Monday, June 29, 2009

Lord Of The Storm

When I was growing up in South Carolina I thought there was only one Great Lake and it was in the middle of South Carolina and its name was Lake Marion. It was indeed a great lake. At least I thought so every time my daddy would wake me up to go fishing. I would leap out of bed, already dressed because he had told me the night before to be ready to go early. We would leave home while it was still dark and stop for eggs and grits along the way. When the sun came up we were usually headed out on the lake in the boat for wherever he thought fishing might be the most productive. Most of the time we would leave the lake around noontime with our legal limit of crappie or at least a respectable catch for the day. Rarely did we go and not catch anything. It was during this season in my life that I first heard the phrase, “A bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work.” I don’t remember if it was my daddy that said it or someone at the boat landing or one of the folks that gathered before daylight in a southern restaurant. But one day we went fishing and I believe that my daddy would have rather been working. I know that day I would have preferred to have been cutting grass, washing cars, or delivering papers. That day was the day of the storm. It was the worst storm I had ever seen or heard tell of. It was the ultimate potentially bad day of fishing. We were overtaken by the most perfect granddaddy storm I had ever encountered. Storms on that lake often came unannounced but not altogether unexpected for some. Storms on the lake were part and parcel to life on the lake.
My daddy’s boat was a 14 foot aluminum water craft equipped with a small horsepower Evinrude outboard motor. It was a very small boat and could not compare to the high powered and custom equipped bass boats of today. There was no electronic sonar or high tech fish finders on board. Our fish finder was called Daddy! As I remember the fish were biting pretty good late in the morning and I didn’t notice the change in the weather. When my daddy told me to put away the fishing pole it didn’t make sense to me until I looked toward the other side of the lake. Black clouds had covered the area of the boat landing and the wind began to blow really hard. I was instructed to turn around in the boat and face him as he began to try to outrun the storm. I usually sat in the front of the boat and looked ahead to where we were going. This day he told me to look at him and hold on tight. So I did. I kept looking at him while the hail began to rain down upon our heads and the waves broke over the front of the boat and water began to swirl around my feet. That little boat became like a roller coaster as it rode the waves and several times the motor came all the way out of the water. I didn’t know how fearful and fierce the storm was because I was too busy watching my daddy’s face as he guided the boat to the other side of the lake. As the boat ran aground on the sandy shore, he scooped me up and we sat the storm out under the shelter of somebody’s lake house porch. As you can tell, I survived the storm. And I learned that the best way to survive when you’re in the midst of a storm is to focus on someone you can trust that can help you through it. Storms in life are part of life.
Mark’s Gospel is focused on chronicling the established authority of Jesus in these first four chapters. His authority is demonstrated to the disciples who followed Him, the multitudes who encountered Him, and these principles are preserved for Christ followers of all time. Let’s hear the word of the Lord for today:

On that day, when evening came, He said to them, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They became very much afraid and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him? (Mark 4:35-41)

Sometimes it takes a perfect storm to recognize the Lord of the Storm.


…He said to them, “Let us go over to the other side.”

The instruction of Jesus to His disciples is more than a desire for a boat ride. He was revealing the plan of God. Jesus was on mission, moving from one place to another. In most of chapter four, Christ has been teaching about the nature of the Kingdom of God. Now these kingdom principles were going to be put into practice. The King was going somewhere. The Kingdom of God is like a man sowing seed. The seed had been sown in the hearts of these men. On the lake with Him they would respond to life according to the faith that was growing within them. When disciples go with God they can reasonably expect they will be tested. The Kingdom of God is like a lamp that is lit, Jesus had said. The Kingdom of Light invades the Kingdom of Darkness. They were launching out onto the lake and into the dark. They were going to the other side. Jesus had an appointment with a representative of this dark and demonic realm. And darkness would not prevail. It is helpful to read the first verse of chapter 5 along with this directive to get a sense of the purpose of our Lord. …He said to them, “Let us go over to the other side.” and …They came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes. All that transpires between these two parts of the narrative tells us that Jesus had a plan to go to the other side of the lake and nothing was going to keep that from happening. When God says Let us go over to the other side, He is going over to the other side! And if He says “Let us go…” He is talking to His disciples of that day and this day. He wants us to go with Him and He is going with us.
God’s plan is to be our Companion to the other side of life. This is a part of another chapter of redemption’s story. God’s original intent of unhindered and full fellowship between God and man is still His plan. Storms and darkness are major deterrents for man’s pursuit and plans of perfection. But God has a plan in spite of the storms of life. This day we can learn a lesson from the actions of His first disciples: … they took Him along with them in the boat just as He was;

If God is to be our companion in life we have to take Him “as is”, not like we want Him to be. The first thing we have to realize in our journey on this great sea of life is that we don’t take Him along and then change Him into our image. Here is the error in the disciples thinking. They thought they took Him along. In reality, they are the ones along for the ride. Just as we are. One of the most heretical bumper stickers or license plates that I see on people’s cars is: God is my co-pilot. Really? I want to stop the driver and say: If you are going with God, He is the pilot, you are the passenger. This is your journey, but it’s His plan. He is the captain. We are the sailors. And storms will come. When you’re going with God, the question is not if there are storms, but when they will come. Are you prepared for the storms of life?
God doesn’t alter his plan around the storm. His plan is to go through the storm! A disciple’s life is not like modern day mariners and fishermen who have the benefit of GPS systems and satellite imagery of major storms. They can steer clear of their projected course. Storms that we have ample warning of are easier to avoid. But the storms like this one brewing on this lake at night come up suddenly and without warning. This is our lives as disciples. Often you can’t avoid the sudden storm. But you can prepare for it.
Are you wondering how to prepare for the sudden storm that comes without warning? Sudden and serious marital conflict can bring massive confusion and fear and helplessness and hopelessness. Drastic economic downturns that result in the loss of job and the loss of financial security cause many to doubt the institutions that we all thought we could trust with our treasure. The teenager that shares with her parents that she is pregnant can suddenly bring about a storm that sucks the wind right out of our lungs. The parable of the soils teaches us that the seed of the kingdom will grow on soil that has been prepared. The growth will survive the hard times when we have taken the time to take Jesus “just as He is”. This Jesus in the boat is the same Jesus we can know today. He is Lord. He is Lord of the storm. Before, during, and after the wind blows... He is Lord.


…and the waves were breaking … the boat was already filling up.”

