Being Church Without the Building?

Church Becomes a HomeRecently, I ran across a story in an on-line magazine about a couple in Kyloe, Northumberland, England, who purchased an old church building and turned it into a home. The article stated, “If they had not purchased the old church, who knows what would have happened to it, as it was in very bad shape.”

This is not the first time a church building has been renovated for something other than a house of worship.  Last year, while on a trip to Toronto, Canada I saw first hand, a number of church buildings being used as warehouses, restaurants, and apartments.

What is your response when you hear stories like these?  Do you say, “How cool,“ or do you say, “How sad”?  I say, “How prophetic!”  There is a powerful message for each of us – a message we need to hear clearly!

It is sad to see hundreds and thousands of church buildings abandoned and sold each year in America.  It breaks my heart because of what these buildings have meant to people down through the years.  However, is it possible that the loss of these buildings is a blessing in disguise?  Could this crisis force us to face the question of what it means to be the church?  More specifically, “Can we be the church without our buildings?”

Theologically, we know the Church, as the Body of Christ, is not brick and mortar.  In addition, we know historically how the churches became identified with structures, and where the term “house of worship” came from.  However, sometimes we fail to see the negative impact church buildings can have on fulfilling the mission of the Church.

Inherently, there is nothing wrong with believers gathering in buildings. Millions of people have come to Christ and grown in their faith by attending worship services and Bible studies in church buildings.  Many churches use their facilities regularly to minister to the needs of their community. There is however, something seriously lacking in our faith if we focus more on brick and mortar than we do on people, or when we pay more attention to the stained glass and pews than we do the souls of men and women God called us to serve.

The fact that churches in America spend millions of dollars each year on buildings and properties, begs the question. Is this the best use of the resources God has entrusted to His people? What if, rather than spending so much money on ourselves, we shifted our priorities so that the bulk of our resources is spent finding a solution to the problem of human trafficking, or discovering a way to end the tragedy of thousands of children dying everyday from preventable causes?

Please do not get me wrong.  Stained-glass windows are beautiful and can be a source of inspiration for worship.  However, they can also block our vision of the ugliness, pain and depravity of the outside world – precisely the object of God’s redemptive love and the mission field for His Church!

The next time we read and hear about a church building being sold or renovated for use other than as a church, I hope this would serve as a prophetic message – a wakeup call! I pray it will challenge us to be the church outside the walls, to use our resources according the priority Jesus gave us in Matthew 25, and make a difference in the lives of “the least of these.”

Remember, church facilities like other physical icons of our faith exist to inspire, challenge and enable us to minister and serve in the marketplace and communities where we live and work.  At the same time, they have the potential of hindering our mission.  Therefore, let’s keep our focus on Jesus rather than the buildings and institutions that bear His name.  Let’s worship and serve Him alone, and keep in mind everything else is secondary.

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Surviving Under Pressure

In the 1960s the United States government began using nuclear reactors to power submarines.  One of the first pro-type vessels was the THRESHER.  The heavy steel bulkheads and heavy steel armor allowed it to dive deep, and withstand the tremendous pressure of the ocean depths.

Unfortunately, on a test run in 1963, the Thresher’s nuclear engine failed, and it was unable to return to the surface. The submarine sank deeper and deeper into the ocean, and the pressure became so intense that the heavy steel bulkheads buckled, crushing the Thresher with 129 people inside.

When the Navy located the Thresher, at a depth of 8,400 feet, one and a half miles down, it was crushed like an egg shell. This was not a surprise to the search team, because the pressure at that depth is an amazing 3,600 pounds per square inch.

What was surprising to the searchers was the fish they saw at that depth. These fish did not have inches of steel to protect them. They appeared to have normal skin, a fraction of an inch thick. How were these fish able to survive under all that pressure? Why were they not crushed by the weight of the water? They had a secret. Their secret was equal pressure inside and outside. This equal pressurization made it possible for them to survive at great depths, and under great pressure.

When the pressure is on, the Holy Spirit is the “Great Equalizer!  One biblical writer put it this way, “The One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)   Every believer has God’s Spirit living in them, empowering them, at the moment they trust Christ, and because of His presence we become “more than conquerors through Him that loves us.”  (Romans 8:37)

For those of us who follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit’s power within us makes it possible for us to withstand the pressures of life in this world, and gives us the ability, despite difficult circumstances, to be vibrant witnesses for Christ. Without the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and lives, we would have no hope, and would easily be crushed by the pressures of the world.

