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 #2: Temptation

In the previous blog, 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? What led them to walk away from so great a salvation, or as the writer of Hebrews says, “How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?” Hebrews 10:29

This is the place at which we need to take an honest look at ourselves and the condition of our faith, and be more aware of the spiritual condition of those around us.

Jesus’ story portrays the hot summer sun coming up and scorching the fruitful growth so that it withered and died. Understand withering is often used throughout Scripture as a term to express God’s judgment on the unfaithful.

In his explanation of the parable, Jesus says that when times of testing come their faith fails.

At this point we have to ask; what does Jesus mean by “time of testing”?

The phrase has three applications based on the meaning and context of the word translated testing. The next three blogs will consider the implications of the three ways that “time of testing” can be interpreted.

One meaning for the phrase is “a period of temptation”. We are tested when we are tempted. When we are victorious over the temptation our faith grows. When we give into the temptation our faith flounders.

We can see numerous characters throughout Scripture who met their spiritual demise when they let temptation get the best of them.

We can start at the very beginning with Adam and Eve. Protected in paradise with a personal relationship with the creator of the garden, they blew it by shopping in the wrong produce aisle.

Cain let a little sibling rivalry expose his murderous side.

Saul couldn’t wait on God, and died in battle under God’s curse.

Ananias and Sapphira thought a little cash was reason enough to lie to God. But they never got to spend the money.

Demas, after spending years in ministry alongside Paul, abandoned him because he loved the world.

Solomon the wise made the foolish decision to marry foreign wives, and worship their gods.

Judas thought a handful of silver coins would ease turning Jesus in to the religious leaders. But those coins only bought his suicide.

We see this struggle with temptation in the people of Israel in how quickly they forgot the God who led them out of Egypt, and offered their worship to a golden calf.

But we see that disobedience intensify when God brings them to the boundaries of the promised land, the promised place of rest. But, they refuse to trust that God will deliver their enemies into their hands. So God delivers them back to the desert where they find their final rest, and the sands of time cover their remains.

We see this battle with temptation lost:

  • as the church in Ephesus forgets her first love;
  • as Sardis looks alive, but is dead;
  • as Christians in Thyatira and Pergamum attempt to walk the line between faithfulness and spiritual and moral compromise;
  • as Laodicean believers determine that they no longer need Jesus because they’ve placed their trust in their prosperity.

We all know that battle well don’t we? We know that power of temptation. We have felt its grip tighten around our spiritual necks. We have experienced the shame and guilt of defeat as temptation turned to sin.

We know full well what Paul meant when he said, “The very thing that I do not want to do I find myself doing, and the very thing that I desire to do I do not do.”

But let me make clear this is not the defeat that the shallow experience. The defeat of the rocky soil is not the occasional battle with temptation that results in a fall to sin.

The defeat of the shallow is that they choose no longer to battle. They surrender to temptation, and choose to live a life of willful and volitional disobedience, a life that is fully incompatible with a life in Christ. When the heat of spiritual battle got too hot, they raised the white flag, and surrendered to a life of sin.

If you have been a member of the body of Christ for very long, you have undoubtedly witnessed someone who looked like they had it together. They looked like they would be a tremendous asset to the kingdom, and God was using them to accomplish his purposes. But, seemingly out of the blue, they shipwrecked their faith. Through an affair, or through drug abuse, or any number of other invitations to sin they turned their back on Jesus, and they walked away.

For some that has been your mother or father, a child, a spouse, or a sibling, and you have shed streams of tears for their souls.
 
 


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.