Have you ever heard anybody say, “If you want to feel better about yourself, just attend the county fair?” Along those lines, if you would like to feel better about your local church, definitely read I Corinthians. Almost any group would appear chaste next to these early Christians. The morality of the Corinthians would place their salvation in question in most evangelical churches today. After all, righteousness behavior is the evidence of our salvation, isn’t it?
I don’t believe such a thought even entered Paul’s mind. Before he wields the rod, Paul demonstrates the basis his apostolic authority—a father’s heart. To Paul, these people, as messed up as they were, were first and foremost saints who will be confirmed to the end, blameless in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In addressing their issues, Paul does not focus directly on their morality, instead, he goes to the root of their problems: the Corinthians had forgotten who they were. Paul chides them, “are you not walking like mere men?”
To Paul, the core issue was identity. He knew his spiritual offspring better than they knew themselves. They had either yet to discover or had forgotten they were “saints,” and in this condition they were behaving as mere men.
Do you view yourself primarily as a mere human, or do you think of yourself as a saint? For many, a subtle rationalization develops which goes something like this: “Well…yes, in theory I am a ‘saint.’ I have accepted Jesus; I am forgiven, and… I have a high degree of eternal security, but as to how I see myself, my experience supports the mere-man proposition.” Mere men form their identities (and doctrines) around their experience, adopting beliefs which are easier to live with than God’s Word. Paul, the wise spiritual father, attacks this stronghold with a question; he asks them, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”
Paul is saying, when they became temples of the Holy Spirit, they were no longer mere men. While it may have been more comfortable to write off their morality to mere human nature, Paul simply says, “No.” He makes it clear their behavior is wrong because it is incompatible with their new identity as saints. Sin is not just unholy; it is unnatural in temples of the Holy Spirit.
Paul could have given them relief by allowing them to think of themselves as mere “sinners saved by grace.” He could have relieved their consciences, allowing that it was in the spiritual DNA of mere men to stray. In spite of “woe-is-me” interpretations of Romans 7, I don’t believe Paul elevated fallen nature to the heights we modern evangelicals have. Paul’s view of redeemed man was far more triumphant:
Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold new things have come…You are God’s field, God’s building. (from 2 Corinthians 5:17 and 1 Corinthians 3:9)
As a wise master builder, Paul is saying the only foundation that can support a mature and growing Christian experience is a new identity in Christ. Both the Corinthians and us are dependent on the revelation of our new identity as sons of God—saints with new natures.
Father, we are not the church we read of in the New Testament. Help us to humbly acknowledge this. Help us to not explain this away as some kind of sovereign dispensation of mediocrity. Holy Spirit, breathe Your life within us and awaken us to the inheritance of our new natures, our new identities and the new destinies awaiting a Bride who knows who she is. Amen.
Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself 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 shall keep it to life eternal. (John 12:24-25)
In my twenties and thirties, I saw capitalism as a system that birthed greed and corruption. I believed I had seen proof of this with my own eyes. Even though its doctrines were unspoken, my family’s denomination was Capitalism and hard work was its mission. While it created some wealth, our family’s practice of its religion almost led its patriarchs to prison. While their excellent lawyers kept them out of jail, they could not keep ulcers, neurosis, and dissension from creating their own forms of imprisonment.
I had also become a Christian when I was 23. In my new walk of faith, I immediately acquired a strong conviction that Christians must shun the world, which certainly included capitalism—the cult I grew up in. My early heroes were now Christians who had lived sacrificially in behalf of others. Their spirituality had a definite hating-one’s-life flavor. Given my background, it was not a terribly heavy cross to bear, but I was willing to carry it with pride, dying to any prospects of economic glory. This is a short-version of why I abandoned any track toward the corner office of my family’s business. This is also why I committed myself to working with my hands and earning no more than I needed to meet my family’s basic needs. I don’t think the Lord was at all impressed with my little shot at urban asceticism in HIs name.
