The message I delivered to folks living in a 55+ community:
Today is the first Sunday in Lent, that period in the Christian calendar during which God gives His children an opportunity to reflect perhaps more deeply, and with greater focus on Christ’s Passion, crucifixion, and His resurrection. An opportunity to start a new pattern – one that will draw us closer to our God and Savior.
This is not to say we cannot reflect on these things at any other time of the year, but Lent is given to us as a time of reminder – 40 days of reminder – that we can start anew, afresh. We can start to do better.
The Lenten season began a few days ago on Ash Wednesday. We are now in our fourth day of this seasonal march toward Good Friday and, ultimately, Resurrection Sunday – better known as Easter. And if nothing else, this season serves as an annual reminder—much like Christmas serves as an annual reminder of our Savior’s birth – this season reminds us of our very, very fragile humanity, that we are dust, and to dust we will return. Therefore, it is critical that we greatly value the many ongoing opportunities God gives us to repent and believe – that is, to obey – the gospel of Jesus Christ.
My text for today is a continuation of last week’s message rooted in the Lord’s Parable of the Sower, or also known as the Parable of the soils.
For those who missed last week’s message, here is the text: “Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Greek imperative: Listen! Hear!) (Matthew 13:3-9)
The Lord then explained the parable this way: “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.” (Matthew 13:19-23)
Remember, the ‘seed’ is the word of God. The Sower is anyone who faithfully, honestly, and truthfully preaches, teaches, or writes it down to be read by others. When I say the Sower is anyone who faithfully scatters the seed, I mean that the Sower understands and completely embraces the truth that the word of God is fully inerrant – meaning it is without error in theology, history, science, geography, math – without error in ANYTHING to which it speaks. The faithful Sower also embraces the truth that God's word is completely infallible – that it cannot ever be wrong about anything. Finally, the faithful Sower believes the scriptures are 100% fully inspired – or “God-breathed.” Every chapter. Every verse. Every line. All breathed out by almighty God.
If anyone teaches anything contrary to those essential points about the Bible, such a person is a false teacher, leading God's children astray. Such false teachers are children of Satan and, as St Paul wrote to the church at Galatia concerning such people: Let them be accursed. You’ll find that holy invective in the first chapter of Galatians.
Last week we looked at the first two soils – the one by the side of the road, and the one without much soil depth. Now, on this first Sunday of Lent, we will examine the rest of this Soils parable: “And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.”
Mark records Jesus to say this about the seed sown among the thorns: “[T]hese are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” (Mark 4:8)
This seed on this soil becomes unfruitful in our lives and in our life-story. And I hope we will all take time to imagine what it will be like to stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ to receive our reward for what we did for Christ in this life. (2 Corinthians 5:10)
How easily we can become distracted with the temporary and rapidly passing affairs of life. The Holy Spirit tells us through St James: “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. (James 4:13-14)
And the Lord Jesus tells all with ears to hear: “[D]o not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life.” (Matthew 6:25-27)
And then dropping down several verses, the Lord continues: Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (verses 31-34)
And yet, that is all we do – most of us, anyway – worry about tomorrow and how WE will take care of tomorrow – as if it all depends on us and our skills and our resources.
Listen – I’m the same way. I don’t like being that way, and I confess the smallness of my faith so that anyone of you who feel inadequate in such things will know that you are not alone. THAT is why we continue to pray and seek His help in more fully trusting Him.
But look again at that parable that speaks about the worries of the world – worries that have to do with the serious political and social evils in the world in which we live. Economies melting down. Have you been to the supermarket or gas pumps lately? And our Constitutional protections of speech and religion and to own weapons to protect ourselves and our loved ones – freedoms we as Americans have always enjoyed since the 1700s are now rapidly eroding under the approving eyes of our elected and unelected leaders.
Institutions we once thought inviolable are routinely violated. Look at the sanctity of human life, as only one dreadful example. What once was considered murder when innocent life was destroyed is now protected by American law – and hardly anyone anymore blinks an eye to know that every day in America 2300 babies are slaughtered in their mother’s womb. Every day. Day after today. Throughout the month and around the calendar. More than 65 MILLION slaughtered babies since the 1973 Supreme Court decision allowing such rampant murder.
What about marriage? What once was throughout human history a covenant between a man and a woman, is now open to whatever we want it to be and between whomever we want it to be.
And one might be tempted to worry that things are falling apart in our nation. But please pay attention to this: Things are NOT falling apart. They are simply falling into place as the Almighty Sovereign King of the universe brings history to its prophesied and pre-ordained conclusion.
Yes, Americans still have the privilege to vote – and vote we MUST do according to godly principles. That means casting ballots AGAINST every politician who supports abortion and/or same-sex marriage. Nevertheless, and as the Scriptures tell us, “The lot (equivalent to rolling dice) – the lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” (Provers 16:33).
