The Ground is the Heart: Thorny Ground

Mark 4:18-19 (NKJV) 18 Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, 19 and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.

We have been looking at how the Bible teaches that a Christian should walk according to God’s ways. We have discovered that one of the most important things God has given us to accomplish this is the Word of God written in the Bible. Everything God intended a Christian to be is contained in the many seeds found in God’s Word. All that must happen is that the seed find good ground, be cultivated and allowed to grow to fruition. If it does, sin will not be a problem and the abundant life that Jesus spoke about in John 10:10 will be ours.

We have found a few things to be true. The seed of the Word is always good seed. It was designed by God to interact with the soil. It will produce what God sent it to produce (Isaiah 55:11.) The variable is the soil. The soil that the seed of God’s Word was designed to react with is the heart of man. If the heart is good ground, the Word “seed” will produce what God intends for it to produce in the believer’s life. The Greek word for salvation can be defined as all the blessings bestowed upon man in Christ. That is what is available if we plant the Word in our hearts when they are good ground.

There are two types of ground in Mark 4. There is good ground and bad ground. The bad ground is divided into 3 types. We have studied two. The first was pathway. This is ground that is hard. The Word may go forth to them but it does not penetrate. Satan steals the Word from this person before it can produce. The second was stony ground. This is ground that is shallow. The seed falls upon it and takes root quickly. It begins to grow but Jesus says it has no root in itself. When pressure comes the seed is easily plucked up and an offense is usually left behind. Both are incapable of producing fruit from the Word of God. We need to guard against these things.

The next type of bad ground is what we will call thorny ground. I find this to be the most common and the most tragic type of ground in this parable. It says that some of the seeds of God’s Word fall among thorns. These seeds do take root. The soil is good enough to growing a plant capable of producing the life God intended. The problem is not the soil itself. The problem is what else has been allowed to grow along with the Word.

I choose to believe that most Christians try to be good ground for God’s Word. They go to church. They read their bible. They do some study at least. They pray and try to live according to what they hear. The problem is that there are so many other things in their life that produce plants that are not from Bible seeds. They come from the seeds that the world brings. They may be found in entertainment or education. They may be part of our culture or our life experience. Wherever they come from, they produce plants that are not part of what God’s Word is trying to do in us.

The result is that these plants begin to crowd out the Bible plants. They take our time and our attentions. They drain our “soil” of its ability to produce. The Word plant grows, but it does not produce fruit. We see this in the natural all the time.

I lived in a house once that had a grape vine growing up one side. It was a very large vine. It had plenty of leaves. It had fully developed branches and bark. It even produced grapes but they could not mature. They would be very small and green. Instead of growing in size and ripening to the dark purple color this species was supposed to have, they just withered away and died. It was a grape vine. It produced grapes but those grapes produced no usable nutrition. What was the problem.

Although the vine grew up the house there were many other plants growing around the bottom. They were weeds of various types. They took some of the nutrition away from the grape vine. As a result, although it was a mature and functioning vine, it could produce no fruit. I was young and had no interest in cultivating the vine. In retrospect I wish I had learned what to do. I love the particular kind of grape the vine would have produced but I never tasted a one because I allowed the ground to remain thorny ground.

It is not realistic to think we will never have seeds that are fleshly and worldly coming into the ground of our hearts. Some things we need to have such as a good education. Everyone needs some kind of entertainment and distraction in life. However, the question is priority and quantity. What priority to we give to the thorns in life. What quantity of “flesh” seeds do we sow compared to the quantity of Bible seeds. Which seeds do we spend the most time and effort cultivating? The answer to that question will tell you whether the fruit of God’s word is flourishing or being choked out by things that bring far less benefit.

Although there are all kinds of thorns that may get into our ground, this parable highlights three in particular. The first are the cares of this world. We live in a world full of pressure. We need many things to survive. We want to see our families prosper and our children have better lives than we did. We want to live lives that are fulfilling and matter. All of these very natural and needful things produce care.

According to Vines Expository Dictionary this word means to draw in different directions, distract,” hence signifies “that which causes this, a care, especially an anxious care.” To me this sounds a great deal like what we today call stress. When things like this overwhelm us, we are overcome by the “cares of this world.”

When this happens, those cares take root in our ground. They begin to produce plants of worry and fear. These fear and worry plants tend to take the life from the plants produced by the seeds of the Word of God. If we are not careful, we will have “Word” plants ready to produce, but they will not because the life has been robbed from them by the “cares of this world.”

What should we do about this? One thing that will not help is for us to feel condemned because we have cares. Everyone has cares. We all worry at times. That is just a natural byproduct of life. However, there is a solution. Jesus gives us some insights in Matthew 6.

