In churches that celebrate the Reformation, we usually hear this verse thrown about at the annual religious shindig: “The righteous shall live by faith.” It’s a compact little creed. A good word.
When a big change happens in our lives, it takes some time for us to get used to whatever the “new normal” might be.
The experiment seemed like a cakewalk. “Watch this video,” the researcher said. “You’ll see two teams, one wearing white and one black. They’ll throw a ball back and forth. Count how many times the ball is passed by the team in white.”
Here’s what will happen. Maybe you’ve already been through it. Or maybe you’re living through it right now. I don’t know what will trigger it—I’m no prophet—but I do know, sooner or later, something will.
Jesus is always many things: always truthful, always faithful, always divine. But he is not always nice.
When someone says, “I don’t know how unbelievers make it through tough times without God in their lives," I’m always tempted to respond, “Well, it’s been in the toughest times of my life I wished God didn’t exist.”
All of us have at least three faces. There is the face we wear in public, the one our coworkers or fellow worshipers see. Beneath that outer face is the one we wear at home, around our spouse and children and perhaps close friends. And deeper still is a third face, the naked face, when we are alone, when no one sees us except God.
The sower went out to sow his seed. But you would have thought he blindfolded himself before he hit the fields because he sows his seed like a man who’s as blind as a bat. Look at him, this silly farmer! Recklessly, unpredictably, haphazardly he wanders over hill and dale, his hands casting seed from here to kingdom come. On asphalt and sand, among weeds and thorns, where soil is thick and thin, rich and poor—it matters not. For what concern does the farmer have where the seed may land?
He sows it on Sodom and four seeds take root—or is it three?—while the rest falls on rocky hearts destined for fire and brimstone. He sows it on Nineveh and over 120,000 seeds take root in the soil of repentant hearts. He sows it on Israel. In the Joshuas and Calebs and Rahabs and Moseses, the seeds find a home and grow; in others, the seeds find soil as soft as concrete, souls as hospitable as hell. He sows among the homosexuals of Sodom and gossiping widows of this town. He sows here and there and everywhere, preaching the Word in season and out of season, in the field and out of the field, embraced or rejected, scorned or loved.
When the sower went out to sow his seed, he dropped some into your heart. I wonder, will it take root, this seed of Christ, this seed of His grace and mercy. Will it take root, or has it? And if it has, will it remain? Will it take root in a heart like yours, a heart that is always eager to do good . . . so long at it’s pleasant and profitable for you; a heart that consistently rejects temptations . . . so long as the temptations are to do things you don’t really enjoy anyway; a heart that loves others . . . so long as they are nice to you, compliment you, and do what you want?
Will the seed of the Word remain in a heart like yours, a heart that loves a good story—a story that shows the weakness, failure, or stupidity of someone, especially if you don’t like that person anyway; a heart that keeps close tabs on how much money’s in the bank but pays little heed to how much the church floor is littered with the gold and silver of God’s Word, which you have let fall from your ears? Will the seed of Christ, the seed of His grace and mercy, take root in a heart like yours, a heart that is as clean as a manure pile and as fertile as a brick?
Repent. You know the truth as well as I do. You think that, compared to the hearts of hookers and thieves, yours is as clean as can be. You think the sower sowed his seed in you because he saw such good soil, such a good, generous, noble person. But that’s only the lie you love to believe, because it’s a lie that makes you feel good about yourself. Repent and believe. Believe the truth.
The truth is that when the sower sowed his seed in you, it fell on rock-hard soil; and where there weren’t rocks there were weeds; and where there weren’t weeds there were birds of the air waiting to devour it. But, lo and behold, the seed of God’s Word doesn’t look for good soil to fall into; it creates the soil for itself, no matter how rocky or how weed-infested your heart may be.
Jesus doesn’t look for the right kind of people to believe. He doesn’t scout out the best planting ground for His word. He simply sows, and His Word has its way with you. His Word—that Word of grace and absolution—transforms you, O sinner, into good ground. It is just as if a farmer sowed his seed on a Walmart parking lot one evening. By the time the sun rose, that concrete was rich soil. All that gray, lifeless stone was colored with blooms. A parking lot was transformed into a field of salvation. That’s what the Lord Jesus does to you and for you. He transforms your parking lot heart into a place for parking His Word, His Spirit, His body and blood, His divine life.
