Tag Archive: ministry

Tell No One

I want to understand how to minister, not just as a preacher, but as a friend. According to the Gospels, what do I do?

“For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”—John 13:15.

Jesus not only gave us examples of what to do, but also of what not to do, especially when it comes to ministry.

Last time, we left off with Jesus taking Peter, James, and John into Jairus’ house, leaving the other disciples and thousands of people outside to wonder.

“And he took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her, Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, arise. / And straightway the damsel arose, and walked; for she was of the age of twelve years. And they were astonished with a great astonishment. / And he charged them straitly that no man should know it; and commanded that something should be given her to eat.”—Mark 5:41-43.

I love that line: they were astonished with a great astonishment. Jairus’ daughter had died. She was lost. When Jesus brought her brought back to life, through the power of her father’s faith, her resurrection made them believe Jesus was supernatural.

When something awesome happens, what do you want to do? Tell someone!

But he ordered them to not tell anyone. He allowed only three disciples and Jairus to be present. While Jairus was family, Peter, James, and John were like nurses-in-training, making the rounds, learning what to do, and what not to do.

A miracle had taken place. What else could they believe, except that he was the Christ? Since he had taken those specific people with him, the experience must have been meant for them alone. Therefore, what they believed was also for them alone.

Later, as the twelve were walking between towns:

“…he asked his disciples, saying unto them, Whom do men say that I am? / And they answered, John the Baptist; but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets. / And he saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ. / And he charged them that they should tell no man of him.”—Mark 8:27-30.

Jesus got specific here about what we shouldn’t be telling others during our ministry to them. It’s a subtle point. Peter believed Jesus was the Christ, an ultimate and heroic figure written about by the great prophet Isaiah (referred to as Elias in the text).

Think about what happens when you try to share your beliefs. Of course, you have no proof, only your understanding, and your interpretation. If the other person has an opposing belief, it’ll become a debate, one that neither of you are likely to win. The exchange might become heated, passionate displays on both sides. Then, arguments ensue, maybe for years. If we look at this on a scale of nations communicating with each other, the arguments could easily turn into wars.

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.”—John 14:12.

As we minister to each other, and comfort one another, what is more important: that we insist others accept our beliefs, or that we be kind and provide comfort? Beliefs are necessary to the person who has them; to everyone else, they are just ideas.

“And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him. / And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue; / And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened.”—Mark 7:32-34.

When I can no longer hear the truth or speak it, I need faith instead of belief. Faith comes (or flees) in the moment; belief is always with you. Those we minister to have faith in us that we will do what’s right for them, that we will help them according to what they need, not what we need.

This is a fascinating scene because we get a close look at Jesus working one of his miracles. Ministry is private. He took that man to the side, away from the crowds. For a better understanding of what he did next, consider the opening to the Gospel of John:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. /…. / And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father), full of grace and truth.”—John 1:1, 14.

So the Word of God entered that man’s ears and touched his tongue. He was closed off from others, and the Word opened him to the truth, the way, and the life.

“And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain. / And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it.”—Mark 7:35-36.

No longer deaf and dumb, that man had to celebrate his good fortune. He had to tell everyone who would listen. Even if he didn’t tell others what he believed, and only shared that he was healed, they would still draw their own conclusions, believing according to their interpretations. And then they would tell others. Even if all those people believed Jesus was the Christ, and there was no disagreement on that point, their collective beliefs would threaten to transform the nature of his ministry.

When Jesus first spoke in Nazareth, he shared his purpose. It was part of Isaiah’s prophecy.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.”—Luke 4:18.

He didn’t say he was King of the Jews, David’s rightful heir, or that he was the Christ.

“And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.”—Luke 4:21.

What did he mean? Whatever he meant was whatever you believed. The people of Nazareth interpreted what he said as blasphemy, and that he was claiming to be the one Isaiah wrote about. But what he said was what any of us might say, if we wanted to comfort the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the blind, and the bruised.

After he had fed 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two small fish:

“Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world. / When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.”—John 6:14-15.

He didn’t want to be King of the Jews. And he didn’t want people to share their belief that he was the Christ. If we are to live by his example, then we must be aware of this, and meditate on what it means.

