Archive | July, 2015

New Horizons & The Image of God by guest blogger Luke Harbaugh

31 Jul

Today we welcome guest writer, Luke Harbaugh of HOPE International.  Luke will be speaking at Faith Church this coming Sunday.

Last week, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft made its first flyby of the dwarf planet Pluto, giving us high resolution photos of (what used to be considered) the tiniest planet in our solar system for the very first time.

You can see them here.

Pluto not being considered a planet anymore is a touchy subject for millennials like me. What am I supposed to do with the mnemonic devices we learned in elementary school for remembering the names of the planets? “My Very Energetic Mother Just Served Us Nine…” Nine what?! (The answer is “Nine Pizzas,” by the way – if you consider Pluto a planet.)

That bitterness aside, astronomers still marveled at what had previously been unseen on Pluto’s surface. Mountains as high as the Rockies. Brilliant ice formations. A huge, heart-shaped region that was aptly named “Tombaugh Regio,” after the astronomer who discovered Pluto in 1930, Clyde Tombaugh.

One of the beauties of modern science – be it within the disciplines of astronomy, biology or even physics – is that is continues to take us “farther up and deeper in” (to use C.S. Lewis’s words) to the beauty that surrounds us. NASA’s people used descriptors like “amazing,” “wonderful,” and “astonishing” to describe the images that were sent back to Earth from more than three billion miles away, and as we continue to explore the universe around us over the next several generations, there is no doubt that we will continually be floored by more and more moments like these.

Being floored by the beauty, size and grandeur of the universe is nothing new though. Ancient people had just as much appreciation for Creation as we do, even if they didn’t have as many tools to explore it. Those who were inspired by God’s Holy Spirit had demonstrated special insight into the universe, declaring that it doesn’t exist as an accident or for the sake of itself – but instead exists to witness to the God who made it.

Psalm 8 says, “You have set your glory above the heavens…When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” And later, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

The Psalmist, even though he never had access to high resolution photos of the solar system, was blown away by the views the universe had to offer. One can only imagine what the stars and the planets looked like to David’s eyes in the Judean night sky thousands of years ago. No wonder so many of the Psalms compare God’s glory, his character and his majesty to “the heavens.”

Yet, even though the universe that surrounds us is described as “amazing,” “wonderful” and “astonishing,” the heavens are not the pinnacle of God’s creation. Genesis 1:26 -27 says this: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

The stars, the sun and the moon, for all of their grandeur and glory, are not made in the image of God. Only humanity is given the honor of that particular gift. The Psalmist knew this too, proclaiming in Psalm 139:14, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God. What have you done with this gift? What have you done to bring this gift alive in others? Do you feel like you are “fearfully and wonderfully made” today? God has determined that you would bear His image within His Creation – is that image alive in you?

It is a good thing to be impressed by the photos that came from NASA last week, to stare at the night sky in awe and to wonder what else God has hidden for us to discover. But also remember that you are, in fact, a greater creation than even them; and if we allow God to resurrect His image within us, then there is nothing more fearful or wonderful than a person fully alive in Christ.

Come here more about these Psalms and HOPE as Luke will be preaching at Faith Church on Sunday!

Feeling afraid, confused and frustrated in life’s storms

24 Jul

The storm we had a few weeks ago was really severe. Did it wake you? It woke me.

The blasting away of the thunder and the flashes of lightning strikes are pretty fearsome.

Over the years perhaps you have seen some awesome photos and videos of storms.

Maybe you’ve been in the storm taking the photo and video, trying to capture an image of a lightning bolt.

Think about the worst storm you’ve been in. Where were you? How did you feel?

Have you ever been in a boat on the water during a storm? Storms are scary enough in our cars or in our homes, with things shaking like crazy. But imagine the feeling of being whipped all around by waves, knowing that your boat could topple, sink and you could be thrown into the raging ocean?  If you’ve experienced that, you might know the fear Jesus’ disciples felt in our next teaching on Luke.

Fear produced in a boat on the ocean in a storm has to be an entirely different, deeper kind of fear.

