Productive Soil, Productive Faith #2

“As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:15)
 
The Productive have good hearts. Although most of your texts say, “honorable and good hearts,” a literal reading of the text would be “good and good hearts.”

However, Jesus is not stuttering or repeating himself here. He is using two different Greek words for good, each with a significantly different nuance.

The first term, kale means good as in that is useful for fulfilling its purpose. This would be in contrast to something broken so that it is not useful.

Every so often, when the kids were younger, I would help them sort through their toys. In doing so we would inevitable come across something that one of them would want to keep. It would be broken, have parts missing, or just plain not work, such as a dried out marker. Sometimes I would ask them, “Does it work?,” to which they would answer, “No.” So my thought was then throw it away. 

Kale means that their heart was still able to do what God had created it to do. It had not become hardened. It was still pliable, soft to the things of God … able to be shaped by his word … receptive to his call … moved by his commands.

Within this term is a test of faith that many of us need to examine – Am I fulfilling the function for which God has designed me? Is my heart still functioning well, so tender and responsive to the things of God, or have I started to become hardened to God’s call?

But the second term carries a different nuance.

Agathe means of good character. This is the moral person … the person of character … the heart that has rejected sin and seeks to live according to God’s standard of morality and character.

This is the person that understands that  God desires for us to reflect his character … to be holy because he is holy … to love because he loves … to forgive because he has forgiven us.

This is the kind of good heart that Jesus had in mind when he shared this garden metaphor.

“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:43-45)
 
Is your character good? Does it stand out in the midst of a corrupt society as something that is admirable? Or is your character tainted?

From where does this new heart come? How does one achieve a heart that is not hard and corrupted, but is soft and full of grace and truth?

In the book of Ezekiel, the prophet, speaking on behalf of God says:

26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:26, 27)

Here is the promise in that verse … I don’t want you to miss it … God is saying that it is not too late. If you’ve had a hard heart … if you have been pushing back against God … if you are still struggling to open to him … if you still are battling against character this looks more like the world than like a child of God, he can still change your heart.

People all around will say, “People can’t change.” Yet, change is just what God is offering. He is saying that he will provide a heart transplant that will remove your stubborn struggle with the presence of his own Spirit.



Productive Soil, Productive Faith #1

And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke 8:8)

But we need to ask: What does it mean to be productive spiritually? What is Jesus pointing us to in showing this productive soil with its overwhelming level of yield?

 

In verse 14, we have defined for us the failure of the thorny soil to bear fruit. The term translated mature is actually a fruit bearing term, but it has a negative attached to it. So those distracted by prosperity, passions and worry have fruit that never grows to maturity. Their faith is immature.

I used to wonder why people would shuck their sweet corn at the grocery store. I no longer wondered after I bought a bag of sweet corn one day several years ago. When I sat down on the back step and began shucking the corn, to my surprise, I found that about half of the ears were little more than leaves and silk. Oh, it had kernels on the cob, but few had filled out. The ears had only partially developed. The ears offered plenty of promise, but little fruitful maturity.

In this contrast between the immaturity of the crop in the thorny soil and the productivity of the harvest from the good soil, Jesus is speaking of the fully developed life of a disciple. In the following chapters of Luke, specifically 9, 11, and 14 Jesus will speak extensively about the cost of following him. The kind of person it will take to be his disciples … The self-sacrifice of cross bearing … The willingness of count the cost … The hard moral choices … The enduring commitment to follow Jesus wherever he goes and however hard it gets.

Paul speaks in comparable life changing terms in Colossians 1:

Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, … so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; Colossians 1:5b, 6, 10

The Productive is the person who isn’t willing to settle for a partial following, a marginal discipleship, a divided loyalty.

The Productive is all in … Nothing held back … Nothing in reserve … No holds barred … Never give up.

It is the mature faith that will not be satisfied until it has the character of Christ reproduced, and multiplying within themselves.



Shallow Soil, Shallow Faith #5: Remove the Rocks

The rocky soil of the Parable of the Soils is a metaphor for those who lose faith because their faith has inadequate roots to sustain them during times of temptation, difficult circumstances, and persecution.
 
Yet, I have to wonder if there is something that we can do to help make this shallow ground more productive for the kingdom.

 

Is there anything we can do to improve the soil condition?

What are some potential remedies for shallow faith this is decimated, defeated and ultimately deserted?