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”—John 13:35.

That was his new commandment, the reason for a New Testament, the message written in the Word that became flesh: Love one another. He didn’t want us to teach with our beliefs; they are private, applicable to your journey, not mine. Instead, he wanted us to comfort each other. That’s the point of ministry.

You might be wondering, as I did, if this is too restrictive. Should we limit what ministers have to say? And I can’t help but remember this warning:

“Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. / But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.”—Matthew 10:32-33.

When I’ve helped people, I found the less I said, the better. They don’t need me to fix their problems. Chances are that I can’t. What they need is understanding, dignity, and the respect that comes from my undivided attention.

As for confessing Jesus to others:

“Master, which is the great commandment in the law? / Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. / This is the first and great commandment. / And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. / On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”—Matthew 23:36-40.

These aren’t just two separate commandments. Jesus equated them with the phrase “like unto.” He combined them, as if to say: Love your neighbor with all your heart, soul, and mind. Our part of the new covenant is to love each other as we would love God, or as we would love ourselves. His part is to provide an example that will overcome the evils of this world.

Who did Jesus come to save? That is, as missionaries, whom do we seek to help?

“For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.”—Matthew 18:11.

And how do we save those who are lost?

“For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? Is not he that sitteth at meat? But I am among you as he that serveth.”—Luke 22:27.

We serve them, comfort them, and give them what they need—which is someone to love—not what we need, which is verification of our own beliefs.

I know what it’s like to have a belief transform my life, giving me hope when there was only despair. I know that I want to shout it from the mountain tops, so that everyone can share in the joy of my good news. The joy is natural, but so is the tendency to minister by our will, instead of God’s.

When Jesus healed a leper, and told him to tell no one:

“But he went out, and began to publish it much, and to blaze abroad the matter, insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into the city, but was without in desert places: and they came to him from every quarter.”—Mark 1:45.

His skin, his connection to the world was healed. How could he not spread ministry like a wild fire? Our natural tendencies aren’t always the best, because, by natural, we really mean without thinking. This is how and why we sin.

We forget that we need to show love and compassion, that we need to have forgiveness and mercy in our hearts, even (or especially) to our worst enemies.

Our lives are busy; we got a lot going on. Sometimes we don’t want to think, or we’re feeling vulnerable and don’t want to care.

The Gospels are here to remind us that we are not alone, even if we think we want to be.
When we interact with each other, or merely have the potential for interaction, we become a part of each other’s lives, a part of everything.

So ministering with love and comfort, instead of what I believe about Jesus, is not restrictive. It is actually the thread that connects everything. Love spreads, its ripples intersect with others, combining, growing stronger.

“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”—I John 4:8.

That’s probably my favorite quote in the whole Bible. It’s simple, and it explains God with an emotion that we’ve all felt. The problem is that the emotion isn’t simple. Love can be a crazy mess; its absence is sin; its presence is heaven.

Therefore, as ministers, we go forth to fill that void, to remove the sin that is the absence of love by giving our own love freely. We do this to follow Jesus’ example, as he gave his own life.

“I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”—John 10:11.

We “give up our lives” when we stop insisting that others accept our beliefs as the truthful, guiding principles we believe them to be.

I shouldn’t need someone to verify my personal belief. And, if I do, then my faith in them and me is weak.

When I’m trying to comfort someone, I want to lower their defenses, not raise them by putting our personal beliefs at odds. Even if they and many others shared my beliefs, they could try to change the nature of my ministry.

“For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.”—John 6:38.

Just as Jesus took that deaf and dumb man aside, and miraculously healed him, my beliefs are between me and God. What someone else believes is the miracle between them and God. It is a sacred connection, a personal covenant.

“But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God. / Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”—Matthew 26:63-64.

Just as Jesus never specified who he was, I should not specify my belief, because it is mine. Though I need to strengthen my faith in myself by becoming more comfortable with my beliefs, I cannot achieve that by “converting” others. I can only accomplish that by following God’s will, not my own.

“If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. / For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”—John 13:14-15.


Talitha Cumi Part One

The people in the gospels had a mixed reception of Jesus, depending on their faith. Some adored him, like the woman who washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair; others wanted to kill or imprison everyone around him: infants or apostles. He was a charismatic outlaw healer.

