Sunday, January 4, 2009

Good Soil

It’s every pastor’s dream to hear that a sermon hits home with folks. I’m usually pretty phlegmatic about compliments and such (that’s why I don’t do the traditional greet-everyone-at-the-door-as-they-leave-church thing). It tends to force flattery.

Incidentally, I remember when I was brand new pastor in North Carolina, an older gentleman slept the ENTIRE message. As he left church he shook my hand and said with a reverent tone, “I really enjoyed that sermon, pastor.” I couldn’t resist. “I could tell you did,” I said with a grin. I don’t think he got it. I guess all pastors have stories like this.

Anyway, this Sunday’s very basic sermon evoked lots of comments. I pray this means God spoke to hearts.

We read Luke 8 about the 4 soils (a.k.a., the parable of the seed and the sower). You know, the sower is throwing seed (God’s word), which lands on different kinds of soil: hard path, rocky/shallow, thorny, and GOOD soil.

The question is, how can we be good soil—the kind in which God’s word best grows”

Before giving the answer, I’ve had to acknowledge a couple of things about American Christians in general:

First, I think it is evident that we’re spiritually weaker than previous generations. So many American Christians seem to have the same problems and failings as those in the world—many times it’s hard to even distinguish between those claiming to be believers and unbelievers. Maybe you too have struggled with thoughts like, “Does this Christianity thing even work? Why do I not feel God in my life? Why do I not love God like I once did?” Satan has lulled many to sleep, and enticed many more into sin. It’s fallow ground…unproductive soil…shallow…choked with thorns.

Second, we want a shortcut for everything. We tend to be lazy. We want pre-packaged, ready-to-eat, instant, trouble-free spiritual maturity. We want a magic pill, a quick-fix, an easy button. Truth is…THERE’S NOT ONE.

If you want growth, spiritual maturity, stability, the joy of walking in the Spirit and in the confidence of his indwelling presence…if you want the peace and many rewards of living in his will, you get it the same way as all saints from all time.

You see, God grows us by his grace. But he grows those whose hearts are good soil. Any farmer will tell you, this doesn’t come easy. Can you DO something to cultivate the essentials you need to grow?

The answer is “yes!” It’s no mystery, nor is it profound. But IT IS THE KEY. Truly spiritual people ALL share some common practices. What are the essential elements for spiritual growth and health? Simply put, there are three.

Time with God
People of God
Service to God

1. Time with God. Christianity is a not about religion, it is about a relationship with God. You cannot grow in your relationship with God without spending time communicating with him and being alone with him. This means regular time in Bible Study and Prayer. These are like inhaling and exhaling. We breathe in God’s word and we breathing out our heart to him in prayer. Communication is two-way: listening & speaking.

Bottom line: this is a daily discipline you must develop. Set aside a time each day. Get a plan (there are so many online resources like if you need help with a plan). I challenge you to do this for the month of January—no miss. See what happens.

2. People of God. You need a family…the church. They aren’t perfect—but neither are you. And you can't do it alone. Two biblical environments where God’s family gather together: congregation & cell (just like in Acts 20:20).

Bottom line: Whether it is Providence or somewhere, plug in to a local church. 101 is January 25. Go to the website. Sign up and we’ll send reminder! Let us know and we’ll help you find a group!

3. Service to God. Like a body of water with no outlet, stagnation occurs if there is not a giving of yourself away. Surrendering to him means all of who you are and all you have. Acknowledging all is his is a start. Following up with practical actions is where the water hits the wheel. We all have been given talents. We all have time. We all have resources. The question is how are you giving of each of these?

Bottom line: Serve God with your time, talents and possessions. Think of ways you can this year:
• Instead of a vacation, go on a mission trip.
• Don’t just see church as a place to be fed, but a place to FEED. Use your gifts: teach, acting, tech, music, landscape, construction, goof off—whatever! Your church needs you!
• Initiate a project your Life Group can do to help people.
• Pray about and set a giving goal this year.

Decide to GROW in 2009! Cultivate GOOD SOIL! Imagine what your relationship with God can be like in a year if you develop these disciplines. You will look back and be glad you did!

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