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As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Matthew 13:4

It had hardened soilbeen a dry summer. The ground was hardened and cracked by the lack of moisture and the penetrating rays of the sun. Then the rain came. It wasn’t just a shower, it was a downpour. Raindrops pelted the ground viciously. Lightning and thunder joined in the onslaught. The ground became a river of mud. Then, it was gone. The sun came out, the skies cleared; the ground dried and once again was hardened.

I talked with an old farmer later that day. I mentioned how nice it was that we finally got some rain. I was surprised by the look of disappointment on his face. He took his hat off and rubbed his scalp.

“Didn’t do much good.” He mumbled as he replaced his hat, “Grounds to hard. Just ran off. What we need is a couple days of soft, gentle rain to soften up the ground so the moisture can get in.”

His words weren’t even out of his mouth when I remembered the story of the Sower and the Seed. Personally, I think the title is misleading. The seed really has little to do with the story. The Sower has some impact of course, but the main emphasis is on soil.

Hardened soil has something in common with hardened hearts. Hardened soil, in particular the hardened soil in this story, became hard because it was part of the roadway. Know what happens with a roadway? It gets trampled on. Day after day, week after week, month after month donkeys and horses and oxen and people walked up and down the path.

Our hearts are like that sometimes aren’t they? We all start out with hope and joy. Watch the wonderment and excitement of infants and toddlers if you don’t believe me. Every event is new. Every object is a chance to explore (and perhaps attempt to eat!)

But something happens to our heart. People, places and events walk all over our soul. At first it hurts. But the more we are trampled the harder we get until we lose all feeling. Then nothing seems to matter anymore.

Hardened soil reminds us of two dangers of hardened hearts. One is a warning of sorts not to become hardened in the first place.  Soil, like the heart, never becomes hard when it is nurtured. The only thing I’ve found to keep my heart soft is the realization of how much I am loved by Jesus Christ. People fail me. I fail people. Jesus never fails.

The second danger concerning hardened hearts is the assumption that once a heart is hardened it can never become soft again. This is a tool of the enemy of our souls. Hardened hearts become soft the same way they stay soft, with nurturing. If you pour a bucket of water on hard ground it runs off with little penetration and you may think the situation hopeless. But slowly run a garden hose over the area and after time the water stops running OFF and it runs IN. It takes time, patience and gentleness to soften hard ground. The heart requires it even more.

The same thing is true of a hardened heart. You may not think your kindness is doing any good but time, patience and gentleness, empowered by the love of Christ, can do wonders on a hardened heart.

PRAYER: Lord, I confess to you that my heart has grown hard by the things others have done to me. At times I’ve even blamed you! I’ve grown weary trying to love those you love because their hardness seems impenetrable. May I experience the gentle, penetrating and softening rain of your love in my heart so that I can share it with others. Amen.


Always be humble and gentle. Patiently put up with each other and love each other. Ephesians 4:2 (CEV)

The facts of this story are made up. The reality of the story is repeated at different levels all over the world. Those who Jesus prayed would love each other as a sign of God’s love spend time fighting about things of finite importance while the things of eternity are overlooked.

First Church was a charming church in a mid-sized city in the Midwest. The church was over 100 years old and had remained a solid influence in the community. Many were baptized, married and buried as a result of First Church.

As the small town grew, so did First Church. As a result it soon began to feel growing pains and it was evident that something had to change. Since it was located on a lot that encompassed and entire city block, the church leaders proposed adding on to the current sanctuary in order to minister better to the younger generation.

That’s when the trouble began. The thought of changing the century old building didn’t sit well with the Smith family. Great-great-grandpa Smith was one of the charter members of First Church. The family was wealthy and influential at First Church as well as in the entire town.

Then again, so were the Jones’. Old Martin Jones owned the lumber company that provided all the lumber for the building…free. Jones’ Lumber Company still held a sizable investment in the community and promised a good price on material for the building program.

Soon the church was divided between those siding with the official ‘Smith’ delegation and those who agreed with the Jones’ and the leadership that something must be done and adding on was the best, least intrusive way to improve the ministry.

Eventually, the disagreement moved outside church walls and into the courts as the Smith’s and Jones’ decided to duke it out in front of a judge. The lawsuit included the church and put a sizable strain on the church budget, not to mention the spiritual atmosphere of the church family.

The fight became so intense that eventually many left First Church and started their own church across town in the school gymnasium. The legal fees and the loss of membership not only tainted the image of First Church, it forced them to close their doors.

How we respond to people we disagree with determines our view of God’s power and their view of God’s Grace. The Apostle Paul challenged the church in Ephesus (and us?) to live in harmony with each other. The word ‘gentle’ can also be translated ‘meek.’ Meekness means we set aside our own feelings for a greater good. Meekness means we see the Kingdom of God as being more important than the work of a man’s hands.

The one admonishing the church to live in gentleness was far from gentle in his earlier life. Look at the description of Saul (Paul) before his conversion: Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. Acts 9:1-2 (NIV)

What was the difference? Saul met Jesus. One need only to read the letters Paul wrote to the New Testament church to see that even in his gentleness, he never lost his tenacity. It was just redirected from his own personal convictions to the leading of the Savior.