I am also reminded of how the potter shapes the clay jar by using his hands to exert pressure both inside and out.  It is the balance of this pressure that actually brings the clay into the exact shape and design the potter has in mind, and gives it the strength to go through the tempering fire. We must remember, God never wastes an experience in our lives, but uses each one brings us closer to the divine design He has for us.  Sickness, loss of a job, death of a loved one, or any crisis can bring just the right pressure needed to help shape us into the person He wants us to be.

Only then can we understand fully what Paul, the Apostle meant when he said, “All things work together for good to them that love God and who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)  These “things” will either make us bitter or better, the choice is ours!

So, the next time you feel the pressure is on, remember God is allowing it to mold and shape you. Remember also, He is in control, and He will not let it crush you if you trust in Him.

Adapted from an article by Steve Doyle
The Harbins Post – Harbins Community Baptist Church – Dacula, Georgia

Person of Interest

The “Person of Interest” TV show has become one of my all-timePerson of Interest(2) favorites. Sometimes, I wonder if there really is someone in the government watching us constantly. The recent “leaks” about secret government intelligence gathering projects make me wonder even more. Is it possible?

I suppose one the reasons I enjoy the program is because the two primary characters in the TV series are committed to helping prevent violent crimes and protecting would-be victims. They do this with the help of the Machine, a mass surveillance computer system that monitors and analyzes data from surveillance cameras, electronic communications, and audio input throughout the world.  Based on this data, the Machine accurately predicts violent acts – at least according to the story line in the TV series.

Whether or not Google, Facebook, or the U.S. government is spying on us every minute of the day, there is one thing I know for certain.  Someone is watching us all the time. He does not need a super computer or an elaborate, man-made surveillance system.  This person never sleeps, nor does He slumber.  Most importantly, every one of us is a “person of interest” to Him!

What does it mean to be a person of interest to God?  For one thing, it means we are valuable to Him.  In the face of life-threatening persecution, Jesus said to His disciples, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31 NIV)  He did not promise to deliver them from harm, but to value them more than anything else in all of creation.

In addition, as persons of interest, we are the objects of His eternal love. His interest in us began before the creation of the universe, and extends into eternity.  Although I cannot explain why God is so interested in us, every time I look at the Cross, I realize just how awesome and amazing His love is for us.  “In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

Also, I know I am a person of interest to God, because of His constant presence with me.  Jesus knew his leaving would disturb and trouble His followers. He knew how weak and afraid they would be as they faced the future without Him.  In preparing them for His departure He said, “But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.  (John 16:7 NIV)  He had to leave so the Holy Spirit could come and take His place as their guide and teacher.  When Jesus left His disciples with their great commission to take His Gospel to every people group around the world, He gave them an incredible promise.  He said, “… and lo, I am with you, even until the end of the age.  This promise was fulfilled in the coming of His Spirit.

I can say with complete confidence, you and I are “persons of interest” to the Father.  I hope you are fully aware of just how important you are to Him, and knowing this, you have discovered the joy and peace of being a person of interest to the One who is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe!  Wow!  What a thought!

Feed Me!

Birds love our front porch.  Every year about this time, they build their nests on the decorative wreaths my wife puts out in the spring.  There must be something inviting about the safe, dry and somewhat calm and sheltering environment of the front entrance to our house.  I suppose this is true, at least in part, because most of our comings and goings happen through the garage door.

This year the birds were back again, and before I knew it, there wasbaby birds 3 a nice little nest with three tiny blue eggs.  I did not want to try to move the nest, so I decided to enjoy watching nature unfold on my doorstep.

For the next five weeks, I was fascinated as I watched these three baby birds hatch, grow into maturity, and finally push each other out of the nest and fly away.  It was interesting to note how, until they left the nest, they were totally dependent on their parents for food and protection .  Any noise or motion on the porch caused them to open their beaks and stretch their little necks in anticipation of their next meal.

Watching these little creatures waiting for their food made me think about the countless number of Christians who do something very similar every Sunday when it comes to their spiritual nourishment.  I cannot tell you how many times I have heard someone say, “I’m looking for a new church because I’m not getting fed where I attend now.”  People who say this remind me of these baby birds straining their necks, expecting to be “fed” by someone else; and when it does not happen, they move on to a new church.  What a shame! They have never learned to feed themselves.

