf to hear. Then there are those in the crowd who are a little bit more of the _seekers_, those who are open but cautious. They've heard. They hope maybe this _is_ the long-awaited Messiah, the one the Old Testament prophets spoke of. Then you have the _sincere_, maybe those who are a little bit closer to the sea. They believe. They've heard him. They've seen him. Jesus at this time, at the beginning of his ministry, is attracting a crowd. It's the year of popularity. There are so many people around him he pushes off into this boat to back away from the crowd so people can hear him. They're all listening, and Jesus knows that not all will accept his message. Mark even gives us this indication in the beginning first two chapters of his gospel. He shows us the varied responses just in two chapters. People have already become divided based on who he is and what his message is. In chapter 3, verse 21, his own family says he's out of his mind. You'd be tempted to believe that too if Jesus were your brother, knowing the claims he has made. His brothers are looking at him going, "He's out of his mind." Then you have the religious leaders in chapter 3, verse 22. They think he receives power from Satan. They think all the works he's doing and the miracles he's performing are empowered by the Devil. They flat-out rejected him. What's ironic about this in Mark's gospel… What you see from the very get-go in chapter 1, verse 24, is that the demons of hell know exactly who he is. One of them bows right before Jesus and says, "I know who you are. You're the Holy One of God." Jesus knows his ministry and his message will increasingly divide the crowds. He says in one place, "I don't come to bring peace, but I come to bring a sword. And guess what? As you come to follow me and know more about me, it is going to divide even your own household. Those in your own household, those of your own next of kin and blood…you're going to be divided. Some of you are going to accept me, and some of you are going to reject me." To start his teaching ministry, this is the parable he tells. He compares the way people respond to his message with a sower who goes and throws a seed. Look at this. Verse 3: **"'Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away.** **Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.' And he said, 'He who has ears to hear, let him hear.'"** Notice that the sower almost seems to be reckless. Wasteful, if you will. He indiscriminately throws the seed. Some falls on the path. Some falls on the rocky ground, the thorns. Some falls on the good soil. It's like the farmer is going and just throwing the seed like _this_. It's like he doesn't even have a care. He's just throwing it. I think this is God's way of trying to tell us he's not trying to be exclusive here. He wants every one of us to have the opportunity to respond. He's not holding back. The problem is not with the seed. The problem is not with the sower. The problem is going to be with the response. The parable begins in verse 3 with the word _listen_. You'll see all throughout chapter 4 the word _hear_ repeated. Verse 9: "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." In verse 15 you see the word _hear_ again. Verse 16, verse 18, verse 20. In verse 23 it's repeated twice. In verse 24 it's repeated again. "Hear. Hear. Hear. Hear." Just a general observation. This is a parable about hearing God's Word. When we step away from Mark 4 and look at all of Scripture, we see that's a theme that runs throughout all of Scripture. Psalm 19:1-2 talks about how the heavens declare the glory of God. Romans 1 talks about how all creation shouts of God's existence. Paul goes on to make the argument that God has given us a conscience, that every man has a conscience, which is a fingerprint of God's work in our lives. The Old Testament prophets speak of God. His Son Jesus Christ. Colossians 1 talks about how Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God. Second Peter 1:19-21 talks about how God has given us his Word. Second Corinthians 5:20 talks about how there are people in our lives who serve as ambassadors. It's as if God is desperately trying to communicate with us through a variety of means. He wants to get his message out, and his message is an invitation. He wants you to hear it. It was just a couple of years ago that my family and I were getting ready for school and work, and my wife was serving breakfast. We have four kids at home, three girls and a boy. You know what it's like to have young kids. They can tell some stories. Sometimes they tell stories, and you're kind of like, "Okay, we're going to let that slide. That's just youthful exuberance." Then they tell a story and you're like, "Okay, hey, that's prone to exaggeration, borderline falsehood." So this is going to be a good teachable moment for me, because my son is telling us something that I'm just very skeptical of. I'm like, "There's no way that's true." We're sitting there, and I'm making eggs or whatever. He runs in from outside and says, "Hey, Dad, Mom! There are owls in our backyard." I've lived in Dallas all my life. I've never seen an owl in my backyard. Maybe I'm just not as observant as my son. I've never seen an owl (one) in my backyard, and I certainly have not seen owls (plural). He comes in and says, "There are owls in our backyard." I'm thinking, "No, son. They're not owls." He runs outside. He comes back and goes, "No, no, no, Dad. There are owls in our backyard." I'm growing increasingly a little irritated, because now the girls are excited about the owls, and they're going to go out there, and there aren't going to be any owls. I feel like now is the time for me to step in and help him recognize, "Hey, when you say