The sower in Mark 4: A very different kind of farmer...

Normally farmers take great care to make sure they know what kind of soil they’re putting their seed in. They’ll think about what crops were in the year before, how much the soil has been worked, and what nutrients may or may not be present. They’ll do everything they can to makes sure they’re investing in fruitful ground, so they can get the maximum yield out of their seed. These days with modern technology, things can get really precise. Based on GPS signals and various soil samples, machines can automatically adjust the amount of seed sown depending on the quality of the soil in any given location.

But the sower in Mark 4 is a very different kind of farmer. He’s not worried about efficiency, return on his seed, or carefully analyzing the land and his seeding. He just throws the seed out there, and it lands in all kinds of different places. And there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with that.

We should probably be more focused on throwing seed out there like the farmer in Mark 4, and not be so concerned about painstakingly analyzing and trying to find the perfect soil. Because, after all, this is not the kind of farming that we can figure out and optimize using GPS signals and soil samples. It’s a spiritual work of faith, sowing seeds into human hearts, and any sprouting is a miracle of God.

I’m skeptical of any teaching that says we need to find the perfect soil, or work to prepare the soil, and only then sow the seed. Who said we had to do that? And is that even possible?? Just tell people, all kinds of different people, about Jesus. Scatter your seed all over. You may be very, very surprised to see which seeds actually sprout, grow, and bear fruit.

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Ministry shouldn't burn you out.

Jesus said that his food was to do the will of one who sent him. (John 4:34)

If God’s work that he has for us to do is like food, then I think it’s pretty safe to assume that it should be good, nourishing, even enjoyable. It should give us energy, strengthen us, and put a smile on our face.

If your food’s making you weak, sick, and miserable, then you’re eating the wrong food, or something’s very wrong.

Or, it could be that you’re eating and eating and never taking breaks. That’ll make you feel terrible as well.

Yes, following God involves massive suffering, even heartache. But even as we face suffering, loneliness, and all kinds of sufferings, doing his will should bring joy to our hearts, and give us strength for endurance.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor 4:16)

If your “ministry” is consistently sucking your life away, making you “dried out”, and not giving life, maybe it’s not the will God for you.

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Oh for a single tongue to sing my great redeemer's praise

When we’re in a new land, trying to learn a language so that we can talk to people, we’re aching for a tongue to tell people about how wonderful he is.

Back in the day people used to call a language a “tongue,” and that’s a pretty accurate representation of how crucial it is.

It takes months, even years to grow this new tongue that can freely talk about his grace and good news to people who desperately need to hear it.

This hunger, this aching to praise him in conversations with these people is what drives us to learn the language. 

“Oh for just one tongue to be able to tell these people about God’s amazing gift in Jesus!!”

Imagine being in love with someone, but being unable to talk and tell them or anyone else how you feel.

Imagine being a doctor, watching some young kid die on the operating table, knowing the cure but being unable to give a single direction to save their life.

Then combine those two feelings…

That’s probably something like what it feels like to be in these unreached places, aching to know the language.

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Do we really need existing community networks?

There’s a lot of talk these days about how we need to work to see the gospel spread through “existing family and community networks.”

People are really working hard to keep disciples closely attached to their family and community connections. And these relationships are almost depended upon as the vehicle for the good news to spread.

But let’s think about this for a second.

While it certainly is wonderful when the good news spreads though existing relational ties, there is absolutely no reason why it should and always must be that way.

The gospel can (and often does) spread through totally unrelated, unconnected people. It quickly runs past and goes beyond family and community ties.

So, should we teach local disciples to put all their hopes and efforts into their existing relational connections?

Maybe they’re not supposed to worry very much about this at all. Maybe they’re supposed to quickly move beyond them and seek the lost in other circles or communities. Let them go!

God can push them into totally new circles, and create opportunities to share the good news with people they had absolutely no previous connection to.

After all, what was the hardest, most fruitless ground for Jesus’ ministry? His own family and community.

So why should we feel so attached to something that Jesus was very quick to move on from, or even ignore? (Matt 12:46-50)

Why should we be so locked in on getting fruit from the one area that seemed the most barren and fruitless for Jesus himself?

“A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” (Mark 6:4)

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What does it mean to "put your hope in him?"

When we live in situations, places, and ways that push us beyond our normal means of living, we learn to look to Him.

This act of looking to the Father, believing he’s real, and locking our lives and our hopes on him is really something like excercising the muscle of faith.

