Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Facebook Quiz You'll Never See

Have you seen the explosion of personality quizzes available on Facebook? Which Twilight character are you? What is the theme song of your life? Which super-villain are you? Which love-language do you have? Who knows how many other quiz topics are available? Carl Jung read our cultural urges quite well a half-century ago when he said, “The world will ask you who you are, and if you do not know, the world will tell you.”

There is another quiz we should be eager to take, but it’s not on Facebook. It’s in the other book:
“The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop--thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown."
Mark 4: 14 – 20

Just because we have heard something before doesn’t mean we should pass it by. Watchman Nee observed that patience in the face of the familiar is a sign of spiritual maturity.

Let me tell you about the first time I ever heard this parable. The night after I became a follower of Jesus a speaker used this parable to challenge new believers with an admonition continue as Christians. I just naturally assumed that I was the good soil. How could I be anything else? Sitting next to me that night was a friend from high school who had also just turned to Jesus. After the message she wept and wept and wept. Finally she composed herself enough to sob, “I just don’t want to let Jesus down. I’m afraid I might turn out to be one of those other types of soil.” I had assumed that I was the kind of person who was naturally good and would bear fruit, while she was moved to tears, crying and asking for the grace to live up her calling. At that moment I realized that after just one day she was already way beyond me in her walk with Jesus.

Here’s a quiz that should be all over Facebook: Which kind of soil are you?

Jesus may have had more than one application for this parable. For example, do we think this parable refers only to the first time God calls to us? Perhaps Jesus was explaining the nature of every word God speaks to us. Each time God speaks all four possibilities are in play. Will his word penetrate my heart today? If he has a life-changing word for me today, will I let it take deep root? Will today’s cares choke it out? Or will the fresh word he speaks yield an amazing crop—today?

As a young Christian I thought Jesus was describing a fixed reality: too bad for those with hardened hearts, rocky soil, or lives full of weeds! Thank goodness I was the good soil! It never occurred to me that his words were a call for me to tend my own heart. I am never further away from the Kingdom than when I think that his words are for someone else, but not for me.

Another question: why do most people assume an even distribution of the different kinds of soil? So many commentators discuss each soil condition as if 25% of the seed fell on each type. Can you imagine anyone sowing one quarter of their seed on a walking path? The greatest difficulties are the conditions below the surface. The rocky soil or the type filled with weeds may well have comprised most of the field. Perhaps the North American church struggles with power and fruitfulness because the vast majority of our hearts are shallow or filled with other concerns like worry or wealth. Do we know what lies beneath the surface of our lives? Do we dare ask him for his assessment?

Finally, this isn’t just any parable. Just before his explanation Jesus asked his disciples, "Don't you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?” (v 13) Jesus cautioned his students that this parable was critical to receiving the Kingdom of God (v 11). These very famous verses can still speak with authority today if we will take time to tend the garden.

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