Am I Good Ground?

In the Bible, Jesus tells a story about a farmer who scatters seeds on the ground; some seeds take root and grow while others, for various reasons, don’t. The seeds represent people and how they react when they hear the truth of God. In the story, only one place that the seeds land  allows them to take root, grow strong and produce fruit. That place is the fertile ground that represents a willing and listening heart.

Most of us assume that we are the fertile soil. We think that when we hear the truth of God, that we are ready and able to lap it up and grow. Assumptions can blind us to areas that need work, though. Not everyone is good ground, but all can be if we open our heart and mind to the Lord.

Willingness to receive anything means that you are open to be given something. Openness invites in; it doesn’t shut out. It means letting the experience of God be worth the risk of being wrong. It defies the fear of being made fun of. It allows the new thing to be explored and learned about.

With each new idea that we encounter, we have to choose if we are going to let it in and then choose whether or not we will allow it to help change us. When we hear the truth of God, whether it is the first time we hear the gospel of Jesus or a new insight from His Word, we must make the choice to let it in. We have to mull it over and think about the truth of it and the practicality of it.  If we look into new ideas and seek to find the joy of God in them, we will be changed.

Good soil listens and hopes and celebrates as new ideas about God are brought to them. Applying God’s truth to our lives is the growth part of being good ground. We try on the new idea for size. We see if it fits us and what it means for our lives. Good soil is a willingness to change if the Lord desires that change within us.

God says, ”I create good soil and I nurture it and fill it full of good nutrients. When my Work falls on the prepared ground, I am there to help it grow and find life in my truth. Listen to me and be ready for all that I have planned.”

The House Stands Firm - Luke 6:48

The House Stands Firm

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” – Luke 6:46-49 ESV

In Luke, Jesus tells a parable about two people who heard His words. The first stood and the second fell. This parable can give us insights into not only how we should live, but what to expect of life. The imagery in this parable about the flood is especially timely as we pray for our friends across the state and country that are dealing with rising flood waters. We can learn much about spiritual preparedness from seeing the troubles with the rivers.

The key thing about the parable of the two house builders is that both of them heard Jesus. Imagine with me that they both went to church as kids, went to VBS in the summers, and lived fairly decent lives for the most part. This is the part about hearing. We are so blessed to live in a place where churches are common (at least, here on the north edge of the Bible belt, anyway), and we can associate freely with others who share our faith.

It’s easy to assume that all the people in our circles are making the same choices we are, but it’s not true. Not everyone who is hearing is building the foundation as we are. Christian culture is wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but Christian culture itself isn’t what we should be striving for. Without the foundation of obedience, it’s just a nice place to live, at least till the waters rise.

Back to our imagining, we see the two house builders again. However, one has been actively finding ways to incorporate the teachings of Jesus into his daily life. He doesn’t just smile and nod when the preacher makes a good point and then sleep through the rest of the week. Instead, he digs into the word himself and finds ways to make it real in his day. He chooses habits that are founded on putting the Lord above everything else and loving his neighbor. There’s no hypocrisy here, but honest living and seeking God.

The second builder is living a nice life as well. It’s the same suburbs and similar lifestyle as the first builder, but something is different here. This builder didn’t bother with making habits that incorporated what he learned in the Word. He barely reads the word himself. After all, why bother when he sits through a sermon every week? He wants good things in his life, and he tries to raise decent kids, but there’s no daily searching for God. Instead, it’s more about maintaining status quo and not creating ripples in his world than any kind of devotion to living his beliefs.

At this point in our journey, there’s little difference. On a sunshiny day with grass and flowers all around, builder two might look like the better option to go for. He isn’t so disciplined about dull religious things, seeming to have more fun the first guy, overall.

Then the waters rise. Trouble comes, and it doesn’t hold back. The houses are being tested and tried. Any weakness will be discovered as the rushing, powerful waters surge around the dwellings that have been build day after day.

