Grow Spiritually

Reflection: considering the parable of the four soils


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 ate it up. 6 Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”

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. 13 Those on the rocky ground 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. 14 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. 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.

Luke 8:4-8; 11-15

Q. As you reflect on this teaching from Jesus, how are you challenged and encouraged?

Q. “A farmer went out to sow his seed.” What are all the ways you could have access to God’s Word? Are there any changes you ought to make so that you would be positioned better to hear God’s Word?

Q. The path represents those people who hear God’s Word, but their heart is too hard to let the truth sink in. On a scale of 1 to 10, how hard is your heart? Why? What situations, people, or thoughts work to harden your heart?

Q. The rocky soil represents those people who hear God’s Word with joy, but their heart is too shallow to let the truth sink in and grow roots. At the first sign of trouble, they give up. On a scale of 1 to 10, how “rocky” is your heart? Why? What situations, people, or thoughts work to make you give up on your faith?

Q. The thorny soil represents those people who hear God’s Word, but their heart is too distracted by worry and riches. Good actions grow, but are choked up by the thrones. On a scale of 1 to 10, how distracted is your heart? Why? What situations, people, or thoughts work to choke out the good things in your life?

Q. Consider the first three soils from a positive point of view. What can you do to soften your heart? How can you better persevere and outlast the difficult times? How can you have a greater focus on Jesus?

Q. Do you know anyone with a heart that is “hard,” “shallow,” or choked by “thorns?” How can you encourage that person?

Inward life Leadership

Three Warnings From Jesus

Jesus taught the crowd: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (Luke 12:1)

A little yeast, when worked through the entire dough, radically transforms the bread.

The yeast of the Pharisees was hypocrisy. Some of the things they said weren’t true, they lacked a consistency believers ought to have. Presumably they had a “Do as I say, not as I do” mentality.

In this short and simple teaching from Jesus, there are several warnings:

Hypocrisy is contagious. It is a lesson easily learned, because short cuts require less work. The hypocrite thinks, “I can just pretend to be good without actually needing to be good.” Hypocrisy is persistent because one hypocrite rarely exposes another, because they fear the same exposure. This is a network of relationships that says, “Let’s All Lie Together.” Hypocrisy is contagious and we must guard against it.

Sin is powerful (so is foolishness). Like yeast, it only takes a little to radically change the dynamic of the whole. You don’t need to lie ninety nine percent of the time for it to damage your life, 1 or 2 percent will lead to epic destruction in your relationships. For the Pharisees, their yeast was hypocrisy. However, I’m certain there are many “kinds” of yeast. What is one of your struggles, if it’s not hypocrisy? Gossip? Indulgence? Laziness? Pride?

Consider one more warning: the Pharisees were leaders in their communities. You may not be a formal leader in the church, but what are you passing on to others? Even the best parents pass along bad habits to their kids. Spiritually speaking, what is the “yeast” in your life that others need to look out for? Jesus was clearly teaching the crowd, “Don’t be hypocritical like the Pharisees.” Jesus is also calling us to keep careful watch over our influence.

Three Warnings:

Watch out for the negative influences, specifically hypocrisy.
Identify your personal “yeast,” if it’s not hypocrisy.
Be careful of what you are passing along.

Discipleship Downloads

His Name is Jesus



My wife and I have had five children, all boys. Before each one was born, we had lengthy discussions about their name. For every child, I made an argument to name him MAGNUS. It’s unique. It’s Latin for magnificent. His nickname could be Gnus (pronounced, Guh-nus) and everything would be awesome.

Needless to say, I never got my way.


How to find Significance This Season

The Christmas season is in full gear! The decorations are out, houses lit up, eggs are being nogged, and the fruitcakes are in the mail.

For me, over the years, I’ve discovered that I can get so busy WITH Christmas that I loose sight of the reason FOR Christmas. I have to be intentional with slowing down to make sure Jesus remains front and center. Rather than just surviving the season, what if we made it a goal to pursue significance?

Message Notes (PDF): how-to-find-significance

Inward life

Confidence or presumption

Scripture says:

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

And scripture also says:

“Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.” (Luke 7:6)

Great faith walks the line between confidence and presumption.

Confidence is grounded in Jesus, in his sacrificial love that has graciously granted us access to God’s presence. Presumption is grounded in our actions and good deeds. It believes that God owes us something. However, assuming that God owes us anything is too much presumption.

Confidence enters God’s presence seeking mercy and grace. Presumption calls God to us in order that he might give us what we want.

God’s blessings are a gift, evidence of God’s infinite mercy and grace that he freely offers us through his Son Jesus.

God’s love is so great, so complete, so perfect, that we can’t gain any more…or lose it. God is love, and he acts independently from our actions.

We are not good enough on our own, but this reality does not undermine our confidence. Quite the opposite! Our imperfection can move us to rely more on his perfection.

We are called to be obedience, but our faithfulness should not lead to entitlement. God is not a holy vending machine controlled by prayers, personal devotions, and other good works.

Our disappointments with God can reveal our presumptions. When we become aware of them we are presented with an opportunity. At this crossroad we can uproot these selfish weeds or we can feed them and watch them grow into the unhealthy fruit of presumption.

Inward life

So, what are you waiting for?

Anticipation is powerful. It sharpens our focus, helping us to ignore the irrelevant and look for what’s important. Expectation get’s us ready for what’s next. Waiting is often a necessary prelude for change.

Everyone lives with some degree of anticipation. Every morning we get out of bed with some kind of anticipation, we are expecting something to happen. We may want to do the minimum possible just to get by or we may want to climb Mount Everest Barefoot–but we all want something.

Excellent Waiting is a dual headed discipline:. We must learn to wait. And. We must learn to wait for the right things. It is not easy to ignore the alluring cry of instant gratification and we often want something that eventually ends up being self-destructive.

