The Parable of Another Sower

“A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”  – Matthew 13:3-9

But another sower watched the annual cycle of sowing and reaping with a sense of disappointment and despair. He saw all the soil where the seed would not grow and concluded that something must be done to make sure that growth could take place in all places a seed might land. After gathering a team of other sowers, they began to implement innovative solutions to the perceived problem.

The first issue was the birds. None of the team liked the birds, in fact, birds scared them. Someone suggested that they pray that the birds would leave the seed alone. Others thought that a scarecrow might work. In the end, the team thought it best to pretend the birds really did not exist. Though they might mention the birds now and then, the sowers agreed to continue their agricultural endeavors without seriously considering the reality of the birds. This was made all the easier given the fact that though reports of avian activity were numerous and well-documented, none of the team had ever actually seen a bird.

The rocky ground proved to be a harder task. After trying in vain to pick out all the rocks and remove all the buried boulders, the sowers launched a new initiative. Since the stony ground was soil-poor, fertilizer was brought in and spread generously across the rocky terrain. To ensure that the new plot would be productive, the team also created a special sub-team to build, erect and maintain a large tent to shade the ground from the scorching sun.

The team tried to remove the thorns that threatened to choke out the sprouts but found them too thick and too sharp to tackle. One briar-scarred team member had an epiphany: instead of removing the thorns, they could be used as a trellis for the young plants to grow upon. That which was once a hindrance could become a means to further growth (plus no one would be made uncomfortable with addressing the need for thorn removal).

When the seeds were sown again under this new system, there was seemingly positive growth. It was difficult to maintain the balance however, since bird damage continued, the sun grew hotter and the thorns became thicker (and the fertilizer was being spread deeper and more often). This was also the season when the team began to turn more of their collective attention away from the good soil because, after all, anything would grow there. Although the growth in the formerly barren areas was measurably greater, the team did not think it was enough.

It was then that the crucial question was asked: “What if the problems did not arise only from the soil, but also from the seed?

The seed! Why did they not think of this before now?

The team set about dissecting the seed to see what parts were truly needed. After removing the pieces they deemed to be non-essential, they spliced in material from other plants, changed bits of the genetic code to aid in adaptation to multiple environments and crowd-sourced ideas as to what traits these new seeds should have.

When the redesigned seeds were sown, they grew rapidly.

They flourished among the thorns, intertwined with the briars and formed a symbiotic relationship where both types of plant lent support to each other in their race toward the sun.

The hybrid seedlings spread quickly over the shaded, well-fertilized rocks since the plants only produced shallow, wide-spreading roots. The special team was still required to constantly monitor the condition and placement of the tent lest the sun scorch the seeds.

And one unexpected benefit of the new seeds was that they were bland and distasteful to the birds and thus left undisturbed.

With time, the formerly sparse ground became vast stretches of green. These were truly seeds that all soils loved.

Not long after that, the sowers were named as having one of the fastest-growing fields in the land. Though the hybridizing produced quick results, no one mentioned that the vast majority of the plants were ornamentals and did not create any lasting fruit. But the blossoms were large, and they smelled nice, so everyone accepted that as a win.

The only place that the new seeds did not grow so well (and were, in fact, sometimes rejected) was in the good soil that had existed from the start. But since that plot made up the lowest percentage of the total amount of land, it was regarded as an unfortunate, but negligible loss.

He who has ears, let him hear.                               

The Necessity of Prayer

“If prayer isn’t vital for your church, then your church isn’t vital…If you can accomplish your church’s mission without daily, passionate prayer, then your mission is insufficient, and your church is irrelevant.”

– Francis Chan

 

“When God has something very great to accomplish for his church, it is his will that there should precede it the extraordinary prayers of his people.”

– Jonathan Edwards 

 

“The greatest workings of God come by corporate prayer, and we will not see the power of God in sufficient measure to transform the world around us until we pray together. As a leader you must make praying together a priority equal to preaching and teaching. If I sound a little melodramatic, good. Then you caught just how monstrously important it is… Continue reading

A Culture of Disconnection

Of all the points of discussion among church leaders in America, one currently tops the list: declining attendance among members. Books and articles explore the various reasons and potential solutions, podcast hosts ask leading experts on church growth about the most-recent statistics and conferences, research firms as well as denominational teams attempt to discover what the future might hold for churches across the nation. This is not an isolated occurrence; it is being felt in the largest of metropolitan churches as well as smaller, rural congregations, and the trend is happening across denominational lines. People attend church less frequently than ever before.

The temptation is to single out one factor and claim that it is the sole reason for the decline, but leading research shows that the problem has multiple roots. Continue reading

Prayer

I have not only been praying for our church that we would become a people of genuine prayer, but I have been asking God to teach me how to pray more intimately and effectively. Many churches and quite a few people are known for prayer that is ceremonial, polished and safe, but what I am referring to is something much more than that; I am speaking of direct and honest communication with the God of all creation.