Matthew 6:31-34 (NKJV) 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

When the cares of this world produce plants that choke out the life of the Word of God, the solution is to turn right back to it! The Word has the power to replace the fear and worry plants with plants grounded in the love and care God has for us. Meditate on this scripture. The more you realize that God loves you and knows what you need, the more you will see the “care and worry” plants wither and fade away. As that happens, the seeds of life in God’s word will produce the abundant life Jesus wants for us all to enjoy.

We will look at the other two types of thorny ground the next time. For now, let the words from Matthew 6 sink in. Look a few versus back in this chapter and you will find that worry does not Work. Faith in God does work. You do not have to carry the “cares of this world.” Give them to Jesus. He will help you walk above them and bring real help to you for the real problems you face.

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The Ground is the Heart: Stony Ground

Mark 4:16-17 (NKJV) 16 These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; 17 and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately they stumble.

In our last post we began looking at the main variable in the parable of the sower from Mark 4. This is a key parable. Jesus says that if we do not understand this parable we will not be able to understand “all parables.” Conversely if we do understand it, we have insight into the nature of how the Kingdom of God works in the earth.

The seed is not a variable. The seed is the Word of God. It is always good. The ground is the heart of man. It is necessary for the ground to be good ground if we are going to see the fruit God wants for us. There are two types of ground that Jesus describes. There is good ground and there is bad ground. The bad ground is divided into three types, but they are all bad ground. The first is the wayside. We may be bad ground in some areas and good ground in others. In whatever area we are not good ground, we will see no fruit.

This is the hard ground that has not been prepared for the seed. Jesus said that the see that falls there is immediately stolen by the devil. We can become pathway ground in many ways. The bottom line is that pathway ground people are unteachable. They here what is said but they do not really receive the Word into their heart.

The second ground Jesus describes is a little different. I was a pastor for 40 years. I have seen this over and over. Jesus says the stony ground people are the ones who hear the Word with gladness. I have known many people like this. They hear something that piques their interest and they get excited. The promises of God sound good but there is a problem. Jesus says they have no root in themselves.

The problem with stony ground is that it is shallow. Things begin to grow quickly but they do not have the depth to endure any kind of hardship. Jesus says that when affliction or persecution comes for the Word’s sake, they stumble. The King James Version says they get offended. I have personal experience in that.

As a pastor, I taught many things over all those years. I often had people come to me after a message all excited about the Word. They knew that message was meant just for them. However, when they found out that the devil did not just give up and things were not automatically changed, they would get angry with me! The problem was not with the messenger it was with the hearer. They were shallow ground. This caused them to have no root in their own lives. When a little dry time or a little trial came to them, they could not stand.

What can we do to guard against being shallow, stony ground? There is a clue in how Jesus describes these people. He says they have no root in themselves. If we are going to be good ground, we cannot think it will be sufficient for others to give us the Word. We must understand that we must build the Word of God into our own lives. We must be willing to dig into the Word for ourselves. We must do what Paul told Timothy was necessary for him.

2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV) 15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

I like the King James Version of this verse. The New King James says that we must be diligent to present ourselves approved to God. The King James Tells us how. We must study to show ourselves approved to God. Some would say Paul is speaking to a leader in Timothy so this is something necessary for leaders and ministers. Timothy was both but he was something else as well. He was Paul’s spiritual son. Paul was not just teaching him how to be a successful minister or leader. He was teaching him how to become a successful Christian man.

Every Christian must understand that the Word of God is food to their spirit. It is the one aspect of God we can see and hear in the natural. Jesus was the Word made flesh (John 1:1.) Jesus was the physical human manifestation of the Word of God. Conversely, the written Word of God is a physical manifestation of Jesus in the earth. Hebrews 4:12 tells us the Word of God is alive. It is like no other book in the world. It is not just philosophy or theology. It is the life of God injected into the book we call the Bible.

The nature of this life is that of a seed. Just as a seed carries the life of any plant, the Bible carries the life of everything God intends the believer to be. If we need healing it is in the Word of God. If we need financial victory it is there. Overcoming sin, relational problems, discouragement and depression are all in the written word of God. However, they are there as seeds.

Seeds do no good if they cannot get into the ground. Once they are planted, they need to be cultivated. They need to be able to grow roots. Roots allow a plant to find nourishment when there seems to be none. They also anchor them in the soil so that wind or other causes will not uproot them. The deeper the roots the stronger, more stable and more fruitful that plant will be.

