Sunday, June 14, 2015

Stony Ground

As I read through some of the book of Matthew this morning, I came across the words of Jesus. Words spoken from a human tongue just like yours and mine. Released into the air in such a mysterious way so that others with physical ears to ear, could discern what came forth. Just as you and I address one another, God wrapped in flesh uttered lovely words of life that have crossed the great expanse of time. Some were harsh of course but all were pointing to one thing – man is fallen, drowning in his despicable state and He came as our One true Light and Hope – our Rescuer.

I seemed to hover over the words of the sower parable, explained. I was drawn into their imagery and purpose as I read and re-read them. If there was ever a specific teaching within a parable that seemingly sums up modern-day Christianity as you and I know it, it would be the explanation of the seed that was sown on the rocky places. (Matthew 13:20 and 21) 

For months now, I cannot seem to shake an inescapable thought pattern in regards to how I respond to trials in my life. As I’m quickly nearing forty-two years of age, I constantly seem to unearth old thought structures that contradict the teachings of Christ. Years and years of bad doctrines, some self-imposed, some from preachers who just never took the time to properly explain the Word. Either way, I truly do relish confronting these traditions and skewed views, thankful that the Holy Spirit desires to guide me into Truth.

So what about this “rocky ground” allegory that Jesus told us about? There are some specifics I’d like to draw out, if I may. But first, let’s state these two verses. The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy;  yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.This one he speaks of received the truth - willingly and immediately – even joyfully! He embraced it and did not respond with prideful rejection. However, when affliction and persecution comes his way, he falls away and intentionally abandons the truth. Jesus tells us that this is because of several reasons. Let’s dissect them a bit in order to go a little deeper.

1.       He had “no firm root in himself”. Have you ever planted a garden? Perhaps a tree? Right now we have two-inch carrot sprouts in our garden. They’ve grown from seed, but their roots are surely very shallow and are not well established at all. Even the slightest tug at the greens would easily yank the entire young root system right out of the ground. Now, let’s imagine we walk around to the front of my house. There before us would stand a towering magnolia tree. I’ve been told it’s at least fifty years old. How ridiculous would it look for us to attempt to push over this behemoth of a tree? Its roots are indeed firm, digging deep into the earth-established. We’ve likely all seen an acorn cracked open, producing a tiny green shoot under a light bed of leaves.  This is the beginning. How long must it take for that little acorn to grow into a mighty oak that spreads out tall and wide? How long has the growing process been for our lofty magnolia? This, my friend is the Christ-life journey. Scores have been told to “just make a decision” and all will magically be OK. Just attend services, do a Bible study if you have time and try to hold on until the end. If you encounter troubles and trials, it’s the devil attacking you and/or you’re backslidden. However, time and time and time again Jesus tells us in advance there is a cost. There will be trials. There will be afflictions. There will be rough times – of growth. So, stay put Believer. Dig your feet down deep into the dirt of faith and become established in your identity in Christ. Be willing to let the process of growth run its course. Don’t be as Eve in the Garden and look to the right and to the left, wondering if there’s a better way outside of the Father. Keep your eyes fixed on your Hope and Assurance. Get rooted!

2.       As we read, this man in the parable “immediately receive(d) the word with joy” but it was “only temporary”. The Greek word used here is explained as insinuating a temporal season. From what Jesus explains, we could easily assume it was a favorable one. Just yesterday I heard a prominent preacher on the radio speaking of this “favor” of God. He exhorted his listeners to pursue this “perfect place” of favor from God and somehow reside there 24/7. Oh how we set each other up for absolute failure! If only there were a way for me to line up an interview for him to sit down and deliver this message to the disciples. What of their imprisonment? What of their persecutions for being named among the followers of Christ? What of their pains of laying down their livelihoods and worldly comforts to pursue this Christ? What would you say oh pastor to Stephen as he’s being run out of the city gates to be stoned by the angry mob? This message is only applicable to we who have a skewed view of salvation and entirely lack the understanding of walking out the salvation process. You see, in our age of Christiandom, we promote excitement and feel-good experiences above all else. Meetings work people into an emotional frenzy until they “receive the word with joy”. However it is only “temporary” and too often entirely based upon immediate response, not longevity. How many “rededications” and “recommitments” must we all endure? This summed up my meager Christian life for so, so many years. Too many! I failed to understand that the call of salvation was a life-long journey of triumphs and failures. It’s OK friend, to fall. It does not disqualify you or mean you’re outside of God’s hand. Get up! Remain in the joy of the Lord that is not circumstantial. Stay spiritually alert and do not allow the word that you’ve received to only remain as a temporary season.

