Jesus mentions four soils in this parable, all with different responses to the sowing of the seed. Later he tells the disciples that the seed represents the word, or message, of the kingdom. This is the gospel, the good news that Jesus proclaimed: that God’s kingdom was within reach and available to anyone who wants to live in it. And this proclamation is received in a variety of ways, producing a variety of effects. I was particularly struck this morning, though, by the third soil: the seed that fell “among thorns.”
In addition to the stuff I typically post on this blog, I also want to start writing some brief reflections on Scriptures that I am reading. My typical Bible-reading practice is to follow the Daily Office Lectionary from the Book of Common Prayer. I don’t turn it into a Bible study, but as I read I jot down what God seems to be impressing on me through the texts.
A couple weeks ago I read Psalm 50, where God is pictured as the judge of the earth. He gathers Israel before him and says that he finds nothing wrong with their practice of worship, but does find something lacking: there’s no heart of worship behind their practice.
God tells them he doesn’t really need their sacrifices anyway. “If I were hungry, I wouldn’t ask you for a hamburger, because I own it all!” We don’t do God any favors with our worship, because he really doesn’t need it. The problem was people who were mouthing the words of worship with no intention of living in a covenant relationship with God. They thought if they could just do their “religious duty” they could go on stealing, slandering and generally living for their own pleasure and glory.
Against this kind of “worship,” God commands them to “sacrifice thank offerings.” Living in a covenant relationship with God starts with a basic posture of “thank you” toward him as the giver of all good things. True worship starts with a thankful heart. Going through all the right “worship actions” without a Thank You heart at the center is just noise. It doesn’t impress God nor does it do anything for you.
“Great!” some will say, “I can sleep in on Sunday mornings! God doesn’t care about that stuff!” Well, that’s not exactly right either. God didn’t tell the Israelites to stop worshiping in concrete ways, just that merely going through the motions without a Thank You heart didn’t mean much to him.
It doesn’t mean we stop our activity and just walk around with thankful hearts. Worship is not just a posture of life, it is also embodied in concrete practices. Gathering together with the Body of Christ to eat together, listen to God’s Word together, pray together and encourage one another are really important.
God demands that our worship go deeper than merely jumping through the “correct” hoops. It must extend into a Thank You Life. But neither is it enough to simply have a thankful attitude “in your heart” without actually practicing worship in observable ways.
The bottom line is that faith without action is dead, and so is action without faith. But together they form the foundation of a Thank You Life that embodies true worship and brings growth and transformation because we are living interactively with God by His Spirit.
I love the Scriptures, but I have to admit that there are some passages I find frankly frightening. Now, there certainly is an illegitimate kind of fear that we ought not to walk in, because the perfect love we experience in Christ casts out fear (1 John 4:18). But it seems that there is also an appropriate kind of fear we ought to walk in, even in the midst of our confidence in Christ. Paul says it this way in 1 Corinthians 10:12: “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” Here are a couple passages that freak me out:
1 Corinthians 4:5 – “[The Lord] will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of people’s hearts.”
In context Paul is talking about leaders who have been entrusted with the “mysteries that God has revealed,” saying that God himself will judge them, exposing their deepest motives and bringing their secrets into the light. As a leader, this freaks me out. (I hope in a good way!) I want God to purify my motives and reveal to me the things I don’t see about myself that hinder my ability to lead well in the kingdom. I want to be a leader whose character can bear the weight of my gifting. I want to have the kind of “bold humility” that Paul displayed when he said, “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” Knowing that eventually God will bring everything into the light makes me want his purifying fire now.
Matthew 21:43 – “I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.“
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day thought they could rest on the laurels of their genetics (“We have Abraham as our father”), and Jesus spoke this scathing sentence to the religious leaders of his day after painting them into a parable in a very unflattering light. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day thought they could rest on the laurels of their genetics and tradition (“We have Abraham as our father”), and Jesus flatly said, “Not so.”
When I read this passage, and others like it, I wonder what kinds of “laurels” I rest on. Church attendance? Church non-attendance? Self-identification as a Christian? Involvement in community service? Saying “the prayer”? Having the right opinion about the war? According to Jesus, what matters is living an interactive “with-God” life that bears kingdom fruit. According to Jesus, God wants to richly pour out the blessings of his rule (his kingdom) on those who will bear its fruit, and those who try to claim the kingdom as their own “piggy bank” at the expense of the “outsiders” will eventually find themselves outsiders themselves, because of their refusal to bear the fruit of the kingdom. And the only way to bear the fruit of the kingdom is by living an interactive “with-God” life as a disciple of Jesus.
Theses passages scare me because I realize that bearing kingdom fruit is not a foregone conclusion just because I’m a “Christian.” The fact that the Spirit can be grieved, that His fire can be quenched, that I can, by my choices, shoo the dove away, grips me with a sense of fear. I realize how capable I am of ignoring the Spirit, of ending up hard-hearted. I hope it’s a fear that just keeps driving me to my knees, seeking the kind of interactivity with God that produces abundant life and kingdom fruit.
So, your turn! What passages in the Bible do you find scary?