The disciples had weathered storms before. The Sea of Galilee was known for its potential for sudden storms. But this storm frightened these fishermen. When a fisherman is fearful, when a sailor is terrified, it is a significant and a very perilous condition. When the boat is full of water, it will no longer serve as a boat. It will sink. This storm was a threat to their lives. But it was also a threat to their faith. Would what they knew about Jesus be enough to sustain them? Is it enough for us?
Storms can be a threat to our faith because of our fear. Where there is fear, faith cannot thrive. Where there is faith, fear must flee. Humans are fearful creatures. And here once again the Lord is on mission. Fear is a by product of man’s sinful humanity. All through the Bible, people are given this comforting message, no matter what they were threatened by: Fear not…God is with you. Perhaps these disciples had not come to this understanding of the nature of God. Maybe they were too fearful to be very faithful. Sometimes we can find ourselves in this predicament. The nature of fearful disciples can bring us to a point where we begin to think wrongly about the nature of God. This wrong-headed thinking drives the disciples’ question: “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”
Fear asks that question and faith answers back. Fear speaks from the hearts of the disciples. In much the same way fear screams today, If God really cared, why am I in so much trouble? Why do I have so much sorrow? Why didn’t God come through with what I need? Doesn’t He care? Perhaps a better question would have been, Lord, don’t you know the danger we are in? To that we can give the answer. The text gives the answer. He does not try to reason them back to reality. Of course He cares. He just acts and the disciples can know that God is aware of the peril within the storm! God is aware and God does care! He is in their boat to go over to the other side. He has chosen them to be with Him in this moment.
The perfect storm is a perfect place to work out what we believe about God. Perhaps you are questioning God’s integrity because of your storm’s intensity. When the serpent insinuated in the Garden that God did not really care about His people, they believed the lie. This is the essence of sin. And we inherited it. If you really know God today you will know that He does really care…and He is calling us to trust Him when we really don’t understand all that is happening. God cares. Keep your eyes on Christ today. Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. God can make a way.


He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea…be still.”

Jesus speaks during the storm. He does not speak to His disciples. People in crisis often cannot hear God speak. The Lord of the Storm is in full crisis management here. He speaks to the storm. In our lives God speaks to storms that are raging. The storm will rage until Jesus speaks. How do we apply this to our storm-tossed lives? Consider changing your petition from Lord, don’t you care that we are perishing to this prayer: Lord help me. I am helpless in this storm. I turn to you and away from my ineffective way of restoration. I trust that you are able to save me. Have mercy on me.
The One who made the wind and sea can change them with His word. The One who holds the world together is able to restore order from chaos. Jesus can tell the wind to stop blowing, because He made the wind. Jesus can tell the sea to stop churning because He made the sea. Do we really believe that this man in the boat was more than a good teacher and a great prophet and a model of morality? Do we really believe that He was God Himself, Creator and Sustainer? If we do then tell me, what circumstance is out of control in your life that Jesus can’t handle?
God makes provision to survive the storm when we submit to His authority. This is the teaching. He is Lord of the Storm. He is Lord of our lives. He is Lord. Jesus knows about human suffering because He is man. Jesus knows how to do something about it because He is God. The Living word is alive and well during the storm. And He has a word for His disciples in the aftermath.


“Why are you afraid?… How is it that you have no faith?”

How Jesus speaks after the storm is instructive. Do you find it strange that Jesus doesn’t say to His disciples, Whew! That was almost a disaster! I’m sorry you were so afraid. You should have awakened me earlier. It’s strange that He does not comfort them as much as confront them. Why? Perhaps it was time that they learned to trust in the truth of His teaching. They were citizens in the kingdom of God and the King was in the boat. This is a revelation to me. We all are in the same boat together. No coincidence that God uses an ark in Noah’s day to preserve His people. Don’t we have enough knowledge about the character of God to trust Him more than ever? Does our prayer life consist of petitions that God help us become holy? The storms of life are used by God to build our faith and not increase our fear.
Our lives are secure when Jesus is with us. Is He with you today? Are you strangely stirred in this moment that you are more fearful than faithful? There is good news. The safest place on earth can be in the eye of the storm with our eyes on the Savior. Safest... but not totally safe. There is pain and trouble and loss in this life. We take great hope to know as Christ followers we will see trouble in this world. It is not a safe place. But with Christ, and in Christ, we are eternally secure. Are you “in Christ”?
During the storm, disciples gain new perspective on God, self, fear, and faith. Stunned at the sudden calm, they reacted to the event in a new way. This is how the holiness of God is often manifested. Sudden and complete stillness and silence can accompany His commanding presence. What is there left to say when you witness the awesome power of a holy God?
“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”
Sometimes it takes a perfect storm to gain a perspective of the perfect Christ.
Jesus spoke before the storm, during the storm, and after the storm. The disciples once feared the storm and now they feared the Lord of the Storm. Do you fear Him? Are you reverent in your interaction with God? Does God’s awesome power of God cause you to hold your breath at times and marvel at His majestic and sovereign authority? Sometimes it takes a perfect storm to recognize our imperfections and His perfect plan.
God’s plan is unchanged. He’s going to the other side. Will you go with Him?
God’s perspective has not changed. He takes us just as we are. We can take Him just as He is. He will not change to accommodate our comfort or convenience. That is a good thing. We have an unchanging God in a rapidly changing world.
God’s not as concerned with the problems of the storm as the people who are caught in them. He cares more about our holiness than our happiness. Remember where they were going. Into the darkness. On mission. At war. If you want to live in the Kingdom of God, warfare is a part. Storms are coming.

Our so what teaching of the day:

Get your eyes off the storm and fix them upon your Savior.
We can trust our captain.
Let us go over to the other side.

Jesus is Lord and has authority over the storms in our lives. He is Lord of the Storm.

A Father's Story

Sometimes I am careless in the way I respond to an invitation. Often I don’t respond at all. Or I say I’ll come if I can…let me check my schedule. But there are those invitations that have the initials R.S.V.P. at the end. Here that the person who is inviting me desires that I respond with one of the following responses: Yes, I will attend or No, with regrets, I am unable to be there. On some occasions, the person who extends an invitation to me may wonder if I actually received the invitation, or did I ignore it if I received it, or if I just forgot because after all, we all are really busy. I don’t think that I am alone in my cavalier manner in the way I interact with an invitation. A lot of people in this culture act the same way. And often the one who is inviting us has the attitude of “Come if you can and if you don’t I’ll understand.” But in other parts of the world, it is considered rude if you do not at least acknowledge the invitation because it shows a lack of respect for the host. And in some cultures today it is considered an insult if we do not come. After all, we are invited. And invitations are special.