But not all storms are wind, rain, thunder and lightning. The ups and downs of life can be pretty stormy can’t they?  Life storms. Think about the worst life storms you’ve been in. When things at work go sour. When a close relationship breaks apart. An accident. A sickness.

A life storm is an unexpected event that is scary, that hurts, leaving us confused and frustrated in its wake, often without hope and wondering where God is in the storm.

I remember when we were missionaries in Jamaica, thinking that was going to be our life’s work. One year after arriving there, we were on a plane moving back home with huge question marks about what just happened and what was next. There were no answers in the midst of the storm. Just confusing, frustrating questions.

You ever felt like that?  On Sunday we’ll look at a time Jesus and his disciples got themselves into a storm. Jesus’ way of dealing with it is surprising, to say the least.

If you want to prepare for the sermon on Sunday read Luke 8:22-25.  See you Sunday at Faith Church when we gather for worship!

How to be a part of Jesus’ family – Luke 8:16-21

22 Jul

So Jesus was maybe, possibly a bit icy to his family one time.

As painful as that situation could have been from a mother’s perspective, Jesus was clearly willing to redefine what it meant to be in relationship with him. This was an entirely new understanding of family. I wonder if it broke Mary’s heart. I don’t think so. You watch the pattern of her life, and she continues to pursue him. We have to remember that Mary was a deep follower of the Lord and, along with his siblings, she became a follower of Jesus.  Luke tells us in Acts 1:1-15, right after Jesus leaves them, and the massive crowds that once followed him are gone, that only 120 followers remain, and look who is still there in that group of 120:  “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

What struck me as I read Luke’s story back in Luke 8:16-21 when Jesus might have been a bit cold, is that Jesus’ brothers are there. Things were sometimes testy between Jesus and his brothers. One time in the Gospel of John, they make fun of him and all this fame. But back at the crowded house that day in Luke 8 hearing Jesus teach was his brother James. James would go on to become a follower of Jesus, to the point where at the beginning of his letter, the book of James, he doesn’t even stake his claim as Jesus’ brother. Wouldn’t you milk that for all it’s worth? But James doesn’t. He calls himself a slave/servant of Jesus. And by that time James was the Bishop of the church of Jerusalem. And what does he say near the beginning of his letter? In James 1:22-24 says something that sounds familiar:

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”

Do you think James remembered that day in crowd, wondering what in the world is actually going on with his older brother?  Do you think James heard Jesus say “my mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice”? Jesus isn’t saying that normal family relationships aren’t important. We should have good family relationships. He is talking about how people in his spiritual family will actually do what God says. Otherwise it is as pointless as lighting a candle and hiding it, or as pointless, James would later say, to look at yourself in the mirror and then forget what you look like.

Members of Jesus’ family, then, do two things: hear the Word and put it into practice.

Hearing is a deep interaction with God’s Word. Not just hearing a sermon, but interacting with what you’ve heard. Did you know you can interact with the sermon? I am growing more and more convinced that these monologues, these preaching events, are conveying the idea that people in the pews are just passive hearers. Jesus is saying that hearing must be active. Active listening that leads to life change. What does it take to engage the Scripture and do what it says?

Evaluate yourself, how eager are you to hear the Word? Do you look forward to hearing the Word in worship? Are you thinking about it, praying about it? What you hear in worship through sermons is a great start, but truly engaging the Word of God means a strong desire to keep hearing!

How eager are you to hear the word?

Evaluate your own personal study of God’s Word. Do you know how to study the Bible on your own? Reading it is a great start. I have the Bible app on my phone and there are great reading plans. The Bible app is free. Or maybe you prefer a paper Bible. Either way, in addition to reading, consider adding aAccountability, sharing what you learn, asking someone to check up on you, that you are following through is often needed. It is imperative Jesus tells us that we hear the Word.

Will you start praying, maybe daily “Lord make me more eager for your Word.”

Then Jesus says, we need to put it into practice.

