The Strategic Parable of the Soil

11“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. 12Those 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. 13Those 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. 14The 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. 15But 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 8:4-15).

What I love about God’s Word is that there is often more than one way to interpret it. Often, Jesus speaks on two levels, for example, on the cellular level and the organism level. While we should receive it at the cellular level, we can also look at it from a strategic sowing and harvesting level of area, state or country. We have been commanded by our Lord to preach the Gospel to the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and the end will not come until the job has been done (Matthew 24:14). People resources and financial resources should not be spent on trying to raise a harvest on pathway soil, ground that will bring little return on the investment. Strategic thinking is required to find good soil.

Any good farmer will test the pH level of the soil to find out if it will grow what he wishes to plant. Let me illustrate what I mean. When I worked as a commercial fisherman with my father, we wouldn’t go hunting in the summer for the small fish called sprats. There were only certain times of the year that the sprats would school together in huge numbers. It was not strategic or pragmatic to put sprat nets on our gear and try to catch them. The times and the seasons determined the kind of investment to catch the fish. C. Peter Wagner uses the illustration of an apple farm:

“Suppose I have an apple farm with three fields. In the first field the apples are so ripe that one worker can reap five bushels in one hour. In the second field, only a few have ripened and it would take five hours just to reap one bushel. In the third are no ripe apples at all. I have 30 workers to send out to pick apples. Where to send them is not a difficult decision. I would not send all 30 into the first field where the apples are ripe, but I would send 29. I would ask the other worker to go into the second field and pick as many apples as possible, but frequently to travel over to the third field as well. When this worker returns, I do not expect to see a great number of apples. In this case, I am more interested in information than apples. Through this person I will know when the other apples ripen, and on that basis redeploy my work force. The harvest determines the quantity of workers employed.”[1]

Timing and location are important in bringing in the harvest. Countries and regions go through seasons of fruitfulness. Don’t misunderstand me. There are people in all countries ready to receive the Word of God and come to Christ, but revivals are often due to something that God is doing in a region or country. The Church of Christ needs to look strategically as to where God is working, where the field is ripe. Let me give you an example. Argentina was hard pathway soil that was trusting in its leadership council in the early 1980s. All that changed when the military leadership sent an invasion force to capture the Malvinas Islands or Falkland Islands from the British. Maggie Thatcher, the British Prime Minister, sent the British forces down to the South Atlantic, and after several battles, recaptured the Falklands with the loss of many lives.

The Argentine national pride was humbled, and with it, a loss of trust in their leaders. God said, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land…” (2 Chronicles 7:14). The humbling of the Argentine people was used of the Lord to turn hard pathway soil to good, rich growing soil. A huge turning to Evangelical Christianity and a massive revival took place! Political situations are used by the Lord to create conditions of a ripening of the soil. God is working by His Spirit everywhere, and history shows us vast moves of the Spirit at different times and places, changing the spiritual climate of those countries.

Some people and countries are tested not by trials, but prosperity. They are lulled to sleep by pursuit of pleasure and do not see their need of Christ, so they do not give Him place in their heart. The Word of God is forgotten, replaced by worldly perspectives. For the most part here in the United States, our soil condition is one of weeds. Fruitfulness is in the soil, but the weeds choke out growth. Our adversary, the devil, pushes hard to transform the culture into one of deception and evil, but I sense that God, out of His mercy, will not allow our complacency to continue! I believe that there will be conditions, situations, and events that will turn the spiritual tide for these United States in order to create the right conditions for a massive harvest among people today, especially our youth.

The USA saw a huge growth in the church during the Jesus movement in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It is time for another move of God, and we need to be ready to receive new believers by being disciples ourselves in order to disciple others and be those who are fruitful. Let us look at the ground of our own hearts and make sure that there are no weeds of bitterness or unforgiveness and deal with any hardness or unbelief.

Keith Thomas. Taken from the Luke studies in the middle column, Number 16, The Parable of the Soil.

