Wheat and Tares

wheatAfter the parable of the different soils, Jesus continues taking the ideas of the Kingdom of God and comparing it to something organic.

In this story, a man sowed seed in his field, and during the night, an “enemy” sowed tares among the wheat. Both grow up together, and when a servant asked what to do, the sower said that they should let the wheat and the tares grow up together, since pulling up the tares would damage the wheat, as well. At the harvest, they will separate the wheat and the tares, gathering both and burning the tares.

A few verses later, the disciples ask what this parable means. They were particularly confused by this one. So Jesus explains in Matt 13, 36-43. The sower, again, is Jesus, and the good seed are sons of the Kingdom of God (disciples). The field is the world. The tares are sons of the “wicked one,” and the devil sowed them in the world. Both are gathered and judged at the end of the age, where the righteous will shine forth and the wicked will burn in punishment.

Simple, right? A couple thoughts:

First, here the seeds are people, not the message. The man who owns the field, Jesus, sows people of the Kingdom and those people are righteous, and the implication is that they act righteously. The devil sows his own seed – people who act wickedly and are destined for destruction.

Here we see a Kingdom principle of source and destination. The end is seen in the source. If a person’s source is in the Kingdom, then the organic, natural result is shining forth in the Father’s Kingdom. If a person’s source is in the devil, then they will do works of the devil. As Jesus says elsewhere, “You are of your father the devil, because you do what he does.” This is why we must be “born again” so we can see and enter the Kingdom and come from a different source.

Second, devil works at night, under cover of darkness. We may not see him working, but we can notice his handiwork after the fact. This is important. It will look different from the righteousness of the Kingdom, even though it may be within the same “field,” the world.

And it surprises us. How did this happen? It takes supernatural revelation from the Master to tell us the enemy is at work. The devil does not want to be seen. As Kaiser Soze says, “The greatest lie the devil ever told was that he doesn’t exist.”

Third, the Lord will sift it. He may give us revelation about who is a wheat and tare (and this is for evangelical purposes, to love and not to condemn), but our comfort and peace should be that the King of all will separate and reward or condemn accordingly. That is not our job. We love and encourage and spread life and let God do the job of condemnation.

As an aside, that does not mean that we do not “judge” according to fruit and the Spirit, as to who is following Christ or not. The Bible is clear about this. But we cannot condemn before the time. The story is not over. He is Lord of the harvest.

Peace.

Parable of the Soils Part 5 – The Purpose of Life

fruitLast, but not certainly not least, we have the seed that lands on good soil.

One reminder as we begin – the seed never changes. Whether the seed, the Gospel Message of the Kingdom, brings life is determined by the response and environment of the soil. While we should endeavor to declare the true Gospel, let us not change or adjust the Gospel just because it isn’t bearing the fruit we think it should. There are other participants in this process.

The fourth type of soil is simply called “good soil.” What makes it good soil? First, it is soft enough for the seed to take root. Second, it is deep enough that the roots can dig deep and provide a good foundation. And third, it is free of weeds and thorns that will choke out the plant once it begins. Lastly, the plant is able to produce fruit.

What does this mean for us? A person who is “good soil” is one where the life begun by the seed produces fruit. Every other one ends in death. Every one. Life, then, defined by the parable – and the scripture bears this out – is one where fruit is produced.

In other words, the plant alone isn’t the point or the goal; the fruit is. Jesus spoke of this. Paul spoke of this. It is a consistent spiritual concept. Without the fruit, the plant is no good. Not at all. It might as well be dead and thrown into the fire.

What do we mean by fruit? That is a long answer, but in general, fruit contains within it a seed for reproduction. Fruit is sweet and satisfying and contains nutrients, but at its core, fruit contains a seed that makes a plant like itself. The fruit we’re talking about contains within it the seed of the Message of the Gospel of the Kingdom. It multiplies itself. We could talk about the fruit of the Spirit (the character the indwelling Spirit produces) and disciples making disciples.

Today’s Christian teaching might suggest this is “maturity,” but biblically speaking, this is NORMAL CHRISTIAN LIFE. This is the only Christian life that matters. There is no other kind.

