Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Parables of Life, Pt. 1: "Bloom Where You are Planted"

Motivational writer Dennis Kimbro says that some people are like wheels - they don't work unless they are pushed. Some people are like trailers - they have to be pulled. Some people are like kites - always up in the air, and if you don't keep a string on them, they'll fly away. Some people are like canoes - they have to be paddled. Some people are like blisters - they don't show up until the work is done. Some people are like balloons - always puffed up and so full of themselves. Some people are like flat tires - they have to be jacked up and changed. Some people are like lights - always switching off and on.

Jesus said that people are more like soil. Someone suggested that the parable of the sower should be renamed the parable of the soil because the focus is on the soil or the hearer, and not on the sower. The two constant factors are the sower and the seed. The variable is the soil, or how we hear.

The four kinds of soil yield but three types of results: people who are frozen ground and peddle empty promise, people who are futile ground and have unfulfilled potential, and people who are fertile ground and are prime prospects.

What is the difference between a believer, a seeker and an unbeliever? How do we know if a person’s faith is genuine and growing? Why are some people stifled, stagnant or stunted in belief?

Be Sincere in Seeking
4 While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: 5 “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. (Lk 8:4-5)
11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. 12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. (Lk 8:11-12)

Three pastors got together for coffee one day and found all their churches had bat infestation troubles. “I got so mad,” said one, “I took a shot gun and fired at them. It made holes in the ceiling, but did nothing to the bats.”

“I tried trapping them alive,” said the second, “Then I drove 50 miles before releasing them, but they beat me back to the church.”

“I haven't had any more problems,” said the third.

“What did you do?” asked the others, amazed.

“I simply baptized and confirmed them,” he replied. “I haven't seen them since.”

The seeds that fell on the ground represent people who are futile ground and peddle empty promises. A lot of people (v 4) gathered and crowded around Jesus, feeling good about Him and about themselves, even following Him from town to town. The crowd was impressed with Jesus, but he was not impressed by their attendance, their attention and their adulation because they were coming for the wrong reasons and with the wrong motivation.

This parable is also recorded in Matthew 13 and Mark 4, but Luke’s gospel uniquely emphasized that the seeds are trampled upon before the birds feed on them. Busy pedestrians, durable footwear and heavy traffic spell their doom. They don’t have a slim chance, but no or zero chance of survival. The seed is crushed and flattened in no time. Fertilizer, water and tender loving care won’t help the seed that was on the ground or pavement. They become food for the wild in no time. If birds do not swoop down and gobble up, snakes, insects, rodents and ants would compete for scraps and complete the job.

A lot of people come to church for information but not intake. They are in-house but not in fellowship. These folks are continually seeking but not finding, interested, but not inspired. They do not comprehend the word of God, have no conviction in their heart and are not converted in their soul. Before they reach the point of belief, confession and salvation, the devil takes away the word from their heart. The devil does not tempt unbelievers more than believers, but the devil easily overpowers those with low aim, little interest and lame excuses.

The seeds on concrete floor have no sign of life, no chance to survive and no hope for cultivation. Even a small crack in the ground won’t help the seed’s growth. Vegetation, moss and wildflowers would be too happy to fill the space.

The devil does not want unbelievers to belong to Christ, to believe in Christ or to be like Christ. He wants them to have one foot in the door and the other outside, to listen with one ear and come out the other, to be present in body but absent in spirit.

Be Steadfast in Spirit
6 Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. (Lk 8:6)
13 Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. (Lk 8:13)

Once, my wife was so excited that she had purchased a giant abalone in a Chinese supermarket for the bargain price of $2.99. It was wrapped in red plastic except for a see-through oval-shaped front that had the abalone sticking out teasingly. On the way home she thought out loud about using the abalone for soup.

A college-age nephew who was in the car with us asked, “Are you sure it is for soup?” He recalled drinking a blend of abalone, seafood and chicken soup his grandmother served him during Chinese New Year. The soup was perfect until his grandmother decided to add flour-made fish maw (hua jiao). He ended his story with the comment: “The soup was like glue.”

Doris hurriedly turned to the instructions on the plastic wrapper packet that read “Slice and serve cold” and - the last words and manufacturer suggestion on the wrapper - “Please do not boil.” It turned out that she bought fake or imitation abalone, merely expensive flour that will dissolve in hot soup!

The seeds that fell on the rock and the seeds that fell among thorns represent people who inspire false hope but have unfulfilled potential. These people are shallow, soft and spineless - they cannot stand the heat, pressure and opposition.

According to Matthew 13:5 and Mark 4:5, the seeds that fell on rock or, better still, rocky places have no water or root. Not only do the seeds have no water, they do not even have “moisture” (v 6). This is the only time the Greek word “moisture” is used in the Scriptures. Without water, even cactus would die, as my wife found out with her cactus.

The seeds on rocky soil represent people who fall away in time of testing. They have inspiration but no internalization. These rootless people have emotional exuberance and support in the plenty but no personal belief or decision in the least. These people, the Chinese say, are “hot for 3 minutes,” but when tests arise, their emotions fan out, their feelings waver about and their passion dies down. When they are high, they break records; when they are low, they bottom out. Unfortunately, their highs were no match for their lows. Matthew 13:21 and Mark 4:17 use clearer words in place of “temptation” – both have the Greek words “tribulation and persecution.” Tribulation is outside pressure, but persecution is the inflicted pain.

The seeds do not “fall away” (v 13) either when temptation comes; the Greek version “walk away” or “depart” or “leave” is better. The same word describes Anna, who never departed from the temple (Luke 2:37), and the devil leaving Jesus after failing to tempt Him (Luke 4:13). People who naively believe that Christianity is a bed of roses walk out the moment they discover that roses have thorns.