Putting it into Practice

One of our small group leaders at Faith Church asked his group this question: Is there anything in this world that makes you fearful? Christians have been the leaders in responding to the world with doom and gloom. This week, Christianity Today exposed two false news stories that Christians were sharing, both about doom and gloom. In a changing world, it is easy for Christians to feel defeated, but let us not hide our light under a bed of frustration.   We have hope of eternal life, and we get to lead the abundant life of Christ. We have the Spirit, and the fruit of the Spirit. We should be the most joyful, hopeful, loving, kind people. That is how we should be known. That is the light of Christ shining through us!

Hearing God’s Word and putting it into practice is perhaps hardest in relationships. We need to see ourselves as shining God’s light into those relationships. Practice the Golden Rule. And let us love our neighbor as ourselves. Do you have a broken or hurting relationship in your life that you need to shine God’s light?

Let’s show the world we are part of Jesus’ family by hearing his Word and putting it into practice.

Cardboard box tower and a covered desktop – The Monday Messy Office Report – July 20, 2015

20 Jul

My Monday Messy Office Report returns!  I’m sure you were feeling incomplete without it…

Today two photos that show what I arrived to this morning:

2015-07-20 Messy Office 02

My covered desktop

A smallish church pastor wears many hats, and Picture #1 shows a bunch of them:

1. Three weeks worth of bulletin proofs. I’m part of a team from Faith Church that will spend 10 days serving in Kenya, starting July 27, so I’ll be out of the office and need to work ahead a bit.

2. An orange New Testament with the name of one of my kids’ friends written inside.  A group of Faith Church kids were hanging out in my office after worship yesterday!  I love that they love to hang out in here…but it can get a little messy.

3. Receipts and a credit card statement.  Gotta keep things in order.  Did you ever wish money would just go away?

4. A couple phone messages.  People to call back!  You should see my email inbox…

5. Minutes from various church serve team meetings.  Staying informed about how all various committees are serving in the church is imperative.

6. Reminders…a bunch of them.  It’s coffee break Sunday which alters the flow of worship and fellowship time and children’s ministry, so we want to make sure the volunteers have some notice about that.  Then there is a reminder to send a bunch of info to the Kenya team.  I hate to admit it but I’m at the point where unless I have reminder notes, those things could easily be forgotten.

7. A bill from a local organ company saying that our service plan expired…11 years ago! They were wondering if we would want to pay $700 to start it back up again?  I can think of another solution…

8. Men’s Retreat brochure.  Can’t wait!  Going to be another awesome weekend at Twin Pines, Sept. 25-27.  Want to join us?  Let me know.

9. Scripture Reader list. People from the congregation volunteers as readers in worship, and I need to get someone lined up for this coming Sunday.

And there is Photo #2:  Why do I have a cardboard tower?  Over the last month or so, packages have been arriving.  I didn’t order any of them, but they just keep coming!  In fact, as I was typing this the postman rang the office door with another package from Great Britain!  Can you guess what this is all about?

Cardboard box tower!In a week I will open the packages.

Can you figure out what they are?

Christmas in July?


Here’s a clue: It has to do with our Kenya trip!  Ok, I’ll tell you.  Our missionary friends in Kenya placed orders for items their school needs.  It would be expensive to ship them to Kenya.  But free for our team to bring them on the plane!  So we’re leaving room in our luggage to squeeze the items in.  I am so excited about the trip.  We could sure use your prayers.  And if anyone would be interested in sponsoring puzzle pieces, which is a trip fundraiser, check it out here.  We’d love to have over 200 pieces sponsored before we leave in a week.  If you want trip updates, just like the Faith Church Facebook page, and we’ll post new updates most days.

Now it’s time to clean up this mess!

Was Jesus cold to his family?

18 Jul

Do you have a warm, loving family?  Or would you say yours is cold?  More likely it is a mixed bag with varying levels of relationship from person to person in the family.  Maybe there is a family member or two that you have a close relationship with, and perhaps there are one or two that are not so close.  I suspect most families are like that.