[1] Strategies for Church Growth, C. Peter Wagner, Published by Regal Books. Page 65.

Did You Respond to the Invitation?

As a professional singer, it was not unusual to be asked to sing for a wedding, but it was a bit unusual to sing for the wedding of a millionaire. I knew the wedding would be picture-perfect and was pleased to be able to participate, but when the invitation to the reception arrived I knew it would be something exceptional.

The reception was held on the top two floors of Seattle’s Columbia Tower, the Northwest’s tallest skyscraper, and it was even more wonderful than I imagined. There were waiters wearing snappy black tuxedos who offered luscious hor d’oeuvres and exotic beverages for the most discriminating tastes. The atmosphere was one of grace and sophistication. After about an hour of merriment the bride and groom approached a beautiful glass and brass staircase that led to the top floor. A satin ribbon, which was draped across the bottom of the stairs, was cut and the announcement made that the wedding feast was about to begin. The bride and groom ascended the stairs and the guests followed. What a lavish event of which to be a part.

A gentleman with a lovely bound book greeted us as we reached the top of the stairs. “May I have your name please?” “I am Ruthanna Metzgar and this is my husband, Roy Metzgar,” I replied. The gentleman searched the Ms. “I’m not finding it. Would you spell it please?” I spelled it slowly and clearly. After searching throughout the book the gentleman looked up and said, “I’m sorry, but your name is not here. Without your name in this book you cannot attend this banquet.” “Oh, there must be some mistake,” I replied. “I am the singer. I sang for this wedding!” The gentleman calmly answered, “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you did, without your name in the book you cannot attend this banquet.” As I looked around the room I thought briefly of running to the groom and trying to plead my case, but with a hundred guests on the stairs behind us and every place at the tables assigned according to the thoughtful choices of the bride and groom, I stood silent.

The gentleman with the book motioned to a waiter and said, “Show these people to the service elevator please.” We followed the waiter past beautifully decorated tables laden with shrimp, whole smoked salmon, even gracefully carved ice sculptures. And adjacent to the banquet area was an orchestra, its members all dressed in dazzling white tuxedos, preparing to fill the room with glorious music.We were led to the service elevator, stepped in, and the waiter himself pushed “G” for garage. My husband, thoughtfully, did not say a word, nor did I. As Roy drove out of the Columbia Tower garage, we both remained silent. After driving several miles in silence, Roy reached over and gently put his hand on my arm. “Sweetheart, what happened?”And then I remembered: “When the invitation arrived for the reception I was very busy and I never bothered to return the RSVP. Besides, I was the singer, surely I could go to the reception without returning the RSVP!”

As we drove on I began to weep. I was not weeping because I had just missed the most lavish banquet of my life, but I was weeping because suddenly I knew what it will be like someday for people as they stand before the entrance of heaven: People who were too busy to respond to Christ’s invitation to His heavenly banquet. People who assumed that the good things they had done, even perfect church attendance or singing in the choir, would be enough to gain entry to heaven. People who will look for their name in the Lamb’s Book of Life and not find it there. People who did not have time to respond to Christ’s gracious invitation to have their sins forgiven and accept Him into their hearts.

And then I wept again because I was so grateful that I had, many years earlier, received Christ as my personal Savior and can be confident that my name is written in the most important book of all: The Lamb’s Book of Life. Is Yours?

(Copyright Ruthanna Metzgar, excerpted in Heaven, by Randy Alcorn.)

The God Over All Impossibilities

15God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. 16I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” 17Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” 18And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” 19Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him (Genesis 17:15-19).

Imagine what that was like when Abraham and Sarah had to tell their neighbors and friends that their names had now been changed to mother of princes and father of many with Abraham being 100 years old? Do you think they were ridiculed? Sometimes the people of God, in order to follow Him wholeheartedly, must endure ridicule in their walk of faith.