Today we look at an old familiar story in the Bible concerning Abraham.
God speaks to Abraham at the high point of his life, giving him an invitation, so to speak, for Abraham to obey His command to sacrifice his son Isaac. God does not communicate with him in the form of a request or gives Abraham any other option. This is the pattern of the God of the Bible. When He speaks to a human being and tells them what He wants them to do, this communication is an invitation. It is no less so today, even in our culture.
God never wonders if we got the invitation. To Him invitations are special and He still speaks to His people. He sends the invitation personally because the invitation is not only special, it is important to Him, to us, and future generations of God’s people.

Let’s read the scripture referred to in the Jewish tradition as The Binding. It is a reference to the binding of Isaac to the sacrificial altar by his father Abraham. It is a father’s story. Abraham’s story can teach us how to respond to God in times where He invites us to go to a place we don’t want to go and do something we don’t want to do. Everything that had taken place in Abraham’s life was leading up to this crucial test. How would he respond to this invitation from God?

Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.”
So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance.
Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”
So the two of them walked on together. Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”
Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the LORD it will be provided.”

God invites you to become involved in His work…our response to God will determine our experience with God today and for the rest of our lives.

God’s invitation to Abraham included three aspects: Examination, Revelation, and Declaration.


Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham (Gen 22:1)

Like a Master Craftsman, God continually tests what He is working on. He does not call us to follow Him and leave us to wander aimlessly and without direction. God was actively involved over the period of Abraham’s life since He called him to leave his ancestral home and go to a place he did not know. Abraham’s life was shaped by a series of choices that he made over time as to whether he trusted himself and his own ability more than he trusted in the promises of God. God was building a fruitful father from a faithful follower. This is God’s plan. He calls us to follow Him. And He examines our faithfulness to follow.

God requires us to offer completely that which is most precious. In the manner consistent with the sacrificial system, God has told Abraham to offer his son as a burnt offering. The method of a burnt offering consisted of a total sacrifice of the most prized specimen such as a bull or lamb. God wanted Abraham to be willing to surrender his son, his only son Isaac, the one that he loved to God. This was the ultimate test of his life. God presses in on him and Abraham is out of options. He can obey or not. But in this was a teaching moment, for both father and son.

We cannot teach our children how to follow God unless we follow God. We will not be an example to the next generation if we do not exemplify obedience to God. Our lives as fathers will not bear fruit unless we are faithfully following God. When we respond obediently, God reveals where He is working.


There was a revelation to Abraham and for Abraham. He was called to trust God. Trust requires a test. In this extreme test, God is the ultimate test administrator. He desires that the subject of the test receives a greater revelation of the ability of God to provide the resources needed for obedience. In other words, God wanted Abraham to learn that God can be trusted with our test. He is there to help us be obedient.

There was a revelation to Isaac and for Isaac. Isaac trusted his father. But he must learn to trust God more. He trusted Abraham. His language suggests this. He calls him “my father”, a personal term of the utmost respect. His attitude of obedience in “the binding” tells me he was submitted to his father’s will. After all, Isaac, at least a teenager by this time, could have probably overpowered this aged man who was well over 100 years old. Because he trusted Abraham and was obedient to his directive, God would indeed reveal more to him. This is the way of God. He reveals more when we obey more. Another revelation for Isaac is the revelation of God’s provision. “Where is the lamb?” was Isaac’s question to Abraham. “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering,” was Abraham’s answer. Isaac’s substitutionary sacrifice, the ram caught in the thicket, is a type that points to Christ on the cross, offered as the Lamb of God for God and to God as a total sacrifice for our sin in our place. Isaac was bound to the altar just as surely as we were bound to the cross in the sacrificial death of Christ. Isaac was spared by God’s provision. So were we. What a revelation.

There was a revelation in the world around them. Child sacrifice was common to the pagan culture around them. It is common in our world today. Children are sacrificed because people do not live as though they trust and love God. Their innocence and youth are squandered because of parental pursuit of personal pleasure. Even in our culture, people do not often see God’s people loving God more than pagans love their gods. Abraham was to be seen by the pagan culture around him that he loved and obeyed his God at least as much as the idolaters loved their idols. The culture we are surrounded by today needs to see a revelation of God’s people loving God more than the non-Christian loves their functional gods.

There was a revelation of God Himself. Here is what God desired that the Canaanite people see about the God of Abraham. He wanted them to see a God that is unique, a one-of-a- kind God. It is what God desires that people in our culture see today. This God is different. He desires obedience and not sacrifice. The people of God should reflect that our God is different and demands radical obedience rather than unreasonable sacrifice. The offering of Christ on the cross was more than sufficient to atone for our sin and to effect our salvation.
When God reveals Himself in a personal way, it is a message we can declare.


“God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” (8)
Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the LORD it will be provided.” (14)

God always provides the means for what He requires. We are able because God enables. We can be obedient because God desire that we obey. And He makes a way for us to obey. This was a story that no doubt this father and son would relate to future generations. The whole point to this story is that we can trust God will provide for Himself what He requires of us.
Abraham would not die until His grandson Jacob was a teenager. Do you think Jacob ever heard the story? Jacob would do his own faith-wrestling with God. Jacob would have to trust God and could not rely on what God had done in the life of Isaac and Abraham. But the story that a father tells his son and grandson about God can surely shape our faith.

Sometimes the next generation needs to hear a faith-building story. My grandfather died a few years ago in his nineties. At his funeral his former pastor told a story about an event I remembered as a young boy. The details about this personal story were hidden from me. I would have loved to have heard the story from my grandfather or even my father. The story unfolded at the funeral told of a time when my father’s younger brother, my grandfather’s youngest son, was serving his second combat tour in Vietnam. My grandparents received a message from the Marine Corps that he was missing in action and feared that he was dead. This pastor related that my grandfather called him and asked him to meet with him and a couple of other men at the church building to pray. When the pastor arrived, there was only my grandfather’s car in the parking lot. When the pastor stepped out of his car he could hear the sound of a man crying out in prayer to his God from inside the building. As he entered the sanctuary, the praying never stopped. When the other men got there, they prayed into the night for hours and hours. Finally, my grandfather stopped praying and stood up. He said that he believed he could trust God with this trial. The next day the Marine Corps notified my grandparents that their son had been found. God can indeed be trusted with our trials. And when you think about it, God entrusts the trial to us as well. His invitation always includes a decision to trust Him.

God includes examination, revelation, and declaration in His invitation. He does this so there will be communication about Him throughout the next generation. It is our privilege to share our story and how it is woven in God’s story. God is still building a people of faith. He is still testing what He is making.