If you’ve never had the opportunity to travel to Europe, you’ve seen them on TV and movies … those quaint country roads lined with miles of stone walls. These walls, which also divided fields, and lined drives would account for thousands upon thousands of stones. I thought to wonder, “where did all of these stones come from?”

Unlike us, these rocks weren’t hauled in for landscape purposes. These rock walls were formed as fields were cleared to make them more useful for farming. As rocks were pulled from the field they were stacked along the edges of the property where eventually the walls would take shape.

As sowers, we need to help remove the rocks so that the shallow can develop deeper roots that will be able to sustain their faith.

How shall we do that?

  • First, Teach for depth. We should teach, teach, teach … but we also need to be aware of what and how we are teaching.

Over the last two to three decades, the teaching practices of the church have changed. And it has not all been for the good. While some of the teaching prior to and into the 1980’s might have been good, solid theology but with little real life application, the preaching of the last couple of decades may be described in opposite terms … it is highly practical, but the depth of truth might be missing.

We have done a good job of preaching the imperative, the “how tos”:

  • Six Paths to Financial Peace;
  • Four Strategies to Defeat Emotional Insecurity;
  • Three Habits of Lasting Friendships;
  • Seven Steps to Have A Better Family by Friday;
  • Three Ways to Control Your Temper;
  • Two Keys To Racial Reconciliation.

In our effort to be practical, have we lost the reason, the why, for these imperatives … and in losing the reason for the imperative have we become just another social development organization.

When we water down the teaching of the church to steps, or life strategies, or imperatives to achieve, we encourage shallow faith.

We should never disconnect the imperative from the indicative. While the imperative tells us what to do, the indicative gives us the truth which should motivate us. We should never unhitch the command for action from the content of truth.

Both need to be taught in relation to one another:

Why should I strive for financial peace? Because God has made me a steward of His resources.

Why should I seek emotional security? Because we are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God, and God wants us to know our worth.

Why should I want a better home? Because the home is a model for the relationship with God and his people, and it is the first place where we are usually introduced to Christ.

Why should events like recently occurred at Charlottesville disturb us? Because God created all people in his image, and the walls of hostility between races was knocked down by Christ. It is shallow Biblical knowledge that allows someone to distort a book which teaches the unity of all ethnic groups as joint heirs in the promises of God into a theology of white supremacy.

We need to teach for depth. But here is the second thing that we can to do clear the ground.

  • We must develop relationships with the shallow before the trials come.

Those relationships will help the shallow grow deeper roots in two ways:

Developing relationships of mutual accountability will help them confront the testing of temptation. As we walk with one another, calling out the sin, calling each other to repentance, it invites a return to faith, and a deeper walk. For each other’s own good, we can’t be too afraid to confront one another in our sins, but that requires relationship. Will having a relationship mean that confrontation won’t hurt the relationship? No, but shall we choose the opposite, letting our friend wander into sin because we don’t want to wound our friendship?

We help to remove the rocks by identifying the stones of sin that need to be cleared from the field, and in relationships of accountability help to move those sins and temptations to the edges.



Shallow Soil, Shallow Faith #4: Persecution

In the orignal blog in this series, we discussed the spiritual condition of the rocky, shallow soil. In Jesus’ parable of the soils, this soil was a metaphor for those who had shallow, undeveloped faith, a group that may be at a spiritual epidemic in the American church today. Since their faith wasn’t developed, they ended up walking away from Christ and His church.
 
But why does this happen? What led them to abandon their relationship with God and the message of grace found in God’s word? In the second post in the series, we addressed the problem of shallowness that wasn’t able to fend off temptation, and surrendered to a life of sin.
 
In the third post, we considered the harsh reality of difficult periods of crisis and how they can shattered the shallow faith of the rocky soil.
 
Still, there is one particular area of testing which Jesus might have had in mind as he was explaining this story. “Time of trial” in Luke may be specifically denoting the threat of persecution, when in a literal way faith is being put on trial.

Jesus himself would confront that “time of trial” as he gave his life for the salvation of the world.

Many of his followers would confront the same threat. The possibilities of beatings, loss of a job, imprisonment, or even execution were real for the followers of Jesus.

In America, we have it easy. We cry persecution when public prayers are prohibited … when shop owners are fined for refusing to service “gay weddings” … when you may be called bigoted for taking a moral stand. I agree that all of these things are concerning, an indication of the drift of our country. But they are nothing like the persecution that others experience today around the world because of the stand that they take for their faith.