Jesus’ family was like that too.  Imagine with me for a moment what it must have been like to be in his family.  For years family life is normal.  Jesus is the older brother, working with his dad, Joseph, learning how to be a carpenter.  As the years go by other brothers and sisters are born and grow up.  At some point, Joseph passes away, we think, as there is no mention of him during Jesus’ adult years.  Jesus, as eldest, could have taken on some authority, some responsibility for the family.  Maybe a few of his younger siblings look up to him, and as with other families, maybe some didn’t.  There was likely sibling rivalry just like my family and yours.

But somewhere in Jesus’ 30th year, news of a prophet reaches Nazareth, and in a few months everyone is talking about him.  This prophetic guy, John the Baptizer, is acting and speaking a lot like the famous prophet of old, Elijah.  What’s more, they’ve figured out through the family grapevine that John is their cousin.  And so Jesus, the oldest brother of Mary’s clan, goes to check him out.

That’s when it all starts.  Word gets back to Nazareth that not only does John baptize Jesus, like he does the hundreds of other people in the crowd, but John also says some crazy stuff about Jesus.  That Jesus is the one John has been waiting for, that the whole nation has been waiting for.  As if John’s ministry was always somehow focused on finding the One, and Jesus is the One.  Imagine how Mary and the rest of her kids felt hearing that.

Old memories that Mary has stored deep in her heart start to surface. Memories of angels and shepherds and a miraculous pregnancy and birth and a manger in Bethlehem.  Memories of ancient Simeon and Anna at the temple in Jerusalem.  All proclaiming big news over this baby.  Wealthy visitors from the east bearing gifts, saying they have followed a star guiding them to meet the new baby king.  And then the fearful, hurried move to Egypt because a crazy adult king named Herod heard about this amazing news too, of the birth of a possible contender to the throne, and his way of dealing with it was to kill all the babies in the surrounding area.  So Joseph and Mary grabbed Jesus and rushed to Egypt till they got the all clear that Herod was dead and gone.  Those were heady, wild days.  Days filled with emotion and drama and miracles.

Within a few years, the family moves back to their home in Nazareth.  Life went back to normal, except for that one time when he was 12 and they lost him on the trip to Jerusalem.  But that was almost 20 years before.  So much time, so much normal time had gone by.  Lots of regular life.  All those wild events have faded into the distant background of normalcy.

Now this John has been baptizing, and a change comes over Jesus.  He leaves, gets baptized.  And then Jesus disappears for 40 days.  Gone.  No letters home, no word of his whereabouts.  Imagine what is going through Mary’s heart and mind.  The questions, the emotions, the stories from Bethlehem come flooding back.

A shift is happening.

Finally they hear that Jesus is alive and well.  Imagine the huge relief within Mary as she hears this.  Sadly news also tells of John thrown in prison. If you’re Mary that gets you teary as you remember your beloved cousin Elizabeth. If she were still alive, you think how she would feel, how scared. That Herod who put John in prison is just like his earlier relative from 30 years earlier, crazy, and more than willing to do shameful things. You think you should visit John.

But you are torn. John is in prison, which is sad, but news about your son is so heartening! And a bit startling. They say Jesus has started preaching and teaching which is strange enough, but he is also…get this…doing miracles.  Miracles?  Yes!  Healing people of sickness and deformity.  What?  Yes, and more than that, he is reportedly casting out demons!

Imagine being Mary hearing this.  Imagine the emotions.

Now imagine being the brothers and sisters.  Where Mary’s eyes are wide and her heart is big, it would be very easy for the siblings to have eyes that are questioning, hearts doubting. Did they suspect anything like this?  Were any of his behaviors, his tendencies, his habits at home in Nazareth pointing to this?  Did they have any inkling?  Or were they doubting?  Their brother?  A big name preacher?

As if in answer to the questions, the stream of news does not stop.  In fact, it is sounding like Jesus has made his way back north, and is coming home to Nazareth.  He does just that, but the homecoming is testy to say the least.  Things are fine at their family home; maybe he even does a little carpentry, maybe helps the younger siblings learn some woodworking so they can take over.  He’ll be gone for a while and someone needs to keep the business going. But when they go to the synagogue for worship on Sabbath, all hell breaks loose. It starts off well enough as Jesus, former woodworker, now traveling preaching, is asked to read to the scroll. It’s the Isaiah scroll, a passage describing the Messiah, the chosen one, the One God promised he would send to deliver the nation…and Jesus says this is fulfilled now. People start looking at each other. Eyebrows raised. Jesus? The carpenter? It sounds great. They all wanted the Messiah to come, but Jesus? Is he for real? Is the boy who grew up down the road saying he is the Messiah?