As we begin our life in Christ, we depend on others to help us learn and grow.  However, just as these birds learn to fly, leave the nest, and find their next meal, as followers of Jesus, we too should mature and learn to feed ourselves.  The Apostle Paul wrote these words to the Corinthians, “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly–mere infants in Christ.  I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.” (1 Corinthians 3:1-2 NIV)

I heard a pastor say to his congregation, “My job as pastor is not to feed you every Sunday, rather to make you hungry, so you will want to feed yourself.”  Just as it is heartbreaking to see a loved one unable to feed himself or herself because of illness, an accident, or delayed development, I believe it is even more heartbreaking for God to see His children unable or unwilling to feed themselves and grow spiritually.

The Apostle Paul explains in his letter to the Ephesians why it is so important for us to grow and mature in our spiritual life.  He says, “. . .until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.”  (Ephesians 4:13-14 NIV)

Where do you receive your spiritual nourishment?  Are you feeding yourself?  Are you feeding your heart and soul every day?  Or, are you waiting for someone else at a church or a Bible study?  Spiritual growth does not happen automatically.  The only one accountable for your spiritual growth is you!   So, learn to feed yourself!  Grow up!  Spread your wings and fly!

Sleeping Through the Storms?

The recent wave of violent storms ravaging the mid-western states DR for F5 tornado that struck Moore OK.reminds all of us of the unpredictable power of nature, and the fragility of human life.  I can only imagine what people in Moore, Oklahoma felt when a second series of tornadoes touched down in their area this past week.

Storms have a way of getting our attention, and reminding us of what is important.  We heard many testimonies from survivors of these storms expressing their gratitude for life and family in the face of losing everything else.  What a reminder of the value of relationships.  You might say, events such as storms like these serve as wake-up calls, helping us to put our priorities in a proper perspective.

I cannot imagine anyone sleeping through something as terrifying as a tornado.  Yet, in the Bible there are two stories where individuals slept through violent storms.  The first is found in the book of Jonah.  The prophet Jonah was running away from God’s call. Rather than going to Nineveh to proclaim His word, Jonah boarded a ship to go to Tarshish.  He was going in the exact opposite direction of where God called him to go, thinking he would be able to get away from God’s presence. (Jonah 1:1-3)  A storm was about to sink the ship.  The frightened passengers found Jonah fast asleep, totally oblivious to the danger, completely unaware of how his disobedience was impacting the lives of everyone around him.

Compare this with another biblical story about someone who was asleep in a boat while a storm raged around him, but his sleep was very different from Jonah’s.  This person was Jesus.  He slept in the midst of the storm because He was in the center of God’s perfect will, and knew beyond any doubt that everyone around him was completely safe and secure.   He could rest even in the face of a life-threatening storm, because He knew everything was in His Father’s control, including the storm.  When the frightened disciples awoke Jesus, He calmed the storm and rebuked them for their lack of faith.

When the sailors and passengers in the boat awakened Jonah, he knew the only solution was to throw himself overboard at the mercy of God.  He became aware of how his disobedience put everyone around him in danger.  Sleeping through a storm in this case was not a good thing.  In fact, it showed how disobedience affects more people than just the disobedient, and how every decision we make touches the lives of others, and in many cases negatively.

As strange as it may sound, this is a valid question for each of us.  Are we sleeping through the storm?  If so, why are we able to sleep? Is our sleep affecting the lives of others?

It is possible to be so confident in God’s presence and protection that even a violent storm does not shake your faith.  “Sleep” could mean, you are aware of that protection, and know in your heart, “that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. “ (Romans 8:28 NASB)  I pray we all have this kind of rest or “sleep” in the storms of life.

 

It is also possible that you are “asleep” in the midst of the storm because your disobedience has dulled your senses to the dangers around you, and you are totally unconcerned about how your decisions and rebellion is negatively impacting those around you – even those you love most.  In this sense, I pray we are not “asleep” in the storm.

If you are able to sleep through the storms of life, I hope it is because you are “resting” in Christ, and living in the center of God’s perfect plan for your life.  If, on the other hand, your sleep is the result of disobedience and indifference, I challenge you to wake up, and take action to make things right with God.  Take heed to God’s word: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Eph. 5:14 NIV), and “Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.”  (Romans 13:11  NASB)

How serious are we about making disciples?

“Seriously?”  Have you ever had someone ask you if you were really serious about something you said?  I have.

Here’s a question we should answer – How serious are we about obeying and following Jesus’ command to make disciples?

This question came to mind recently as I was meditating and reflecting on the words of Jesus found in Matthew 28:19-20, “The Great Commission.”

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Honestly, I have struggled for a long time with the reality that we are not fulfilling Jesus’ command to make disciples of all people groups in the world.  I concluded that we are not really serious about what Jesus told us to do!