In America, has our faith become so soft, so shallow, that when confronted with cultural pressure, it is too easy to surrender Biblical principles so we won’t be called intolerant?  

Don’t get me wrong, the freedom of religion has been a tremendous blessing for Americans. But I have to wonder if that freedom hasn’t also had an unintended consequence of making our faith risk averse. We have become comfortable with our civil religion, one that fits nicely with the flow of our culture. We have no interest in being seen as “Jesus freaks”.

Yet, didn’t Jesus promise us that in this world we would have trouble? Didn’t he promise us that the world would hate us because it first hated him? Didn’t Peter say that we shouldn’t make ourselves at home in this world?

Some people choose to walk away from faith because they can’t live at peace with the world and with their faith … so they choose the world.



Shallow Soil, Shallow Faith #3: Trials

In the orignal blog in this series, we discussed the spiritual condition of the rocky, shallow soil. In Jesus’ parable of the soils, this soil was a metaphor for those who had shallow, undeveloped faith, a group that may be at a spiritual epidemic in the American church today. Since their faith wasn’t developed, they ended up walking away from Christ and His church.
 
But why does this happen? What led them to abandon their relationship with God and the message of grace found in God’s word? In the second post in the series, we addressed the problem of shallowness that wasn’t able to fend off temptation, and surrendered to a life of sin.

Yet, there is another “time of testing” which we need to address. Testing is not just temptation. It is also met in trials, difficult circumstances … Those times that proverbially try men’s souls.

Why are trials called “time of testing”? Trials are tests because they are an opportunity for us to authenticate our trust in God.

It is one thing to trust God when you are experiencing peace, prosperity and health. It is another thing to trust him when life is crumbling around you.

Isn’t that the story of Job? Satan approached God to say that the only reason Job trusted God was because God had set him up in a cushy life. Then Satan challenged that if Job lost it all he would denounce God.

Then when Job lost everything, his response was “Still will I praise Him. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Yet, that is not so easy, is it? When the doctor enters the room with a cancer diagnosis … when you find yourself single because your spouse has left you for someone else … when the “yes” you were expecting is met with a “no” … when you find yourself widowed long before you expected … when your job position is cut … when a child dies … when your spouse’s anger escalates to physical harm … and on and on and on, it isn’t so easy to just sing out, “Blessed be the name of the Lord”, is it?

Questions arise. The “Whys” shout out at you. You may even become angry at God for placing you in such a painful situation. Like David, you may shout out at God, “Why did you do this to me?”

Paul, in 2 Corinthians, tells of a thorn in the flesh which he prayed God would remove. He prayed this prayer three times (it’s unclear whether this was three specific prayers, or three periods of time in which this prayer was prominent). However, the answer always came back the same, “No.”

How do you respond to God’s “no”, when it seems like He has either turned a deaf ear to your pain, or worse that He chooses not to do anything about it?

We’ve seen people in the throes of chaos turn their back on God, haven’t we? They raise the age old question, “If God is good, why does he allow such evil to continue to exist in the world?” And if the soil is shallow and rocky, it is not too big of a jump to conclude that either God doesn’t exist, or if He does exist, He is either not good, or is powerless to do anything about our problems.

Conversely, the rest of the answer Paul received from God was “My grace is sufficient for you.” The emphasis isn’t on the pain. It isn’t on the crisis. The emphasis is turned to a sufficient God.

If your roots are deep, these questions, these times of crisis and chaos, rather than causing you to push away from God will cause you to lean into him a little more. You may not have all of the answers you seek, but you choose to place a little more trust in the certainty of His love, His power, and His presence in an uncertain time.
 
What can we do to remove the stones from this plot of spiritual ground that in its shallowness is unable to deal with difficulty?

Walk along with people during those pivotal circumstances, those times of trial. The company during our walks through difficult circumstances is powerful. The absences of such company can be devastating.

I recently had someone share an instance where we didn’t do this so well. We responded well initially, as the events of crisis unfolded, but we didn’t do so well in the long run. As this person struggled with their faith in the midst of crisis, they became more and more isolated from the church. Instead of continuing to walk with them through the darkness, it became easier to deal with their proxy, and occasionally ask them, “How is she doing?”

Without the support of community, this person’s faith began to dry up and wither.

We can help remove the rocks by walking with each other through these difficult times, not just the moment of tragedy, but the long unfolding trial that follows.