Here is the so what of today’s message: Do you have a story about God’s faithfulness to tell to the next generation? Are you faithfully telling it and living like it makes a difference to you in your life?

God invites you to become involved in His work…our response to God will determine our experience with God today and for the rest of our lives for future generations.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Share Cropping

Sharecropping has a long history. It’s history is not only unique in American agriculture but in other parts of the world as well. The term sharecropping describes a system of agricultural production in which a landowner allows a tenant to use the land in return for a share of the crop produced on the land. Historically, this kind of arrangement went on in many different cultures and was in effect in Biblical times. You can see this arrangement described in some of the stories that Jesus told. For example, He told a parable about a man who planted a vineyard, rented it out to others, and went on a journey. At harvest time the owner of the vineyard sent a slave to receive some of the produce. His slave was beaten and sent away empty-handed. He sent many other slaves who were treated in much the same way, some of them beaten, and some were killed. Finally he sent his son, who he hoped would be respected. But they killed him in order to steal the inheritance of the vineyard. The point of the parable is that the owner of the vineyard would take drastic action to protect his investment and his inheritance. He would take the vineyard from the ones who were not honorable and give it to others because he cared about the harvest. And he cared about the vineyard.
The kingdom of God is planted by a planter and a planner. God cares about His kingdom and He cares about the harvest. In our message today we get a sense of what is on the heart of God as Jesus continues in the Gospel of Mark to illustrate the teaching of the Sower who came to sow. We learned that the seed of the gospel will bear fruit in a life that has been prepared to receive God’s word. That life will look like a lamp that shines forth wherever it is placed in the darkness. Today’s lesson teaches us that if we have received the gospel we not only have a responsibility to shine, we have a privilege to share. We share in the planting and harvesting that God Himself is bringing about. Listen to the word of the Lord.

And He was saying, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows--how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29)

Growth in the Kingdom of God is a partnership venture.


…the Kingdom of God…

The Kingdom of God Originates with God. God owns the field. God supplies the seed. Nothing is sown of an eternal nature until God provides the place for the harvest and the seed that grows. The seed comes from a supplier that can be trusted. Man does not supply it. He is only given seed to sow. Kingdom seeds come from the King and we become partners in the venture when God grants us the privilege to share in His work. We do not choose to share in the planting. God does the choosing.


…is like a man who casts seed upon the soil…

God gives the seed to the sower. The work of the sower is to sow the seed. God chooses us to be about the business of sowing in the Kingdom of God. The man that casts seed upon the soil of the kingdom knows that he is not responsible for its growth. He is only invited to be a part of the experience. Nothing is grown that is not sown. Planting with a hope for the harvest is the best we can do. Sometimes we plant with expectation but are often disappointed. Other creatures can steal the seed or eat the plants or the weather can be our nemesis. Often we can be the biggest threat to the growth of what is planted by our carelessness, ignorance, or neglect. So we sow with a hope for the harvest. But when God is in control of kingdom growth He has an expectation beyond our hope. God is planning for His kingdom to come to fruition. God expects the harvest to come because He is in control of the growth.


…and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, the seed sprouts up and grows…how, he himself does not know…

The sower cannot explain how the seed grows. He only knows that it does. The sower knows that it is nothing he is doing makes the seed grow. He lives out his life after sowing. He goes about the business of sleeping and waking. And the fruit grows even at night in growing season. Often we don’t know what we have sown until we see the fruit. Faithful sowers are faithful to sow. He has done all he could and all that he should. Faithful Growers grow. God is a faithful grower. It is God who appoints the seed to grow in a specific place and time. Growing season for Kingdom growth depends on the seasons that God ordains in God’s timing. Unplanted seed does not grow. The best place for growth is in prepared soil. It doesn’t matter that I have seed stored away for emergencies. Unless it is planted it will not grow. The word of God is planted in our lives for the need yet unforeseen. The kingdom growth that bears fruit is foreseen by God. Satan demanded permission to sift Peter like wheat. But Jesus had foreseen this kind of testing and the faith of Peter would prevail. You may be here today relatively unscathed by the troubles and trials that come upon some of us. Thank the Lord for His mercy. And thank Him that the word of God will not be wasted and He knew when you would need His word of comfort and courage the most. The seed must be placed in fertile ground. We who are sowing the seed of the kingdom do not know how it grows. We only know that it does.
God expects a harvest. Remember, the Planter is a Planner. He does not plant without purpose. God knows what harvest is coming and where it is planted and He is looking for fruit. He expects to see it. God expects fruitful disciples to make fruitful disciples. Do you expect a great harvest here at Mount Olivet? Can any good fruit come from here? God has an eye on the harvest. Are growing and sowing? God expects a harvest. And He will not be disappointed.


…the soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head.

Good ground produces good growth. The soil that is prepared makes the difference in the growth. Just because an onion is labeled Vidalia Onion does not mean it is a Vidalia onion. True Vidalia onions grow within a certain area mandated by Georgia state law in the vicinity of Vidalia, Georgia. It is something about the soil in that region that makes the onion unique and gives it its sweet flavor. In much the same way kingdom people can only grow in certain locations. They must be grown in God’s kingdom. You will be hindered from bearing kingdom fruit while you are living in unholy places, rooted in unholiness. Just because we call ourselves Christian does not mean we are kingdom people. Just because we are church members does not mean we are truly kingdom people. We are the fruit of the gospel. We are the plants of the kingdom that are fruit bearing and are to be reproducing as disciples. For us to have the kingdom growing within us we must have roots in the kingdom. We cannot have our lives rooted in adulterous relationships and claim to be faithful to our spouse. Evil fruit will grow from evil roots. Kingdom growth comes from kingdom ground. Good ground is sown by a good God. God grows good fruit.
A receptive and redeemed heart is the fertile ground of God’s kingdom.
After the sowing, the soil controls the growing. Our hearts will control whether a reproductive harvest is possible. In the right kind of heart and in the right kind of season the harvest manifests itself. It creates a desire for others to be a part of and share in this harvest. When our hearts receive God’s word, we are transformed into people who want to share God’s love. This transformation often comes by stages; the blade, the head the mature grain in the head like the crop that is being produced. The growth is progressive. Our growth as disciples is progressive as well. This is our burden. To share what has grown in us.


But when the crop permits he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.