things and it turns out not to be true, then people won't believe you." This whole thing about this boy and this wolf. So I'm now going to go outside, but he has already come back inside. "Mom, get your camera! Get your camera!" I'm like, "Man, we are really making a big deal about this." "Dad, there are at least a dozen owls in the backyard." The fish now is _this_ big. I'm thinking, "Come on. There are not a dozen owls." So I put everything down and walk outside, and this is what I see. This is a picture of the trees. Now you probably look at that from a distance and go, "Okay, I don't see much." If you look a little closer you might see _this_. Gang, he was wrong. There were not 12 owls out there. There were probably 18 or 20 owls out there. I don't know how many owls there were, but there were owls, plural. I was dumbfounded. I was like, "There are owls." Of course, my son is sitting there saying, "I told you! There are owls in our backyard." You could hear them. I've never seen anything like it. The funny, ironic thing…I kid you not…this morning, 5:30, cup of coffee, looking over what I want to share this morning, and I hear the owls in my backyard again. It's like God is just laughing at me. I could hear my son's voice in my head laughing at me. "There are owls, and they're back." My son was desperate for us to hear something, to see something. He was going in and out, wanting to take pictures. He got louder and louder and more exuberant. "Hey, there are owls! There are owls!" I was that guy like _this_. "No. No owls." My wife is probably more in the middle, and my daughters are like, "I bet there _are_ owls." You need to know that there is a God in heaven who's throwing seed right now because he wants you to hear his message. He wants you to see that there's something much greater than owls living in Dallas. He wants you to know that Christmas is something much greater than trees and unwrapped gifts and stuff and food. God wants you to hear a message that he loves you and that no matter where you've been or what you've done or however long it has been that you've been in church or no matter how much guilt and shame wrecks your life right now… Whatever past decision you made over this past year that you just think "There's no way I would ever tell anybody," or maybe even over this past week, you need to know there's a God in heaven who loves you. In fact, that's Mark's whole point. That's the whole gospel message. That's why we celebrate Christmas. Mark paints a world in his gospel. There is a world that has been overtaken by sin, death, disease, famine, blindness, deafness, hurt, pain, guilt, broken families, broken relationships, unrealized expectations, broken dreams, poverty, hunger, war, all of that, and Jesus comes crashing into the world, on the scene, as a deliverer, as a rescuer, as a baby. The long-awaited one, the Promised One, is born to offer us hope, and he has come as fully man so he can serve as our substitute, because you cannot be a substitute for that which you are not. He comes as a man so he can take our place, be our substitute, pay our penalty, but he's also fully God, so he's without sin. As the God-man, fully God, fully man, he has come. Mark 10:45 says, **"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."** That's Christmas. God has a message he wants all of you to understand, he wants all of you to hear. The farmer is throwing the seed for anybody who will listen. There are owls in the backyard. Hear me when I tell you God wants you to know the message of Christmas, and it's not about getting your life right. It's not about New Year's resolutions. It's not about trying harder. It's not about determining to be better this year. It's about yielding to Christ. It's about accepting that message. But just like then, so today. Not all of us will accept that message. Jesus is going to make that point. In verses 13-20, he says the receptivity of our hearts determines how we're going to respond to God's message. In verses 13-15, he describes the seed that falls on the path. **"And he said to them, 'Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word.'"** The seed is the Word of God, the message, the invitation. **"And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them."** There are those of us who, just like then, are about right _here_. Our arms are crossed. Our heart is closed. Our mind is closed. We reject even the notion, the idea of the supernatural. Our presupposition is that there's no way God entered into this world. We live in a closed system, a humanistic, materialistic system that's here because of time plus chance plus matter, and nothing miraculous has occurred. This God we speak of is just for those who are weak-minded. What you need to know is that we live in the midst of a spiritual battle. In 2 Corinthians 4:4, Paul says, **"In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God."** Do you know that? Do you know we have an Enemy who doesn't want us to see? That's what Jesus is saying. It's like the seed is thrown on that hard path, and it can't take root. Immediately when we hear, we're not even open to discussion. We don't even want to hear. In fact, we're probably offended. It's like the bird who comes and takes the seed and flies away. There's another response. Verses 16-17 says, **"And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy."** Notice it's not enough to just receive it with joy. Verse 17: **"And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away."