Shallow Soil, Shallow Faith #1

In Luke 8, Jesus tells the parable of the soils. Jesus says this in Luke 8:6: “Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture.” Here is the spiritual application in verse 13: “Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.”
 
Normally, when we are dealing with the parable we call this the rocky soil. I prefer to identify it by the nature of the heart with which it is associated. I call it the shallow.

Why is that? What is the condition of the soil?

I always thought of the rocky soil as a person of shallow faith who had recently made a decision to receive Christ, but in a short period of time returned to their life of sin. They gave their life to Christ on a spur of the moment impulse. During their spiritual high, they would attend every church event, always be excited to the point of jittery, and seem to eat up everything. But soon they would flame out. While, the emotional response to the presentation of the gospel was enough to bring them to conviction, it was not enough to provide them an adequate foundation for a long obedience in the right direction.

These are the people who respond with weeping and wailing when the altar call is given only to be out among the same parties, pubs and prostitutes the following week.

Some people might wonder why, in contrast with some other churches, don’t we push hard for people to make a decision? Why don’t we turn the screws for a strong emotional appeal? Why don’t we do 53 verses of “Just As I AM” followed by 23 “I Surrender Alls” with multiple pleas sprinkled in to give your life to Jesus right now because you don’t know if you’ll ever get another chance because you might be hit by a car and die on your way out of the parking lot today? Why don’t we do the hard sell?

Here is why: Altar calls that seek to manipulate emotions only set people up to be rocky soil. If we coerce people into an unreasoned, emotional decision, they won’t have sufficient root to sustain their faith when the temperature rises.

We may be able to count a notch in our belt as we run another person into the baptistery, but have we really produced a viable, committed disciple or have we just gotten another sinner wet?

However, here is what I discovered as I dug further into this text – the shallow, rocky soil isn’t just speaking about the 30 day believer who returns to his sin. This is not just those who have made a hasty decision to accept Christ that they later regret.

The shallow soil may be the 30 year believer that hasn’t grown 30-years old spiritually. They have grown one-year old spiritually 30 times.

Look again at what the text says: They received the message when it was presented. The verb translated “received” carries the idea of taking hold of something, to accept it into one possession.

The text also says that the rocky soil believed. This is the same word used elsewhere for having faith. It is clear that Jesus is presenting this shallow soil group as people who have been part of the faith community with God’s people.

But notice the state of their faith. While it is present, it is shallow. There is not enough earth to provide depth for the roots. So when the scorching heat of the summer arrives, the word planted in this soil dies due to exposure.

But look further at what happens to the shallow soil. It says when testing came they fell away. The falling away means to abandon or forsake something. Here particularly it means they abandoned the word of God and forsook the relationship that was offered them through his word.

It is the same idea present in Revelation 2 of Ephesus who had forsaken or abandoned their first love of Christ and his people.

I have often been asked if I believe that a person can lose their salvation. My response has always been the same. “No, no one loses their salvation. They know exactly where it is. However, many people have surrendered it.”

This is what this text is saying. Things got too hot for this believing shallow soil, so they willfully surrendered their salvation and walked away.
 
Why is it that the shallow lose faith and walk away? In asking that question, we also answered it. The text is very clear and straight forward — because their faith is shallow, It had no depth to its roots.
 

This is what I referred to before as the 30 year believer who wasn’t thirty-years old spiritually, but one-year old 30 times. In 30 plus years of ministry, I have seen far too often far too many people who thought they had completed the Christian race if not when they came out of the baptistery then shortly thereafter.

Each generation has had its own way of lessening the demands of discipleship … of removing the challenge of Christlikeness … of living with an automaton religion instead of an authentic relationship with God and each other.

For the traditional generation, shallow faith might be reduced to regularly attend church, and make yourself available as a volunteer. Church was what you did. It was unquestioned. You just did it, even if you didn’t feel it.

For the boomer generation, shallow faith morphed into attending church and being a nice, fairly moral person. Involvement in ministry was passe. We wanted entertained, and served. The churches that offered the most things on our wishlist won out.

For the younger generations, shallow faith made church attendance optional, and Biblical morality optional too, as long as you loved and served others.

That is the shallow soil. The soil that has no depth. Christianity is put on cruise control with no real effort to be all that we are called to be in Christ.

 

It is so easy to become comfortable with a thin veneer of Christianity, just enough to look the part. Instead of drilling down into knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection we are satisfied with knowing about him. We get just enough Christianity to ensure that we are inoculated against the real thing.

