Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Sower's Seeds - Part 2

Yesterday we began a look at Jesus’ story of “the sower,” a parable that tells about how God’s kingdom works.  The seeds are God’s Word – the ground is us, our hearts – the Sower is the Spirit of God.  Jesus unfolds the parable’s problems, showing us what keeps us from being all God promised us we could be.
In part one we saw that the problem of hardness is the seed of God’s Word and grace falling on a hard, unwilling heart.  The Proverb writer called that person a fool.  Prov 29:14:1  Now consider:


The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy.  But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long.  They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word.   Matthew 13:20 - 21 (NLT)
The shallow or superficial believer lacks commitment.  Timothy[1] calls him one who has a form of godliness (religion), but denies the power of God. 
Vance Havner used to say a person like this had a theology that was a mile wide, and an inch deep; there’s no conviction, no deep stand on Biblical principles.  A marginal hold on Christianity will produce someone who takes a stand on nothing, and will fall for anything. 
The superficial believer is a "miserable Christian."  Without a strong faith, rooted deeply in the Word of God, how could one possibly serve God AND withstand this world?
Jesus said that this type of follower will be really glad to be a part of things for a while.  But when difficult decisions come and there is a tough choice between the easy way, and serving Christ, there are no firm roots to hold the plant. 
The sun will vitalize a deeply-rooted plant, but it will scorch a shallow one.  Many people who have made a profession of faith in a church, and have not continued to serve Christ are examples of this.  They rock along while things are going fine in church.  But their lack of strong faith in Christ shows the first time trouble comes. 
It shows up most in relationships between fellow believers.
Often the carnal thin-skin will be offended by the smallest annoyance.  Jesus was offended by every one of His followers, yet he loved and forgave them; he didn't give up on them.   When the thin-skins leave, it is because they have been scorched by the genuine message of the cross – denying self, picking up the cross and following Jesus.   


If you find yourself a mile-wide on your theology and only an inch-deep on tolerance of people, the question today:  Is that what Jesus wanted in his family?
Pray that God might give you forbearance to withstand the temptation to create or escalate tension and anger between believers and unbelievers alike in difficult situations.
Also pray for good words of wise accountability during stressful situations, that the Holy Spirit will give – and use – to bring about healing in the body of Christ.

[1] 2 Timothy 3:5

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Sower's Seeds - Part 1

For the next few days we will look at Jesus’ story of “the sower,” a parable that tells about how God’s kingdom works.  The seeds are God’s Word – the ground is us, our hearts – the Sower is the Spirit of God.

The Story

It was the end of a very long and difficult day for Jesus.  He had fought a battle with demons, disease and the religious leaders who were accusing him of anything that would support their position.  The battle was never in doubt; however, human flesh does get tired, and this was one tough day at Jesus’ office.  Even Jesus’ mother and brothers were wondering about his sanity.  (A few of my family members have felt the same way about me being in ministry!)
Jesus headed for the mountain retreat, but the crowds followed.  So Jesus got into a small fishing boat and pushed out a few feet from shore, looking back to the crowds.  Against a backdrop of cornfields on the hillside, those people looked just like the harvest Jesus was seeking.  Farmers were in those fields, planting.  Jesus takes the time to teach the followers all about HINDERANCES in the kingdom. 
In the first 18 verses of the chapter we receive the riddle of the sower and his seeds, and the reason for the riddle.  In the last five verses Jesus unfolds the parable’s problems, showing us what keeps us from being all God promised us we could be.