** The first people just disregard God's Word. That's the hard path. The others, the rocky ground… Those folks disengage from God's Word when life gets tough. Maybe this describes some of you or a season in your life. We went to camp. We were excited about what God had to offer us. We went to church when we were a kid. We were excited. We believed. We had parents who taught us the truth of God's Word. We were excited, but then life got hard. We were overlooked for that promotion. We didn't get that job. Death came knocking for our loved one. We got that diagnosis. We didn't get into that school. We never got to date that girl. Then we just believed, "You know what? Maybe God is not good. Maybe God is not as powerful as I thought he was." So we disengage, like God reneged on his promise. We can no longer take him at his word. Maybe you've been there before. Then there are those verses 18-19 describes, the seed thrown among the thorns. **"And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful."** Those are the ones who are distracted from God's Word by the cares of this world. This speaks directly to what Jesus was saying when he warned us about the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches. What does he say in Matthew 6? **"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, where 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. […] No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money."** Jesus is saying, "Hey, look. If you're going to follow me… I want everybody to follow me, but understand there's going to come a time where some of you are going to follow, and then you're going to have to make a choice. You're going to come to a fork in the road. The cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, the desire for comfort, the desire to make a bigger name, have a bigger office, a greater career, a nicer car, better brand-name things… Those are going to become the idols you worship. You may go to church and you may show up and you may play the game, but your heart is not with me." What's so deceptive about materialism is materialism is something we tend to think only exists in those with a higher income bracket than us. It's the guy who makes more money. _He's_ the one who's guilty of materialism. The one who drives the nicer car, lives in the nicer house, has the better job. Certainly, _that_ guy needs to work on his materialism. Be careful. It's like when you're little and you're swimming in the pool and you can't distinguish the shallow end from the deep end, and all of a sudden it's pretty hard to swim because the bottom is out and you've been sucked in. When you live in Dallas, Texas, trust me; to one degree or another you struggle with materialism. Jesus is just saying that materialism, that greed is like a thorn, and it's going to choke out your love for God's Word. It's going to be harder for you to trust God's Word, because you'll start pursuing things that are counter to his will. That next soil you see in verse 20… **"But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word…"** Notice they don't just hear it. **"…and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold."** They don't just hear it. To hear God's Word, according to this parable, is to respond to it. James encourages us not just to be _hearers_ of God's Word but to be _doers_ of God's Word. My question for you this morning is really a simple one. What is the soil or the condition of _your_ heart? I don't think it's just a fixed soil all the time in our lives. I think we go through seasons. There are times (I'll just be candid with you) that my heart feels pretty hard. It's hard for me to take God's Word at face value. There are times where it's rocky ground, where things get tough, when kids get sick, when people you love pass away, and it causes you to stop and go, "Do I really believe this? Is this what I'm holding on to?" There are times when the desire for more chokes out what should be my greatest passion and my greatest relationships. So I ask you this morning…_What's the condition of the soil of your heart?_ How do you find that out? Pray. You ask God to reveal it to you. You humbly submit yourself to him. If you want to be a little bolder, you take an honest self-assessment. Just ask yourself, "How often do I spend time even reading God's Word?" That'll tell you a lot. How often do you physically open up God's Word and go, "Okay, what does it say?" That'll tell you a lot. Can you point to any decisions you've made recently that are a direct result of your time in God's Word? _Any_ decision, whether it's based on relationship or career or finances or wisdom. What is it that you can point to and go, "Hey, as a result of my time in God's Word, this is the path I'm going to choose to follow"? What promises are you currently holding on to? What have you memorized? What have you highlighted? What are you saying, "Hey, I'm holding on to this. Everything else is sinking sand." Is your understanding of God's Word greater today than it was this time one year ago? Are you farther along in your understanding of God's Word? Notice not all believers are as productive. He says thirtyfold, sixtyfold, hundredfold. Have you gone this year from a thirtyfold to a sixtyfold to a hundredfold life? If you're really brave and you really have courage, ask others. Ask your spouse. Ask your kids. Ask those you do business with. "Hey, can I ask you something? I'm going to give you permission to be honest with me. Do you see me making decisions that are consistent with God's Word? Is my counsel rooted in God's Word? Do you see me prioritizing God's Word in my life? Am I conducting my business according to God's Word?" Be careful. If you're really courageous, ask someone else. But I want to encourage you to identify the soil of your heart this morning. Secondly, I want to encourage you to cultivate the soil of your heart. How do you do that? You pray. I'm almost reluctant sometimes to