We look to him to protect us when we can’t rely on our surroundings or the law and order of some country to keep us safe.

We look to him to shield us from rumours, lies, and intrigues that might swirl around among a hostile or suspicious people.

We look to him for our daily bread when we don’t have any way of earning money, and we’re busying ourselves with making his name known.

We look to him to back up our words as we talk about him in a place where the things we say about Jesus are considered foolish, ridiculous, or even blasphemous.

We look to him to open doors and make a way for us to live and relate to people in places where we really don’t belong, and shouldn’t be able to go.

We look to him to take care of our hearts when we’re seperated from family and friends that understand us so well.

When we ‘put our hope in him,’ our expectations for provision, protection, life, and goodness are directed towards God himself. Often we’re kindly forced to “put our hope in him,” when we see our human strenghts or securities vanish before our eyes.

The Psalms are full of words describing this kind of looking… a kind of looking that your life depends on. He has to be real, because if he’s not our lives would be impossible and pointless. And that’s when we realize that he is our life.

And we get to see, firsthand, how incredibly beautiful, caring, and life-giving he really is!

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When we hang out with Jesus among the lost...

When we walk among the lost we feel Christ’s compassion and love for them. When sit down and talk with them, we’re moved in the same way he is. When we see them hear and understand what he’s been aching to tell them, we feel his joy.

And so, naturally, we get to know Jesus more through the whole process.

After all, When we share in someone’s pains and joys, we get to know them better. When we share someone’s hopes and dreams, intimacy grows.

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Evangelism is...

Evangelism is not always polished, efficient, and glamorous.

Often it’s wandering around a park for 2 hours longing and aching to get to talk to someone. Sometimes the conversations open up all over the place, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes one crucial contact happens after hours of persevering through nothing.

But this crazy act of us throwing ourselves out into a lost world, longing and aching to be able to make some contact and share some words of life, is a beautiful act of worship. When we spend hours doing this, aching for him to make himself known to the lost, we are saying he’s worthy to be known, and he’s worthy of our time.

I will often put myself out there in some place for 3, 6 or 9 hours at a time, often really doubting that anything worthwhile can happen. So often it feels impossible. But I pull away from the computer, from my home, and from whatever other things I’m involved with, and throw myself out the door. I get out in the park, in the market, near the people, and I long, ache, and pray for the gospel to somehow get to people who haven’t heard it before. Then, God gives me the desire of my heart, and it starts happening. Sometimes it starts happening right away in a flood, as one conversation after another unfolds. Sometimes it takes hours and hours before something worthwhile happens, and I only see a little trickle of opportunity. But it almost always happens somehow.

I remember some very good words that a much more experienced friend said. “If you go out once to share and nothing happens, go out again, and again, and again. Go out 9 times, and go out again, because on the 10th time you could get to share Jesus once.” That’s the attitude.

We have to decide that this is worthwhile.

The woman in Mark 14 could break an extremely expensive bottle of perfume over Jesus’ feet. And we can waste big chunks of our time, getting out among the lost, and aching for his word to go forward. Is it a waste? Isn’t there something better that could be done? No. Jesus is worth it.

Evangelism is also not about being super extroverted or a real people person. I rememeber seeing one of the most amazing evangelists, who was a real quiet, introverted guy, almost running after someone and trying really hard to talk to them, becasue he was driven by God’s love and concern for them. I was also told that I didn’t have what it takes, that I didn’t have the people skills necessary to connect with people and be an evangelist. But I had to try. I knew I couldn’t do anything else. And sure enough, the love for the lost God put in my heart pushed me over whatever personality barriers or deficiencies that I had.

Another one of the most powerfully used evangelists I’ve ever seen was a guy who had Asperger’s syndrome. He told me how when he was younger he literally had no meaningful interaction with anybody. It was just him and his computer. Then God worked him out of his shell and showed him how he could use him through and outreach. He still says that he is unable to read social situations because of his condition, but nevertheless, he somehow ends up meeting people and sharing the gospel all over the place. It’s beautiful. And as he says, “If I have any meaningful contact or conversation with anybody, that’s a miracle. So whatever happens through me (in terms of spreading the Gospel), I know it’s from God, and not from me.”

Exactly! And that’s the perspective that we really need. We’re not experts who’ve got the perfect evangelism techniques or methods figured out. We’re just servants fumbling around, really eager to somehow see him talked about (with people who’ve never heard) and honored. And God will use us, even us, to glorify his name.

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