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During February we celebrate Black History Month. So I wanted to share one of the great ironies of our country…the irony that so many blacks became Christians. Centuries ago, when slave-traders kidnapped men and women, boys and girls from Africa, these Africans were not Christians. They were kidnapped, sold, transported in the most horrendous circumstances across the ocean, sold again, beaten, tortured, threatened and killed with impunity…often by “Christians”. For the most part, slave owners in America did not want their slaves to become Christians…because Christianity taught the worth of each individual, freedom and dignity, and hope. Yet, many of these slaves began to believe in Jesus anyway. They began to gather and worship and have hope because of the amazing grace of Jesus and his offer of eternal life. These slaves became believers in Jesus despite the fact that their owners were not sharing Jesus with them and many did not want their slaves to believe. God works in amazing ways. But, this also gives me hope. If God can use slave owners to demonstrate the power of Jesus, surely he can use me too!

In Mark 4:13-19, Jesus explains a parable he told earlier in the chapter about a sower who sows his seed. This sower sows the word of God. God is the sower…but so is anyone who is willing to share the good news of Jesus. God never gets tired of sharing his good news…even sharing with people who do not want to receive the love of Jesus. But, even for those who do want to follow Jesus and hear his words, it is not easy. Jesus says this is because we are in a spiritual battle involving demonic forces. Jesus uses the example of soil to illustrate the different responses people have to hearing the word of God shared with them and how the evil one gets involved when God pours out his love on people. In v. 15 we see that when the word is sown to the first group of people (on the “path”), Satan comes immediately and takes away the word. In other words, Satan gets working! He is content to leave people alone as long as they are not actively receiving God’s Word. Satan loves nothing more than for people to be bored to death. But, when they become open to receiving God’s Word, boredom is no longer an option. Satan must now take action.

The second group of people hear the word and receive it with joy (“rocky soil”). But, sadly, they have no root and fall away when trouble or persecution comes. This is not random. Satan brings trouble. Growing roots means getting deep with Jesus…spending time with God. The third group of people are compared to seed sown among thorns. They also receive the word, but have an incomplete view of God. They are distracted by worry, fear, temptation and lust. In short, they are not willing to trust God to be in charge of their lives. We live in a spiritual battle. God loves us…without us doing anything. Yet, we are afraid to let this God of love be in control of our lives. We trust ourselves more than God. It is totally understandable…yet doomed.

The last group are the good soil. They hear the word, accept it and produce a crop. This is where many Christians get confused. Do we have to DO something to produce a crop…or simply be good soil? That is a tricky question, because the answer is we have to DO something…but that doing something is simply being good soil! GOD is the POWER. God is the one who draws people to Him. Yet, God uses us. God loves us so much he gives us the FREEDOM to use his power in whatever way we choose. We get to enjoy living for Jesus. God doesn’t tell us most of the time who to share with, how to love, when to love or where! But, Jesus tells us that if we are good soil, we will produce a crop. God never tells the church that they need to grow numerically! Yet, God says it is the inevitable result of being good soil. Today, God invites us not to stress. SIMPLIFY. God is looking for faithful people…but in the amazing love of God, he uses unfaithful ones too!

I have never written a blog before. Every week I write a sermon. Four pages of material I would like to share about what God has already shared and what thousands of other preachers throughout history have already shared about too. I don’t pretend to be innovative or ground-breaking. But, I do try to think. And, frankly, I am worried that many people don’t think anymore. I have been particularly astounded by the seemingly daily conversations from people about their lack of faith in statistics. (I won’t quote you one of the many studies showing that Americans don’t trust statistics because you wouldn’t believe those statistics either!) They say things like, “you can’t trust statistics” or “you can make statistics say anything you like.” I always respond, YOU ARE WRONG! Statistics always measure what they say they are measuring. But, you actually have to make sure that the people who tell you what they are measuring are telling the truth. That involves thinking! It is hard work. Yet I believe God calls us to think…to do the hard work.

In Mark 4:1-12, Jesus tells a parable that we call the Parable of the Sower (when we want to share it from God’s perspective) or the Parable of the Soil (when we are talking about it from a human perspective). He tells of a man who went to sow seed. In Mark 4:14 we find the seed the sower is sowing is the WORD. This means…the word of God. I believe the word is the same thing as the LOVE of God. God’s word is a revelation of God himself to people…it is God talking about himself. When God talks about himself he describes what he is like…and the most important thing about what God is like is love. So, God is sowing the seed…sharing his love for people. But, he does it in a way that makes no sense to us. My grandfather was a farmer. When he wanted to plant corn he tilled the ground and prepared the soil. But, God (the sower represents God first, but also includes any person who is sharing God’s love) does not just sow on the soil that is ready to receive it (called the good soil in this parable). God is extravagant with his love. He just starts walking around scattering his love on any old ground.

He starts on the path! I am not a farmer, but I know enough not to sow seed on the path. But, God doesn’t mind. His love is extravagant. He has plenty of love to go around. Then, he moves on to the rocky soil and the soil covered in thorns. This is not ideal soil, yet the ground is thirsty for the seed. But, sadly, even though they receive God’s word and his love with joy, trouble and distractions pull them away. But, it does not stop God from sowing his love.