But, let me be honest with you. I think that sometimes all of the blame doesn’t rest solely on shallow people. Sometimes the church is partially to blame. Sometimes the church has invited people to a shallow faith by not inviting them, and instructing them, and urging them to a deep walk with Christ.

Churches can make it easy for the shallow to remain shallow, but teaching comfortable affirming messages that don’t deal with the hard side of discipleship … by focusing on feeding our base instincts for entertainment, rather than pushing us on to love and good deeds … by spoon feeding us predigested spiritual milk when we ought to be chewing our own food.



Faith That Works

It is time that we obliterate the false dichotomy between faith and works!

Martin Luther, at the dawn of the Reformation, coined the phrase, “Solo fides” – faith alone. The phrase sprang from his study of the book of Romans, in which he discovered that salvation is imputed upon a believer based on a response of faith, and not by any spiritual or moral action conducted on the part of the person.

At the same time, the Roman See was conducting a capital campaign in order to complete the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. One German monk, Johann Tetzel, had proven himself extremely proficient at raising funds through the sale of indulgences. These indulgences were the presumed superabundant leftover merits of prior saints, which the Roman Catholic Church had banked, and would make available to those who desired to reduce their time in purgatory. Tetzel, himself, advocated that “each time a coin in the chest would ring, a soul from purgatory would spring.” Innocent victims of this huckster would gather in crowds to purchase these indulgences for themselves and family who had passed.

Luther considered Tetzel’s selling off of God’s grace a complete distortion of Christian theology. The phrase “Sola fides” emphasized that there are no actions that we can accomplish that will enact salvation on our or other’s behalf. We were and are saved by faith, apart from any work to obtain it.

However, over time the concept of “Sola fides” morphed into a theological position that I believe Martin Luther would not have recognized. A strain of today’s “faith only” theology teaches that since we are saved by faith, and that faith is even a gift imputed by God, works are inconsequential. Faith has absolutely no association with a life of morality or service. Faith can devolve into nothing more than a momentary intellectual acknowledgement.  If a person responds to God in faith, it does not matter what they do with the rest of their lives … they can live like hell because heaven is already guaranteed.

The idea that faith and works are, not only two separate manifestations, but two manifestations that have no relationship, connection, or association does not ring true with the words of Scripture.

James responds to such a theological position that seeks to validate faith by a simple statement and a wave of the hand … “I have faith. That solves it!” … by asking to see it! He further presents his argument by saying, “You show me your faith, and I will show you my faith by my actions.” He concludes his argument with the powerful axiom, “Faith without works is dead.”

James clearly thought that there was a decided connection between faith and works. Does that mean that James thought that he earned his salvation by his works? No. But he did believe that faith that did not support itself with actions was nothing more than a lifeless relic, if it was ever faith at all.

The most famous faith chapter in the Bible, Hebrews 11, supports James’ contention that faith is always accompanied by supporting actions. Often this chapter is looked at like a Biblical Hall of Fame, a series of heroic characters and the chronicle of their exploits. Anybody familiar with the chapter is aware of the repetition of the phrase, “By faith …” The phrase occurs 17 times in a 29 verse stretch. Sixteen times these phrases introduce statements of faith articulated by actions.

    • By faith Abel … offered.
    • By faith Noah … built.
    • By faith Abraham … obeyed and went, offered Isaac as a sacrifice.
    • By faith Moses’ parents … hid him.
    • By faith Moses … refused, left, kept the Passover.
    • By faith the people … passed through the Red Sea.
    • By faith Rahab … welcomed.

Each one of these chronicles is faith put in action, faith lived out. According to the Hebrew writer, faith is only faith when it is put in action. Not a single one of the statements represents faith as an intellectual exercise, or a philosophical or theological acknowledgement. According to these statements, faith is at least as much a practical reality as it is a more a propositional statement. Every chronicle includes an activity that substantiates the presence of faith.

If you are a person of faith, you have a “by faith” statement. It may be as simple as one of mine, “By faith Steve, even though he possessed an overwhelming fear of speaking in public, became a herald of God’s message in the preaching/teaching ministry.”