Jesus, sensing their doubt, lays into them a bit talking about God and his heart for the whole world and referring to some stories from the OT which proved his point. Those hometown people who were iffy, doubting, wondering how the local carpenter can all of a sudden become a preacher, are now angry at his insinuation of their disbelief. They, like pretty much all Jews, thought they were God’s chosen people, and the rest of world are pagans.  For this supposed disrespect, Jesus’ neighbors get hot fast, and they round up a posse with aims to throw him off a cliff.

Imagine Mary now. Imagine the siblings. How did they feel now? In their family this would have been deeply topsy-turvey stuff.  Stomach-churning.  Do they fight against their own townspeople to defend their son/brother? They might agree with the townspeople.  It sure seemed like he was being disrespectful to God’s chosen people.  This is really odd behavior from Jesus. If someone else’s kid was doing what Jesus did, Mary and her other kids would probably agree with what the rest of the town was doing. But this was her son, their brother. What should they do?

Strangely, in the middle of the posse, on the edge of the cliff, Jesus walks away. The rowdy Nazarites calm down. No one was really sure why or how. He just walked away. Did he say goodbye to Mary? Give her a kiss? Hug his siblings?

Once again, he is gone. In the coming weeks and months, word continues to come back to Nazareth, to Mary, to his siblings, that he is doing miracles. The size of the crowds following him are growing. They’re saying they’ve never heard a teacher like him. The authority. The creativity. The parables. It is a message of grace and hope. His style, his message is not at all like they are used to hearing from the religious leaders, and from the Pharisees. And speaking of the Pharisees, the establishment guys from Jerusalem have taken notice. People tell Mary that the Pharisees are on to Jesus, following him everywhere, questioning him, confronting him. This is amazing and somewhat foreboding. Does Mary try to tell the rest of the siblings about the birth stories, the angels, the shepherds, the wise men? Would they even believe her?

Then to top it all off, they hear that Jesus rose a person from the dead! That is too much. Who could believe that?

How would you feel if you were Mary, if you were his brother or sister?  Probably how anyone would feel.  They would want to go see this with their very own eyes.  They won’t believe it till they see it.

You need to go see him. You can’t just stay at home, hearing these stories constantly. Not with the way things were left last time you saw him. You have to go to him.

And so you go. It’s not a long trip. Just a neighboring town, accessible in a day’s walk. You pack for the day, get everyone set, and off you go across the dusty roads of Galilee.

As you arrive in the town, the place is simply buzzing. You’re amazed. Though you’ve heard the stories of the crowds, you were not prepared for this. The crowd is massive. This many people have come to hear your son? You have a mixture of pride and excitement and doubt and anticipation.  The only time you’ve seen a crowd like this is for a festival in Jerusalem. More than the crowd, you can’t wait to see him, your son.

The whisper down the lane from the front is that he is in a house, telling stories. Something about a farmer throwing seeds. And people are a bit confused about why that is so important. You think about the farm near your house in Nazareth that Jesus did some carpentry work for.

You move forward, but you start to get frustrated because as you and your kids are worming your way through the crowd, slowly to the front, the bodies get tighter. People are less willing to let you through.

You just want to see him, hear him, give him a hug. But the crowd is totally jammed up now. There is no more moving forward. The people in front of you are starting to get upset that you’re trying to get closer. You’re not too far outside the house now, so that if the tall people in the crowd in front of you move just right you can catch a glimpse of him, and you can hear his voice. You catch a few words, and he is talking about lighting a lamp. And you think about the lamps you would light in your home.

You’re so excited that you tap on the shoulder of the person in front you. At first they say, “Knock if off lady” but you say “I am his mother, and these are his siblings.” A light comes over the man’s face, and he says to the person in front of him “his mother and brothers are here…” and now the whisper down the lane goes the other direction. Word quickly reaches him.