The difference in the builders suddenly matters more than they could have known. The first one leans into his habits. Troubles rise around him, but he leans on the truth that’s he learned. His habits carry him through when his feelings of goodness have abandoned him. The darkness doesn’t cause him to fear because he has practiced the knowledge of the God’s nearness. His house stands, firm and solid. It will outlast the storm and stand as the waters recede. The foundation is firm and the day to day living created a haven in times of trouble.

The second builder isn’t so fortunate. As the waters pour around his house, it immediately begins to crumble. Doubt rushes in and anger at his situation. He can’t believe God would let this happen to him! He didn’t miss a Sunday morning service, and he loved and cared for his family. Why did his house have to face troubles? Realizing that the problem lies in the very foundation of his house, he tries desperately to build walls and stack sandbags to keep the trouble at bay. Surely, the last ditch effort will be pitied by God and the house will stand. But, no, the troubles come anyway. The water rises, no matter the effort and the small walls raised too late can’t keep the torrent away. As the powerful surges break against the house, it begins to cave and float away.

Jesus’s parable reminds us that troubles aren’t a sign of believing or not believing. Troubles come at all of us. The book of Matthew says that it rains on both the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45), meaning that life happens to all of us, no matter our standing in the world.

How we weather the troubles of life is dependent on our habits, our thoughts and focuses in life. How much time do we spend experiencing the Lord in our life, versus simply learning about the Lord in church? Are we really building habits that mirror his teachings, or are we fitting in to the culture around us, some of which happens to line up with his teachings?

The storm is real and it’s not just one storm. Little things every day wear at us and threaten to wash away part of our foundations. With the words we say and our reactions and our choices, we either build up our house to withstand the waters, or we are ignoring our foundation for small walls that wash away. Let’s focus on choosing our foundation to be in the Lord Jesus Christ and building habits that reflect our devotion.

Prodigal God, Part 2 – Sermon Notes

[These notes are from a sermon by Craig Kackly at Church of the Four Corners in Independence, MO. Today’s notes are part 2 of series Prodigal God. The whole series including this sermon can be seen on their website.]

We think that only the younger son in the Prodigal Son parable was lost, but in fact it was both sons.

Recap from last week: there is nothing we can do to disqualify ourselves from God’s love. This parable is told to the teachers of the law, not to the sinners.

This Week: The Older Brother

The older brother is off doing something long enough that he doesn’t know what’s going on. From the servant, he learns that the father has thrown a great feast and accepted the younger brother back as a son. In response, he becomes angry and refuses to go.

By accepting the younger brother back, the father has set him back as a son. This means he has decreased the inheritance of the older brother [the father’s forgiveness comes at a cost]. By refusing to enter the banquet, the older brother is making a statement that he disagrees with the father’s choice to accept back the younger son.

Now we see the father pursuing a lost son again, when he goes and pleads with the older brother. [Note the word play on son of yours when the son speaks to this brother of yours when the father speaks.]

The unresolved nature of the story makes sense when you remember who the audience is. [The Pharisees would have been the older brother, so the response of the older brother would have been represented by their response, hence the open-ended story.]

The younger brother represents self-discovery. Letting go of inhibitions to experience the world and find out what there is to offer. Someone on this path seeks happiness and fulfillment through determining your own choices.

The older brother represents a moral conformist. It’s someone who does whatever their righteous culture or church says they should. They give, serve, pray, but it’s never intimate and life giving. It’s dry and lifeless. There’s no joy, instead there’s guilt.

Both sons rebel against the father. Younger son through bad choices, the older son through good choices. We can rebel by breaking all the rules or by keeping all the rules. The older brother did everything right, but still alienated himself from the father.

The sin here is all about putting yourself in the place of Jesus as the Lord and Savior of your life. All the older brother’s good deeds are an attempt to control the father for what he can get, not in true submission to serve from love. Whether you are a sinner or a religious person, both paths lead to death w/out Jesus.