If one could have looked at the backstory of my life, the one God was writing, I believe you would see Him diligently working to undermine my flirtations with asceticism and put me on another track entirely, one which involved corporations, finance and complexity—things which I had vowed (for wrong reasons) to avoid. He also maneuvered me (with no shortage of resistance on my part), back into my family’s business and into close proximity to my father—someone I had vowed (at an early age) to distance myself from as soon as it was possible. However, It turns out the death Jesus had in mind for me was different than the funeral I had arranged for myself.
Jesus, the Living Seed, had been planted in my heart and God didn’t need me to modify the soil with my vows. While I didn’t see them, the elements needed for germination were all present. I can testify God will use both external and internal circumstances to create sufficient heat to germinate the Seed. The Soil of my soul was fine for growing.
The deepest truth about our heart-soil today is not its bent of rebellion and its propensity to stray. The deepest Truth about us is that Jesus Christ is our life; by His indwelling us, we are new creations. You may be thinking, “This makes the Good News a bit too good doesn’t it? Anyway, that’s not my theology.” Where does our theology come from though? How often does our experience shape our theology? For myself; I blush at the strong convictions of my younger days, knowing many of those beliefs were driven by baggage I didn’t even know I was carrying.
One reason we reject our selves as new creations (and good soil) is that newness is painfully incompatible with our experience. We believe our lack of transformation discredits or even disproves the reality of our newness. Embracing our new identity in Christ would also create a new level of personal responsibility if our hearts were the good soil scripture indicates they are.
I no longer believe “hating one’s life” means taking a vow of poverty. I no longer believe adopting a deliberately downward socio-economic lifestyle will generate holiness. I don’t believe this glorifies the Lord in the least. I don’t believe wealth or its absence has any direct bearing on right standing with God. It is not about external conditions. It is all about our heart’s orientation to external things such as money, sex, and power. The evil lies in the loving.
As one who has lived with a taste of leanness and also with material abundance, I have discovered the Lord can grow his crop in either environment. The Seed living in our hearts will converge, at the right time, with the heat of our circumstances, promoting a dying to our selves. We will have to repent of older beliefs. Due to our resistance, some of our deaths may be spectacular. However for those who belong to Him, the Living Word will ultimately grow and displace fallen understandings of the world, our selves, and God. The fruit of His resurrection Life will be seen in us; the ruler of this world will be cast out and His Spirit will continue to draw men to Christ. He will be glorified in our transformation.
Today when I hear Jesus speak of hating one’s life or hating one’s family, I believe he is leading us to this idea: there are no comparisons, not even close, between His kingdom and the kingdoms of this earth; there are no comparisons we can make regarding earthly families and those we will know in heaven.
Here is my best attempt at grappling with this hard word from our loving King: I believe temporal words like “hate” will one day be unnecessary. Small words such as this will be displaced by eternal words such as love. I believe Jesus is saying, “Trust me. Comparatively speaking, you will hate the bleached out, compromised motives and affections of this life on earth once you taste the abundance which is your inheritance in Me. Embracing this idea today by faith is your mission.”
Father, whether our fare is currently lean or abundant, may we repent where we have opposed the Living Seed through our dependence on external conditions. Allow us to acknowledge, that in our current circumstances, conditions are ripe for a harvest of righteousness, love, peace, and joy. Right now, Father, in this hour, be glorified in us. Amen.
The hour had come for the Son of Man to be glorified. (John 12:23)
And on the occasion of this hour, Jesus said:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself 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 shall keep it to life eternal. (John 12:24-25)
John tells us Jesus was referring here to His own approaching sacrificial death. But, in light of previous teachings, I believe He is also using His circumstance to say something universal to mankind. We know Jesus came to give us life that is abundant. To understand what Jesus was talking about, we have to consider all that He said about “life” to form our understanding. So, if I take Him literally, is Jesus saying I must have some form of “hate” in my heart before eternal “life” can grow? Help!
I wrote this MwM post from a beautiful mountain vista (Oeste Vista – Angel Fire, NM in fact). I had escaped the brutal Oklahoma heat and drought, which had plagued our region for several years. As for “hate,” I did, in a sense, hate my life more at 110 degrees than I did at 75. Here is the irony. At the encouragement of my son Daniel, who is an English literature major, I was reading The Grapes of Wrath, an account of other Oklahomans who had traveled west due to heat and drought. The stark difference is that they were trying to avoid starvation. I was only making a modification of 35 degrees to achieve some comfort.
