The Soil is Just as Important as the Seed [Luke 8:4-21]

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Sermon Link [Why not have a listen to the sermon?]

Donald McGavran, the father of the Church Growth Movement and a major contributor to the development of seek-sensitive services, said of missionaries:

“They do good work.  They pour out [their] life.  They bear witness to Christ.  They teach and heal men, distribute powdered milk, and demonstrate improved agricultural methods.  But they do all these things, and much more, while their churches grow, if at all, by baptizing their own children.”[1]

Whilst I agree with his belief that the missionary must immerse himself in the culture of the host nation, speak their language; eat their food, live amongst them, use their songs and music styles and communicate the Gospel in words and ideas that can be easily understood by the host, we see that Jesus takes the opposite tack here.  Having totally immersed Himself in first century Palestinian culture and having gathered a significant following, Jesus, by way of judgement, begins to teach only in parables so that his message may be concealed to those who are uninterested and revealed to those who are truly seeking [Matthew 13:34-35, Luke 8:9-10].

In this particular parable, one which seems to be central to our understanding of all parables [Mark 4:13], Jesus begins to tell “the parable of the soils” [the parallels can be found in Matthew 13:1-23 & Mark 4:1-20], a parable which describes four reactions to the Gospel message.[2]

 

1. By The Wayside – The Ignorant Ones

And when a great multitude had gathered, and they had come to Him from every city, He spoke by a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it… The seed is the word of God. 12 Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.  Luke 8:4-5, 11b-12

Farming, in Israel in the first century, was different from farming in the West today.  All of the various fields were separated by boulders or boundary markers and people would traverse through the fields which would harden the soil and create natural walkways.  When it came to sowing, the farmer would remove the rocks and the weeds and then  scatter the seed before ploughing the ground.  This meant that he might be able to reclaim the soil that had been used as a public thoroughfare.   Sometimes when seed was sown the ground, which had been previously walked upon, was so hard that the seed was unable to penetrate it and therefore was trampled and eaten by the birds of the air.  Jesus uses this as an example of those who are the ignorant ones, those who did not understand the message and were not interested in trying to find out the meaning of the Gospel message [Matthew 13:19].

APPLICATION: Take some time to familiarise yourself with the Gospel.  What does it mean, what does it do, who is it for and how is it made effectual?  You may find it helpful to consult the Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 82-93, courses like Alpha and Christianity Explored or even speak to some mature believers within your Church.

 

2. On the Rocks – The Superficial Ones

Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture …13 The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. Luke 8:6,13

Since it was normal practice for the farmer to remove the stones and the weeds and because the parable does not focus on the sower, Jesus, we can wisely suppose that this was the seed that fell on bedrock.  Israel itself, even to this day I believe, is renowned for large limestone deposits beneath the surface soil.  This seed, then, happened to fall here, and because it couldn’t grow down it went up and looked like it was going to produce a bumper crop but because it had no root it died away.  Jesus compares this with the one who starts his journey exceedingly well but is overcome by temptation.  Having said this, I do not want the reader to think that the Christian life does not involve temptation [Romans 7:14-25] and, God-forbid, failure [1 John 1:5-8] but this is the one who is not, by the grace of God, removing himself from temptation and seeking to overcome it.

APPLICATION: While the bible encourages us to confess our sins to one another [James 5:16], as Protestants, we are often reluctant to do so.  Why not find a mature and trustworthy friend to whom you can confess your major and re-occurring struggles and who can give you good honest advice on how to overcome?  They do not need to know all the details so keep it short and to the point.

 

3. Among the Thorns – The Worldly Ones

And some fell, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it…14 Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. Luke 8:7,14

 The third seed probably fell in an area that had already been weeded but because the roots of the weeds had not been fully removed and because the weeds were well established they grew up quicker than the seed and choked it out before the fruit could ripen.  Jesus likens this third group to those who have believed but are preoccupied with worldly things.  Maybe these things are not bad in themselves but the “cares, riches, and pleasures of life” would not let the fruit become productive.

APPLICATION: Chasing and/or living for fashion, family, money, marriage, fame, work, business, hobbies, education and food can all be things that choke out the Gospel seed.  Why not get a copy of Watchman Nee’s classic “Love not the World,” which is available free on e-book and have a read?[3]  Are you someone who lives for this world or one who longs for the one to come?  If you are unsure look at what directs your life, how you spend your free time and how you use your disposal income.  It is often a great indicator.

 

4. On Good Ground – The Genuine Ones

But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold. “When He had said these things He cried, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”… 15 The ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience. Luke 8:8,15

 In Jesus’ day, a good harvest was considered around ten percent; here then we have a supernatural bumper harvest, which Jesus compares to the seed that fell on the good soil.  These are the ones who have “a noble and good heart” [Kingdom character], “keep it” [they persevere] “and bear fruit with patience” [maybe not instantly but eventually they become productive].   It is these who can only truly be considered Christian, something that Jesus brings out in the immediate context [Luke 8:16-21].  This, however, does not mean that we are saved by a transformed lifestyle but it does mean that a changed lifestyle is normative if salvation is genuine [Ephesians 2:8-10] and while there may be exceptions to the rule [1 Corinthians 3:10-15, Jude 1:20-23] unless the seed falls on good ground there can be no lasting productivity and no assurance of salvation.