I believe Jesus’ command is as valid today as it was the day He gave it to His followers in the first century.  Can you imagine what it must have been like to hear those words directly from Jesus?  Most of them were untrained and uneducated.  They had little or no influence in social, religious or political circles, yet Jesus told them to make disciples of all nations.  And, yet, according to both biblical and extra-biblical sources, the early followers of Jesus did exactly what He told them to do.

Let’s ask ourselves, “Are we taking Jesus’ command serious?”  If not, what can we do about it?

Recently, I ran across a book that specifically addresses these questions.   T4T: A Discipleship Revolution by Steve Smith cs-t4trevolutionand Ying Kai, describes and details a practical and biblical process for fulfilling the Great Commission in our lifetime.  Steve Smith and Ying Kai have lived out the principles set forth in this book.  They are practitioners with a proven track record in one of the most phenomenal church-planting movements in modern history – the launching of literally millions of new churches in a relatively short period of time.

God is up to something awesome in our generation, and this book will give you a glimpse of what it looks like.  Every church planter, every pastor MUST read this book.  The principles it contains are sound, biblical and reproducible.  The T4T process is a simple and effective evangelism, discipleship, leadership training, and church-planting strategy.  It is “an all-in-one process . . . to take a person from lostness to maturing disciple who can start new groups and train others to reproduce the process.” (page 90)

T4T, “training for trainers,” focuses on obedience-based discipleship as opposed to knowledge-based discipleship.  The T4T process includes both intentionality and accountability making disciples who, in turn, make more disciples.  Each generation of disciples, or as the author prefer “trainers” are trained to immediately obey Jesus’ commands by sharing their story, sharing Jesus’ story, inviting those who listen to become a follower of Jesus, and then leading them to repeat the process with others.

The process creates exponential growth as one generation of followers immediately obeys the Great Commission and begins making disciples in the same manner in which they were discipled.  Simply put, this is a return to the way disciples were made in the New Testament, or as the writers say, a discipleship re-revolution.

The book is divided into two parts.  Chapters 1-10 unwrap the essentials of the T4T process.  Chapters 11 and following, explore various ways the process can be adapted to different contexts.  T4T is an on-going disciple-making process.  While the content is solidly biblical, it is dynamic and flexible in its application, giving it the potential to be cross-cultural and multi-generational.

If you are a pastor or church planter, you simply must read this book!  You won’t be disappointed. Seriously!

Leadership and the Icarus Principle

“It could never happen to me.  I’m in control of this situation.  I am too smart, or too spiritual to fall into that trap.”  Ever heard anyone talk like that? Ever said those things yourself? How long was it before the words came back to haunt the speaker? It probably wasn’t too long.

You may remember the story of the Greek mythological character, Icarus, a young man who sought to defy the laws of gravity by means of artificial wings.  He took flight, and soared to great heights, but despite his father’s warnings, flew too close to the sun.  His wax wings melted, and he fell into the sea and drowned.  The ancient myth carries a great moral truth.  You may think you are above the law, untouchable, invincible and unstoppable.  However, sooner or later, the laws of nature and gravity will bring you down.

The moral failures of religious and political leaders we hear about on the local and national news sound a lot like this mythical character.  They fly high for a while, but flying too close to the sun reveals the weakness of their humanity, and before long their world comes crashing down.

The myth also reminds me of a basic truth in leadership.  There is no substitute for integrity, and no limit to transparency for today’s leaders.  This truth is especially applicable to Church leaders.  Leading others requires total honesty, and is sustained by consistent, uncompromising self-examination.  The bottom line for effective leadership is not credentials, but character.  Character is first and foremost a matter of the heart.

I encourage and urge every leader I coach to take time regularly to stop all their activities and give their utmost attention to the condition of their own heart.  You do not learn character in school, nor do you get it in a 7-day leadership course.  Only God can create a “new heart,” shaped according to His heart.  And, only in a consistent walk with God can you maintain healthy blood flow to that heart.  While only God can create in us a new heart, He expects us to guard it, and grow it, according to His principles.

Avoiding the disaster of the Icarus Principle, hinges on two things:  self-awareness and accountability.

The leader cannot afford to ignore his or her blind spots.  If as a leader you say you do not have any blind spots, you are either naïve, arrogant, or both.  Paul urged the believers in Rome to “be honest in your estimate of yourselves” (Romans 12:3 NLT) His own self-awareness can be seen in his letter to the Corinthians.  He said, “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should.  Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” (I Cor. 9:27 NLT) What honesty!  What a challenge to each one of us! Are you aware of the condition of your heart?