Silence. He stops talking.

He looks toward the door, the windows.

What he says next is shocking.  You’re hoping for “Well, let them in!”

Or “What? Where are they? Let me through! I want to see them!”

Or “My mom’s here!”

But no. None of that. Instead he turns to the crowd and says words that pierce your heart: “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s Word and put it into practice.”

The pain feels icy cold.

He just turned you into a teaching moment.

If you’re Mary, did your heart just drop to your feet?

If you were his brothers and sisters, did you just get angry?

What would you feel?  Join us tomorrow at Faith Church to hear more!

The Four Soils – An Evaluation Tool for Disciples of Jesus – Luke 8:1-15

15 Jul

Was Jesus trying to confuse his audience?  Possibly, but I suspect he really wanted them to avidly seek the meaning of his Gardening 101 parable.  Maybe some did.  Luke tells us that the disciples asked him what it meant, and he told them.  What we hear is a powerful evaluation tool that all Christians should apply to their lives.  Want to know if you are living how Jesus wants his to disciples to be living?  Even if the analysis is not what we want to hear, we would do well to submit ourselves to the evaluation.

Basically Jesus says that people who hear his word (the seed in the parable) are like four different kinds of soils.  Read the description and evaluate yourselves:

Soil #1 – The Hard Path – The seed is never planted, never takes root. This kind of person does not believe in Jesus. More and more people in our nation are in this category. Statisticians call them the NONES. Not NUNS, but NONES, people who claim to have no religion. Recent polls are showing that 20% of Americans are in the None category. They just don’t care about religion, church, Jesus. They might be atheist. In America, this kind of person most likely has very comfortable life, filled with the many entertainment and enjoyments that America has to offer. Church? Jesus? They say, “Not for me.”

Soil #2 – Rocky – In this soil, the seed is planted, but it takes no root, as the soil is shallow. This kind of person believes, Jesus says, but in the time of testing they fall away. This person seems to be a believer, but there is not enough depth in their relationship with the Lord to survive hard times. Think about what it takes for faith to grow so strong that it can survive challenges like losing a job, losing a loved one?

Soil #3 – Thorny Weeds – Once again, the seed is planted, but the weeds choke it out. This kind of person believes, but they are distracted by life’s worries, riches and pleasures.  Further, Jesus tells, and this is key, they do not mature.  Some have said that this is the bane of American Christianity, and the same would be likely in any wealthy culture.

Soil #4 – Fertile – Here the seed is planted, matures, and produces a crop. This kind of person is described five ways:

  1. Those with a noble and good heart.
  2. Hear the word
  3. Retain it
  4. Persevere
  5. Produce a crop

I see this in action in my backyard garden right now with our cherry tomato plants. We did not plant any tomatoes this year. We did not need to. They grew up all by themselves. Last year we planted a couple of them, and they produced a massive harvest. I couldn’t keep up with the harvest. But even with picking those tomatoes and giving them away and eating a lot myself, there were some that I missed. They fell to the ground and eventually their seeds survived the winter and this spring they started growing a new tomato plant! In fact so many plants came up this year that I had to thin them out. I didn’t want 20 cherry tomato plants, especially not ones that were growing right on top of each other!

Fertile ground produces a crop that produces a crop that produces a crop. In the Kingdom of God, this means that people who are good soil hear God’s word and do what it says. They produce a crop of more disciples. When Jesus was with the fisherman, he used a story that would speak to them. He said “follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Those goal of following Jesus, in other words, was for those fisherman to become the kind of people who would help more people to follow Jesus.

Now he is speaking to gardeners and farmers. He says “be fertile soil that produces a crop”. Become the kind of people who help more people to follow Jesus.

The word we use for this is disciple-making.   We are disciples of Jesus, we follow him, learning from him how to live, and much of that is personal, related to us. For example, we should be filled with the fruit of the Spirit. We should be living what he called the abundant life, which was actually his life, the way he lived. Filled with crazy amounts of joy and love and kindness even in the midst of difficulty. But as we are learning from him how to live, we do what he did. He was the ultimate fertile ground, producing an amazing crop. One of the most important patterns of life that Jesus practiced himself and that he wants us to practice in our lives is to be disciple-makers. Fishers of men. Fertile ground that produces a crop.