3.       “When affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.Jesus is bought and sold like some sort of spiritual drug. A fix that will miraculously take you out of your predicaments and troubles. Unhappy? Try Jesus! Broke? Give your money to God (ie: a religious organization) so that you can get more in return! Depressed? Lonely? Lacking purpose? Just “get God” and all will turn favorable for you, right? *sigh* Don’t get me wrong, with a life rooted and established upon the Rock that is Christ, your life will have a much different outcome. That being said, you may or may not see physical evidence of the fullness of all that is going on in and around you. A true follower, the “seed on the good soil” follower that we see in verse 23, is more concerned with enduring the journey all the way to the end. As Jesus told us in Matthew 24:13, “He that endures to the end shall be saved”. To the end! Also, as I mentioned in the “root” point earlier, what of those who see every single trial and struggle as an attack from the enemy meant for harm? Of course this is not entirely ruled out but all is only an opportunity to see our need for, and reliance upon, our Heavenly Father. As I feel like I always say, it’s all about our perspective. We don’t always need to avert every little thing that attempts to thwart our spiritual growth. In fact, perhaps we should embrace it and see that oft times it’s been brought our way to conform us into the image of Christ Himself.

Someone I know is having a pretty trying time right now in a certain area of life. My initial response in prayer was to ask the Lord to free them of this burden – to see this trial pass quickly and become an easier path to be walked out. Quickly, I felt this was an incorrect prayer, rooted in my own personal convictions and preference. As I pondered on the spiritual matters that I’m discussing here, I changed my prayer. My request changed from their being ”delivered from” into their “deliverance being found in the midst of”, if that makes sense. Too often we want to spare one another, and ourselves, the inevitable pain and heartache. While this makes absolute sense in the natural, spiritually speaking we too often attempt to run off or avoid entirely what was meant to purify us and solidify our faith. When we do this, we miss what was meant for our good. May we become a people who embrace the trials rightly - trusting that the Father is fully capable to carry us, teach us and purify us as we journey along in the dark valleys of life. This gives so much more weight to the promise that He will never leave us or forsake us. Praise Him for placing us in opportunities to prove Himself as our All In All. So when persecutions, trials and afflictions come, what else must we say but The LORD also will be a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble”. (Psalm 9:9)

To wrap this all up, I’d like to pose an interesting parallel, I think. I believe there is a deeper significance to why the ground mentioned in this area of the parable is “rocky” (some Hebrew texts say “stony”). As I read over this several times, I kept being reminded of the “heart of stone” and “heart of flesh” event that we hear of back in Ezekiel. God states, Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” If we could metaphorically say, as we see in Matthew 13:19, that the ground is the heart (kardia: mind, innermost being of man), then we could implement the importance of the “Ezekiel heart exchange”. I’ve explained time and time again the significance of properly understanding that Jesus doesn’t want to “come into your heart”. Rather, He desires to give you an entirely new one. I could spend pages explaining why I think this is so key to understand. The heart of stone (rocky ground) is simply incapable of being the proper “ground” for spiritual seed to develop and grow. It’s the way that we’ve been divinely designed. It is imperative for the ones who truly desire to follow Christ and to become rooted (with endurance) even when the afflictions come, to grasp this reality. This alone will keep us from only having a shallow, “good season” based Christianity that is blown to and fro by the ever changing winds of this life.

We need to be pursuers of Truth. May we, as the followers of His day, sit at the feet of Jesus. May we be fully engaged in what He is speaking as well as what the Spirit is saying in this hour. It’s time to be alert and pressing in-moving forward with our gaze rightly set.  We, the Body of Christ, can do it, but not by accident! And no one can do it for us. May we deliberately set our minds on things above and walk the path, narrow that leads to the gate, small. It is our destiny and anything less will never be enough.


Richard B. said...

Amazingly, for a completely independent reason, I was drawn to the sower explanation yesterday as well. Matthew 13:21 states " ... for when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, by and by he is offended." Today's Gospel often misses the fact that trouble comes in general and also because of the Word. Disciples must be ready to fight to stay on the straight, narrow Way. Peace comes in the midst of the storms, not by the lack of them. We cannot let trials impede our growth into HIS Image.

Joel Spencer said...

In my haste to actually complete a writing for a change, I failed to elaborate on the "because of the Word he is offended" part. I like how you stated "Peace comes in the midst of the storms, not by the lack of them". So true!