We must not be the kind of ground in which the seed cannot find root. We must give attention to what we hear. We must study for ourselves. We must hear the word preached or taught, but that is not enough. We must read the Word. We must study the Word. That means we need to look deeper than the surface. We must look up the words, consider the historical background. We must meditate on the Word.

You might say, “I just don’t have the time for that.” Then you do not have the time to succeed as a Christian.

Joshua 1:8 (NKJV) 8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

Joshua needed to succeed, not just for himself but for the nation of Israel. God told him how to do it. He could not just rely on what Moses had taught him. He had been Moses personal servant the better part of his life. Moses was a great man of God. I am sure Moses taught Joshua everything he could, but that was not enough. When it came time for Joshua to fulfill his life in God, he had to dig deep into the Word for himself.

I think one of the problems the church is facing today is the abundance of things we must do and want to do in life. It is difficult to make ends meet financially, so many families must have two incomes to get by. On the other hand, there are more entertainment options than at any time in history. I like entertainment. I watch TV, I sometimes go to movies. I like to watch and sometimes play sports. At 65, I even play some video games. However, none of that is going to make me successful in my Christian life.

Life is about balance. Today it seems that Christians are increasingly defining balance as a great deal of work and play while we try and fit the Word of God in when we can. Does that look like what God told Joshua? We need “good success.” Just as Joshua needed it for more than himself, so do we. We need it for our families, for our community and for the world in which we live.

I think we need to ask ourselves if our faith can stand in the trial. Do we become offended and blame the Word of even the messenger? We need to have root in our own study, meditation and relationship with God. Just like Joshua, if we have that kind of root system, we will have good success.

The Ground is the Heart: Pathway Ground

Mark 4:15 (NKJV) 15 And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts.

In our last post we dealt with the seed we must sow to see the process in Mark 4 work correctly. The sower sows the Word of God. No other seed will produce the fruit we need to see in our lives. The right seed will produce fruit that will result in our lifestyle reflecting both God’s will and his character.

Today I want to look at the other variable in this parable. As long as the seed we sow is the seed of God’s Word, we can be assured that it will produce exactly what it says it will and it will do so every time. However, the ground must also be good, or the seed will not produce even if it is a good seed.

What this parable is really talking about is the quality of the ground. There are two types of ground. There is good ground and there is bad ground. The bad ground is divided into 3 types, but they are all bad. We need to do what it takes to be good ground.

In this verse, Jesus talks about the first kind of bad ground. “These are the ones sown by the wayside.” What is “wayside” ground and what happens to the seed of God’s Word when it is sown on this type of ground? When a farmer was planting the seeds Jesus is referring to here, he would scatter the seed as he planted his field. Some of the seed would go where he wanted it to, onto prepared ground. Some of the seed would land on the path that was between the area to be planted and even on the road itself. Some would be caught by the wind and land wherever the breeze took them. This is the picture Jesus is describing in this parable.

The problem with the pathway ground is that it was hard. People walked on it all the time. As people tread upon it over the years it would become so hard that nothing could penetrate the soil. The seed that landed on the pathway simply stayed on the surface. The birds would watch this pathway ground and as soon as the farmer began to scatter his seed they would swoop down and eat it. There was nothing wrong with this seed, but it never got a chance to produce.

In his explanation of the parable, Jesus says that the hearts of some people who hear the Word are like this pathway ground. Their hearts have been hardened by the constant treading of life upon them. They hear the Word but before it has a chance to penetrate their heart, Satan comes immediately and steals the Word.

Just like the birds, Satan is watching. When he knows the Word is coming to a person, he looks to see if that Word is making its way into their heart. If it is not, he will come in and take the Word before it has time to germinate. No fruit can be produced because no plant is produced.

There are many ways that Satan takes the word. There are certain attitudes that we can identify that will cause us to be wayside ground. If we deal with these attitudes our hearts will be able to receive the word and it will produce fruit. These are not all the attitudes nor the only causes for why we may become hard ground, but they are ones that I have often seen in the lives of people who are. Let us look at three of these attitudes.

The first is the unteachable attitude. It may manifest as, “I already know that. I don’t need to hear it again.” Although this may be true, I have found that every time I hear the Word, whether I read it or hear it preached, if I pay attention, I usually learn something. If I do not learn something new, I reinforce what I already know. Real maturity is determined by how much we are open to learn not by how much we think we know.

I raised 6 kids. One of the main characteristics of the teenage years is the tendency to think we know everything when we really do not know anything. Be careful when you hear yourself say, or even think, “I know that.” That is what my kids usually said when I was trying to teach them something during those wonderful years. Sometimes we remain “teenage” Christians for far too long.