Maybe your statement is “By faith …

    • Forgave the sins that were committed against her by her family, and surrendered all of the resentments that accumulated over the years.
    • Determined to shorten the hours he spent at work, realizing that his first ministry was to his family, and any amount of success would not balance failure at home.
    • Told his friends, “I have made a decision that I am not going to talk like that anymore, and I would ask that you respect that.”
    • Volunteered to help the older couple down the street with some needed home repairs, as an expression of God’s love.
    • Moved the computer into a family access area, so he would have the accountability he needed to help relieve the temptation to feed his lust by frequenting pornographic sites.
    • Reached out to her neighbor and invited her to church.
    • Quit his job because it required him to make questionable moral calls.
    • Gave a permanent home to a child without “a place to call home” and became their family.

The options are innumerable.  If you spend a moment reflecting on it, you will probably find that you have more than one. Think through all of the life transformations that faith has brought into your life. Put a verb on them. Write them out. Celebrate that faith has been at work in your life.

If you are having trouble putting together a list, it is not too late to begin. Start writing your list today. Decide on one thing that will change because of the faith that you claim, and by faith live it.

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How To Kill Your Faith

I am somewhat on an expert at killing things … green things with roots and leaves. Give me a healthy plant and I will find someway to brown it and make its leaves fall off in a very short period of time. It may be too much water, too little water, too much light, too much shade, not enough soil nutrients, or an overdose of nitrogen, but I will inevitably find a way to suck the last greening of healthy vitality from any plant.

Our Christian faith is also a living thing, a thing that lives and breaths, grows and develops. It needs tended properly in order for it to experience proper growth. Too much or too little of certain things can spell disaster for our faith. And just like other living things faith can die. 

How does one know if ones faith has taken its last breath and settled into a spiritual grave? James gives some insight with his statement, “Faith without works is dead.” Faith that is not producing either life transformation in the person holding it, or demonstrating itself in ministry to others — or both, actually — is at best on life support.

I have to wonder, how many people who profess their faith in Christ, attend church periodically, etc. are gasping through a Christian life that is at best on life support, or at worst seen faith flat-lined.

murderI would venture to say that most people have not committed homicide with their faith. Most did not detail a plan and with intentionality execute their faith. More often than not, we will struggle with faith-slaughter as we let our faith die through negligence.

How does one massacre their faith? I think Scripture gives us a few answers. Here is a starter list:

1) Don’t consume the life-sustaining Word of God through reading and study. Too may professed believers rely on being spoon fed a spiritual diet that they think should sustain them for an entire week.

I had a neighbor that I envied his lawn. He had thick grass that was full and green even in the dog-days of summer. I was blessed with thin grass with dirt patches that became a lush tan in the heat of the summer. His secret, while I just let my lawn go, he spent hours on weekends on his feeding and seeding. Every month from spring through fall he would take another pass of weed and feed, twice in March or April. While his lawn was getting all the nutrients it needed, mine was starving by mid-June.

Just recently one of our puppies was so sick that it wouldn’t eat for several days. By the second day, I was force feeding him several syringes of chicken broth. After 4-5 days, he was feeling better, and began to eat himself.

When the kids were little, I would take their little spoon (which were so small they had no business being called spoons) and feed them their mashed peas or creamed chicken. But as they continued to grow, they had to take up their own spoons and begin to feed themselves. They couldn’t rely on mom and dad to spoon feed them any more.

As believers, we can’t maintain a growing faith when we rely on the limited spooning of spiritual nourishment that preachers and teachers are able to fill us with. Without learning to feed ourselves through time in God’s Word, reading and studying, we can quickly find that we have starved our faith.

2) Don’t tap into the life-refreshing power of God in prayer. When our faith begins to feel the heat of the dog-days, we can quickly find our faith withering under the stress.

One summer, the city had torn up our corner for a sewer project. When finished they laid fresh sod down on that little piece of corner ground and left instruction to water it daily for 2-3 weeks. A week later, everyone in the Chapman family except for Timothy went on vacation. I left the instructions for Timothy to water the spot twice a day, early morning and after dark. That week proved to be a scorcher with several days seeing the mercury rise above 90 degrees. When we got home, the little piece of ground was a “crisp” brown. I asked Timothy why he didn’t water that patch, and his response was I did once when I saw it was getting dry.

While it would push some people’s limits, the average person could participate in an extended fast of 7-14 days without any medical complications. Some people can fast, as Jesus did, for 40 days. But the average person would be facing dire consequences if they went 3 days without water. While our bodies can adapt to the loss of nutrients over a period of time, it cannot adjust to the loss of fluids. First, you begin to feel sluggish and some muscle aches set in. Irritability sets in. Your blood pressure rises, and you begin to feel dizzy or your thoughts become muddled. Left unchecked death can visit quickly.