So what kind of person (soil environment) brings the Gospel of the Kingdom to its natural and intended end (producing other disciples of the Kingdom)? Looking at the parable, easy to see. The person must possess a soft, humble, willing heart to receive the Kingdom; one must allow the truth of the Kingdom to dig deep within the heart, a holistic faith that transforms the whole life; and the person must keep from being distracted by wealth and the cares of this life, the things of the world. The person must seek the Kingdom alone.

Again, this is not a “mature” Christian. This is a BASIC Christian. This is what Christ came, taught, died, and rose again to preach and produce.

Are we participants in Kingdom discipleship? Or spiritual formation, or whatever you want to call it. There are a myriad and manifold number of ways to participate, but if the blessing of the Kingdom ends with us, if it doesn’t go out and bless others, then it is for nothing, in God’s eyes. We use our talents and gifts and opportunities to participate, each in our own way, but participate, love, bless we must if we are to be alive at all.

Such is the Kingdom.

Peace.

Parable of the Soils Part 4 – The American Dream Will Kill You

american dreamThe American dream is not God’s best for you. The Kingdom of God is.

Next, the seed falls in soil that has thorns. As the plant takes root and grows, those thorns rise up and choke out the life of the plant, killing it.

What do the thorns represent? Often, when we think of the kinds of things that kill someone’s faith, we think of decadent sins. Perhaps it is because of our Puritanical roots in America, but we think of sexual sin or drug abuse or some sort of sin that is overt and easily seen. But Jesus gives us a danger that is more insidious and more difficult to see.

The cares of this life.

Wait, shouldn’t we care for the things of this life? Shouldn’t we care about our jobs, our families, our responsibilities?

As people of integrity and disciples of Christ, we are to model the love of Christ and the Kingdom of God in each of these situations, but they are not an end in and of themselves. And they cannot supplant the priority of the Kingdom of God.

In fact, all of the different aspects of our life ONLY have true significance under the authority of the Kingdom of God. “Seek first the Kingdom and God’s righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.” Some things? No, all things. Anything in your life you could possibly worry about must be redefined within the authority of the rule and reign of Christ.

When the cares of this life take priority over seeking the Kingdom first, then they become idols. Your marriage, your family, your job, your education, etc., all are good things in life but must be submitted to the authority of Christ. When they are not, then we seek more from those “good” things than they were meant to provide,  just as an idol has no ability to satisfy anything.

Only God satisfies. Only Christ brings life.

Do not take this as an excuse to have a bad marriage or do poorly at your job or beat your kids. Nor should we neglect the cares of this life. If we have been born again from above, from Heaven, then all we do carries eternal significance, and only the guidance and authority of God can help us achieve that. We can love and fulfill the responsibilities of the cares of this life in peace and patience, in security and hope, when the priority is the Kingdom of God. Without the singular and universal focus of the Kingdom, then it might be “good,” but it is not the best – not of heaven, not of eternal significance.

The “good” is the enemy of the “best.”

That’s why the cares of this life can be such an “evil” thing. They look good. Noble. If you give them priority, then your focus seems “good.” You’re not in a gutter with a prostitute smoking crack. “Don’t smoke, drink, or chew or run around with women who do.” You’re not doing that.

But the “cares of this life” can distract you from the singular focus of the Kingdom. Easily.

I saw a great sermon one time where the pastor went through how he lost more of his congregation to their front yards than to “sin.” He explained that it would invariably go like this: guy buys a new house that is more than he can afford, has to work more hours to afford it, and then the “only time” he has to work in his yard is on Sundays. Just can’t be a part of the fellowship anymore, Pastor.

Now, I’m not saying going to church every week on Sunday is equal to having a singular focus on the Kingdom – there are plenty that attend buildings we call churches every week that have no such focus – but I still thought it incredibly insightful.

CS Lewis, in his classic Screwtape Letters, also had a great insight related to this. The book, if you’re not familiar, is a series of letters of advice from a senior demon to a junior one. The junior demon is in charge of this young Christian man, to try and tempt and destroy this young man. Screwtape’s advice at one point is to say (my summary), “Don’t try to tempt the young man with loose women or decadent living. The Christian man can see this temptation from a mile away. Even if he succumbs to it, he will know its misery and come back stronger than before.