The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don’t understand it.  Then the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts.  Matthew 13:19 (NLT)
It is important to say that God never forces His Word on an unwilling heart.  The hardened pathway was packed down soil from years of the farmer walking on it to scatter the seed in the field.  Nothing could grow there. 
In the same way, an unwilling, hardened heart will never receive the seed of God's Word of salvation.  The hardness Jesus was depicting is the heart of an unsaved person.  Salvation is a free gift.  However, it is not yours until you receive it. 
Just like a seed cannot germinate until it is in the ground, an unwilling heart which refuses to accept the grace of God belongs to an unsaved pagan. 
The great evangelist of the 19th century, D.L. Moody, had a deep commitment to Christ.   Because of this he always had to deal with hecklers.  Once when Moody stood to preach to a large congregation, he was handed a note.  It had but one word, "FOOL."  Without a pause Moody announced to the crowd, "I am stunned.  I have known of many times when someone has written a note, and then forgotten to sign it; but this is the first time I have ever gotten a signature with no note."
Psalms 14:1 tells us, The fool hath said in his heart there is no God.


Consider these two very important verses about the stubborn, hardened ground of a heart that won’t let the seed take hold (meaning to hear and obey God’s Word):
The LORD says, “Don’t harden your hearts….Psalms 95:8a (NLT)
Whoever stubbornly refuses to accept criticism will suddenly be destroyed beyond recovery.  Proverbs 29:1 (NLT)
Is there any area of your life that you are protecting from God?  

What will you do about it today?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Holy, Holy, Holy

This is a dark world.  On every hand the evil that is prevalent in our day attempts to push Jesus to the side; we trivialize the Gospel.  When John looked at the throne, one thing he noticed was that there was only room for ONE. 
This is a solitary seat.  There is only one Jesus! 
People try to include Jesus in their life.  They try to make room for Him among other things.  The reality is that Jesus IS life.  You don't make room for breathing -- it happens, or you don't! 
There is another, lesser throne.  It is the one in each of our hearts.  There is also room for only one.  The problem with sitting on that throne yourself is that the responsibility is too big.  It is so big, that the shadow it casts blocks out any view of God. 
The Old Testament story of Jacob illustrates this[1].  Jacob was second in line to his father's estate, but he decided to push the issue.  He sat on the throne and called the shots.  Eventually, he messed up and had to leave the very place he'd called home. 
Years later he came back home, but not until he wrestled with this issue of who's in charge.  One night he wrestled with the angel of the Lord, and Jacob finally said, I'm not leaving this place, or letting go of you until the matter of who's going to sit on the throne of my heart is settled. 
In that pre-dawn struggle, Jacob got himself off the throne of his heart, and allowed God control.  And once Jacob got himself out of the way, he could see the glory of the Lord. 
There is a great hymn of the church that helps keep me from crawling back on that throne in my own heart:
  Holy, holy, holy!  tho' the darkness hide Thee,
  Tho' the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
  Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
  Perfect in pow'r, in love, and purity.


With your heart and voice and life as one, put away the sinful eye of man; see that there is none but Jesus Who should sit on the throne of your heart!

[1] Genesis 32:22-28

Monday, October 28, 2013


The text is set in the middle of Jesus’ Olivet discourse (sermon).  The Question and Answer session has the Pharisees and Sadducees trying to trip Jesus up, while the disciples were attempting to figure Jesus out.  Neither group was too successful because they failed to understand what Advent was all about.
Advent isn’t about setting dates and who’s in charge; Advent is about relationship – the kind of relationship that God wants to have with us. 
The disciples asked Jesus the kind of question Dad gets from the back seat of the car during the first twelve minutes of the trip to Grandma’s house – Are we there yet?  Jesus gave them the kind of answer you’d expect from a Jewish rabbi.  He tells them how to recognize being there, and how it will feel, and what you should do about it. 
This text, Christian believer, is Jesus’ Advent answer to you about what to do while you’re waiting for him to come back.