Why does Jesus tell this story as a parable? Jesus tells parables (from the Greek word “parabole” which means two things side by side) is a story about earthly things that helps us to understand Heavenly realities. Jesus uses things we can understand (a man planting a crop) to help us understand things that are hard to understand (Heaven, God’s love, salvation, etc.) Jesus wants us to understand his love. But, Jesus also uses parables because they are HARD to understand. That way, if we are not receptive to his meaning, we will not be pushed further away from God. We simply walk away and shrug our shoulders. Jesus loves us so much that he intentionally loves us in ways that we either respond to or we just walk away from. That is wisdom.

Today, I invite you to seek the TRUTH…to think and explore the deep meaning of this parable. This truth is that Jesus has extravagant love for you. He is willing to offer you his love all the time and in every possible way. If you are open to receiving his love, I invite you to keep digging and keep reading…and God will continue to reveal Himself to you.

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Do you have any opinion about seeds? Most of us are city dwellers, so perhaps our only connection to seeds is through the things they grow into: fruits and vegetables. Occasionally we’ll even eat seeds, but that still doesn’t make the topic of seeds any more exciting than talking about the weather for on a date.

The Bible, on the other hand, appears to get very excited about these little things we call seeds. In particular, Abraham is promised on numerous occasions that his “seed” will be too numerous to count. I was making some bread yesterday (yes, I am a cook!), and I took some caraway seeds to mix in with my flour. You can bet that I wasn’t even remotely in the mood for counting tiny bitty seeds. They look so insignificant! And yet, of course we know that every single one of those seeds has within it enormous potential, and a future much larger than might appear on the outside.

In Abraham’s world, having at least one seed (= descendant), and preferably a whole bunch, was probably the most important thing in life. That’s why you can imagine the thoughts going on in his mind as we read in Genesis 22 about how God asked Abraham to smashhis one and only seed. This was countable stuff. One seed. I don’t need to go into all of the pain Abraham went through in order to even get that one seed, his only son Isaac. You already know that stuff. At his age (he was a centenarian), what were the chances that he would strike gold again or win the lottery twice? Continue reading

Yes, that’s The Place’s very own Ralph Figueroa stepping in as the Lord’s stunt double for Oxygen Church Media, who provide Christian graphics. You can see Ralph in action as Jesus on many images on their site.

But, many, if not most of us have wondered what Jesus looked like. Here’s a traditional depiction of Jesus in Ethiopian Christian art:

There a whole entry in Wikipedia speculating on the physical appearance of Jesus. In it, some scientists have created a portrait of Jesus based on the bones that have been uncovered in the area from that time period:

Discovery Channel Jesus image

Does it really matter? If it does, how and why?

Charles Blondin was one of the greatest tightrope walkers of all time. He first crossed Niagara Falls in 1859, then repeated it blindfolded, in a sack, pushing a wheelbarrow, on stilts, and sitting down midway while he cooked and ate an omelette.

He did it once, however, carrying his manager, Harry Colcord, on his back. According to Colcord, the trip was terrifying. Blondin was only 5-5, 140 lbs. The ropes that keep the tightrope from swaying were broken. Blondin grew tired about 1/3 of the way across and made Colcord get off so Blondin could rest. Colcord then had to climb back up. Colcord had been warned not to look down, but he did and panicked.

But, what could Colcord do? Nothing. He was told to rest like a dead weight and NEVER try to balance if Blondin should seem to stumble or tilt.

They made it across.

What are the lessons for us? Trust. Surrender. Obedience. Colcord had complete faith in Blondin. When it really counted, Colcord realized he was powerless and trusted Blondin to get him across safely. How many of us, in our walk with Jesus, are more like the spectators in the crowd? We’re on the sidelines watching and may even feel like we’re part of the event. But, when it really matters, do you really trust God enough to risk everything? Would you ever lay it all on the line? That’s the difference between believing and being a disciple of Jesus.

{play}http://www.theplacechurch.com/services_audio/sermon_files/20120114s.mp3{/play}
This Sabbath Pastor Simon will continue his focus on the Year of the
Family by preaching a sermon on Luke 11:14-28 titled “Jesus Speaks
Old & New Words”.
 

{play}http://www.theplacechurch.com/services_audio/sermon_files/20120107s.mp3{/play}
This Sabbath Pastor John will be preaching a sermon on John
20:11-18 titled “Holding on to Jesus”.

{play}http://www.theplacechurch.com/services_audio/sermon_files/20111231s.mp3{/play} This Sabbath Pastor Simon will share a sermon about Luke 11:1-13 called “Daddy Dearest”

{play}http://www.theplacechurch.com/services_audio/sermon_files/20111224s.mp3{/play}
This
Sabbath we will celebrate Christmas together as we rejoice in the birth of
our Lord.  Pastor Simon will share a sermon about Luke 2:1-20 called
“How a nobody becomes a somebody”

{play}http://www.theplacechurch.com/services_audio/sermon_files/20121210s.mp3{/play} This Sabbath Randall Goulard will preach over Luke 1:26-55 with a sermon titled “The Miracle Child”.