“In order to tempt this young man,” Screwtape continues, “use his lust to get him to marry a lukewarm Christian woman, a woman who is not really committed to Christ but is minimally religious. Then she will draw him away from God for the rest of his life.”

You were not born again to achieve the American Dream. The American Dream is not innately evil, but it can easily supplant the Kingdom Reality. You were born again, from heaven, to participate in the eternal reality of the Kingdom. It is difficult; it is an adventure; it is painful; it gives unparalleled joy; it costs everything and profits you even more. Oftentimes, most of the time, it can look very different than the American Dream.

The American Dream is born of this world. Good, noble things, most of it. But it is of this world. The Kingdom of God is of another world entirely. The things of this world will all fail. They will all be shaken. The Kingdom of God will not. Not ever. Not for eternity.

If you go to a church or listen to teaching that equates following God with achieving the American Dream – run away. Thousands may listen to the teachings, but if the focus isn’t the radical, and costly, discipleship of the Kingdom, the Word of God is being sown among thorns. Thorns take time to accomplish it, but they will rise up and choke out the life of a disciple.

The American Dream will kill you.

The Kingdom Reality will give you eternal life.

Peace.

Parable of the Soils Part 3.6 – Second Addendum – The Shallow Nature of Worldly Logic and Philosophy

geniusIn the last couple posts, I spent time equating the foundation of emotions with a shallow faith. And while this is true, I feel like I’ve neglected an important reality that needs to be addressed, another way that leads to a shallow faith.

Logic and philosophy.

Before my logic and philosophy oriented friends dismiss it entirely, let me explain the root of faith.

We are invited into a Kingdom that is “not of this world.” It is, by nature, of a different reality – so different, in fact, that we cannot see it or understand it unless we have been born again to that reality. The basis of faith has to be, NEEDS to be, revelation from that other reality, another world, or Heaven for lack of a better phrase. Without that revelation, we might see hints, but we are left to our own devices and they ALL fall woefully short.

The “greatest commandment,” according to King Jesus, is to love the Lord God with all our hearts, souls, mind, and strength.

We each gravitate to the part of that “love” that is conducive to our gifts or personality. Some people are more emotional, by nature, so they are drawn to loving God with their “heart.” Others are more logical, so they are drawn to serve with their “mind.” You get the picture.

But God isn’t interested in having one part of us. He wants the whole person, whether that is part of your personality or not. As someone that is more geared to the “mind” part of that calling, God has had to teach me how to love him with my heart, with my character, with my effort and will. That’s called maturity. It’s not comfortable, but the commandment isn’t to love God with what is “comfortable.”

Being a disciple of the Kingdom of God is an all or nothing thing. And faith in Christ deals with us in a holistic way. If you decide only one of those is what you focus on, then you will, by nature, fail to see God for who he is. And that leads to deception.

How do we find the balance? The balance is in revelation from God, the Spirit that is the only one that can reveal the mind and heart and message of God, and other disciples fully committed to him (what “church” is supposed to be).

Dealing with logic and philosophy in particular, there are many who seek to prove or disprove God using logic alone, apart from the revelation of God and the other parts of our being that long to be corrected according to the Truth. Logic is reliant upon evidence (or should be), and so if the evidence that is used is purely of this world, then you are limited to two things: 1) what the humans of this world can reasonably discover, investigate, and interpret and 2) the amount of information one individual can conceivably consume and process.

The despair of this is that the world, every day, produces more information than one individual can possibly learn in that same day. And that becomes exponentially true as each day comes and goes.

Realize, I haven’t even gotten into the biases and deceptions within the interpretations of that information both on individual and institutional levels, the self-evident corruption in the world. God helps with that, too.

In other words, since logic is based on information and evidence, and there is exponentially more logic and information than an individual can hope to incorporate into a search for truth and reality, logic and philosophy alone become a gross limitation. Shallow.

Now, let’s suppose that there is a Creator, and the Creator of all things is interested in revealing himself and helping us navigate our way to truth. There is no information we, as the creation, can discover that he does not already know. It all originates with him. If we search for truth, reality, what better Person to help us than an all-knowing, loving, all-powerful God who wants to help us if we will but humble ourselves and listen.

As a disciple of Christ, I do not “suppose” this. It has been proven true in my life again and again. I declare it as the only way.