Kingdom harvest is dependent upon the crop condition and the instruments of harvest. Man plays a significant part in the harvest. But he must wait on the time of the crop and the proper method of harvest. The crop has something to say about the timing of the harvest. Crops have a way of letting you know it is time to harvest. When I have someone ask me about spiritual things I know it is because something is growing there. I must be prepared to engage them and be a part in the planting of the seed of the gospel of the kingdom of God. And I must be ready to know the season of the harvest. I must know how to reap when the crop is ready. The gospel is not a fuzzy series of multiple choice questions where people are giving painless options to follow Jesus and His teachings when they decide the time is right for them. Listen, harvest time is now! The gospel is confrontational. We need to present it in such a way that people are clear that when they decide not to surrender their lives to Christ, they will never bear the fruit of the Kingdom of God in their lives. They will not be a part of God’s harvest. They will be harvested in the kingdom of darkness. The contrast is light and dark. Life and death.
Without God growing His harvest in you, there is something else growing there. Jesus told a parable about end-time harvest. In Matthew 13 He illustrated the teaching of the sower and the seeds with the parable about the wheat and the tares, or the wheat and the weeds. He said the kingdom of God could be compared to a man who sowed wheat in his field and while he was sleeping, the enemy of the kingdom of God sowed weeds. When the weeds were seen growing alongside the wheat the slaves of the landowner wanted to know if they should pull up the weeds. The landowner said no and that the harvest would solve the problem. Both the tares and the wheat would be harvested. But the final destination of both would be different. The weeds were to be bound and burned. The wheat would be gathered to the barn of the owner of the field. Are you wheat or weed in the evidence of what God is growing in you? Do you think and act more like Christ today or more like what the world is growing? There is a harvest coming. We are part of the harvest and we have a part in the harvest.
What makes us a partner is that we have a part. Our part in God’s harvest is living our part. If you are a part of the kingdom, if you are a child of God, God will use you to reach other children of God. Our part is to live like Christ. He is our model. He did not openly sin and encourage others to sin. He said go and sin no more. Stop sinning. It grows things other that godliness. And its end is death of the soul. Bound and burned. Our part is to live like Christ. God allows us to be a partner in the planting and in the reaping. The growth is up to Him.
We share in the benefits of the harvest. First of all, a godly life is a blessed life. To live as a kingdom citizen is to know the blessing of God even in this sinful world. The benefits I have to serve in the planting and reaping of God’s harvest is that I am in partnership with the best partner a man could ever have. I benefit from having a partner I can trust. He will not lie or cheat or keep me in bondage. He sets me free to worship and serve Him. Another benefit of that harvest is to see the miraculous way that God sets people free. He grows the seed of the gospel within them and gives them a new desire for Him and His harvest. He shares the fruits of godliness with us. The world has nothing like these to compare. Listen to what we share in God’s kingdom harvest, otherwise known as the fruits of the Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:22-24)
This passage says that if we belong to Christ Jesus these fruits are not only a part of what God is growing in our lives, they are also beneficial to us and others. This kind of character mirrors what life in God’s kingdom looks like. We look like God. We “image” Him. Now pay attention to the first word of the passage. The word “But” signals a contrast of something we should be looking for. This Holy Spirit fruit is contrasted with something else. It’s a manifestation of our flesh. It’s what grows out of the natural human being, not the supernatural one. It’s what the world produces. Take a look at the following passage:
Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

Which kingdom is growing in you? Which harvest will you share?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Seeing Lights and Hearing Things

Children are made to be seen and not heard. Such was the admonition of some of our ancestors. What was the idea that was conveyed? It was that children were to be displayed but had no significant contribution to mature conversation. After all, what did they know about life? What wisdom did they have to share? What could children know?

In the life of the disciple it is not enough to hear the word of God. There must be application. We must use what we have been given. We have spent the last couple of weeks considering the parable of the four types of soil. We have learned that for our lives to be considered the “good soil”, of the fruit bearing kind, it is essential that first of all we receive the seed of the gospel, the beginning of God’s word and its truth is manifested in our lives. The sower came to sow. God has come into our lives giving us opportunity to share in the fruit bearing process. The next few verses tell us what to do with what we heard in the Good Ground, Good Growth passage of Mark 4:1-20. This passage is the “so what” message of the previous passage. How should the child of God, the disciple of Christ, and the citizen of the Kingdom of God respond rightly to the word of God?
Let’s read and consider this passage together. Hear the word of the Lord.

And He was saying to them, “A lamp is not brought to be put under a basket, is it, or under a bed? Is it not brought to be put on the lampstand? For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it would come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”
And He was saying to them, “Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it will be measured to you; and more will be given you besides. For whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.” (Mark 4:21-25)

The Word of God is to be visible and audible in the life of the disciple.


We can safely assume from this passage that a lamp is brought out to be lit. Even though a careful reading does not tell us that the lamp is lit, I think without this assumption the illustration loses its effect. I don’t think it was a normative cultural experience to have lamps on display that were not to be used. Today we can see decorative lamps on display in houses or model homes that are not even plugged in. They are there for looks. But in the day that Jesus was sharing this with His hearers the lamp had a functional purpose.

Just as a seed is sown for the purpose of growing, a lamp’s purpose is to give light. Lamps of the first century were filled with oil with a wick that was to be lit. Often the lamp would burn all night, giving light to dark places. Everyone would know where the lamps were kept and what they were for. They were not made to be hidden away.

A lamp that is hidden or covered is useless in a dark place. Imagine something that would not happen. First century children ask their mother or father why it is so dark in the home. The parents give the answer that they had chosen not to light the lamps. Perhaps they would need it when it was darker than the present darkness. This would be something that would not happen in first century homes. So why does a similar thing happen in ours? Why don’t we consider the Word and the work of God in our home lives, actively reading and studying and applying the Word of God in our homes so our children will have light in this dark world? It is almost like we are conserving the power of God to illuminate the darkness when the dark gets darker. Listen friends, the dark is darker today and getting darker. It is time to light the lamp and do not hide it.

The lamp is given to give light to all so hidden things are revealed. The song comes to mind that says “Thy Word Is a Lamp Unto My Feet and a Light Unto My Path”. This is a summary of the teaching of the Word of God. God’s word is illuminating for our journey through life. It helps me to see what may trip me up or cause me to stumble. It keeps me on the path of life and not wandering onto some broader way of destruction. A lamp is not brought out to be hidden.


We cannot hide the Kingdom light, even when it casts its light on our personal dark places. The Bible teaches that Jesus came to be the Light of the world. He told His disciples of that day and our day that we are the light of the world. We have His light within if we are born into His Kingdom and indwelled by the Spirit of God. Sometimes that light illuminates our dark places we would rather keep darkened.