We aren’t called to change people. We are called to be meek and allow God’s power to change people. The meek not only inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5), they show the world the love of Jesus Christ.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, you prayed in the garden for unity and love to show through us so others will see you. We haven’t done well with that. Help us to live in unity so others will see you. Amen.

 


So don’t boast about following a particular human leader. For everything belongs to you—whether Paul or Apollos or Peter, or the world, or life and death, or the present and the future. Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. 1 Corinthians 3:21-23 (NLT)

You’ve seen the commercials on TV. A well-dressed, successful person tells you about themselves. They are smart, good looking and obviously have made the best of life. After telling you all about themselves, their successes and how they have made positive changes in their world, they summarize all the good things by telling you that they are a particular religious group. The next time you see the commercial notice that the person talking doesn’t say they belong to or are a part of the group. They ARE the group. Whether by design or otherwise the message is clear. If you want to know what my religious group looks like or what it can do for you, look at me. I’m the example of what you can be. 

Now, this isn’t a treatise for or against this group. Whether you agree with their theology or not you have to admire the creativity of their marketing. Want to be successful in life? Want to make a difference in your world? It’s as though the speaker is looking straight into your eyes and saying, “Want to have people admire you like you are admiring me right now? Become a ____________. Your world will change!”

Don’t be too hard on them though. We do the same thing. A pastor friend of mine was telling me about one particular church that he served in. Unfortunately this church had a bad reputation in town because of how they treated people in the community and how they treated several of their former pastors. My friend brought a suggestion to the boardroom table one night shortly after he started his ministry. He asked what his church leaders would think of changing the name of the church. The new name he suggested would not have the denominational title included in it. He made sure to tell them the doctrinal statement would not change, the denominational affiliation would not change, and several other churches in this denomination had made similar changes with good success. 

The reaction was pretty much along the lines he expected. No one was in favor of it for various reasons. Horror stories based largely on misinformation and rumors surfaced about other churches that had done something like this and either closed or became a cult. While he expected many of these arguments, the one statement that caught him off guard was given by the most respected person in the church. It was a statement that killed the discussion immediately. My friend later said he was so taken back by this statement that he was speechless to continue. Here was the sincere statement from a man who knew God’s word. “But I get my identity from the ___________ church.”

Character is defined as one of the attributes or features that make up and distinguish an individual. This person’s character was based on a set of doctrines and beliefs held in the confines of denominational affiliation. Such thinking isn’t new of course. The Apostle Paul struggled with it too. He didn’t have to mess with Baptists or Lutherans or Methodists or Presbyterians. He had to contend with followers of Peter or Apollos or, (and I imagine he shuddered at this), those who followed him! Paul says, in the book of 1Corinthians, “What are you thinking? Stop following the teachings and opinions of men. You have all you need in Jesus Christ who came from God himself!”

The enemy doesn’t like that way of thinking, by the way. The lie he uses in the battle for our CHARACTER is the subtle belief that ‘Your doctrine is the most important thing to you’. In our effort to love ourselves this attacks us in at least two ways. First of all, the standards of men are sometimes harder to live up to than the standards God has for us. Man’s standards don’t always offer much grace or mercy as is shown by the reaction of some church bodies to differences in a person’s lifestyle or their beliefs. Man made doctrine is often more about making cookie cutter Christians than it is growing in the freedom of grace and mercy through the Lord Jesus Christ.   

In a love relationship it’s always amazing to me how the people involved think so much alike, or at least know what the other is thinking. It’s a process of course. The longer they are together the more they begin to look, think and act alike. Why? Because they have the same set of rules? No. They begin to ‘be each other’ because of relationship.

The second attack that this lie levels on our ability to love ourselves is that when we hold to strongly to man-made principles and doctrine we become legalistic and push people way. The nasty negative spiral comes in again. If I take to harsh a position I push you away. Since I don’t want to push you away I will guard my words. The result is I struggle to decide, ‘Do I hold my allegiance to you and watch you self-destruct, or hold my allegiance to what I know to be right and lose my chance to minister to you and bring you to the freedom I’ve found in Christ.

How does a person whose character is built on Jesus and not man-made rules react to people who are ‘different’ than us? Look at how Jesus responded to people in his day. People who struggled with greed, with lust, with sex, with addictions. How did Jesus respond? With love. “Neither do I condemn thee. Come to me you who are weary.” Paul says, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24-26 (NIV)) 

The person of Christ-like character is the person that gently accepts people who are struggling and leaves the repentance and life change to the one who does it best, Jesus Christ. This is a huge relief for the follower of Christ because it takes the responsibility of life change out of my hands and puts it in the hands of God’s Holy Spirit.

The Truth Statement in the battle for our Character is: “When others watch you make sure they see Jesus and not a church name!”

PRAYER: Thank you Jesus for the freedom you have shown me through your grace, mercy and forgiveness. As I build relationships around me, help me to show them the patience and gentleness you showed those around you. In your name I pray, Amen.