Another thing to remember is that the Word of God is food for our spirit as well as a seed sown into our heart. I like a good steak. I am not going to stop eating it because I ate it once. I will eat it every chance I get. Every time I do, my body receives the nutrition in that food. Every time we hear or read the Word of God it is food to our spirit. Even if we do not hear anything new, we still receive the nutrition in the Word. Do not be unteachable ground.

The second pathway attitude is a heart which is closed. We may be closed for many reasons. We might not like the preacher we are listening to. The Word we are hearing may be something that seems to disagree with our group or stream of ministry. We may be closed to specific Bible truths because we have been hurt in that area by something in our lives. I have known people who can receive anything I shared about Jesus, God or the Holy Spirit. If I spoke about the Father, they would shut down. Their experience with their own father would not allow them to hear about the Father God. Satan came and immediately stole the Word that could have saved them.

The third pathway attitude to guard against is the indifferent attitude. Sometimes we just do not care about what is being preached or what we are reading. All like some things more than we like others. My mother did not make me eat vegetables, so I do not like them. We would say, “I don’t care for any vegetables.” I think we need to care about everything that comes from the Word. Remember Jesus was the Word made flesh. If we do not care about the Word of God, what does that say about our love for Jesus.

I am not perfect in this, but I try to pay attention whenever I hear the Word of God. I try not to just read my bible to get in some time or complete a plan. I want to know what God is trying to say to me through his Word. I want every seed in God’s wonderful seed catalog to be fully produced in my life. If we love the Word, we will not find ourselves carrying an “I don’t care attitude” when we hear it or read it.

In Ezekiel 33:30-34, there is an interesting story. God says to the prophet, the people are speaking against you. He says that the way they were doing that was by saying, “Let’s go hear the prophet. We like his voice. It’s like someone who sings really well.” How is that talking against Ezekiel? They were looking at the Word of the Lord as entertainment.

This may be one of the most dangerous kinds of pathway ground in our day. We have made entertainment a god. Sometimes we see the Word that way. I think we should enjoy church. I think we should enjoy the preaching of the Word. I think we should enjoy reading the bible. However, everything is not entertaining. Some things are hard to hear. They are the things that usually help us the most. We need to be careful that we do not reject a Word of God because it is not entertaining. Too many people leave churches because they are not getting fed. Could it be they are not getting entertained?

We need to guard against being pathway ground. We need to deal with these attitudes as soon as we recognize them. If we do not, Satan will come immediately to steal what we have heard. He is watching to see how we receive the Word, no matter how it comes to us. Do not be pathway ground.

The Sower Sows the Word

Mark 4:14-15 (NKJV) 14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts.

Before our holiday break we were looking at one of the most significant parables in the Word of God. This is the parable of the sower from Mark chapter 4. We have learned a few things that are important. Since it has been a while since we began this study, let me list them. Please look back on the posts from December if you need more to get up to speed on what we are talking about.

1. In verse 13, Jesus says that if the disciples cannot understand this parable, they will not be able to understand any of the parables. The converse must also be true. If we do understand this parable it will unlock the main way Jesus taught in the New Testament.

2. Verse 26 says that the whole kingdom works on the seed principle. If we sow the Word, it will produce. Good seed in good ground with proper cultivation will always produce what the seed was designed to produce.

3. A natural seed contains the DNA for the whole plant. Every piece of fruit, grain or whatever the seed is from, is in the seed. The Word of God is the same. Every Word seed contains within itself the spiritual DNA that it is designed by God to produce. There are salvation seeds, healing seeds, holiness seeds, prosperity seeds. Anything the human being needs to be productive in any area of life is contained in the seed.

4. God can do anything he wants to do, and he will move in miraculous ways we may not understand. That happens according to his. He will always honor the seed principle of the Word.

5. Farming, both natural and spiritual, takes time and commitment. The seed, the ground and the cultivation are at the center of the farmers life. Everything revolves around them. Though the natural farmer has other things in his or her life, if he does not take care of the seed, the ground and the cultivation, he will have no crop and he will eventually die. The same is true of the spiritual farmer.

Today we want to focus on one basic truth. The sower sows the Word. We must understand that the seed Jesus is talking about is the Word of God. Those of us who are teachers are called by God to help people understand what the Word of God says. When we are doing our jobs correctly, we give out the fruit that has been produced by the Word in our own lives. That fruit contains the seed of the Word of God. However, as good as our teaching may be, the teaching is not the seed. The sower sows the Word of God.