Sometimes we desire to stay in the dark. A pastor I know went to visit a man who had attended the church worship service sporadically. It was late in the day and they stood in the yard having a conversation until the sun went down. The man asked the pastor if he would like to come in and the pastor said yes. The man led the pastor into a room and never turned on the light. They continued to have a conversation for another hour or so until they could barely make out each other’s form in the darkness. A few months later the man began to attend church regularly and it seemed as though something had changed within him. He asked the pastor one day if he remembered that home visit and how he didn’t turn on the light. The pastor said he remembered that day. The man related that the reason he did not turn the light on was that he was afraid the pastor would read the Bible to him. He said that he wished he had turned on the light. Amazingly, we can know the illuminating power of the word of God and choose to remain in darkness anyway. God’s word says that man loves the darkness more than light because his deeds are evil. The word of God casts light in our personal dark places because God is personal.

It is our responsibility to remain in the place we are placed to illuminate the room we occupy. In our trials that seemingly would break us we are sustained by God to endure as His witnesses. As children of God, we are often on display much like a lamp on a stand. In the face of intense suffering we are often pointed out as people wonder how we are bearing up under the weight of such sorrow and pain. We are often tempted to run away and seclude ourselves in our suffering. But often it is God’s way for us to be placed in a hard place and allow His light to shine through the cracks in our lives so that He is seen shining through and the power of the word of God is realized by others. Stay where you are and do not isolate yourself in your suffering. God knows your condition. He wants to work in your suffering for redemptive purposes. Our room is where we live out our lives. Our “room” as a disciple is larger than the church building, larger than our house, larger than our workaday world, larger than our schoolrooms. Our room that needs illumination is the entire world. Our room is our life at large. The light is too big to keep under a bucket, too big to hoard in our hearts. Light is given to share with all who are in the room.


The word of God teaches us how to live in the light of God’s kingdom. It is not enough for the people of God to know the word of God, although this is where it starts. How will we know how to live if we don’t know how God says for us to live? But to know in more than just an intellectual way we must experiential know the word of God experientially. We must put this knowledge to work. To apply God’s word to our lives, we have to believe it and trust that the application of God’s principles for living has great value for abundant living.

More light than heat is the goal of our growth. Often our attitude in sharing the word of God is one of a blow torch or a heat lamp or a finely tuned laser light that can cut without concern. We want to tell those who live in the darkness that they are to be condemned without telling them to come to God and be healed. The obligation to share the light of God’s word should be instructive, not destructive. We should care about those who are lost in darkness.

The more we listen to God’s word the more it shapes how we think in our world. A biblical worldview is one that taps into God’s way of thinking. Knowing God’s way of thinking comes by studying what God has said which comes from the very mind of God. Faith comes by hearing. What are you putting into your mind lately? What is it that you listen to? One way to hear God’s word in a fresh new way is to read it aloud or hear it read aloud. The more we listen to what the world is speaking the more fear it will produce. This is the world’s message. Be afraid, be very afraid. The word of God says: Fear not, I am with you.

The more we hear and obey, the more we are given. We begin our journey of faith with God by acting upon His revelation. We can only know God when He reveals Himself. And then we act upon that revelation. We hear. We obey. Faith grows. And God reveals more so we can obey more so we can trust more so our faith grows more.

The Kingdom of God is like a lamp that has been lit. The lamp has been lit by the king. And the king is all about light. His light has overcome the darkness and it is spreading. When dark is the darkest, light has more power. The King is able to keep this lamp burning. He can sustain it and He knows where He wants to shine it. The darkness will not overcome. This world will one day be lit up all the time and there will be no darkness at all. We will see the King and His light clearly because sin’s shadows will be gone. There will be no more darkness. God is able to keep the lamp burning. Are we able to keep it from being hidden? Are we doing our part to let it shine and remain in the place we are placed?

The Kingdom of God is like a word that has been heard. God has spoken through the ages. He has told us how to live. We are to practice what we learn from His word so we will know how to live as citizens of His kingdom. Are we applying God’s enlightened teaching to the darkness within us and around us? The King is able to grow the word that has been heard. He is able to sustain His decrees to fruition. God is able to bear the fruit within us that He has sown. Are we able to keep from telling it?

Here’s the “so what” question:

How would the ones who know us best answer that question? It’s easier to pretend around those who know us the least. Are we real in our testimony of the word of God and its application?

Do the citizens of this world as well as the citizens of God’s kingdom see God’s light and hear God’s word when we are around? Do they see lights and hear things?

Children of God AND citizens of His kingdom are made to be seen AND heard.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Good Ground, Good Growth Part 2

How did that plant get there? I asked that question many times when I was a boy looking at a certain plant on my grandparents’ farm. The plant was not planted in the field. It grew by the front porch beside the steps. As near as we could figure it was an orange tree. The leaves it produced year after year were green and smelled like an orange. But the tree never grew very big or produced any fruit. It was more like a bush, stunted in its growth, hindered by the seasons, yet there it lived. The farm country of Coastal South Carolina was a long way from the orange groves of Florida or California. How did that plant get there? My grandmother said it was a “volunteer” plant. That was what someone called a plant out of place. She speculated that someone may have been eating an orange while sitting on the steps and spit the seeds out onto the ground. It made sense to me. But the “volunteer” plant’s name can be misleading. It did not choose to place itself there. Even a volunteer plant is planted by design. Behind every plant there is a planter who plans to plant.
The Kingdom of God is growing in places that seem out of place and people marvel at how it is growing. The Kingdom of God grows by a seed that has come forth from the very Word of God. Behind every plant there is a planter who is a planner. Let us look into part two of Good Ground, Good Growth and read the passage together.

He began to teach again by the sea. And such a very large crowd gathered to Him that He got into a boat in the sea and sat down; and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land. And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching, “Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow; as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.”
And He was saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. And He was saying to them, “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE, AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND, OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT RETURN AND BE FORGIVEN.”
And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them. In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” (Mark 4:1-20)

The Kingdom of God is a planned and planted community.

Last week we discovered that the parable tells us there are four types of soil in which the seed of the gospel, or the word of God, is sown on humanity. Let’s look at some additional points about the passage in today’s lesson.


...they have no firm root...when affliction or persecution arises... they fall away.

