Pastor Mark’s Devotions, July 9

“The Parable of the Petunias”

“Those who have ears, let them hear.” Matthew 13:10

Two months ago, while taping the Mother’s Day service at the Haskin’s house, Linda sent me home with a number of petunia plants. They were starters from seeds that began to break ground in her green house. At home, I watered and watched as those tiny seedlings continued to grow in the sun. After a short time, it was evident that they were outgrowing their small containers. I had one bag of fresh, rich soil. I emptied the bag into one of my large flower pots and there, transplanted a few of the petunias. The rest of the petunias I planted in a flowerbed by the road. These particular petunias were simply placed in the natural sandy soil. As I continued to water and watch the petunias grow – the flowers in the pot with fresh, rich soil soared with new buds and colorful flowers and green leaves. The flowers in the natural soil, seemed to sour as flowers faded, leaves turned yellow and new buds disappeared. The more that I watered, the more one set of flowers reached for the heavens. The other set continued to struggle as if simply trying to hold on to life.

Those who have ears, let them hear!

Have you ever dreamed of being part of the crowd, that sat on the sloping hillside, and listened to Jesus’ teaching?

You are surrounded by a large crowd. Everyone is bubbling with excitement. Jesus steps into a boat at the water’s edge, so that people can hear his words. Jesus has a warm smile. He calls for the crowd to move in close. There is something about him that makes you want to run right to him. You would actually like to climb right into the boat and sit right beside him, but that is not very reasonable. One thing is clear, you cannot get close enough. He has such an inviting, engaging, attracting presence that everyone wants to nestle in close.

Jesus looks beyond the crowd to the East. On the other hillside, he points to a farmer working in his field. Jesus directs his hearers to the worker as he casts his seed.

Jesus says, “A farmer went out to sow seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop -a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.”

Jesus then concludes this story with the words, “The one who has ears, let them hear.”   

You turn to your neighbor sitting beside you. You ask him, “What did he say about the farmer? What does he mean?” Your new friend asks you, “What did you hear about the seed? What is he talking about?” Someone else pipes up, “Do you think he wants us to go help the farmer?”  A murmur passes through the crowd. Everyone knows that Jesus has said something important, they just don’t know what it is.

You overhear Jesus’ closest friends ask him, “Why do you speak to the people with such parables?” You hear Jesus respond, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you but not to them.”

You wonder why Jesus would not explain the stories to everyone in the crowd. His response does not discourage you. In fact, his reply causes you to want to press in even closer and try to figure out what Jesus really means. As the sun begins to set and the crowd begins to disperse, you wonder, “Should I stay, or should I go?”

Those who have ears to hear, let them hear!

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 24

“Best Practices”

“The seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by perseverance produce a crop.” Luke 8:15

 

The first time I heard the term, “Best Practice” was from a fellow pastor friend from our LCMC Association. As we ate breakfast at I Hop, he told me that he would be attending a, “Best Practices” Conference. Since retiring from parish ministry, he had jumped head long into a counseling retreat center. He was going to be a speaker at this conference to share their “Best Practices” in their ministry setting. This conference was hosted by a large Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, and many ministries were invited to share their “best practices”.  

Since that time, it seems like I’ve heard this term thrown around in all kinds of circles. From business to schools to government to athletics to church and even personal hygiene; everyone wants to figure out the best ways to practice their craft or conditioning.

So, how does “best practices” play out in our spiritual life? How would you evaluate the practice of your faith? Who would you want to listen to at a conference to teach the best ways to live out faith?

In my mind, Jesus would be the optimal individual to teach us, since he lived a pretty practiced life. Indeed, he lived the perfect life. Jesus actually speaks about faith practices in Luke chapter 6. Jesus states, “Why do you call me, Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say? I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice.” (Luke 6:46-47) Jesus then gives his hearers a visual picture. He says, “He is like a man building a house who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built his house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck the house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

Yesterday, the news reported a series of tornadoes ripping through the southern states leveling homes and neighborhoods. To be one of those families who has just lost their home in the midst of this pandemic seems like it would be overwhelming. It very well could be. But Jesus points us to a foundation in the midst of a storm. The key to a sturdy house and a sturdy life, he says, is going to be found in its foundation. Best faith practices are going to center upon the foundation of Jesus Christ himself. St. Paul in 1 Corinthians writes about foundations. He says, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building upon it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other that the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:10-11) Outr life is best practiced when it is grounded and secure in the saving grace and blood of Jesus Christ. Meaningful life will not ultimately be found in our own work, career, hobbies, adventures, or even our own families. We are witnesses to how quickly so much can be blown away in a day. The one who practices deep digging and discovers life upon the bedrock of Christ alone, he/she is the one that will be able to stand in the midst of the mighty storm, and pick up the pieces when it is all over.

Jesus also touches on “best practices” when he tells the parable of the sower and the seed in Luke chapter 8.  Jesus explains the deeper meaning of the parable when his disciples probe him away from the crowds. Jesus reveals that the seed is the Word of God. The Greek word Jesus uses here is “logos”. “Logos” is the complete Word of God. It can be an utterance, a saying, a decree, a speech or a person. In the Gospel of John, the Word refers to Jesus himself. He begins with the declaration, “In the beginning was the Word (logos), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” (John 1:1-2)

When Jesus refers to the seed as the Word in the parable of the sower, he seems to be referring to an instructional word. The sower casts seed in many directions. Some seed falls upon the hardened path. Jesus says that the condition of the soil represents the hearts of the people. The hearts that are like hardened clay, Satan comes and quickly snatches the word from them and they will not believe. The hearts that are like soil filled with rocks are the hearts whose seed cannot grow deep roots. They are quickly excited but when tough times roll in, they cave and are unable to stand. The hearts that are like soil filled with thorns are filled with worry. The life of the word also gets choked out by over attention to riches and pleasures and are unable to mature. Finally, Jesus reveals the soil and heartbeat of best practices. He says, “The seed upon good soil stands for those who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering, produce a crop.”

Therefore, Jesus, our conference speaker, instructing us upon the nature of “best practices”, says it involves three fundamentals. The best practiced believer has a heart open to receiving God’s Word. Best practices begin with listening. Listening is followed up with “retaining”. “Retaining” God’s word becomes the brick and mortar that holds the whole building together. Finally, “best practices” requires testing. The heart that will produce an abundant crop for the Kingdom must be able to withstand abundant challenges and suffering. Through this perseverance, the believer comes to know that the Word made flesh is the rock upon which one stands. And the truth is, no darkness shall ever overcome it.

I don’t know about you, but I definitely don’t feel like I belong in the “best practiced” believer grouping. Let us not get discouraged. As the classic hymn declares; “My Hope is Built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness!”  Our fragile faith is in following the one who practiced the best: Jesus Christ.

Let us listen for God’s Word. Let His Words be raised up from the foundation of Christ himself. And let us weather every storm – even a pandemic, even a tornado, even an earthquake if it shall come, for His Word is a lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path.

Peace be With You!

Pastor Mark