Certainty – God’s Timing is His Own

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.  Matthew 24:36-39 (NRSV)
The fact that God has not “let the cat out of the bag” about exactly when Jesus will return does not allow that there is an if about his return.  “So too will be the coming of the Son of Man” is not a question, but a statement of prophetic fact; Jesus IS coming again.
While serving in Jacksonville, Florida I drove every day up Main Street to our church.  Around 8th Street the Day Labor office was always surrounded by hopeful people at 7am.  They waited, but had nothing to do.
Husbands sometimes feel this way waiting for that special someone to get that last bit of pesky unruly hair in place.  Wives patiently wait while husbands work on getting around to taking out the garbage.  The waiting game!
This is so different from the picture Jesus paints.  In a later part of Jesus’ sermon he tells the parable of the talents.  A businessman going on a trip gathers his three employees and places the responsibility for his property in their hands.  The businessman calls for an accounting upon his return.  The first two employees have worked and made the boss’s investment pay off.  The third buried what he was supposed to use and sat on it until the boss returned.  Needless to say, the boss wasn’t amused!
The parable was a metaphor to describe how Jesus went away from the earth, but left his servants (you and me) to be stewards over his kingdom.  When he returns there will be an accounting of what we have done with what he placed in our hands. 
The parable isn’t about whether or not God loves us – that was settled at the cross.  But they are a measure of how much we love God, and if we desire to be obedient to his command. 
So, we should be busy, not lazy.  John and Charles Wesley should serve as our examples – even if we were not Methodists.  They worked tirelessly and with great sacrifice to extend the Kingdom of God.  Every area of their lives was devoted to Christ. 
Jesus is coming back; it will be in his own time, and we should be living our lives in the full light of an impending accountability.  Advent means “his appearing”.  His appearing means we must give account of the kind of steward we’ve been.  So…while you’re waiting get busy with your talents.

Sifting - God’s Purpose will Divide

Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.  Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.    Matthew 24:40-41 (NRSV)
God will divide the sheep from the goats.  The sheep are those who have accepted Christ – the goats are those who have rejected Christ.  Now, if Jesus is going to do the separating, we must not do that dividing now.  The very nature of judging is forbidden; it is not up to us who qualifies to go to heaven.  Jesus will sort that out on judgment day.
Now, if the judging or sifting is going to work out the purpose of God dividing the lost from the saved, what is our responsibility in the mean time?  Our job is to bring as many of the lost into the fold as we can.
Unfortunately the church is not as good at that as we should be; often that is because we don’t even try.  Many times, however, it is due to our miscommunication and selfishness.  Somehow as the family of God we must reclaim that understanding with compassion that two are going to be in the field…one taken and the other left….LOST! 
Do you recall the movie “Home Alone”?[1]  The main character is Kevin, an 8 year-old boy left alone at home by mistake.  He has to fend for himself while his parents desperately try to get home from a crowded London airport. 
Kevin, played by Macaulay Culkin, is afraid of his next door neighbor, a tall, older, bearded man who is suspected (by the neighborhood kids) of being a murderer.  The man is really only sad and alone, estranged from his only son and his granddaughter.  There’s a scene in the church, where the old man has come to see his granddaughter sing.  Kevin and the old man meet and talk.  In the end their talk leads to understanding, and both are helped.
There is so much that separates the human family.  Advent means Jesus is coming; the Bible word Parousia means presence.  That is at least part of the meaning of Advent…how Jesus came to be Emmanuel – God with us – so God could be in our understanding. 
We cannot be afraid to talk to one another.  No matter what the world is doing these days, believers in Jesus Christ must overcome our fears about sharing the gospel.  The sifting of judgment day demands that we spread the good news – souls are at stake.  While you’re waiting, share the Gospel with others.

Sending – God Defines our Mission

Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.  But understand this:  if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.  Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.     Matthew 24:42-44 (NRSV)
The two terms Keep Awake and Be Ready aren’t just synonymous they are complementary; to do one is to do the other.
What do the phrases imply?
1.      Something to guard and therefore something to lose if we are careless.
2.      We have a responsibility to prepare for his coming, and help others prepare.
Matthew 26:46 is not in today’s reading, but it sums up exactly what our challenge is in meeting the responsibility of being God’s obedient children.  It tells us that the wicked go to eternal punishment and the righteous to eternal life
It is not a game, but the words should ring loudly in our ears about the Lord’s coming…
Ready or not…Here HE comes!

[1] 1990 Twentieth Century Fox©