Of equal importance is recognizing your strengths and giftedness.  The Gallup Organization has discovered the one common characteristic of strong leaders is their awareness of their strengths, and their commitment to leverage those strengths.

The leader must also create and maintain a consistent method of accountability.  I like to ask the following questions to young leaders, “Who speaks truth into your life on a regular basis?”  “Is there a person with whom you meet regularly for accountability?”  If there is no one holding you accountable, it is very possible you will discover the Icarus Principle the hard way – only after you crash, burn or perhaps drown. Accountability is the foundation of effective leadership.

If you are flying high today, what are you doing to maintain that flight tomorrow? Or, are you already headed for the water?

Junk Removal

The other day I noticed one of those hand painted, cardboard signs nailed on a telephone pole at an intersection.  It read, “Junk Removal.”  There was a telephone number to call if you were interested in having your junk removed.junk

I have never seen a sign like that before.  Since then however, I have seen several.  It made me think about my own junk.  I thought about the unnecessary stuff I have collected around my house.

I also thought about the unnecessary things I have collected in my life – things that weigh me down, keep me from being productive and most importantly, keep me from a close walk with God.

This may sound crazy, but God spoke to me through that sign.  He reminded me that He is the only one who can remove the junk in my life, and that He is the expert in junk removal.  I have to admit, at times, there is a lot of junk in my life.

The Apostle Paul spoke of the things that weigh us down and keep us from running the race God has set before us.  In Hebrews 12:2 he said, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance  (junk) and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

I thought of the various kinds of junk in my life.  Some of the junk is leftover from years of struggle with a low self-image.  Some of it is garbage from unhealthy habits that, like a bad smell, just will not go away.  Sometimes the junk is imagined and other times it is real.  Nevertheless, junk is junk, and only by the grace and mercy of God can I remove it from my life.  In reality, the Holy Spirit is the only successful junk remover!

When the junk piles up so high, we can’t see beyond it, and before you know it, all we can see is junk.   The junk begins to define who we are, and tragically, we see ourselves as nothing more than junk.  At this point, we need to remember, GOD DOES NOT MAKE JUNK, and the junk did not come from Him!

Furthermore, He does not like to see junk in my life!  In fact, He hates junk.  In the Bible God calls this junk sin, and He tells us that Jesus came into the world, died on a cross and rose again from the dead to take away this junk from my life.

Is there junk in your life that you need to get rid of?  Are there things that encumber your race that weighs you down and keeps you from becoming all that God designed you to be?  Has the Devil convinced you that you are nothing more than a piece of junk?  Instead of listening to the devil’s lies, remember, you are precious in God’s sight, and He loves you so much that He gave His only Son that you might have a junk free life!  Second, Jesus says, “He came that you might have life and have it in abundance.”  He has a life to give you that is free of junk!

What do we do with our junk?  How do we get it out of our lives?  We cannot bury it.  We cannot hide it, or ignore it.   The first step in junk removal is to recognize it, call it what it is, and turn it over to Christ – the One who died for our junk!

Here is what God’s Word says about removing the junk from our lives.  “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  1 John 1:8-9 (NASB)

Would you call upon Him today?  Right now!  Let God take care of the junk in your life today.

The Jesus Nut

In many helicopters, there is a rotor-retaining nut that holds the main rotor to the mast. If that nut comes loose during flight, the rotors would detach from the mast and the aircraft would plunge quickly to the earth. This nut is affectionately called “the Jesus nut.”

American soldiers may have coined the term during the Vietnam War. It was the first warJesus Nut where large numbers of soldiers were transported by helicopters to and from battle zones. Others suggest Igor Sikorsky, a pioneer of rotor wing aircraft, and a deeply religious man, coined the term.

Regardless of the source, if the nut (more accurately a pin) were to fail in flight, the fate of the helicopter crew would be sealed.  The crew therefore, must have faith in the Jesus nut to do its intended job without failing. Real examples of Jesus nut failures are rare, because the pin is checked before every flight.

In the systems-engineering world, the phrase “Jesus nut” has come to mean any single component of a system whose failure would cause catastrophic failure of the entire system.

In life, everyone has a “Jesus nut” – something or someone, if suddenly taken away, would cause our life to crash and burn.  What holds your life together?

What or who is your Jesus nut?