I remember when we were young during what has been called the “Jesus movement.” I believe millions were saved and filled with the Holy Spirit out of denominational religion or no religion at all. We were filled with excitement and love for the Lord. What we did not have was any idea about what the bible said. We quoted the word this way, “Somewhere in the bible it says something like……..” As excited as we were and as real as our experiences were, that is not sowing the Word. Many of us took the next step and learned what the bible said. We grew and catapulted the Charismatic renewal into a wave of the Spirit of God that changed everything. Those who did not, eventually lost the “fire” and faded back into the world.

We need to know what the bible says. We need to know what is the Word of God and what is not. Paul, in writing to his son in the faith Timothy, says this.

2 Timothy 2:15-16 (NKJV) 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 16 But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness.

In many ways, Timothy lived in a much more dangerous and challenging world than we do. He did not have two thousand plus years of Christian teaching and tradition to look back upon and study. He had the Old Testament. The writings of Paul, Peter and the rest were not yet accepted as the New Testament of the bible. Even so, Paul tells him that the only way he will be successful is to be diligent to study the Word of God that he had. The same is true for you and me.

Every culture and each generation have philosophies and ideas that grow up around the Word of God. Many of them will be the revelation of the day that God fully intends for us to understand. They can be powerful, liberating and lead us into God’s will for our generation. However, as good as they are, they are not, in themselves, the seed known as the Word of God.

Apples can be baked into pies, cobblers and strudels. All are wonderful, and all come from apples. However, without apples there are no wonderful desserts. Without apple seeds, there are no apples. We need to use the teachings, but we also need to know how to break them down to the seed from which they come. If we do not, we will eventually run out of “apples.”

The sower sows the Word. Science cannot create a seed. They can put all the elements together, create the shell and make something that looks like a seed. It would seem that it should work like a seed, but when it is planted it does not grow. The reason is that it does not contain life. Only a seed contains the life that is designed to be released when it is planted. I have heard that seeds found in Egyptian tombs that are thousands of years old have been planted and grew. Why? The reason is that they contain that intangible something called life.

We need to know the difference between a good teaching and the seed itself. Studying a good teaching will lead us to the seeds that produced it. What we need is the seed. I have always told those I taught to never accept what I say as the truth. I encourage them to go to the Bible for themselves. When I was learning, one of the things I did was go back to the bible to see if I could find the same path to that truth that the teacher did. If I could, that truth became deep revelation and the fruit that came from it gave me life personally and more fruit to give to others. This process has produced things that have lasted my whole life.

I love to look at many translations of the bible. We need to be wise in this. Some are not very faithful to the original texts. I am not a King James Version or nothing person. I believe the King James has its own problems. I do believe that some of the older translations came from texts that were closer in understanding than some of the newer ones. On the other hand, sometimes newer translations give us a picture that is more accurate to our understanding than those written in the languages that were modern centuries ago. What is the solution.

I believe we need to do what Paul said. We should study until we are sure we have the real seed. For the older translations, we need to use the tools we have, such as bible dictionaries, to be as sure as possible that the translations are accurate. With newer translations, we need to be sure that the vernacular used does not change the true meaning. God can work with problems in translations if we desire to find the real seed of the Word. If that is our heart, he will make sure we find it.

The sower sows the Word. Nothing else will produce the fruit we are looking for. You can only get apples from live apple seeds. Nothing but the seed found in the Word of God will produce the life of God in us.

Preparation for What is to Come

Genesis 1:14 (NKJV) 14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years;

In my next post I will continue talking about the parable of the sower from Mark chapter 4. Today I want to share one more “holiday” post as we enter the new year. When I was pastoring our local church, I always asked God for a theme for the year to come. I am traveling most of the time now and the local duties have fallen to my son, but I still believe God has a plan for each year of my life. I want to share what I feel God is saying to me for 2019. Maybe it will apply in some measure to you as well.

Genesis 14 is a verse that validates the idea of dividing time into years. Some would say that one year is the same as the other in God’s eyes. He has one plan and that plan never changes. We see it in Ephesians 1.

Ephesians 1:9-10 (NKJV) 9 having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, 10 that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth–in Him.

That is what God has been working towards since the fall of man. In truth, since Jesus was “slain from the foundations of the world”, it has always been God’s plan. There will come a day called the fullness of time when the God of the universe is going to bring all things together under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. That is an inevitability.

That said, it is God who set the lights in the heavens for “signs and seasons, and for days and years.” God lives in an ever-present now. He is the “Great I am”, not the great I will be nor the great I was. It is always today for God. That is not true for us. We were placed in a physical world. God built time into this physical world. He divided time into days, weeks, months and years when he set the heavens in motion the way he did. God is still working toward “the fullness of time.” He has a plan that will accomplish his purpose. I believe that each day, week, month and year has a purpose in God for us and for his plan.

