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.



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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