Logic is used, no doubt. I’ve used it in this post. But the logic is based not on the limited amount of information I can process or learn but in partnership with the revelation of a God who loves me, will not lie to me, and wants the best for me.

Sometimes, God isn’t speaking to my logic. He does not give a logical answer, delays my mental understanding for a time, because he wants to deal with my heart, my character. His promise is that I will one day understand, but in the meantime, will I trust in the peace that passes understanding? Or, more importantly, will I trust in the Prince of Peace when I don’t get the answers I want?

God brings tests to deal with different parts of my being, and the others feel neglected. For those of us who deeply desire to understand it all, this is REALLY DIFFICULT.

But because God loves us, all of us, every part of us, he seeks to bring us to the place where every part of us glorifies him. If we fight that, resist that, we resist love and truth and fact and reality. Deception and pride will be the natural result of that resistance. And it logically follows that then faith dies with it, and the plant dies, as the parable says.

To return to logic, doesn’t it make sense that if I can have access to the One who knows everything, that I take advantage of that access? I may not get the answers I want or think I need or expect, but because he loves me, what I get from him will be what is best for me, best for the Kingdom, best for eternity. Often, however, I get the very answers I seek. And by nature of the Kingdom, it will be a different answer from those that are limited by what this world can teach them.

For many people, they think that faith is devoid of evidence and logic and proof. That idea could not be further from the truth. The truth is that faith includes, and is reliant upon, evidence and logic and proof from another world, another reality, from the eternal Kingdom that never fades and can never be shaken.

Makes perfect sense to me.

Peace.

Parable of the Soils Part 3.5 – An Addendum from a Farmer

“Deep roots mean a good, healthy plant. Shallow roots mean the plant will die.

I was talking the other day with a man of God who used to be a successful farmer. Now, you would think I would have discussed this series on the parable of the soils with him before writing it. No, that would have been intelligent. Instead, I processed more of my thoughts as we discussed it on Friday morning.

For security and safety purposes, I won’t use his real name, so let’s call him Bob. Bob used to own and run several farms. He had several employees and they planted and harvested and were very successful.

He had read these blog posts, and he thought they were very important. (Whew! I’m glad the farmer didn’t point out all the ways I was wrong …) He agreed that the parable was correct; plants with deep roots are strong and produce good fruit. Plants with shallow roots spring up quickly and have bad fruit and eventually die.

He also brought out another danger with shallow soil – the water. If you irrigate plants with shallow soil, you will flood the soil and drown the seed or plant in the process.

While the parable doesn’t bring this out, I found it enlightening. The parable dealt with the heat of the sun as hard times, persecution, etc. If we deal with the symbol of water as the “water of the Word,” then it brings a new dimension to the danger of shallow soil.

A shallow faith cannot handle the water of the Word of God. It cannot handle deep truths, hard truths from Jesus and the scripture. Those hard, difficult truths (as well as hard, difficult times in life) are meant to drive the roots down deeper for water, meant to drive our faith down deeper for greater truth, a truth not based on feelings or philosophy but the reality of Christ.

The truth of the water of the Word will overwhelm and confuse a person with a shallow faith. The Word will not be able to sink down deep and help create a strong, durable faith, and therefore deep truth will do the opposite – it will drive a person to reject faith.

This is why we must be sure new believers, all believers, are not coddled with half-truths or feel good messages. We cannot simply “tickle their ears.” The Truth of Christ challenges us to a radical, all or nothing faith, a faith that drives us to self-sacrificial action and obedience for the Kingdom of God.

By the way, I took the opportunity to go over the rest of the parable with Bob, my farmer brother. It is good when brethren can talk and encourage one another.

Peace.

Parable of the Soils Part 3 – Shallow Faith is no Faith

rocky soilAs we will see, the depth of soil increases as the parable progresses.

The Sower throws more seed, and some fell among rocks and stones. The place wasn’t hard like the path, but the soil was shallow. The seed had enough depth to find purchase, but since the soil wasn’t very deep, the only direction the plant can go is up.

Which seems like a good thing, but it’s not.

Shallow soil means that there is nowhere for the roots to go. And the foundation of a plant is the root. A plant can only go as high as the roots allow. And a plant with a shallow root system is vulnerable.