APPLICATION: When Billy Graham was a young man, a great evangelist called Charles Templeton mentored him and became a close friend.  Charles Templeton was a man who was not only miraculously “converted” but was considered a greater evangelist than Billy Graham at the time.  He went on, though, to renounce the faith and died as an apostate.  While only God knows what happened with the man’s soul, I would challenge you to watch the film, “Billy Graham: The Early Years.”  After watching it, I would ask that you consider recommitting your life to Jesus and asking that he might give you the grace for a full assurance of salvation, victory over sin and temptation and that you might be productive in all the areas of your earthly life.

 

 

[1] McGavran, 1970, Understanding Church Growth: Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids p.54 [brackets my own]

Faith Under Fire – Egypt

Christian, how would you respond under persecution?

I’m sure most people are aware of Christian persecution in Egypt at the moment. Many Churches, schools and shops are being burned to the ground and the christian community have been threatened, attacked and killed. Islamic Extremists have used the civil unrest to ethnically cleanse their neighborhoods.

How did they respond?

We must continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in Egypt.

A Gay Mayor, An Evangelical Pastor and the Welfare of a City

This week I came across this fantastic video produced by Tim Keller and co as part of the Center Church studies. It really got me thinking!

In a post modern age where the Chrsitian Worldview is alien to our culture how can we be a blessing to our communities?

Sam Adams, former mayor of Portland said:

“You can’t choose how the mainstream portrays you, but I was desperate and impressed with how evangelicals offered to help.”

In a British context, how can we partner with our local councils, MP’s and Community Police to be a blessing and to work for the common good?

Portland Case Study: Kevin Palau and Sam Adams from Redeemer City to City on Vimeo.

H/T: Gospel Coalition

“It makes me feel…”

A youth ministry built on knowing Word of God, doesn’t sound sexy, or attractive but if our youth ministries are built on feelings – stories making you feel valuable, atmospheres making you feel close to God, songs making you feel loved, there will come a point when all that’s gone and our feelings betray reality.

Knowing Christ and making Him known – knowing from the Word of God, knowing you are valuable, knowing you are a sinner, knowing you are loved, knowing you are forgiven and God is faithful and close to you, then…then you have something to stand on, and in the face of the hurricane that is rejection, acceptance, failure, success, isolation, community, doubt, confidence, anxiety, security, betrayal, trust, embarrassment, celebration, guilt, forgiveness, torment, peace and many more experiences of growing up, you will have a life built on strong foundations that will endure.

I have so many conversations with young people who chase the wind in terms of experience of God. It’s a strange paradox of pain and blessing in drawing alongside them and pointing to a Life that pursues truth and righteousness not buzz and fuzz.

As was pointed out to me by good friends, feelings are important but they should be informed by truth. Iain Kennedy (Assoc. Pastor at Renfrew Baptist) said “Have the truth of the Gospel speak into every moment of life, even the feelings, be discerning: just don’t let your faith depend on the recreation of any particular feeling. The Gospel demands all of us, including our feelings.”

Kenny Rogan (Oak Hill College Student) was helpful with his suggestion to “lead to feel based on what they know is true”, or in Colin Ross'(Elder at Hillview Community Church) words “tempered and levelled out by our knowledge”.

I’m not superman, and so when I get bad news, I feel gutted, sad, angry etc… BUT when I come round to what I KNOW is good and true, then my feet are on solid ground. Thinking in the other direction, when I sing “my chains fell off my heart was free, I’m alive because of You…” And I know I’m forgiven, it should stir a greater feeling of joy and celebration than when your football team equalise in the 82min!

Truth regardless of feeling. Let’s lead our young people to feel yes, but feeling grounded in what they know.

Check out Alistair Begg nail the point exactly Knowing V Feeling from the 2009 West Coast Conference.

“So what will you do to the Bible?”

A friend of mine once asked “what do you plan to do to the Bible to make it attractive to young people these days” I said “teach it” and he laughed!

When I read the following as part of David Robertson’s latest article it reminded me of that whole conversation…

“Once I was sitting in our church hall waiting for a children’s party to finish. An older man sat beside me and promptly informed me that he was an ‘elder in the Kirk’, in a village not too far from Dundee. “Our minister disna believe in teaching all that bible stuff” he proudly proclaimed, “it disna attract the young people”. Given that he was blissfully unaware of who I was, I could not resist the temptation! “Really? Perhaps you could help me with a problem? How many young people go to your church”. “Eh…none”. “Well that’s my problem. You see this church does believe in teaching the bible. They have a 30-40 minute sermon twice every Sunday. And they have 100 plus young people. But your minister doesn’t teach the bible because it does not attract the young people and yet it attracts none”.”