Moses, the person who wrote the Book of Genesis, spells it out plainly to us, the person leading the team of three is YHVH. In the English translation of the Bible, whenever the name LORD is capitalized, as it is in verse one, thirteen and fourteen, the Hebrew word is YHVH. We have added vowels to the name to help us to pronounce the name more clearly, making it JeHoVaH, or YaHVeH. YaHVeH says that He will return to them about the same time next year and that when He does, Sarah will be a mother to a son (v. 10).

Inside the tent, Sarah, when she heard the LORD say that she would be a mother at ninety years old, laughs within herself (Verse 12). She thinks of the impossibility of it all, a woman of ninety that is worn out with age and long past childbearing ability, and Abraham being even ten years older than her, how could this be possible? Inside her mind she laughs at the thought. She utters not a sound, but the Lord knows her thought. He asks Abraham:“Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” 15Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.” But he said, “Yes, you did laugh” (Genesis 1813-15).

God is omniscient, which is a word that means that He is all knowing. He knows all things in the universe and in all creatures at all time, whether it is something in the past, present or future. God knows them all perfectly. God’s knowledge is absolute and unacquired. He never has to learn anything. This is omniscience.

29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows (Matthew 10:29-31).

The writer, A.W. Tozer, has spoken of God’s omniscience in this way:

“God knows instantly and effortlessly all matter and all matters, all mind and every mind, all spirit and all spirits, all being and every being, all creature hood and all creatures, every plurality and all pluralities, all law and every law, all relations, all causes, all thoughts, all mysteries, all enigmas, all feelings, all desires, every unuttered secret, all thrones and dominions, all personalities, all things visible and invisible in heaven and in earth, motion, space, time, life, death, good, evil, heaven, and  hell.”[1]

This is an appearance of YaHVeH in human form that is visiting with Abraham along with two of His angels. Most scholars believe that this divine being that is talking with Abraham is the Lord Jesus before His birth by Mary. The Lord Jesus is revealed as the divine YaHVeH (John 1:1-3), who hears every thought, and knows all things:

30Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God” (John 16:30).

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you” (John 21:17).

There was a gentle rebuke about Sarah’s laugh of unbelief. How would you feel about hearing from a total stranger that you were going to have a baby next year, when you have been waiting for a baby all your married life? Oh yes, and now it is physically impossible, and you hear that it is going to happen at the age of ninety! Sarah realizes that this being called YaHVeh has heard her thought while in her tent—her laugh was not audible, and He is speaking about her personal future and the dream that she has waited for all this time! To realize that God knows her every thought is to also know that this same God can do anything. She is told by the messenger, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Verse 14). Whatever you are dealing with, know this; God understands your frustration, unbelief, and your struggles, and is aware of your thoughts. It does not stop Him from being able to provide the answer. Keith Thomas

[1] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York, Harper and Row, 1961) p.63.

The LORD Comes to Lunch With Abraham

1The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. 2Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground. 3He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. 4Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. 5Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.” “Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.” 6So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.” 7Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. 8He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree (Genesis 18:1-8).

It was a normal day for Abraham. The sun was getting high in the sky and it was hot (Verse 1). Abraham was sitting in the shade of his tent under or near the great trees of Mamre, with the view below him of the Jordan valley also known as the Dead Sea Valley. This was the day of Abraham and Sarah’s annunciation that they were going to finally have the baby that they had dreamt about. The good news would come from the Lord YHWH Himself. When we see the English word LORD used (v. 1), the Hebrew name of God, YHWH, is used in the text. Of course, Abraham did not realize that it was the LORD until later on in the afternoon. As soon as he saw the three men, YHWH and two angels, Abraham sprang into action and hurried from where he was sitting to meet them. He bowed low to these three strangers. Visitors to one’s home are a big deal. When the three men came to Abraham, he did not know why these men had come or who the men were that was visiting him. To Abraham these men were just strangers. The writer to the Hebrews in the New Testament, has something to say about the proper treatment of visitors:

2Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2).

Surely the writer to the Hebrews was thinking of the visit of the LORD and His angels in this passage that we are looking at.