I think our purpose for the “days and weeks” is fulfilled simply by knowing him and walking in harmony with him to the best of our ability. To a degree, the same is true about years, but I am convinced that God has a purpose for me to fulfill in every year that I live. As I have sought to find that purpose, it has helped guide me in my day to day destiny.

2018 was a bit of a mystery to me when it began. My wife and I were beginning the second year of a whole new chapter in life. My wife is fond of saying that it is like the progression of chapters in a good book. A good writer knows how to bring an end to one chapter by building anticipation for the next. You may think you know what comes next, but you are not sure. You cannot wait to find out! That is the way life has been for us the last few years.

The second segment of anything is often difficult. When you launch out, you have certain things you expect will happen. You also know that there are many things you have no idea about, but you look forward to seeing what they may be. The second year, you find out that a good part of what is new you do not like. There are adjustments that must be made. You must reconcile the reality of the new thing with what you thought it would be. This can be a most difficult thing to do. It was for me. Not everything is the way I want it. It is, however, the way it is. This made 2018 a year of stabilization and settling into the reality of what is to come.

2018 was the first year in more than thirty years that I did not have a theme. I think God knew that if he gave me too much information on what 2018 was going to be about, I might have said, “Thanks but no thanks.” That would not have changed God’s mind, but it might have made it even harder for me. At any rate, we are where we need to be.

Whatever your 2018 was like, you are where God needs you to be now. If things were not what you wanted, you cannot change the past. If you made some mistakes, join the club. God is bigger than your mistakes. If you have a bad attitude right now, repent. You cannot change God. You cannot change other people except as you influence them in Christ. Most of the time you cannot change circumstances and certainly not overnight. You are here. 2018 ends today. The question you need to ask is, “What does God want for me in 2019.”

I really had not thought that much about this question until a few days ago. I believe God dropped something into my heart that will help guide me through 2019. As someone who has occupied a leadership position in the church for many years and who has the privilege of speaking to church leaders around the world, I submit it for your consideration. Remember, this is what I believe God is saying for the 2019 division of time. The days, weeks and even months will still flow according to how God unfolds them for you. Each of us must walk in our personal relationship with the Lord daily to get to where we need to go.

So, years were God’s idea. What is his plan for 2019? God said to me that 2018 was a year of stabilization and positioning. Once we are positioned, we go through preparation. We cannot be prepared for something we are not in the position to fulfill. When a person goes into the military he or she is first positioned. What branch will they serve in? They are inducted into that branch. They are now a soldier, sailor, airman or marine. Once positioned, the preparation really begins.

I believe what God is saying to me is that I got settled into my new position in 2018. Not that I fully understand what that position is. It is more that I have come to accept it as the will of God. I am what I am now, not what I was in 2016. Now I am ready to be prepared. The next question is prepared for what?

2019 will be filled with the steps of preparation. My last child to never have been married is getting married in 2019. My oldest son, who has endured the pain of divorce, will probably be moving back to our area from Nashville. All of these things are adjustments and preparations. There are too many more to list here and even more than what I know about, but I believe such family milestones are important indicators. However, that does not answer the question of what are we being prepared for.

I think it is important to know as much as we can about what we are preparing for so that we will cooperate with the preparation. However, we never fully understand until the preparation is done. That means that 2019 will still be filled with as many questions as answers. Nevertheless, the key to preparation is to trust the one preparing you. He knows where you are going. He will tell you what you need to know. Just understand that everything he is doing has a purpose. This is always true, I just believe it is more true this year, at least for my wife and me.

So, what is 2019 preparation for? 2020! If each year has a purpose, each decade also has a purpose. If you look at history, the change of decades almost always signals significant change. I believe that is true for the church as well. 2019, like every year you have lived, will have ups and downs. It will have great times and difficult times. There will be some significant changes and a lot of “boot camp” experiences. Boot camp changes a civilian into a soldier. God is always changing us. I believe we are going to mature and change this year to an even greater degree. What does 2020 hold. I do not know. I believe it will hold great things in God. I do know that we will have to cooperate with the preparation of 2019 to be fully affective in the next decade. I want to hit the ground running. How about you?

Christmas Love

1 John 4:10 (NKJV) 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

This week we have been looking at three things the world tries to incorporate into the “Holiday Celebration” while minimizing the celebration of the birth of Christ. The first is joy. While gifts and parties give both pleasure and happiness, joy is something far deeper. The joy spoken of by the angels in their announcement to the shepherds has nothing to do with worldly happiness. It is the inward, abiding sense of wellbeing that comes from knowing relationship with the heavenly Father. The joy of Christmas is the joy of knowing that the birth of this baby was the beginning of the process that made that relationship possible.