say that. "Pray." I think it's kind of like, "Prayer. Yeah, prayer. Let me write that down." No, no. You pray. You pray that God tills the soil of your heart, that rock of unbelief; that he begins to give you understanding, hearing, insight. You ask for his help, but you have to remove the barriers. If you want to take that next step, figure out what the barriers are in your life. Maybe it's the barrier of unconfessed sin. Maybe it's the barrier of materialism, as Jesus expressed. Maybe it's the barrier of unbelief, busyness, lack of understanding. Identify the barrier. It could be many, but you choose one. "What is it that is keeping me from receiving the message God intends to convey to me?" Identify that barrier, and then get equipped. You saw in your Watermark News when you came in… This isn't a commercial; it's an invitation. Right here it says "Equip." We have classes all year long to help you take that next step, to respond to that message. We have Core Classes. They're called Core because they're core or essential, something every believer should know. We have Equipped Disciple 1, 2, and 3. Do you want to learn how to read your Word, start to memorize Scripture, share your testimony with others? Sign up. We have Bible studies on Wednesday and Thursday for you to come and meet with other people, read the text, ask questions. "Hey, I don't understand." We have a deal called Join the Journey. It doesn't get any simpler than that. You give us your email, and then every day we give you a plan. You just follow. This year we're reading from Genesis to Revelation. I want to just tell you…don't quit in Leviticus. Understand it. If you'll join us every day… It doesn't matter where you are, if you're in business or you're busy on Wednesdays, Thursdays, or whatever. Every day, if you'll just open up God's Word, read it, open up that little email, read it, and then ask, "Lord in heaven, how would you have me respond today?" because it's not just enough to hear, but we have to apply. Here's what I want to tell you, though. Just carrying out this little metaphor of the seed. All too often, if you're like me… I'm type-A, obsessive-compulsive, "check the box," goal-oriented. That's me. That may be you as well. It's kind of like, "Okay, I'll just do classes one, two, three. Check, check, check." I'm just telling you, the classes, the curriculum, the courses, the Bible reading… We don't do that just so we can take in information. We read for transformation. The goal is not to become just a smarter sinner. The goal is to become more like Christ. All of the tools and resources we're giving you are not for you to then go, "Okay. Check, check. Where's the stripe?" No, no. Those are like a trellis. Do you know what a trellis is? The trellis is what you put up that helps support the growth of the vine, but whenever you focus on the trellis… Nobody looks at the trellis and goes, "Woo-hoo! Look at the trellis." The reason you pray and the reason you walk in obedience and trust is you're cooperating with the Spirit of God. As you yield yourself and step out in faith, God reveals more to you. I encourage you to keep reading Mark, chapter 4. Do you know why you're not understanding? It's because you're over here sitting like _this_, and God is going, "Hey, take a step, and to who takes that step I'm going to reveal myself even more and more and more." So we cooperate, and the vine grows and bears fruit. The trellis just supports the vine. We don't focus on the programs; we focus on the fruit in our lives. Those are just tools, but you need a trellis. You need a plan. You need something that's going to help you get equipped. The third thing is reap a harvest. Every healthy vine bears fruit. My greatest encouragement to you is if you're growing and abiding, you can't help but tell other people. Do you want to know what's going to really be an indicator of growth and maturity in your life? It's not going to be just that you read the Bible. It's going to be that your life is changed, and it's going to be that you then invest in other people. That's the fastest way to grow. I just can't say it enough. As an Equipping pastor at Watermark Community Church, people ask me, "Hey, what do you do? How do you grow?" This is how you grow. You read God's Word, you apply it, and you pass it on. You invest in someone. It doesn't have to be formalized. You don't have to have a theological degree. You have the courage to tell somebody else what God is teaching you. When you walked in today you got a Watermark News. It's not overly complicated. Here is a mom and dad faithfully reaping a harvest. Can you imagine growing up in this home? Receiving The Journey every day, sitting down with your kids, just going, "Hey, let's talk about what God is teaching us. Let's talk about how we can apply it to our lives." Every day, just a little bit. In time, throwing those seeds, they grow. It takes root. It wasn't long ago that I saw in the _Dallas Morning News_ they had this little competition. "Take this survey, and your company could maybe be voted as the best place to work in Dallas." I saw that, and I just said, "That's neat," and I looked at all of the companies, and I just said, "I think they've got it wrong. I think Watermark is the best place to work in Dallas." I really do. So one year went by, two years went by, and I was like, "You know what? I may get laughed at, but I'm going to go in to our senior team and say, 'Hey, you know what? Let's do this thing. Why not?'" So I go in. I tell Todd and them, and I'm thinking he's going to just laugh, like, "What? We're going to enter a competition for best place to work in Dallas?" I go, "Let's just try it. Who knows? I never see churches in there. We don't have