And Solomon’s wrote: “The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil. (16:4) And Proverbs 21:1,“The king’s heart is like streams of water in the hands of the Lord. He turns it wherever He chooses.” And these words from the apostle Paul also are ever true – even in 2023: “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” (Romans 9:17)
That means when votes are stolen, even when elections are stolen – do we believe Almighty God is absolutely, ABSOLUTELY sovereign in all and every situation and circumstance – even when evil triumphs for a while? Or do we believe He is sovereign only some of the time?
The Lord Jesus is telling us – and me, too – do NOT let the worries of this life rob you of the privilege and the opportunities God gives you – even here in Ashwood Meadows and at your ages and your health status – don’t let the worries of life rob you of productivity in bearing fruit for the Lord. Cast your vote – and trust God to do what He has ALREADY ORDAINED will happen.
And may the Holy Spirit ever remind us of the Psalmist’s words: “O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; Nor do I involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me. Surely, I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forever.” (Psalm 131)
Ok, enough about the worries of the world. But the Lord also spoke of the deceitfulness of riches and the desire for other things that enter into our lives and choke out the word and its ability to bear fruit in our lives for the Lord.
As I said earlier, imagine what it will be like to stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ to receive our rewards for what we did for Christ in this life, and all we have to offer Him is a list of places we visited, the vacations we took, the cars and homes and furnishings and clothing we bought. Oh! How embarrassed, how ashamed so many Christians will be at that judgment. DO NOT LET THAT BE YOUR STORY. I mean, just think this through: How much of the ‘stuff’ you accumulated over the years ended up in the dumpster, or given away to strangers, or sold for pennies on the dollar before you moved here? And how much of the ‘stuff’ you now have in your apartments will end up in the same way?
Which brings us to the last soil – the fruitful soil, the soil in which the seed found fertile ground, a willing heart to be a slave of Jesus Christ, to go where He sends, to stay when He said ‘stay,’ to give when He said give, to speak when He said speak and to keep silent when He said be silent.
THIS is the soil of eternal value, soil that produces 100, or 60, or even 30-fold. So, the question we all should be asking ourselves is this: How do we do become and remain fruitful for God?
It should first go without saying that to be fruitful for Him we must first be ‘IN’ Him. We must, must, must daily obey His commandments and daily repent to Him when we break any of His commandments. We also must, must, must build our spiritual houses on the Rock – that Rock is nothing else than His holy word. We find that commandment in the last verses of the Sermon on the Mount: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.” (Matthew 7:23-27)
Certainly, God has not called everyone to preach or to teach the gospel message. But He has given everyone talents and skills and resources useful to the Kingdom. Listen! Did you know God can still use YOU to change lives, to bear fruit for Him and His kingdom – even at our advanced ages and fragile health?
There are Christian missionaries to support. And what about Christian organizations that feed children with food for their stomachs and food for their souls? And the Christian groups that bring free medical and dental care to those in this country and oversees? What about the organizations that rush aid to areas devastated by natural and man-made disasters? These are only a few of the worthy organizations we can support with our dollars as well as our prayers.
Can you afford ten dollars a month? Or thirty? Fifty? Some of you cannot. God knows that. But some of you can. And God knows that, too.
But some might ask, “What can ten dollars do?” To answer that question, think of the five loaves and two fish a little boy gave to Jesus.
Time is so very short, isn’t it? Do you remember any events in your past that occurred forty, fifty, even sixty years ago? I do. And in retrospect, sometimes it seems some of those events of decades past occurred only a few weeks ago. THAT is how quickly our lives pass. As I quoted a few minutes ago from St James’ epistle, ‘our lives are only a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes.’
Before I close, I must say this: Anyone with softened hearts can move from bad soil to good. That means if our soil has become hard, if it has overgrown with the weeds of worry and neglect – once we recognize it and confess our failure to God – God is PLEASED, PLEASED to break up our fallow ground and make it productive, even in our waning years.
Consider the poor widow who put into the Temple treasury her two pennies. Jesus told His disciples, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.” (Luke 21:3-4) And where the gospel is preached in the entire world, what she did is spoken of as an example to all who long to be fruitful for Christ.
Do not think for a moment that when we offer ourselves, our time, our talent, our treasure to Jesus for His use it to bear fruit for His kingdom – some 100-fold, some 60, and some 30.
What kind of soil do you want to be? What kind of soil do I want to be? I know the answer you will give is the same that I would answer – we want to be fruitful for Christ while we still can be fruitful. As the Lord Jesus warned, “Night is coming when no one can work.” (John 9:4)
This Lenten season, as we move toward Resurrection Sunday, God gives us the choice to DAILY reflect on who we are IN Christ and how we can grow more fruitful FOR Christ. The parable of the soils can serve as a guide along our Lenten journey – our LIFE journey – toward the gates of heaven. May God the Holy Spirit make it so.