I had begun my day thanking the Lord for His fresh mercies, which were not limited to, but certainly included, the pleasant circumstance of life at 9,000 feet above sea level. So, should I have instead begun my day by asking God to remove my comfort? Did I need to dial gratitude down to some degree of hate? As I read the Grapes of Wrath, I grew convinced John Steinbeck was available to assist me should I choose this path.
It got even worse. Steinbeck attributed most of the evil pressure driving Oklahomans west to corporations. Double help! It was a corporation that generated the funds for this vacation! Are Steinbeck and Jesus in cahoots? (Daniel, are you in on this too!)
As I have attempted to navigate through these complicated theological waters, I have not developed hard and fast rules in applying Jesus’ teachings. One might ask, “How then do I expect to direct my ship without firm biblical convictions?” I have noticed it does not find favor with my sola scripture brethren, but my answer is that I am navigating by his Spirit (who indwells me) and by his Word. I believe, in the context of mystery, the spirit of a truth is as valuable as the letter of it. Who then, better to have on board than Holy Spirit! I trust that even with my imperfect understanding of Jesus’ harder words, His Spirit is sufficient Light to press on.
Father, may the seed of Your Words germinate in my heart, finding Christ who is the only soil in which it may be established, returning to You the crop You anticipate, not some culturally modified crop barren of any eternal relevance. Be glorified in us Lord. Amen.
The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Matthew 13:24-30)
How then does it have tares? The master’s slaves were troubled to find tares in their master’s field. They knew this field had been sown with good seed. This parable has been traditionally used to depict the ultimate separation of sheep from goats with the field being the earth. No doubt this day shall come but…
I see another interpretation of The Tares Among the Wheat, with the field being the heart of man. The previous Parable of the Seed and Soil Types was definitely about the human heart. The space of our hearts is unique in that it requires our consent for seed to grow and bear fruit. What does this consent look like? It will likely entail a process where we too will ask, how then does my heart have tares?
How did my heart get so messed up? I believe this parable sheds light on our troubling question. Let’s break it down. Jesus tells us the tare-seed was sown by an enemy while the man slept. Why? We presume it was to bring destruction to the Master’s kingdom intentions for man’s heart.
The reactions of the slaves and their master are worth noting. The presence of tares is scandalous to the slaves so they propose a radical idea—yank those weeds out immediately and return the field to purity. The master? He is neither surprised nor threatened by the tares. He is patient, willing to permit them to grow side by side as if His ultimate harvest will be unaffected by them. Even though they are sharing sun, soil, and water with the intended crop, the Master is not devastated by the presence of tares.
What is our application then? Are we to go soft on sin, allowing it to spread because of our passivity? We know better. We need to adopt our Master’s heart, refusing to panic when tares seem to threaten the landscape. When we find ourselves in this place we should avoid hasty scorched-earth reactions. The master knows that focusing directly on our tares is counterproductive.
When we see tares trying to overtake our hearts, we need to understand the enemy’s tactics. He knows sin is crouching at the door of the heart, appealing for our consent. Our reaction here at this threshold is crucial. Our response to tares requires that we live out of a new place. My friend Gene Griffin and I were recently discussing this. He had this to share about this new place…
We must live out of our new identity—the new reality that Christ is our life. Jesus is not just the hope of our life or the purpose of our life. He is not just the aim of our life or the giver of life. All of these are true, but they are true like a younger, weaker brothers might share a house with a stronger, older brother. Christ is to be our life, not just the giver of life, the hope, the purpose, or the desire of our life. He is not just our protector should we get around to needing Him. And He certainly is not just our co-pilot, taking the controls only when we concede them. We must not link the life-long process of being renewed in the spirit of our minds with the idea of becoming more of a son of God as we mature. We will never be more of a son of God than we were the day we were born again by His spirit. This reality of the Gospel has been largely ignored. We have been more comfortable (as sinners saved by grace), focusing on Jesus who has saved us from our sin than we have been as sons who have discovered Him as our life—that new place from which we must live.