A shallow layer of soil represents a shallow, superficial life with God. This is the plight of the modern day Christian. We are living in a land of visual images and thirty second sound bites. We are pragmatic and practical. We don’t want to waste our time. But time with God is never wasted. It has always been that way for the human creature. We invest our time in earthly pursuits and are bound in temporary things. But these things will pass away. But the word of God is eternal. And time in God’s word will yield fruit in eternal pursuits.
Without time with God’s word, it will not be a resource in hard, hot times. The earthly trials in our lives seem to endure. But they are only for a season in light of eternity. God is growing His Kingdom to endure eternity. It will be built to last. This world has trouble for the child of God. Sometimes the trials last longer than others. But these are momentary afflictions and to endure the momentary affliction we must have an eternal resource. God’s word is designed to grow His kingdom people. Even in hard times and fiery trials.
Some hot times and hard times are planned events. All of life’s sorrows are the result of sin. Some of our trials and troubles are the result of our or someone else’s sinful choices. Some of our struggle is the natural result of living in a fallen and sin sick world. But some of our testing is designed to teach us how to endure by trusting in the ultimate Goodness of God. He may allow the enemy to touch us like Job and use the trial as a proving ground of faith. Sometimes the trial comes because we are being prepared to bear fruit, much like the vines are pruned in John 15 so that they bear more fruit. God knows what He is doing growing His kingdom. The Planter is a Planner.
Peter endured as a disciple who was sifted like wheat in the hands of Satan. But listen to his apostolic writing of later years as he wrote to encourage a church that was in the midst of hard, hot times of testing and persecution.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. (1 Peter 4:12-13) Fiery ordeals are to be expected for followers of Christ. Our lives with God have been planted and planned. And from time to time, calamity comes that results in trusting God on a deeper level. Much like the farmers of yesteryear used to burn over fields that had grown up and were not producing, God sometimes allows the field of our lives to be scorched and torched so that the thing which is real remains.


...the worries of the world...deceitfulness of riches...desires for other things... choke the word...

We make time and give priority to what we deem important. To focus on God we must not be distracted with what this world has to offer. We can spend a lot of time investing in what will not endure. Some people enjoy a more healthy life than those who are chronically afflicted or diseased. Some people have more money or property than others. But all men share a common resource. Time can only be used and it can never be hoarded away for when we need more of it. We come under the delusion that we will have time in the end of our lives to turn to the things of God. But who knows when the last breath of life will leave our bodies? We waste a life when we spend our time away from God. When we neglect eternal things while pursuing worldly things, it will produce the fruit of man’s futility…thorns and thistles.
Thorns grow in ground left unattended. Thorny ground offers nothing but restriction in our freedom. It is increasingly binding. Imagine getting caught in a briar patch and trying to move quickly out of it. The more you struggle and try to struggle out of it, the more bound you become. Thorny ground is cursed ground. It is not fruitful in God’s kingdom. But the King has done something about this cursed ground. He took our thorns, our curse and wore them Himself.
Thorns were worn to the cross in man's mockery at the Crucifixion. That was not without design. God ordained that shameful display so we would not miss what was taking place. The evidence of that crown of thorns in the empty tomb is non-existent. The thorns were left at the cross. In redemption’s story they do not survive…the curse is broken. Life with God brings blessing and not cursing. That is good news.

...they hear the word and accept it, and bear fruit...

Hybrid seeds do not reproduce. These are the seeds genetically engineered and altered by man for a greater and timely harvest. These seeds quickly produce a harvest but do not reproduce viable seed. Seeds that reproduce are called heirloom seeds. This is illustrative of what Jesus is getting at here. The heir of God, the child of God will be instrumental in the disciple making process. I am an heir to the kingdom of God because I am born of God. I will be equipped to make disciples. The Planter has planned for it. Heirloom seeds reproduce.
Hybrid disciples will not make disciples. A hybrid disciple is one that is a disciple of Christ and a disciple of any or many other contradictory teachings. A hybrid disciple places trust in man’s enlightened ideas. This is the follower of Jesus that follows other teachings like secular humanism. Some things are incompatible with Christianity. Islam, New Age and Mormonism are just a few. Idolatry is incompatible with Christian teachings. Jesus is not one among many gods. Jesus is the One True God.
Accepting God’s word is to trust its truth and base our life upon the merit of its teachings. God’s word is not true because we believe it. It’s true because it’s God’s Word. We can believe it and trust it because it is true. God is credible. To accept it is to apply it. To receive it is to believe it. A believing life is the good soil.

Good ground is godly ground. Godly ground yields good growth.

Godly ground is God’s hope for humanity. An illustration of God’s mission to the world is given to us in John 12. Here is the turning point in John’s Gospel where the Greeks, or people outside of the covenant people of God, come seeking Jesus. Here is the Planner and the Planter at work. These pagans would not be eager to see Jesus if God had not planted that desire within them. This exchange comes after the seventh sign Jesus gives in the Gospel of John which is the raising of Lazarus.

Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast; these then came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
Philip came and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip came and told Jesus.
And Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him. (John 12:20-26)

Here is our “So What” for today.

Good growth is when someone loses their…
…livelihood to a failing economy and chooses to believe and hope in God’s word.
…health to crippling disease and chooses to believe and hope in God’s word.
…childhood to sexual abuse and chooses to believe and hope in God’s word.
…marital dreams to an unfaithful spouse and chooses to believe and hope in God’s word.
…loved one to the darkness of death and chooses to believe and hope in God’s word.
…pride through a series of failures and chooses to believe and hope in God’s word.
…life in their own strength and chooses to believe and hope in God’s word and His work.

Life with God is all about life coming from that which was dead.
Life without God is all about death coming to that which was living.
How is your garden growing? What does your life look like?
God grows life…sin yields death.


Good Ground, Good Growth Part 1

What is more valuable than silver or gold in a real meltdown? According to a recent advertisement on the radio and internet it is a Survival Seed Bank. In doing some research I found that the assortment of seed this company offers can allow one to plant a full acre “crisis garden” in the event that world events cause a breakdown of society and result in an interruption of food supplies. The seed is touted as non-hybrid seed and it is not genetically altered. This allows reproduction of seed for future planting. Evidently, much of today’s seed is of a “terminating” variety and is sterile in that it will not produce another generation of plant growth. In their advertisement to market these seed packages, some of the bullet points cited on their website can be pretty troubling.
• WorldNet Daily cites strong evidence that some government agencies are stockpiling huge amounts of canned food.
• Jim Randas, former U.S. Intelligence officer, appeared on ABC telling Americans to start stockpiling food.
• Grocery store prices are rising faster than any time in U.S. history.
Whether this is a legitimate way to prepare for such a scenario depends upon whether a person thinks this is a believable solution. The seeds are represented to be fast-growing and self-reproducing. But even if the seed is without defect, aren’t there other factors involved? People have been planting things a long time and sometimes crops failed for one reason or another. The timing of the planting and environmental conditions plays a role in the growth of the seed. A major concern is what if the soil is unsatisfactory? What if the ground will not grow the seed that is planted? If the seed is viable and the method of planting is commendable, does the soil condition play a role in the success of the harvest?
One of the parables that Jesus told seems to indicate that the condition of the soil is absolutely critical in the support of the growth and reproduction of the seed. Let’s read the passage before us today and consider the message the Word of God has for us today in GOOD GROUND, GOOD GROWTH.
He began to teach again by the sea. And such a very large crowd gathered to Him that He got into a boat in the sea and sat down; and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land. And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching, “Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow; as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.”
And He was saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. And He was saying to them, “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE, AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND, OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT RETURN AND BE FORGIVEN.”
And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them. In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” (Mark 4:1-20)