Often the Gospel is preached, but it is a shallow thing. It is an emotional plea. Or perhaps it is received that way, and the spiritual work isn’t deep. However, these people seem to “grow” quickly, speak amazing statements of commitment and faith. We celebrate these converts as proof our ministry is amazing.

But then they fall away. Or they disappear. And we are left to wonder why.

But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away.

At some point, Christianity is expressed or perceived as a fun house where everything will work out the way you want it to. Churches or ministries may not express this in so many words … or they actually may.

And then the hard times hit. Sometimes, the events are heartbreaking and tragic. Our expectations of God are shattered, as if following Him excuses us from these things. Without the deep foundation of true faith, a faith founded on high emotion is destroyed by other emotions. Pain. Wounds. Hurt.

People feel like they were swindled by a faith that promised something it didn’t deliver. And so out of bitterness and disappointment, they leave. They’re gone. They quit.

The Apostle Peter was once like this.

This is the man that so famously said, “I’ll go wherever you go and die with you!”

And just a few hours later, Peter had denied Jesus three times.

Why? His expectations of what it meant to “win” with God were shattered. “Winning” at that time meant the execution of the Son of God, the death of Jesus on the cross – foolishness to the Greeks (philosophers) and a stumbling block to the Jews (the religious).

He quit. He was done.

I don’t want to minimize pain or hurt, as if it does not matter. It does. It is real, and many times valid. God does not minimize the pain or hurt, either. He validates and weeps with us in the midst of it. And since he lived as a man in this world, he understands everything we struggle with, everything we go through. There is no greater High Priest. But the pain is real.

Only a faith that has dug deep roots, sought God in deep places, unseen places, will survive the trials of this life. If you have walked with the Lord for any length of time, then you know the reality of saying, “I didn’t sign up for this. I don’t know if I can go on with this whole Christianity thing.”

A man who walked with the Son of God dealt with this in the extreme – the rest of the disciples also dealt with it.

There is no condemnation for the struggle, even for falling into the “quit,” as Peter did. There is hope, if we are willing to turn back to Jesus, to humble ourselves again and be commissioned again. Our faith must sink deep into Him like roots, deeper than the surface, deeper than our emotions or our situation. It must become an eternal thing, rooted in the unseen Kingdom that cannot be shaken.

You see, the Kingdom is the only thing that cannot be shaken, as the writer of Hebrews tells us. It is secure, solid, and unmovable. Everything that can be shaken, will be shaken. We must make sure that our foundation is in the eternal King and His rule and reign, which is now and forevermore. This gives us hope and motivation, comfort in those difficult times, which we are promised will happen! But thank God, we are also promised a Comforter, a Counselor, the very presence of our Father in the Spirit.

The Kingdom teaches us that there is another way, there is another reality beyond what we currently see with our eyes. It is a Kingdom rooted in Heaven, not of this world, and so we can be secure that our inheritance is there.

Peace.

Parable of the Soils Part 2 – Oh, Those Evil Birds … and How to Stop Them

birdsOh, those evil birds …

As I said in Part 1, the Sower drops the seed indiscriminately, and in the first example, the Seed falls “on the path.” And because the path has been traveled, and well-worn, it is hard ground. The Seed just lays there on top of the ground, and those birds can easily get at the Seed and remove it from the ground.

As Jesus explains the parable, the birds represent the evil one, the wicked one. The Devil.

The idea that there is a spiritual enemy is debated and even mocked, and has been since the beginning, but Jesus teaches that there is a Devil (Satan, Lucifer) and demons, powers in unseen places. They are against us. They are out for us. They want to consume and devour. They are out to kill, for death.

Both God and the Devil are symbolized as lions in the scripture, searching the Earth. The difference between them is simple and clear. The Devil is out to kill and destroy. That is his agenda. God is out to reward those of faith, looking for anyone that will make a step towards him and choose life.

How does the Devil kill us? One of the ways, from this parable, is his ability to take truth, the message of the Gospel, the reality of the Kingdom, from the hearts of men. He removes the truth of the Kingdom from people. And since it is the truth that will set people free, the enemy can keep them in chains and enslaved.

But let’s not blame the Devil. Yes, the Devil is evil and out to destroy us by keeping us in the lie. However, this is the only type of soil where the Devil takes the truth outright. The problem with this soil, ultimately, is the hard heart.