Gene’s point? Being a son and a saint is a superior reality to being a sinner saved by grace. Our identity is now in Christ. Trying to live as faithful servants from convictions about subservient truths will prevent us from becoming sons who have been liberated by the Person who is The Truth. Has it ever occurred to us that the enemy uses good to obscure the best?
While today’s parable reveals that tares were sown while we slept, yesterday’s parable fills out the picture of what is happening as we sleep. The man who casts seed on the soil “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.”
Yes, in Adam we are fallen. “Conceived in iniquity” is how we entered this world, but—news flash–we are no longer in Adam, no matter how much it may feel like it, no matter how much behavior seems to confirm it. We who have been born anew of the Spirit are in Christ. Once the Spirit affirms our identities in Christ, we are able to lay our heads down at night without fear that tares will overtake us. In our new identities we can entrust the seed to the soil, knowing “the soil produces crops by itself (while we sleep); first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head.” We are never going to fully grasp this mystery. Nevertheless, we are going to have to entrust ourselves to it.
The seed will sprout and grow but we will not know. (Mark 4:27)
Father, awaken us to the weaker truths sown while we slept. Strip us of half-truths and lies! May these seeds and the tares, which they have produced, be removed in Your timing and by Your means. Help us to have Your patience with our hearts even when they seem to be overrun by tares. Amen.
The Soil of Your Soul (Wednesday) – Mark 4:30-32
How shall we picture the kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil, yet when it is sown, it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches; so that the birds of the air can nest under its shade.
Once again Jesus is likening the kingdom of God to seed. Seeds and what they produce must be quite important – this is the third seed/kingdom parable in one chapter! On this occasion Jesus highlights the mustard seed which was the smallest seed sown by the Palestinian gardener. The black mustard seed could grow up to 12 feet tall. The largest thing began as the smallest (and most easily overlooked) thing. Another common feature to this parable is the multitude’s failure to understand. The scriptures reveal a most sobering thing about Truth – it is, by design, a narrow passageway through which few will enter. Also shocking – the other, broader path leads to destruction. This is not good news for most.
Warren Buffet has made a radical fortune betting on the values of companies most were overlooking. His counterintuitive decisions have distinguished him from a multitude of investors. This is Jesus’ point; most are inclined to overlook and undervalue His kingdom. He is trying to teach us that the kingdom of God, which is imperceptible to most, will ultimately be all that really mattered. It is troubling that relatively few are going to get this but I want to be among those who do, regardless the cost.
Father, give us ears to hear and hearts to grasp your kingdom. Help us to see our investments in other kingdoms. Help us to examine our hearts to see the small kingdom-seed you planted. Let this tiny overlooked seed grow in us such that we may become a source of healing and refuge for many. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
The Spirit of Truth was sent to us after Jesus’ ascension. Jesus said it was expedient that He leave and the Spirit come. The Spirit of Truth is here to continue the Kingdom which Jesus inaugurated. The Spirit of Truth is still setting men free. These accounts of liberation are bright bursts of light that can in turn liberate others. One of the most powerful accounts of deliverance I have heard came from William Paul Young. While his book The Shack was a runaway best seller, the story behind it upstages the book. While Young’s testimony is twice as long as most sermons, it is a hundred times better. If you can’t click on this link and open it here, just copy and paste it into your search engine. This is the Spirit of Truth at His best.
I have a good friend who retired from what began as The Soil Conservation Service (it has since morphed into the NRCS—the Natural Resource Conservation Service). For 40 years he has served as a faithful steward of soil—a historically undervalued yet essential component of mankind’s ecosystem. To my shame, I have not had a proper understanding or respect for this agency. A book changed this; The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan. It is a gripping account of the Great American Dust Bowl of the 1930’s.
