Pastor Shannon often begins the service with some kind of anecdote or story that ties in to the message, but with hunting season underway Brad went a different direction and shared an amusing story that took place earlier today. There was a deer outside the Shannon home and Brad grabbed his rifle. Details included Brooke doing the SWAT Team hand gestures to give him directions once outside, but there was nothing to shoot by the time he was equipped and ready. "When I hunt, the deer have never been safer," he said.
Brad swerved to a more serious topic, the importance of connection, especially as it related to connecting people to the Good News of the kingdom and to purposeful living for God.
Conversion is not the same thing as growth. You make a decision to follow Christ, but you do not automatically morph into change or maturity. While it is true that only God can give growth, it is our job to remove the barriers to growth. This is part of what today's message would deal with.
The primary announcements this week include the following:
1) Wednesday night at 6:00 p.m. we will be assembling shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child.
2) Elsa announced that Saturday night at 6:00 p.m. will be a movie night... all kids invited.
Chuck, Ken and Darlene led worship this a.m. with some traditional Gaither songs beginning with "It Took a Miracle." After several worship choruses. an offering was taken followed by a time of prayer.
Brad began with an Albert Einstein anecdote, following it with the point that Jesus was undoubtedly the smartest man that ever live. Yet, he did not spend any of his energy letting people know how smart He was.
His teaching style was to tell stories. Parables.
This parable, found in Matthew 13, as well as in Mark and Luke, is about a sower who went out sowing seed. It's a simple story, but designed to get deep into your hearts. Here's the passage from Matthew:
1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
There is something amazing about growth. Parents love watching their kids grow, from their first steps to so many new thresholds. Growth is a sign of health, of life. When we stop growing, we start dying.
Brad talked about a condition known as Failure To Thrive (FTT). Thriving and growth are normal processes in life. So, too, in spiritual life. Growth is normal and expected. God wants us to thrive.
Ways we recognize spiritual growth are many. Sin becomes less attractive to us. Sharing our faith becomes easier. Speaking truthfully is increases in importance.
In the passage we see that Jesus sat down to teach. This was, and is to this day, a common way for rabbis to teach.
There are three elements in this story: the seed, the sower and the soil. Notice how the seed and the sower are constants. The seed is the same in all four situations, and the sower is lavish in his distribution of the seed. The sower, like God, is extravagant in sharing grace. The lesson is in the soil, the one variable in this parable.
Brad said it was time for each of us to do soil analysis.
The Hard Soil
A footpath is packed down and hard. Many of us have a heart that is hardened. Often it is because we have been hurt. There is a protective barrier around the heart to shield against additional pain. Bitterness, too, can lead to a hardened heart.
"Some of you have a hard spot in your heart," Brad said. We need to ask God, "Will you make my heart tender?"
Cynicism, or lack of gratitude may be the cause of the hard soil. This is soil that needs to be softened somehow, or plowed. It may take tears of repentance to soften the soil. There is a pain that is worse than the plow however. It is the sterility that comes from a hardened heart.
The Shallow Soil
In order for seed to thrive, the soil needs to be both soft and deep. In much of Israel there was bedrock below the surface. Roots can't go down into that kind of land.
Richard Foster wrote that superficiality is the curse of our age. Our lives are lived on the surface and we do not invest time to go deeper in our relationship with God or with others. People all too often bail out when things get hard. Roots require time. Relationship with God requires time, unhurried time.
The Cluttered Soil
Jesus said the third kind of soil is covered with thorns, thorns that crowd out the good seed.
Clutter is dangerous, and a deadly enemy to growth. When the "cares of this world" clutter our minds, we need to do some weeding. The clutter can take many forms. Workaholics are crushed by one form of clutter. Becoming financially burdened can also clutter our lives with a low-grade anxiety that is distracting. Failure to weed out the thorns will lead to a failure to thrive.
Jesus says the seed sown on the good soil produces astounding fruitfulness, 100-fold, 60-fold or 30-fold.
But in a twist on the parable, Brad notes that we ourselves are not only the soil in the parable, we are to be seed sowers as well. In this regard we are to continue sowing and not lose heart.
In Mark 4:26 Jesus said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground..."
God gives the growth, but our responsibility is to keep sowing. Good seed can find its way into the smallest of cracks.