But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. James 3:17

What does it mean to be wise? How can you tell a person who is full of wisdom? The answer is found in the person of Jesus.

Wisdom is shown by our reactions in the time of storm. When the storm blew and the boat was being torn apart, the disciples feared for their lives. Jesus slept peacefully in the bow of the ship. When the woman caught in adultery was brought before him, even though she was guilty of death, he gently restored her faith in God, and in herself by telling her that she was not condemned and encouraging her to live a new life. When the soldiers came to the garden to arrest him on trumped up charges he could, Peter was prepared for war. Jesus healed the very person who was sent to destroy him. When he was disgraced and beaten and humiliated on the cross, even though he could have called legions of angels to deliver him, he endured to the point of death so that I can live.

Jesus’ example is a lesson each of us should strive for in our daily lives. The wisdom of the world says to stand for your rights; to hate those who oppose you; to grab for everything you can on earth because it’s the number of toys you have that really matters. It’s what you can get from relationships that fulfills. Feeling good now is what is important.

But worldly wisdom leads to despair and heartache. Following your heart is fine until it’s broken. Going after all the toys you can is fun until the money runs out. Building your life on relationships lasts as long as the relationship is good, but human relationships are almost certain to fail. Living to party is fun until the party ends and you are left looking in the mirror and realize the best years of your life are gone and you have nothing to show for it.

That’s when the wisdom of Jesus reaches out to you. He’s gentle. His word is always true, his motive always in your best interest. His ways lead to peace and mercy. His heart is full of mercy and forgiveness. Your past mistakes don’t matter. He’s not interested in excuses. He’s not into the blame game. He simply wants to reach out and hold you, to tell you that you aren’t condemned, to bring peace to the storm in your life. Godly wisdom destroys man’s wisdom and brings peace in the midst of adversity.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I’ve tried following my own wisdom and it hasn’t worked.  In the process I’ve made a mess of my life. I’ve hurt others with my words and actions. I’m tired of living in constant despair and frustration. Forgive me for the mistakes I’ve made. Empower me with your Spirit to live a life of wisdom based on your example. In your name I pray, Amen.


But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

Allow me to vent a little bit! If you have followed Christ or been involved in church and Bible Study for any length of time you have no doubt heard the verses quoted above. We’ve been ‘reminded’ through books, sermons and Sunday School lessons to ‘be filled with the Spirit’ and that if we are our lives will be marked by all the good things in life. Things that there is no law against.

After all, who is going to go to jail for being guilty of ‘love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control?’ No one of course. In fact, just the opposite will happen. We’ll be respected (although some may call us weird), loving people.

So, here is my vent. I agree that we should all strive to be filled with the Holy Spirit of God. If we have asked Christ to forgive us and desire a close relationship with Him, reliance on the Holy Spirit isn’t optional, it’s imperative.

However, as someone who, admittedly, isn’t always very loving,, joyful, peaceful, forbearing, kind, good, faithful, gentle or self-controlled I struggle. Sometimes it seems like no matter how hard I try there just isn’t always a healthy crop of ‘spiritual fruit’ hanging from the branches of my life.

If you have ever felt like an apple tree with more branches and leaves than crisp red fruit then you know how I feel. Then, again, as I thought about that I got thinking more about what goes into a healthy crop of fruit and was encouraged by what I learned. Hopefully, my ‘vents’ will help you in your walk as well.

The most important aspect of growing healthy fruit is time. I think many of us expect that once we decide to follow Christ, or renew a relationship with him, that we will instantly become healthy fruit-bearing Christ-followers. While there may be some miraculous exceptions to the rule, most fruit takes time to mature.

Don’t give up on yourself when you don’t see instant success in bearing fruit. Fruit trees have to weather many storms and harsh winters before they see an abundance of fruit hanging from their branches.

Secondly, healthy fruit trees are a result of intensive, consistent care and nurturing. That’s a two-fold challenge for us. First of all, take care of your ‘tree’ by spending time learning from God’s word, developing a consistent prayer life and instilling accountability with other ‘trees’ who have weathered the storms. You have to be healthy to have healthy fruit.

The second challenge in healthy fruit is that you can’t expect results in others overnight any more than your changes happen over night. To bring others into relationship with Christ can take a long time because there are hurdles of the past, current situations and self-esteem issues to overcome. Be patient with the blossoms and young fruit in your care. Slow growth and time are crucial in healthy fruit.

Lastly, remember that ultimately, the healthy growth of fruit is out of your hands. The orchard grower knows that he can only do so much to bring a healthy crop. Some things (like nature) are out of his control. Do what you can in your own life, and in the lives of others to make growing conditions the best they can be. But remember that only God can really change you or others. Healthy, mature fruit is ultimately in His hands alone.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, much as I want to be a healthy producer of fruit in my life and the lives of others, I confess that I fall short on a daily basis. There are times when I have just given up on trying to live a life that shows the power of Your Holy Spirit because I’ve failed so many times. Forgive me for the failures, empower me to keep trying, give me patience as I let time and reliance on you work in my life and the lives of others. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

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