Simply put, we invest in the lives of people who are not followers of Jesus, loving them, praying for them, leading them to become followers of Jesus.

As we look at the various gifts of the Spirit, there is no disciple-making gift. When Jesus said to his disciples, “Go and make disciples of all nations” he was saying that this is the task for every single one of his followers. There is no other way to look at Jesus’ concept of fertile ground. Fertile ground produces a crop.

So there you have four soils. Which soil are you? Did you identify with any of those soils?

If you had to rank which one you most identify with, what would it be?

Maybe it would be more accurate to put percentages to them.

It seems to me most likely that we have a mixture of these soils simultaneously in our lives. You might say, “I think I’m 75% fertile soil, but I know I’m struggling with some weeds in my life.”

The parable could be a great evaluation tool. How much are you like the soil of the hardened path, where you are simply not allowing God’s Word in your life?

How much are you like the rocky soil where you have allowed the trials and tragedies of life to steal your faith, hinder your growth?

How much are you like the weedy/thorny soil where you have become distracted by things of this world like work, hobbies, TV shows, food, the comforts of our wealthy culture?

How much are you like the fertile soil, hearing God’s word, letting it take root, growing mature in Christ and producing a crop?

Followers of Jesus hear his word, grow mature, and produce a crop. There is no other option.   He doesn’t have a plan B. The first three soils are not what he wants us to be. He only wants us to be fertile soil.

That time Jesus purposefully wanted to confuse the audience

10 Jul

My family and I started gardening a couple years ago.  When we lived in a city rowhome we filled a couple 5-gallon buckets with dirt, planted some tomatoes and peppers and stuck them on our second floor outdoor balcony.  Our backyard butted up against a neighboring house that blocked out the sun, so the buckets were a first feeble attempt…and failure.  When we moved to our current home with a backyard and garden, we were excited to give it a new try.  We’ve made lots of mistakes like when we picked our pumpkins in August because we had planted too early.  Each year we learn a bit more, like the need to plant our baby tomatoes far enough away from one another that they don’t become a tangled mess.

We have family and friends that have been very helpful in coaching us about gardening.  They have been a great help, and our garden is all the better for it.

This week our study in Luke gets into gardening.  In Luke 8:1-15, Jesus tells a parable from the world of agriculture, which was a huge part of his society.

I wonder how people in the crowd felt that day.  They came to hear a powerful orator, and what he gave them amounts to Gardening 101.  Check it out for yourself:

While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”

You pretty much get that lesson in preschool when you plant a seed in a Dixie cup and bring it home to grow on the kitchen windowsill.

Why would Jesus waste his time, and the crowd’s time, and all that ink and paper in those bajillion Bibles over the centuries on a lesson in basic farming?

Plant in good soil, get rid of rocks and weeds, and you’ll have a good shot at a harvest.  Is that all he said?

Nope, Luke tells us that after Jesus told the parable to the crowd, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”  That clarify it for you?  Some of you might have heard this parable before, but imagine being there in the crowd hearing it for the first time.  How would you have felt?  Would you be frustrated that all you got was basic gardening principles?  Would you be seeking for deeper meaning?  Would you assume that this famous, powerful spiritual teacher must have meant something more?  Would it help when he says “whoever has ears to hear, let them hear?”

It seems at least Jesus disciples were questioning like that, because they ask him what the parable meant.  Think he tells them?

He responds to them with this “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, ‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand’.”

Doesn’t it sound like he is basically saying “I don’t want the crowds to know what this parable means”?  How many speakers get up to speak, give a cryptic speech that no one understands, and feel like that was mission accomplished?  How many speakers desire to confuse their audiences?  Sure seems like that’s what Jesus was doing, doesn’t it?

Or was he?

If you’re not already part of a worship gathering, or you’re just curious to hear the rest of the story, please feel free to come to Faith Church on Sunday.