After reflecting upon it, there are some things that I have learned about prayer that have shaped the way I approach God… Continue reading

Hope Below the Surface

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They are called “hunger stones.”

Lying in certain Central European riverbeds, large stones bear messages chiseled upon them hundreds of years ago…

“If you see me, weep.”

“If you will again see this stone, so you will weep, so shallow was the water in the year 1417.”

“We cried – We cry – And you will cry.” Continue reading

“The 33 Most-Valuable Leadership Lessons I Have Learned”

A few nights ago at a conference, I sat in a room with a group of other lead pastors. Some carried the unseen scars of many years of ministry; a few still showed a bit of the shine of idealism. The speaker in the breakout session addressed the things we needed to remember in order to make it in the “marathon, not the sprint, of ministry.”

He spoke warmly, sincerely and wisely. He encouraged, challenged and comforted us. As I looked around the room, I saw what I have seen so many times in gatherings of pastors: that worn-out facial expression. I couldn’t help but wonder if I looked as tired as the rest of them did.

When I got home, lying in bed, I stared at the ceiling in the darkened room and thought about what I have learned about being a lead pastor in the last year.

I had recently read an article that gave a very direct and honest list (and one that is perfectly accurate in every respect to my experience. You can find it here.)

Having been in ministry for over a dozen years, there have been many lessons, but if I had to summarize things and convey them as concisely as I could to a person stepping into a ministry role, what would I say?

Though I know that the list would grow exponentially if I thought about it for any longer (because I already know many more things I could add), for now, I would give these thoughts as a primer I have gathered from moments in my own life and from watching other leaders in ministry. Some of those examples showed great leadership, deep wisdom and God-centered motives, and others I use as a self-test (when I think about possible actions to take, I think back on some of these leaders’ actions and consider what they might do in a given situation…then I do the opposite).

So, in no particular order, and as they come to mind, I humbly offer these hard-won lessons… Continue reading

A Lifetime in Babylon

A friend of mine held a good job and was able to freely make a difference for God in her position, but she was terminated for no apparent reason. The subsequent positions she has held have been less than what she desires and full of difficulty. She knows that she took the original job after much prayer and careful consideration, but the loss has caused her a great deal of pain and confusion. Continue reading

Muddy Water and Changed Hearts

We often miss what we need most because we refuse to see past the surface concerns of our lives. God will orchestrate events and allow pressures to come in order to expose the deeper issues and give us a clearer view of ourselves and our greatest need. Take the Old Testament character Naaman for instance (2 Kings 5:1-14).

Naaman was a great warrior and was held in high esteem, yet he suffered from leprosy. Hearing that a healing by the prophet Elisha might be possible, Naaman made a trip laden with riches to pay for a miracle. Upon arriving, Elisha sent a servant out with the message that Naaman should go wash seven times in the Jordan River, often-muddy and creek-like, for his healing. Continue reading

A Tomb, Two Spacecraft and a Blind Man From Texas

(My yearly repost of the reason I listened to a particular song just today...)

Blind Willie Johnson seemed to know early on that his future lay at the crossroads of two vocations. He built a cigar box guitar for himself when he was only five and told his father that proclaiming the things of God to the masses was his desire. Continue reading

Bare Spots

A friend of mine lost his wife years ago after a long sickness. He told me that he visited her grave every single day for a year. No matter the storms, sun or snow, he was there.

He said, “Do you know when I knew I had to stop going so often? When I looked down and saw that grass had grown over her grave, but the ground was bare in the place where I stood every day. I was not letting the grass grow over the bare place in my heart either. So, I started going less, and I started healing more.” When you have given something enough time, give it no more. When the healing comes, we feel guilty sometimes about moving forward, as though to take a step is to belittle the importance of what was lost or to disrespect the memory of what once was. We may never be fully free of the grief here on earth, but we can experience a healing that allows us to navigate the “new normal.” There is nothing wrong with thinking through what led you to a place, learning from past mistakes or having regrets, but careful examination can become morbid fascination. When that happens, the autopsy never ends.

When I think of healing and the strange inertia of pain, I remember the story of the man who could not walk…

When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6). The man had been unable to walk for 38 years (John 5:5). It might seem strange that Jesus would ask him such a thing. But if you have slipped down the slope toward learned helplessness and into the deep valley of self-pity, you understand the question.

Jesus then tells him to “get up,” and the man is healed (5:8). Make no mistake, Jesus did heal the invalid, but the man had to obey Christ to know the full effect of the healing.

In other words, he could have been healed, yet never stood up.

Do you want to be healed?