Paul writes in 1 Cor 1 v 17 “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”

Have a read, it’s true, and it has been such a blessing to live and breathe it for the last 4 years since leaving teaching – no regrets. Something to think about…”your minister doesn’t teach the bible because it does not attract the young people and yet it attracts none”

V Festival: The Challenge

vfestival_logo_2013Well Hello I’ve now posted my second blog but I am now however off to V festival. I am not going as a punter. I am going with a Church of England team, We give out water, but we also look to have great conversations with people who come to our Marquee. This is the Third year I will have done it now. Every year a new challenge has appeared. But with that has come great conversations and hopefully some conversions. The Passage that I am going to take with me this time to the V festival is :

Colossians 3:15-17

15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

The reason for this, is it is very easy to just be used as a service at V fest’ To be just used as a watering hole, and get into the wrong conversations with people. But it should be everything that our team does should all be done “In the name of the Lord Jesus” Because at the end of the day, that is what we want, We want The Lord Jesus glorified. We love people. That is why we help them in any way we can.  We love them so much and we want the one thing they really need, for them to know the Lord Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. We should try to make this happen, empowered by the Holy Spirit, in the conversations that we have, in the way we act as a team, the servant ministry, and in the Love that we have for them. After all,  the love we have is tiny compared to the love that Christ has for them.

But with this boldness there is always the risk that we will be bombarded by Satan. But we need not fear, for we have the victory in Christ. We need to remember, that even at 2am, when abuse is hurled at us, people saying awful demonic things:  we have the victory! Christ has won!

Please if you can, Pray for the team, that God moves At V Festival, That there is encouragement. I will post about it, when i return.

What can we Learn from Fifty Shades of Grey…

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This post originally appeared on Kieran’s old blog in October 2012

Ok, so I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey, nor do I plan to. However I have read enough reviews and heard enough comments about the book to get the gist of the story line. The book is being affectionately labelled as ‘mommy porn’  and it is indeed pornography in the truest sense of the word, ‘Pornography’ literally meaning writing about sexual immorality. Martin Saunders who heads up Youth Work magazine summarises the story:

Here it is, then: 21-year-old virgin Anastasia Steele meets charismatic billionaire Christian Grey, and falls for him. He’s not just stunningly handsome and rich, he’s also trying to save the world and stop famine. What a hero! Well, except that, thanks to an abusive childhood, he has a severely twisted sexual appetite. Despite this, Ana is drawn into his world, and into his arms, via lots of gasping and swooning – and begins a long-lasting liaison with him. He’s not really capable of a healthy relationship, however, so instead introduces Ana to a world of controlled violence, submission and, of course, lots of (very badly written) sex. Within a few short weeks, Ana goes from repressed virgin to sexual deviant, and despite – or perhaps because of – the violence, falls deeply in love.

But why is this book so successful? Why are so many people reading it?  Why is it one of the fastest selling books at the moment? At the New Christian Media Conference that I attended last Saturday Vicky Walker spoke about what we can learn from 50 shades.  It was a very interesting talk and it highlighted some very important issues surrounding the success of the of the books. So why are so many people reading it? FOMO! Fear Of Missing Out. One of the main reasons that people are reading this series of books is down to peer pressure. People are afraid that they are missing out. Its being talked about in the staff rooms, the twittersphere, the coffee house and Facebook. People just don’t like to feel left out, do they? Now I am by no means saying that that is a good reason to read it. But I do think that this is an important factor in the incredible success of the book. Sex Sells Of course we know that sex sells. It always has done. No doubt that is one of the leading factors of the success of this book. However Martin Saunders closes his article with a very powerful comment:

 …why has Fifty Shades, a poorly written sex story by an unknown author, become the publishing phenomenon of the year? How come, in an age where gender equality is finally looking achievable, millions of women are turning to a book that seems to suggest that, deep down, they actually want to be oppressed after all?

How should Christians respond to 50 shades? Often our response as Christians is to make a noise. Complain. Grumble. Moan. But perhaps that’s not the correct response… As Christians we should be known for what we are for rather than what we are against. Let me be clear, I am not saying,  that we should not be discouraging our brothers and sisters in Christ from reading these books. As Christians we need to be fleeing from sin. However instead we should be modelling, relationships, marriage, singleness and sexuality to the world. As the church we have a responsibility to be speaking to the world about what sexuality should look like. Christians should not be blushing behind the pews. But instead, speaking up about sexuality and the redemptive power of Christ.  As Christians we should be leading the way in the discussion not hiding away from it.

“When it comes to sex, the Bible provides a far more fulfilling framework than EL James’ sadistic anti-hero.”