The second is peace. The world concentrates on the holidays as a time when we practice peace between groups in the world. However, the peace of Christmas is the peace God made available to man through the birth and eventual resurrection of Jesus. There was a gulf between God and man because of sin. The birth of Jesus is the entry of the God of the universe into our world to put an end to the war between God and man making it possible for peace between them.

The final element that we hear about during the holidays is love. We know that love of family is an important factor in our celebrations. This is as season where the expression of the love we have for our friends is foremost in our thinking. Love is the motivation for the giving of gifts. All of these things are worthy parts of the Christmas season. However, they are only reflections of the real love of Christmas.

It is almost cliché to say that the gift of the babe in the manger is one of the ultimate expressions of the love of God yet it must be said. God created man as his family. Man rebelled against God resulting in a spiritual union between God’s children and the God of this world, Satan.

Man was the one who rebelled. God had given clear instructions to man about what was acceptable and what was not acceptable. God had provided all man could ever need. Man lived in a paradise provided by his Father. Nevertheless, man chose to follow the woman into sin. The bible says the woman was deceived but Adam was not. (1 Timothy 2:14) He sinned by willful choice. God had no obligation to save him. He had effectively become an enemy to God.

Romans 5:8-10 (NKJV) 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

Christmas love is not about love of family. It is not about brotherly love or romantic love. It is the love of God that chose to reach into our sinful condition that he might buy back his children.

It is hard to imagine the price paid by Almighty God when he was born in that manger. Philippians 2 tells us that God laid aside his limitlessness to take on the form of man. The creator of the universe became a baby. He was just as helpless and physically vulnerable as any baby ever born.

By design, he was born into the humblest of circumstances. He was not raised in privilege but experienced every temptation and hardship that man can face. (Hebrews 4:15) What must it have been like for the holy God to live in the midst of the sin and depravation into which humanity had fallen?

I love today’s scripture. Many times we teach on the need to love God. I believe that is true. We do need to cultivate and express our love for God. Yet this verse tells us the key to that love. It is not in our repentance. It is not in our works. It is not in anything we can work up in our emotions. Our love for God does not originate with us. Our love for God is a response to his love for us.

In this verse, there are two ways in which that love is expressed. The second is the one we usually focus upon. God sent Jesus to be the payment for our sins. He died for us. In truth, this is the love of Jesus for us. I believe he made a choice to die for us in the Garden of Gethsemane. He asked the Father to let that bitter cup pass from him. He did not want to do it. In the midst of his torment he uttered those powerful words, “Not my will but your will be done!” He chose to die for us. There is no greater expression of love than that. (John 15:13)

The first statement in this verse is often overlooked. God the Father sent his son. That was the expression of the Father’s love for you and me. I have six children. I would far rather experience hardship than have them experience hardship. I would sacrifice myself for my children with little thought. That is what it means to be a father.

A much more difficult choice is to sacrifice one child for many children. Jesus was the only begotten of the Father. He was the only son who walked in true love and fellowship with the Father. Even those with the greatest revelation of who God is did not understand him. They saw him as the hard and harsh giver of the Law of Moses who would gladly punish the smallest transgression. That is not the nature of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Jesus knew the Father for who he really was. Jesus spent three and one half years trying to show him to the world, yet they did not see him. Jesus was the only one who walked as a true son of God in the way God wanted for Adam. He was the last Adam. (1 Cor. 15:45)

The love of Christmas is the love of the Father God for all his children. It is the love which would sacrifice his only true son so that he might win many sons. He had no guarantee that anyone would accept what he was offering. He gave Jesus to the world anyway.

As we approach the day when we celebrate the fact that Jesus was born in the world, remember the love of the Father for you. Let that love wash over you and respond to that love. No one has given more for you. If you are a parent, think about sacrificing your child for others who do not deserve the sacrifice. That is the love of Christmas.

In this is love. God the Father gave his son for us. Can I do anything less than give him my life?

Peace on Earth

Luke 2:14 (NKJV)
14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

As we approach the Christmas holiday, we are looking at the attempt of the world to co-opt certain elements of Christmas while trying to eliminate or minimize others. All over the United States for the last decade or so repeated challenges have been made against nativity scenes in public places. The term “Happy Holidays” has been promoted over “Merry Christmas” as the greeting of the season.

An attempt has been made to replace the Christian celebration of the birth of Christ with an economic holiday which tries to include all religions while effectively excluding all. The gods these people celebrate at Christmas are the gods of mammon and political correctness. Those of us who understand that the birth of Christ is the most important event in history will continue to fight against this kind of thinking.