Stubborn, prideful hearts cannot receive truth at all. At all. God resists the prideful and gives grace to the humble. There are some people who are so prideful and arrogant that truth has no chance to take root at all. For the enemy, the prideful, those who are hard of heart, are easy pickins.

How is this important in relation to the Kingdom of God? The Kingdom of God is about the power, authority, and dominion of God, the realm where he is in control, Lord, and King. But the Kingdom of God is not one of obligation or coercion. We are invited in, even recruited and called, but it is our choice. “They will be volunteers in the day of your power.” (Psalm 110:3) It is now, because of his love and kindness, a Kingdom you have the opportunity to submit to and enter through repentance to God. That is the Good News.

Therefore, being hard-hearted, prideful, rebellious, and the lack of humility allows for no opportunity to submit to the Kingdom out of love, voluntarily, because the value of the Kingdom is obvious in spiritual truth and revelation. Such a person is easily convinced by the lies of the enemy that they do not need to repent, to change, to turn to God.

The lesson? First, don’t be prideful. Don’t be so hard-hearted that you cannot be taught by truth, by God, or those speaking truth. Let’s check our hearts and remember to be humble. Submit to the Kingdom.

Second, do not be discouraged when people reject the Gospel of the Kingdom without any consideration. They exist. It is not the fault of the Sower. It is not the fault of the seed. Yes, we can speak the truth in a way that is not pleasing to God, but just because someone rejects the Gospel does not mean someone did it wrong.

And watch out for those evil birds.

Peace.

PS … I also feel there is some revelation about the path being well-worn and hardened. Any thoughts?

Parable of the Soils Part 1 – Understanding All the Parables

grapevine

“Don’t you understand this parable? If not, how will you understand all the parables?”

Jesus said this about the Parable of the Soils in Mark 4, as he began to explain the symbolism within.

Many, if not most, of the parables of Jesus begin with “the Kingdom of God is like.” In Matthew 13, Jesus connects the seed sown as the message of the Kingdom. He even explains why he explains the Kingdom in parables – the Kingdom is a mystery. As Jesus told Pilate, the Kingdom is not of this world, has its source in God in Heaven, operates by the rules of Heaven and not Earth. And here we have a parable connected to “all the parables.” It is the only one he says this about.

Why does he say this about the Parable of the Soils? Again, the seed that is sown is the Word of the Kingdom of God, the message of the Kingdom of Heaven. Spiritual things must be spiritually discerned, and if one has not received, accepted, and applied the message of the Kingdom, the other parables (about the Kingdom) make little or no sense.

The parable is simple: a man goes out to sow seed, and Jesus gives four different responses to the seed being sown.

A few points to consider before we get into the four different responses to the Word:

First, the man (Jesus and/or a disciple) sows the seed rather indiscriminately. In other words, he doesn’t check to see if the soil is right before he sows the seed. You would think a good farmer would check the soil first, in hopes of giving the seed the best chance of success. But when it comes to the message of the Kingdom, we cannot perceive what “good soil” is by external means. In fact, if we believe the parable, good soil proves itself by producing fruit.

Even Jesus would say, “He who has ears, let him hear.” We cannot determine, just by observation, whether a person is ripe for the Gospel of the Kingdom. Therefore, we declare it to everyone and let the seed of the Word take root and grow and bear fruit … or not.

Second, while each seed in the parable gets to a certain point of growth, only one lives, endures, and survives the process – the one that bears fruit. It is the fruit that is the goal, the point of the Gospel. As we see many times in the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament, life without fruit leads to death.

Third, it is an interesting question whether or not a person can be each one of these types of soil at different times in their life, or is an individual defined by one throughout their life?

The text suggests the second option, that a person is defined by one throughout their life. However, we must be careful not to see someone’s reaction to the Gospel of the Kingdom and label them. The scripture also makes it clear that while a person lives, there is hope for life, for acceptance of the Gospel. We should remember that the story isn’t over yet, and while it may seem that a person rejects the Gospel or does not bear fruit, there is always hope for repentance and life and fruit while a person still lives.

Speak the truth in love. Love believes and hopes and endures.

Peace.