Egan’s prose has stand-alone beauty, but it was not the literary aesthetic itself that drew me. Nor was it the history that was most compelling. It was the moral dimension of this story—a deeply troubling sowing–and-reaping account of the Great American Dustbowl where ambition and folly trumped stewardship, resulting in the worst ecological disaster in U.S. history.
A series of sins against man and against the earth led to a living nightmare lasting a decade. The killing of the buffalo, the eradication of Native Americans, and the misuse of the plow ultimately effected 100 million acres of pristine grasslands and displaced a quarter of a million people. It turned out the soil was not just dirt, it was as an integral component of life. In profound ignorance, man removed the earth’s skin and reaped the whirlwind.
Soil is a fascinating and complex mixture of minerals, organisms, gasses and liquids, which become the medium for plant growth, which in turn sustains animals and humans. Perhaps that is why it also served as Jesus’ go-to metaphor in explaining the kingdom of God:
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)
The soil produces crops by itself. This parable reveals that Life is in the Soil. It turns out man is a bit-payer. He does nothing more than cast seed. He goes to bed leaving the seed to the soil and the seed sprouts and grows. How does this happen? Man himself does not know. It is a mystery.
Many are looking at Christianity, particularly in the west, and wondering why the gospel of Jesus Christ has had no more effect than it has on culture. With a God like ours, why are we reaping a whirlwind of moral and social decline? Is it possible we too have misunderstood the Soil and undervalued its essential part in the ecosystem of God’s kingdom?
It is difficult to fault the efforts the Church has made in saving souls by way of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The notion that, “the saving of a soul” is an incomplete idea sounds like a sacrilege—a big slap in the face to Billy Graham. But a question remains: Why is our culture blowing away before our eyes? That question leads me to ask another: What happens to people after they walk the aisle and pray the prayer? It seems whatever religion we get at the altar adds to church rolls but fails to transform us. Perhaps there needs to be a new agency created within the Church modeled after the NRSC, which was established because (as their statement of purpose says): “Wastage of soil resources… is a menace to the national welfare.”
It is great that gospel seed is being sown and that souls are being saved, but let’s consider a new agency with a mission to expand the meaning of salvation to include the soul’s transformation. Like the NRSC, it will be hard to launch because most have not come to grips with erosion in the western church. Let’s call this organization the HRCS—The Heart Resource Conservation Service. It should be established because “the wastage of heart resources is a menace to the kingdom of God.”
The HRCS will not only honor Jesus Christ as the Messiah, saving men from hell, it will also honor him as Life itself, equipping man to live. The agency’s motto will be, “Christ is our Life – in him we live and move and have our being.” The agency’s mission will be to train its agents, who will in turn train others in the stewardship of their hearts. Unlike previous efforts at reform, renewal and revival, the HRCS will keep in mind that the soil produces crops by itself… Man himself does not know how this works.
The HRSC, honoring the mystery that Life is in the Soil, will help many discover the treasures of Christ in us and us in Christ. They will show that since the kingdom of God is within us, the harvest is indeed white. They will equip many to enter into intimacy with God, which had previously existed more as a proposition than an experiential reality. The heart-conservation movement will one day see the harvest come and the sickle employed
Perhaps a book will one day be published called The Greatest Hard Time, the gripping account of The Great American Awakening of the 21st Century. It too will be a story of sowing and reaping. Through their stewardship efforts, the HRSC will be credited for their part in reversing the erosive-trends within western Christianity. The book will tell of their efforts in further revealing God’s mystery as the overlooked source of Life. Note: On top of the job I have put in for as Chief Steward of North America’s National Parks, I would also like to volunteer to write this book.
And… perhaps it will be said of us, at the end of our careers, that we too were faithful stewards of the Soil, those who had done their part in the conservation of The Kingdom—God’s ultimate eco-system. Our retirement watches will be engraved with these words: “Stewardship has trumped ambition and folly.”
Father, having left the seed to the Soil, we look forward to waking up to see a harvest. As we read your book, we see an administration, in-Christ, which will be suitable toward these ends. May we listen to you, Holy Spirit, as God’s agent on earth. Have your way with our hearts both individually and corporately. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.