Another type of seed that does not make the passing grade and is way short of its potential is the seed that fell on thorns or weeds. There is no biblical word for the word “weeds” in the New Testament:
Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants.
(Luke 8:7)
The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. (Luke 8:14)

Someone said, “90% of the Christian life is survival.” Three things choke the life out of an unconverted seeker: anxiety, affluence and amusement.

The seed that fell among the thorns are choked by the worries (v 14) of this life, worries of the world and its age. This type of people worries about having less and not having enough to pay the bills. There is an old saying that: “Worry is an old man with bended head, carrying a load of feathers which he thinks are lead.” The fear is scarier than the reality.

Another chokehold to the seed is riches (v 14), or according to Matthew 13:22 and Mark 4:19 - the deceitfulness of riches or wealth. The word deceit can also mean delusion. Banking on riches is as reliable as chasing a mirage, as skating on thin ice and standing on one leg.

The next obstacle is pleasure (v 14), or the word hedone, from which the word “hedonism” is coined, or the pursuit of pleasure as the only chief good in life. Mark 4:19 uses another phrase, “the lust of other things.” This type of people fall prey to the Playboy lifestyle, the Hollywood night life and the Las Vegas way of life.

Worries, riches and pleasures do not mature a person. The Greek word for “mature” (v 14) is unique to Luke not found elsewhere in the Bible; “teles-phoreo” comes from two words in Greek: “carry” and “end.” Mature means carrying things to its completion and not stopping halfway. Sadly, worries, riches and pleasures more than slow a person’s growth; they stop, stunt, stifle, strangle and suffocate it.

Weeds grow where they are not wanted and they choke plants. “Choke” is more than just strangling; it means drowning and killing. The same word was used for the pigs rushing down the banks that were drowned (Luke 8:33). Weeds are an annoyance to a house-owner, an eyesore to the eyes and an irritant to the nose. They deprive plants of sunlight, water, nutrients, space and yield. The only option is to pull them, mow them, burn them, spray them and kill them. Leaving them alone decreases your property value, endangers those playing nearby and cause for fire hazards. The longer you wait, the deeper they grow and the harder to pull.

Be Solid in Substance
8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.” When he said this, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”(Lk 8:8)
15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.(Lk 8:15)

A woman bought a parrot to keep her company but returned it the next day. “This bird doesn't talk,” she told the owner. “Does he have a mirror in his cage?” he asked. “Parrots love mirrors. They see their reflection and start a conversation.” The woman bought a mirror and left.

The next day she returned; the bird still wasn't talking. “How about a ladder? Parrots love ladders. A happy parrot is a talkative parrot.” The woman bought a ladder and left.

But the next day, she was back. “Does your parrot have a swing? No? Well, that's the problem. Once he starts swinging, he'll talk up a storm.” The woman reluctantly bought a swing and left.

When she walked into the store the next day, her countenance had changed. “The parrot died,” she said. The pet store owner was shocked. “I'm so sorry. Tell me, did he ever say a word?” he asked. “Yes, right before he died,” the woman replied. “In a weak voice, he asked me, 'Don't they sell any food at that pet store?'” (Leadership, Fall 1996)

The last type of soil is about people who are fruitful soil and primed for growth. They are the wonder soil, the miracle growth and a gardener’s pride. There is no shortage of hearers but not listeners and receptors of the word. There is no shortage of preachers either. It’s been noted that every Sunday 400,000 preachers mount the pulpit.

The word “hear” occurs nine times in the parable (vv 8, 8 10 12 13 14 15 18 21). Genuine hearing leads to retention. The word “retain” (v 15) means keep or hold fast or unswervingly (Heb 10:23). It has nothing to do with how much a person knows, but how deep it grows and penetrates.

A growing Christian listens to the word of God with a fitting attitude, a responsive mind and a hearing ear. Unfortunately, many people are dull of hearing. They think they are being lectured, they have heard it before and they know what the next point is. The parable, ironically, tells us the responsibility for growth is on the hearer, not the sower. As communication experts say, “The hearer is responsible for 51% of the message.” The hearer is responsible to bear fruit, not merely grow branches, leaves, or flowers. Bearing fruit means changed behavior and transformed lives.

Fruit is hard to bear but waiting is worthwhile. Trees take a few years to bear fruit - peach in two years, apple in three, pear in four - but its supply is for twenty to fifty good years.

Conclusion: The devil loves believers who are clueless, high maintenance and on life support. Are you “honest to goodness soil?” How receptive are you to the word of God? Are you rooted and grounded in God’s word Do you receive it in good faith, retain it in good measure and reproduce it in good time? What are the things that disrupt proper intake, interrupt normal growth and corrupt good behavior in your life? It’s been said, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Why don’t you start today?

Discussion Questions (Contributed by Daniel Hung)
1. Why were “a large crowd” and people “from town after town” (v4) gathering around Jesus? Do people come to church today for similar reasons?
2. Why did Jesus quote from Isaiah 6:9 before explaining the parable? How can this be - “though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand”?
3. In the parable, the four types of soil represent four different scenarios after a person hears the word of God. If you were a good “sower”, how would you attempt to treat the first three types of soils so that they may “produce a crop” (v15)?
4. How many times does the word “hear” appear in the parable? How should one “hear” in order to bear fruits?

Reflection Question
1. What type of soil are you? Can you recall any instances when you are changed by hearing God’s word? How did it happen and why?


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