the perfect church. Don't get me wrong. But we serve a perfect King on a perfect mission, and I love this place. I love these people. I love what we're doing. I love what God is doing here. Who knows? Maybe God will give us an opportunity. Let's just submit the thing." So he goes, "All right." So we apply. They survey your whole staff and interview you. It's kind of this long, involved deal. Months go by. I don't think anything of it. Then we get this invitation. "Everybody who has participated in this thing, come to this luncheon. Come eat with us, and we're going to announce the winners." Well, I'm going to be honest with you. I was _this_ guy. I was here. It was my idea. I fully admit it. But I was here. I was busy. There were a thousand things going on. It's during lunchtime. Come on, I have other things. If I was busy, Todd was a hundred times busier. I could think of a thousand reasons why I didn't want to go. First, I didn't think we won. Second, I was busy. I was just thinking rubber chicken in a hotel ballroom with no windows and a bunch of people I don't know. I just did not have a great optimistic view. Todd calls me the morning of, and I remember he started like, "Hey, you want to go to this thing?" Like _he's_ backing out. I'm thinking, "I don't know. Maybe we should. I think we probably should go. Right? We entered it. Maybe we go and we'll just sit in the back." He goes, "Okay, I'll be there." Well, he's late picking me up. We're driving down there, and I think he's skeptical like I am, but at least we'll get to spend some time together. We go into this hotel, and there's hardly anyone there. Outside there are a few lines. We go up and register. There's this bank of doors as wide as this room. Just doors. They're all closed, and I'm thinking, "This is a mistake." We open up the door, and the reason no one was on the outside is that all of Dallas was on the inside. There were literally thousands of people there, and it wasn't a rubber chicken. It was a nice steak dinner, salad, desserts. There was entertainment. I mean, this thing was knocked out. I'm sitting there going, "Man, I'm glad we came." We're sitting in the back. We find the one place that's left that was reserved for us. Kind of embarrassedly, sheepishly. We see a bunch of people we know. We sit in the back. We're eating our deal. Then it's time for the awards banquet, and I'm kind of going, "What if? That would be crazy. We almost didn't show up to this thing." Truly, the guy opens up the envelope… Kind of this award place. He reads it and kind of does _that_. Then he turns to his assistant, and she kind of does _that_. He goes, "Watermark Community Church." Listen to me. This isn't about Watermark. It's about how embarrassingly devastated I would have been in front of thousands of people, "Watermark Community Church," and we're not there. Could you imagine? Todd walked up there and gave truly one of the best messages I've ever heard in front of thousands of people who have no idea who Watermark is. He talked about a perfect mission from a perfect Father offering a perfect invitation, giving a message, knowing full well that in a room like that not everyone is going to have the heart to want to respond. We got second place, and what was so great is Todd got up there and said, "Let me tell you something. I have to ask your forgiveness, because if we were doing what our Lord and Savior called us to do as well as we should be doing it we'd be in first place. We have work to do, because the city of Dallas needs to know there's a God in heaven who loves them, and he offers second chances, and you have the chance to respond." It was awesome. You need to know there's an invitation for you. The farmer has thrown the seed. If you're here or you're listening online, if you came begrudgingly, if you're here just out of obligation because you're family in from out of town, you need to know that God wants a relationship with you. It's not earned. It's not something you can win. It's not something you can try harder for. It comes about from simply receiving God's Word for what it is and his promises, that he loves you, he wants a relationship with you, and he offers forgiveness. He offers hope. It's not about trying harder. That invitation is going out, and it is not too late to show up. The second year when we received that invitation, I was like, "I'm in. I'm going. That was a good dinner. That was a great party," because I knew the one who was hosting the party. Some of you have family and friends here who know the one who's hosting the party, and you're on the outside. The doors are closed, and you just cannot believe that something good awaits you inside. You need to come by faith and receive the grace that's offered to you. You need to know God's Word. Don't just scoff at it. Know it, and allow it to reside in your heart. Let's pray. Father in heaven, I thank you that you're a good farmer who throws the seed far and wide, and I just pray that it would take root in our hearts and go deep in our souls, that others could look at us, Lord, and they would see fruit. In the ways in which we don't respond as we should, help us to ask for forgiveness, because we do serve a perfect God, a loving Savior. I pray, Father, that this next year would be a better year, not because we've tried harder, not because of New Year's resolutions (frankly, so many of us are sick and tired of trying harder), but because we step out in faith and we trust. We go from the crowd that's sitting in the back as the skeptical one, as the seeker, to the sincere, and we respond. We thank you for your grace. We thank you for Christmas, the hope of the world, born in a manger that we could have life. It's in his name we pray, amen.