What I find interesting is the attempt to keep key elements of the celebration of Christ’s birth in the current celebration. The announcement made by the angels to the shepherds includes two things that remain in the secularized celebration of Christmas. Yesterday we looked at Joy. In the current holiday, we mistake happiness and pleasure for joy.

We give and receive gifts and we are told by advertising that the greater the gift the more joy we will have. We enjoy holiday parties where we engage in behavior that would not be acceptable at other times of the year with the excuse that “it’s Christmas!” We enjoy the company of family and friends, which is a good thing but not the joy that Christmas really represents.

The joy the bible connects to the celebration of the birth of Christ is the deeper inner sense of wellbeing that comes from knowing that the Father loves us. It is a force that flows from our spirit man because of the reality of salvation in Christ. This joy is felt at Christmas because without the birth of Christ there could be no salvation.

Today I want to talk a little about the second thing that the secular “Holiday Season” has tried to incorporate with little success. That is the power of peace. I hear today’s scripture quoted during the this time of year perhaps more than any other verse. The idea of peace on earth is desirable to any rational human being. War is terrible even when it may be necessary. No one wants war. We all desire to live in peace with those around us so that we may carry on life.

Using the “Holiday Season” to speak about peace on earth is noble. Using this time as an opportunity to practice peace with our neighbor is something to be emulated and admired. However, that is not the peace the angels speak of in Luke 2:4.

We think that the problems that lead to war and conflict can be solved if we simply decide to treat one another better. If I am nice to the warlike person, surely he will be nice to me. That depends on his reason for aggression. The truth is that the reason for conflict between people is that there is conflict between God and man. In the Garden of Eden, a conflict began that changed man’s nature.

According to Ephesians 2:3, humanity became by nature a child of wrath or the devil. Man was not created to be a child of wrath but a child the love of God. This nature change caused a gulf between God and man. Man’s new nature inevitably led him into contact with each other. We see this continuing until this very day.

I have heard the term “brotherhood of man” used to describe how we should act towards one another. The problem is that we are all brothers by the same Father. When we reject the Father, we reject the brothers as well. We will come together with those who have the same goals as we do. We will come together with those who think and act as we do or who have the same beliefs and culture. Man is at war with his Father. That is the real problem in the earth.

When the angels made their wonderful announcement to the shepherds, they were not talking about governments or even better relations between people. The announcement was about an end to the war between God and man. The angels did not speak of good will among men. They spoke of good will toward men.

Good will among men is how we tend to interpret their words. That is why we think that a celebration every December 25 can somehow make a difference in how people relate to each other. I do not say we should not treat people nicely during the Christmas holiday, but if that is all we do, we are missing the power of the angels announcement.

Good will toward men is something else entirely. Who has good will toward men? The answer is that God does. The angels are declaring that something has happened that will enable God to have relationship with his children the way he always intended to have relationship. God was never at war with man. It has always been man at war with God. God has always been at war with the devil and the fall of man aligned him with the devil.

God never stopped loving man, but he needed a way to separate man from the devil. The birth of Christ was the beginning of a process that would accomplish this for any person who desired it. Peace could be achieved on earth because God’s “good will toward” men could finally be realized.

There is only one hope of ultimate peace and the manifestation of the brotherhood of man. That hope is the birth of Christ in a simple manger in the town of Bethlehem of Judea. That birth opened a door that the devil cannot close. Peace among men will come because of the goodwill offered toward man in Christ.

As with our discussion of joy, peace must also be considered in the context of salvation. The birth of Christ was the beginning. The resurrection of Christ is the fulfillment of what began in the manger. The salvation the Father offered to his children did not mean a change in religion or philosophy. That would not produce peace. The salvation the birth of Christ initiated was far more than that. It was the change of his nature from a “child of wrath” to a child of God.

2 Corinthians 5:17-18 (NKJV) 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation,

The real message of Christmas is that we can be new creatures in Christ. The old nature passes away when we receive the sacrifice of Christ as the payment for our personal sin nature. When we receive him as the Lord of our lives, we become fully reconciled to God. With this reconciliation, we have the power to be at peace in our own hearts. Inward peace can enable us to be at peace with those around us.

The other message of the angel’s announcement is echoed in verse 18 above. We have been given the same message the angels gave to those simple shepherds. We now carry the message of peace on earth due to goodwill toward men. Paul calls this message the message of reconciliation. It is the message that tells the world, “There is no more need for war amongst you! God has made a way for you to have true peace. Peace with him!”

Tell someone what the birth of this baby in a manger really made available. Tell them the war is over!