“Then [Jesus] rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.” (Luke 4:20-21)


In this narrative we discover something worth waiting for: hearing God speak. God is speaking to us: through his Word, through the Spirit, and through others . . . but sometimes we need to wait.

Some of us are waiting for approval from someone we admire or want to impress. We look forward to entertainment, diversion from the reality. We might be looking forward to success or power or getting the next Thing.

Let’s commit to waiting for Jesus, forcing all other anticipations to become less important.

Inward life

Do your duty! (just don’t be legalistic about it)

You might not be comfortable with thinking about your faith in terms of duty. I get it. Obligation isn’t a pretty word.

Jesus told a parable:

Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, “Come along now and sit down to eat”? Would he not rather say, “Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink”? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say: “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.”

The Bible is clear:

  • We are called to friendship with God (John 15:15).
  • We are called into God’s family, he is our Father, the one we can call “daddy” (Romans 8:15).
  • The God we worship understands everything about us because he was tempted as we are, but did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

There is great hope in these teachings: God is our friend, father, sympathizer. In these, there is also a subtle danger: careless familiarity.

This attitude towards God can lead to a entitled view of God’s grace. We don’t watch our lives too carefully because we know we’ll be forgiven. Additionally, from this flawed faith can spring a casual worship, one that lacks the reverence God deserves. Finally, when we are “just friends” with God, obedience to his commands can take a back row seat in regards to our priorities.

Every believer owes a duty to God, and this obligation isn’t an unspiritual thing. Legalism is unspiritual.  Jesus taught against legalism (on several occasions, but for one, check out Matthew 23). Isaiah also spoke out against legalism:

“So then, the word of the Lord to them will become: Do this, do that, a rule for this, a rule for that; a little here, a little there— so that as they go they will fall backward; they will be injured and snared and captured.

There is an important difference between duty and legalism, and it is found in the heart of the servant of God.

DUTY is a response to grace, LEGALISM is the attempt to earn it.

DUTY leads to fulfillment, LEGALISM leads to entitlement.

LEGALISM springs from guilt, DUTY is birthed in gratitude.

Do the good things due God, but do them for the right reasons. “For we are unworthy servants…”


Inward life

How do I know when I’ve ignored God’s Word?

And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time. (Luke 1:20)

Let’s start with the obvious. In this narrative, we see some very tangible and unusual consequences for not believing God’s words.

Most consequences for disobedience (ignoring God) are simple cause and effect, easily predictable. Choose to lust and you’ll ruin your attitude towards the opposite sex. Choose to gossip and you’ll never really connect with others and eventually be known as untrustworthy. Choose to not believe God and you’ll live by your own power and be distanced from God.

Back to this narrative. Reading it makes me wonder if I’ve blatantly ignored God’s voice and have suffered unusual consequences. I remember learning this principle for interpretation in school: “narrative isn’t normative.” An event in history isn’t an eternal principle that applies to every context.

After all, Jesus once fell asleep on a cushion on a boat (Mark 4:38), does that mean we must always do the same when we are on a boat? Maybe we’re supposed to only do this when we are on a boat while in a storm…

Certainly we can learn from this event: I don’t want the same mistake he did!

The words he didn’t believe were words about the future, a future that was hard to accept… but if it was easy to believe, God wouldn’t have sent an angel.

For Zachariah, the angel left no question about the following: (a) what would happen (silence), (b) why it happened (unbelief), and (c) how long it would last (until the original words came true).

Finally, the words he didn’t believe came to him in a spectacular way. Holy Smokes (literally), an angel appeared to him while he in the Holy of Holies!

After looking a little deeper at this event, I don’t think anything like this has happened to me…although I know I’ve definitely ignored God too many times in the past! To be sure, when God speaks, I want to respond with, “SPEAK LORD, YOUR SERVANT IS LISTENING.”


When you clearly hear from God, and it’s not what you are expecting, what is your first response? When was the last time you were told what you didn’t want to hear?

How do you normally hear God speak? How do you know what he wants?

How many of your daily decisions–both small and large–are influenced by what God wants?

Inward life

broken or crushed

Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed. (Luke 20:18)

The stone is Jesus. And his use of the words everyone and anyone makes this simple teaching apply to all humans.

This promise from Jesus makes it clear that we have a choice, to either be broken by Jesus, or crushed by him.

Faith in Jesus–God’s only Son, the one who died for the sins of the world and defeated death– means surrender. When we enter his family, we lay down our rebellion, we must break open our hard hearts and shatter our towering egos. The other option is to be crushed, to spend eternity without him.

The experience of surrender is on-going. Every one who has followed Jesus for a significant amount of time can tell you the many stories of their surrender. To be mature is to be repeatedly broken and humbled before Jesus.

It is easy to forget this, especially once we take a few steps of faith and begin to see the fruits of our obedience. We are quick to take back credit from God. Success often takes us off our knees. In the beginning, it is slow. We compare our strength to the weakness of others. In the times that we are weak, we make excuses, rationalizing our disobedience. Ultimately, we stop glorifying God. We rarely confess our sins, and with this mindset, we stop trusting in God for strength and guidance. At this point in the journey, we are able to fake an outward appearance of spirituality. And while we may be praised by others, we quietly know the truth. Self sufficiency leads to great emptiness.

We must watch our lives closely, always ready to surrender the next thing to be broken and not crushed by Jesus.

What was it like, the first time you were broken by Jesus? When was the last time you were surrendered, has it been too long?
When do you compare yourself to others so that your own life looks good?
When was the last time you struggled in your faith, the kind of struggle with God that you lost?
How well can you fake your faith to others? With whom can you be real and authentic and share your struggles?