On Being the Wrong Kind of Soil


Rocky soilI read Francis Chan’s Crazy Love recently. The fourth chapter of that book is a killer. Talks about what it means to be lukewarm. I dare you to read that chapter and come away unscathed. I couldn’t.

In that chapter, “Profile of the Lukewarm,” Chan says this in regard to the parable of the sower:

“My caution to you is this: Do not assume you are good soil.”

In case the context is needed, here is the parable:

“And [Jesus] told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”
—Matthew 13:3-9

We who sit in church on Sunday and give of our time and money, which soil do we think we are? Do we ever believe that we are not the good soil?

The Bible is filled with verses. I’m convinced that most of us don’t believe them, even those of us who say we are Christians. I say that because I think too many of us don’t believe the harsh verses ever apply to us. We always think we are the good soil. We’re the sheep, not the goats. We’re the wheat, not the chaff.

Jesus says this:

And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
—Matthew 19:23-30

Here’s a startling fact based on World Bank statistics: If you have a household income of $50,000, you are among the top 0.98 percent richest people in the world.

Jesus said that people that rich will find it remarkably hard to enter the Kingdom of God. Yet you and I are most likely the very rich He says will find such entry difficult.

Surely, He’s talking about some other rich people, right? The Warren Buffetts and Bill Gateses of the world. Those numbers again: 0.98 percent top richest, $50,000 household income.

Want to really sober up? You have to drop down to a household income of $25,000 to finally drop out of that top richest 10 percent. And yet that’s still rich!

Francis Chan: “Do not assume you are the good soil.”

I didn’t write this post today to make us feel bad about our incomes. I wrote it because I don’t think we take the Bible seriously enough. Maybe we don’t really believe it like we think we do. Certainly we don’t believe it enough to make the kinds of changes we must to truly live the Gospel the way we claim the Gospel should be lived.

Rethinking Evangelicalism’s Tropes #2: Fixing the Other Guy


Sometimes it seems like we Evangelicals aren’t happy with anyone. Our perceived human foes are always in need of a good fixing by us, especially by our standard means of yelling at them, wrangling politicians to our side in opposition to them, manipulating media against them, and stewing about them to anyone who will listen. While the track record of positive results employing that process is somewhat abysmal, yet we press on.

In our favor, it’s hard not to think that the wheels are coming off the world. Really, a quick glance around seems to confirm as much.

I’ve written a lot of words to Christians in America over the years. I’m really no one, though. And I mean that. There’s no expectation that anyone will listen or change. Most days are shouting into the wind—like everyone else. I know that. Everyone’s got an opinion, and in America, everyone needs to express it.

But it still bothers me that with people in the American Church pointing fingers at this heretic and that sinner, we tend to forget the Golden Rule of  “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” or as Jesus Himself phrased it:

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
—Matthew 7:12

I can’t help but think that applying that one simple rule would change everything. And that one simple rule can be applied to EVERY aspect of life.

Such truth asks that we consider the other guy, that we think of him as ourself. Where we give ourselves grace, we should offer him the same grace in the same situations. And where we would want to be gently and lovingly corrected, we would offer the same to him.

But too often we excuse our sins and live to punish the other guy for his—even when his sin is the same as ours.

I’m increasingly peeved at the hubris that most of us operate under. Nor do I understand how it is that we’re always seeking to fix the other guy when we won’t fix ourselves first. We Evangelicals are constantly in a huff about the condition of the other guy’s eye speck and not so concerned about our own log.

The answer, of course, is a simple one. Jesus notes it in the Gospel of John:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who had been reclining at table close to him and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”
—John 21:15-22

Here, Jesus is trying to restore Peter after Peter’s betrayal. But what very human trait does Peter exhibit? He points to John and says (and I’m paraphrasing here), “Yeah, I hear what you’re trying to say about me, but what about this other guy?”

If that doesn’t sum up Evangelicalism 2011, I don’t know what does. We seem perpetually worried about “the other guy” even as the Lord is trying to restore us to our proper position. (I find it telling that John notes this in the context of his own question about those who would betray Jesus, almost as if Peter were trying to get back at John for bringing up the issue and John includes this passage—and its answer—as a deflection back to Peter.)

Jesus’ response is so fitting, it almost makes me weep:

“…what is that to you? You follow me!”

Heaven knows that I am a messed up person. Every day I have to remind myself that the only way the Lord is going to work through me is if I’m right with Him. And that’s going to take an enormous amount of work on His part. My part is to be willing and open to receive His fixes. Yet if I’m perpetually trying to hear about someone else’s fixes and trying to fix that other person my way, I’ll neither hear nor receive my fixes.

And if I’m not prepped the way I should be to minister, then I’m wasting my time and the Lord’s.

Evangelicals, please, please, please hear this. If we don’t get our own house right, judgment will fall on it. It’s time to stop worrying about the other guy’s problems first and start asking the Lord to fix our own. We’ve become like Peter, attempting to deflect responsibility, even as the Lord is telling us what we need to be doing and to stop worrying so much about the other guy.

Every day, I hope to live not only by the Golden Rule but also by personalizing the words of Jesus: “…what is that to you, Dan? You follow me!”

What words will you live by?

Asking the Radical Questions


Please watch these video excerpts from a Francis Chan message:

I love Chan’s heart. He’s one of the few contemporary preachers with national reach who is asking the hard, radical questions that contemporary Christians must ask. He seems to have a better understanding of what it means to be human, to feel out of place in the institutional church, to read the Bible and then wonder why our expression of it fails so poorly to truly reflect it.

For people who have been Christians for more than a few years, shaking off the “system” of Christianity that we have erected is mind-bogglingly hard. Gaining that fresh perspective on the Scriptures and looking at them “sideways” doesn’t come easily—if it ever comes at all. We are more likely to simply kowtow to whatever our denominational flavor says and never truly ask the radical questions.

We throw around the word countercultural when it comes to the Church and the world, but the older I get, the more I find that the real counterculture is swimming against the tide of Church systems erected by well-intentioned believers who saw through a glass darkly and missed the real heart of the Gospel.

But that truly Christian counterculture is awakening. It makes my heart glad to see that some people get it, even if most of us still don’t.

My hope for all Christians, especially the ossified ones that predominate in the West, is that we will ask the kind of tough questions people like Francis Chan are asking. And more than anything else, I pray that we are prepared to do what it takes to provide answers, even if those answers painfully tear down idols in our churches, our culture, and our own lives.