For the seed of His Word is packed with the flesh and blood of the Son, the Son dead and risen for you. It is packed with the life of the One who once was packed with your sin and death; packed with the bloody love of the One who chose to endure sacrifice rather than endure eternity without you; chose to be devoured by the demons, strangled by the weeds of justice, buried in the earth, that He might have and keep you as His own.
Humble yourself, therefore, under the nail-pierced hand of God, the hand that worked everything out for you. God sowed, you received. God changed your rock into soil; you received. God gave growth to His seed; you received. God keeps you in the faith, grants you daily forgiveness, and guarantees you heaven, and you—that’s right—you receive.
So rather than trusting in anything that we do, let us rest secure in the defense that God provides against all our foes. Be they the satanic fowl that seek to gobble up the Word; be they the thorns of cares, riches, and the pleasures of life; be they the burning sun of temptations; be what they may, come when they will, none of them will uproot the seed within you. It is defended by the sower, who never leaves His plant, who never forsakes you but for your sake plants Himself in you.
The sower went out to sow his seed. He sowed it in you, and when the harvest comes, he will find in you a crop, a hundredfold, ripened unto eternal life. Thanks be to God.
A man becomes a man by imitation of his father. There are other influences in a boy’s life, but none greater, or of more lasting consequence, than his dad. A father makes many choices in his life—the woman he marries, the career he pursues, the skills he fosters. But I remain convinced no decision matters more than what kind of man he will be to his children. They are his legacy. And if in the twilight years of a man’s life, he can look back and say, not that he has been a perfect father, but that he has been all the father he can be, then he will have lived a life worth living. Dad, for over four decades of your seventy-two years, you have been a father to me. I have no other, nor have I ever desired another. Like any man, I am full of weakness and strength, good and bad, but the strength residing in me, and the good I possess, I attribute to you. You shared stories from your own life, and the lives of others, from which I learned what to avoid, and what to embrace. The silent witness of your deeds has spoken volumes, and taught me more, than any university degree. Though I could never detail all the gifts of character I have learned from you, these three stand out, above all others, as the legacy you have bestowed.
From you, Dad, I learned that a man is truly a man when, as Ecclesiastes says, whatever his hand finds to do, he does it with all his might (9:10). At every job I’ve had, from a roofer to a pastor to a driver, people have remarked on how hard I work. No one has ever called me lazy, nor will they, for I am your son. I am not a workaholic, but when I labor, I labor from the heart—with diligence, energy, commitment to the best job I can do. Work is, in a sense, a sacred task, given by God. And in working hard we give glory to the One who, even before sin entered the world, gave Adam work to do in Eden.
From you, Dad, I learned that a man keeps going forward, even when he may want to give up. I have gone through some painfully dark times in my life—and life being what it is, will probably go through more—but I have never stopped pressing forward to what lies ahead. Perhaps we are both simply stubborn, and refuse to quit for that reason, but I believe it is something more, something deeper, and better. It is hope. You have never given up on me, never gave me a reason to doubt that I would make it through my darkness, no matter what. And that hope has kindled more hope, and lasting hope, within me.
From you, Dad, I learned that our God is a good, loving Father. From childhood I have known the Holy Scriptures, as Paul did (2 Timothy 3:15), for you took me to Sunday School, sat beside me in church, prayed at every meal, and witnessed in countless ways that God is good. My faith may not be able to move mountains, but it moves me forward through valleys of the shadow of death, moves me to love others, and moves me again and again into the arms of the Savior whose love, and sacrifice, I first learned from you.
A true, loving father is a gift every child desperately needs. I have had, and still have that, in you. And I pray that I may be the same for Luke and Auriana. That, like you, I too may live a life truly worth living.
My father, Carson Bird, and yours truly, 1970, in Jal, NM.