Abraham insists that they sit down and rest under the shade of the trees, and that he will bring water to wash their dusty sandaled feet and also food, and then they can carry on their way (Verse 5). The visitors are pleased to stay awhile. It is a wonderful thought to think that the LORD of heaven and earth would come and eat and be refreshed by His people. How we all long for Jesus to come and eat with us! Of course, these visitors did not need the provisions Abraham was to bring them, but they stopped and ate for Abraham’s sake. It was Abraham who received what he needed that day. Notice that Abraham’s service to these strangers was all at a hurried pace (Verses 2 and 6). He was careful not to waste their time. But the Lord was pleased to wait for Abraham to be fulfilled in his service to the Lord. Think about the time it took Abraham to get this meal together. He hurried into the tent and got Sarah busy at kneading three seahs (about six gallons) of fine flour together. Then he ran (Verse 7) to the herd and got a choice, tender calf and a servant hurrying along to kill it, before preparing a fire and roasting it. How much time would it take to roast the calf and knead and bake the bread? At least two hours, I would think. Yet the LORD and His angels wait patiently while Abraham and Sarah serve Him wholeheartedly. How it should gladden our hearts that the Creator of the whole universe should come and have lunch with Abraham and Sarah. Keith Thomas

Circumcision, the Sign of the Covenant

We are continuing to meditate on the life of Abraham. The people of Israel were required by God to have a sign in their flesh that would remind them of their commitment to the covenant that they had entered into with God. Much as a wedding ring is an outward sign that a person had entered into a covenant with another, so a Hebrew man had a sign on his flesh that was forever with him to remind him of his commitment to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

9Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. 10This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. 12For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. 13Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant (Genesis 17:9-13).

Commentator R. Kent Hughes says this of the mark of circumcision:

“Significantly, circumcision involved Abraham’s powers of procreation—the area of life in which he had resorted to fleshly expediency—and had so failed. Man’s best plans and strength of will would never bring about the promise. For Abraham circumcision was an act of repentance and a sign of dependence upon God for the promise.”[1]

Abraham had tried to bring about God’s will and purpose through doing what he could do (as in the matter of Sarai’s servant girl, Hagar, giving birth to Ishmael), and had miserably failed. God was now showing that He alone could satisfy their every need and fulfill the vision that He had given them. Only He was God Almighty, the great El Shaddai. Abraham had listened to Sarai and tried to bring about the vision by their own means, but now it was time to listen to the Lord and do things His way. He was finally at rest and waiting for God to fulfill His Word and His promises, by doing things His way and in His timing.

Circumcision is a sign upon the flesh saying that the Jewish people are committed to following God’s way in God’s timing. Later on, in the New Testament, we see that circumcision became a matter of great controversy among believers in the early church. When non-Jews became believers, some argued that they should be circumcised as well. Paul argued that this was no longer necessary. His argument followed the reasoning that believers should be circumcised at the heart level, and not focus on that which is physical.

28A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God (Romans 2:28-29).

This is the Sabbath rest of faith. No more do we have to please God by signs on the outward skin of our commitment to keeping the way of the Lord. Now it is a matter of the inward heart. The Spirit leading and guiding us from within, not by a written code of trying to please God by the works of the flesh, but realizing that God has come down from heaven and satisfied all the demands of the Law. We please God from the heart, not from the flesh.  Paul’s teaching at this time was radical. Many who listened to him were offended. After all, had God not given the ritual of circumcision as a sign to them? In this case, the symbol had become all-important. Paul wanted them to see that it was a symbol of the truth that these new believers were already circumcised in their hearts, set apart though faith in Christ.

Thank God that we now have a new covenant, which has been sealed with Messiah’s blood.  He has given us what we need to be perfect and complete. When Christ died for our sanctification, circumcision was no longer required, as He is our sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30). Paul explained it well when he wrote: “For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Jesus Christ, and who put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3). Keith Thomas

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Genesis, Beginning and Blessing. Published by Crossway, Page 248.