Just like our lawns become stressed as the summer moves into dry season, and our bodies shout at us when challenged with dehydration, so our souls can become parched when they are not watered with God’s power through prayer. As we become stressed by the worries, concerns, failures and threats that life throws at us, our faith can easily be pushed to the breaking point without seeking God’s strength to make it through those difficult times. As James put it, “you don’t have because you haven’t asked.” When faith begins to wane, we can quickly let it pass on by neglecting to ask God to shore it up.

3) Don’t develop a life-changing relationship with God. When we place our faith in what we “do” instead of who has already “done” we can burnout our faith.

Imagine a farmer tending the soil. He has turned it. Fertilized it. Spread the proper herbicide. Regularly, during the season, he is back in the field cultivating the rows, spraying more fertilizer, checking moisture, running the irrigation, etc. What do you think his harvest will be like? It will be pretty scarce because he failed to do the planting.

Millions of people in America are gradually killing themselves due to overworking long hours in stress filled jobs. They work. They work. And they work with the idea that some day they will be able to slow down and enjoy the life of ease they have created for themselves. Some of them never get there, their hearts give out long before that anticipated rest arrived.

Many church-goers act as if Christianity is a religious set of activities added to their lives. They go to church, they pray at meals, they live a relatively moral life, and they read their Bibles. They may be very busy with spiritual activity, but it has all left them exhausted, and they are discouraged by the fruitlessness of all their efforts. Long before their time has past their spiritual heart gives out on the things of God.

What they have missed is that Christianity is more about a relationship with God that changes everything about life than about doing things for God. In their busyness, faith dies because it was placed in their accomplishments, instead of the Almighty.

4) Don’t exemplify the life–giving love of God. Make Christianity into a consumer good instead of a life of love to be freely given away.

The scientific studies that show plants that are treated affectionately respond with increased growth have always intrigued me. The studies say that plants that are treated with soft-tone conversation, peaceful music or gentle touch flourish much more than those that do not receive such treatment.

Many Christians see faith growth through the lens of plant growth. Provide for me. Touch me. Speak to me. Give me. Give me. Give me. Faith becomes a consumer good. As long as I have what I need I will be spiritually satisfied.

But we kill our faith when we make ourselves the plant instead of the life-giving gardener.

A study by Karl Menninger in the 70’s showed that we are unlike plants at this point. His ground breaking study showed that the best treatment for patients with clinical depression was to get them engaged in serving others. They were not healed as effectively through therapy that encouraged them to find their own fulfillment, but found greater fulfillment when used as a channel of fulfillment for others.

John, in 1 John, indicates that when we fail to love others we are guilty of murder. And the love he defines is not a feeling, but tangible actions that exhibit life-giving love. In looking at the larger context of 1 John you can also say that we are guilty of our own spiritual suicide when we fail to exhibit the love of God through loving one another.

Longing to kill your faith, just live a self-centered and self-serving life. Forget about the needs of others. Make life all about you.

5) Don’t protect from life-draining spiritual distractions. When you dive too deeply into this world and forget that there is more than this world.

Now, you may not be like me. You may have a green-thumb. Plants may blossom and bloom in your presence. Tending your garden may even be one of the joys of your life.

However, although God created humankind from the dust of the ground, and someday when our bodies have worn out we will return to the dust from which we were formed, he didn’t create us to live our lives in the dirt. We wouldn’t be alive very long if we were to make ourselves at home with the garden plants – burying ourselves in the dirt with the hopes of sprouting forth. Oxygen supplies run low with a face full of dirt.

But many Christians believe that they can make themselves at home in this world, and easily cross back and forth between life in this world and life in God’s kingdom. Physically I am exiled to this world, as the song says, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.” Jesus prayed that his disciples would be in the world, but not of it. Demas left his ministry with Paul because “he loved this world.” 1 Peter says that we are strangers and aliens in this land.

When we make ourselves too much at home in this world, our love for God will be replaced by a love for our possessions, our jobs, our families, our homes, our cars, or any number of other pleasures confined to this life. Your spiritual life will be drained by all of the distraction and pursuits of this world leaving no room for the refreshing love of God.

Don’t force your faith to flat-line. Give it everything it needs to live and grow.

 

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