This will be the first part of a two-part message. There is much to consider with this significant parable. In fact, Jesus said that the understanding of this passage is crucial and foundational to understanding all the parables. In the context of where the author of Mark has placed this parable, I believe Jesus is teaching about the authority found within the Kingdom of God. We have dealt with the conflict that Jesus had within His earthly family in Chapter 3. Remember that they came to apprehend Him because they thought He had taken leave of His senses. Along with the conflict within the family structure was the collision with the religious institution. He was accused of being in league with Satan. Jesus alludes to the reality of two kingdoms in conflict. The kingdom of Satan and the Kingdom of God are the only two ultimate kingdoms. And in the end there will be only one. There is only room in the universe for one King of the Universe. God is in the business of plowing and planting and ultimately harvesting souls for His Kingdom.
So for these two messages, let’s consider this following truth:



Behold the sower went out to sow...

Not all seed suppliers can be trusted. In the movie Secondhand Lions, Robert Duvall and Michael Caine play two elderly brothers who suddenly have their grand-nephew (played by Haley Joel Osment) dropped off at their place for a season. One of the scenes is where they all put on their overalls to tend the garden that had been planted. As they move from row to row, the descriptions and pictures from the seed packages don’t represent what is growing out of the ground. Peas, beans, squash, tomatoes, beets, potatoes, and Bok Choy all suspiciously look like corn. One of the brothers says, “All those seeds did look alike, come to think of it.” To which the other brother says, “Corn, corn, corn…Nothing but corn!” One of them laments that the seed salesman sure saw them coming. They would probably agree that not all seed suppliers can be trusted.

In the parable, there is only one kind of seed from only one source. The word of God is that which is planted. The Word of God can only come from God. The King is the sower that sows the word. God’s kingdom is based on His word. The Kingdom of God is the realization of a vision in the mind of God. It is a planted community. It is the desire of the King that we are there with Him. The sowing of the word is His way of bringing us into it. When God sows His word into our heart, it is planted there. Our heart condition will determine how well it grows.


...some seed fell... beside the road...on rocky ground...among the thorns...into the good soil...

Our lives represent how receptive we are to the word of God. Much like prepared soil receives seed, the circumstances and trials and suffering and victories all affect our hearts to receive the word of God. These four different types of soil can represent to us the condition of our hearts where the seed is sown. All have negative growth except for the good soil. The good soil is not good because it is good in itself. The good soil is good because it is made to be good. The condition of the soil is often changed by the one who prepares the soil before the planting. The Planter of the seed of God within us is often the Plower of the soil. God plows our hearts and “breaks up our ground” before the seed is sown. Plowed ground is a better environment for a seed to be planted. The Planter is not surprised by the need to plow our hearts. The Planter is also a Planner. He knows how to prepare for His harvest.


…The sower sows the word.

The King has a Master Plan of Community Development. The Kingdom of God has an ultimate look about it. And God knows what it is to look like. Therefore His plan of planting has purpose. And this parable brings us into the truth that God is not about making this world more comfortable for His kingdom people. He is planning a new community. The following points are all part of the plan.

The King sows the word on all types of soil. God chooses those who are His. We are chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. But God is an efficient planter although it may not always seem like it from our perspective. God sows His word on ground that is not receptive to kingdom growth, at least from the way we see it. But just like when we things growing where they should not logically be growing, we can marvel that they are. And we must acknowledge that we would never have planted there. We would have been afraid to waste our seed. God is not concerned with that. He knows why He is doing what He does.

The King is fully aware of the soil preparation or lack of it. God sows the seed of His word on a heart that is so hard we may wonder why He does that. He does that because He is the King. And the King is merciful. And the King cares about growing His kingdom. God’s kingdom is about life. Life is in the sowing.

The King sows the word on soil that will never produce. Even the rocky ground shows potential to grow until the heat bears down on the plant. God knows that His word is a powerful resource for those who will dig deep into in and be strengthened by it. But there are some who will only be superficial in their pursuit of God. And they will not survive as disciples of Christ. But the sower sows the word.

The King sows the word on soil that has been productive but is no longer fruitful. We can safely assume that the seed sown on thorny ground used to yield a crop but the thorns choked it out. Here is the danger of the new believer. They began to bear fruit when they truly sought after God and trusted His word. But they stopped going deep with God and thorns grew in the ground left unattended. Their hearts shifted away from God’s kingdom as they endeavored to build theirs. The problem with building kingdoms of this world is that this world’s kingdoms are cursed. Thus the presence of the thorns. This world has been good at producing thorns and thistles for a long time.

The King sows the word on soil that miraculously produces. The commercials about Miracle Grow remind me of an apt description of my garden. Anything that grows in a garden I plant is a miracle! The good soil of God’s garden produces miraculous growth because miraculous growth glorifies the King. It pleases the King to see the growth and He sustains it for His pleasure and our benefit. But there is one type of soil that does not produce growth and leads to our detriment.


...these are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown...

Living outside of the plan of God allows Satan access to steal the abundant life that God has promised. The thief came to steal, kill and destroy. This is the mission of the devil, the ruler of this world. He steals God’s seed when it falls beside the road. We must be traveling the road that leads to life. The broad path that leads to destruction is not the place we need to be spending our time, pretending to follow God. His way is narrow. His way is true. And a few travel there. Many travel the road where God is not the focus of our destination. You can’t walk with God running with the devil. He will steal your life with God when you give him access. When we grant him authority to enter our lives, we can be assured he will not want our lives to bear fruit for God.

Here’s the so what? of today's message. Are we bringing our lives under the authority of God, the Planter and Planner? Or are we still moving along, working our plan to build our kingdom on this planet? Understanding that there are ultimately two kingdoms, and only one will survive, whose kingdom are we planted in? God is planning and planting His kingdom. Is godliness growing in the garden of your heart?

God can be trusted with our eternal growth. He is growing a crop that will not fail. He's planning and planting. One day the harvest is coming. What a day.