In Colossians 1:15-17, the Apostle Paul describes the “Jesus nut” for the universe. Speaking of Jesus Christ he says:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (NIV)

The bottom line is Jesus Christ holds all things together. Without Him, the universe would be unsustainable. Without Him, the world would not know love, compassion, forgiveness or hope. Without Him, there would be no chance for peace in the present, or any hope for the future. He is what defines creation, eternity, peace and love.

Without Jesus, the entire system would crash. According to this passage, He is not only the creator of the universe; He is also the One who sustains it. On a personal level, the writer of Hebrews says Jesus Christ is “the author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2 NASB)

While you and I may assent to this as a theological truth, do we know it as a personal reality? Do we look to Him as the One who sustains us, and more importantly do we live in total dependence on Him? Is Jesus the lynchpin, the One around whom and for whom we define our very existence? Is He the One who you rely on to keep your life together instead of spinning out of control and crashing?

If not, I urge you to turn to Him today, and make Him the center and foundation of your life – your “Jesus nut.”  More than anything else, He desires to have such a relationship with you. He is the only One who will never fail you. He has never failed and will never fail.

How is the soil where you live?

So far, so good. When I look at the beautiful stand of grass I now have in my yard, I am amazed at the difference a year of TLC has made.  Last year about this time, the grass appeared to be nice and green.  A closer look revealed a lot of weeds and very little healthy grass.  In the past, it did not matter how much grass seed or fertilizer I used, the hot scorching heat of the summer sun killed off all the grass leaving me the unpleasant task of mowing weeds the remaining days of summer and fall.

The difference this year is the attention I have given to the condition of the soil.  With the help of a neighbor who knows about lawn care and the importance of giving year-round attention to the soil conditions, my yard looks better than it ever has.

My experience with growing grass in my yard reminded me of a parable Jesus told about a man sowing seed and how the seed fell in four different types of soil:  hard soil by the roadside, shallow soil filled with rocks, soil contaminated with weeds, and the good soil.  Although it is known as the parable of the sower, in reality, it is a parable about the soil.  The soil represents the human heart, the place where God’s word is sown almost daily.  The yield of the crop from that seed is directly related to the condition of the soil. (Mark 4:1-20)

Parables are literary word pictures.  They relate a profound truth through common objects or stories.  The focus of this parable is on the condition of the soil where God’s word falls.  Some hearts are hardened and unreceptive.  In this case the seed cannot penetrate, and is taken away before it has a chance to produce fruit.  In other hearts a shallowness or lack of depth gives the impression of producing good fruit, but it doesn’t last.  The lack of strong roots make it vulnerable to the blistering heat of persecution and the raging winds of tribulation.  The most troublesome soil is the soil contaminated with weeds.  You can’t see them, but they are present.  And, just like the weeds in my front yard, they don’t show up until it’s too late to stop them.  According to this parable, they choke out what the seeds produce and render the soil sterile and useless.

This parable does not draw a line between unbelievers and believers.  Actually, anyone of us could have one or more of these bad-soil conditions in our hearts.  A lack of faith can make our heart hard just as it did the first followers of Jesus. (Mark 6:52 & 8:17).  A lack of depth in our walk with God can make our hearts fickle and flighty, and our temporary joy turns to disappointing failure at the first sight of trouble or opposition.  There may be a lot of emotion, but little depth.  And emotion alone cannot withstand the storms of life.

While hardened hearts, like soil by the roadside is difficult to penetrate, and rocky soil is difficult to recognize, soil contaminated with weeds is the most difficult to deal with.  As Jesus described it, this soil is filled with the deception of riches, our love and desire for things for things, and the worries of life. (Mark 4:19) These “weeds” choke out God’s Word and render our lives sterile.  Jesus had harsh words for fruitless branches.  He said, “a branch that does not bear fruit is taken away . . . cut off and thrown into the fire.”  (John 15:1-11)

Do you ever wonder why we don’t see more fruitfulness in our churches?  Could it be the condition of the soil . . . our hearts?  Perhaps our hearts are hardened, our commitment is shallow and superficial, or our lives are full of weeds that choke out God’s word?  Bad soil can show up anywhere, at anytime!  So, how’s the soil where you and I live today?

If our soil is bad, what do we do about it?  Here are a couple of remedies from God’s word.

  • For hard soil, God says, “Break up your fallow ground . . .” (Jeremiah 4:3)
  • For shallow soil, the Psalmist cried, “Search me, O God, and know my heart . . .” (Psalms 139:23)
  • For contaminated soil, King David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart O God . . .” (Psalms 51:10)  

The condition of our heart (soil) is God’s greatest concern, and changing our heart is His greatest joy!