Our faith is comprised of that very combination, depending on how we receive each other, and how we perceive each other: We all have within us the charisma to charm people out of their money, or make them feel comfortable enough to let us help them; we all live by the laws of others, but can choose when we feel it’s necessary to change or break the law for the greater good or our own benefit; and we all have the power to heal each other, or tear down those around us.

Would we kill Jesus because of his blasphemous claim to be the Son of God? Or would we throw palm fronds before him, singing hosanna as the blind see, and the deaf hear? Will we obey the letter of the law, or the spirit?

Though we struggle with our faith, eventually we have to stand and say, This is who I am! These important moments can come at any time.

“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.”—II Peter 3:10.

Judgment Day: We don’t have to approach it literally to understand it literally. We just have to think about those crazy times, in the heat of the moment, when we have to choose what side of the fence we’re on, and what we stand for.

When looking for examples of faith in the gospels, there are good ones and bad ones. Since I believe there is no greater teacher than failure, we’ll start with the bad.

Rejection at Nazareth

“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. / …. / He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”—John 1:5, 11.

At the beginning of his ministry, the people of his hometown not only rejected Jesus, but tried to kill him.

“And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, / And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.”—Luke 4:28-29.

They knew him, and his parents, brothers, and sisters. He wasn’t a stranger, foaming at the mouth, threatening them. He had been their neighbor for 30 years. But all their mercy vanished when they thought he had blasphemed. Those Godly people knew their scriptures well.

“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, / Bring forth him that hath cursed [blasphemed] without the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him.”—Leviticus 24:13-14.

That came from God! How could the simple people of Nazareth even think of disobeying God? It’s important to note that they not only had a reason for accusing Jesus, but he had provoked them. If he had just read from the book of Isaiah, and then sat without saying another word, his neighbors would not have rejected him. Instead, he told them, “…This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.”—Luke 4:21.

Since the passage he’d read from (Isaiah 61:1-3) was accepted by all to prophesize the coming of the Messiah, then Jesus was saying that he was the Messiah. And since none of their priests had interpreted scripture to indicate that their savior would come as their neighbor, the carpenter’s son, they assumed Jesus was blaspheming.

What’s odd about the gospels is this binary nature of faith: You got it or you don’t. Wasn’t anyone in these stories capable of waiting to see, having enough patience to not judge right away? Apparently not, and what does that say about us? I see this as a warning, a lesson.

Our faith is not as robust or flexible as we assume. Everything takes practice. Without a daily regiment, faith weakens as quickly as muscles do. Our faith must always be ready to leap, not to throw others off the cliff, but to jump willingly, for the sake of others.

“And he could there [in Nazareth] do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. / And he marveled because of their unbelief….”—Mark 6:5-6.

Those who were unable to believe were not healed by Jesus. All of his miracles were accomplished because of the faith of those receiving his help. Faith enables healing. To heal a friendship, then, we would have to forgive each other by believing in each other.

“And Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee.”—Luke 18:42.

What are we supposed to have faith in, according to the Bible? What are we claiming to believe? The people of Jesus’ hometown believed in God’s laws. They would kill or heal according to the law. They had to; it was their covenant with God…as they understood it.

I think what Jesus was trying to tell them (and us), and what they couldn’t hear because of their rigid beliefs, is that we should have faith in each other.

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”—John 13:34.

Doesn’t love assume faith? We’d need to have faith in someone before we could love them. Just as the gospels are lessons on how to love one another, they are also examples of how difficult it is to have faith in each other. To understand my faith in God, I need only observe my faith in others.

The people of Nazareth had no patience or faith in their neighbor. And what faith they did have was rigid and cold as stone.

My favorite part of this whole episode was how Jesus escaped the mob.

“But he passing through the midst of them went his way.”—Luke 4:30.

He slipped right by them. Now that’s faith. When you’re surrounded by people who want to throw you off a cliff, what do you do?

“…Be not afraid, only believe.”—Mark 5:36.

Jesus had faith that they wouldn’t stone him, or throw him off the cliff. He had faith in the good will of those who only had expressed ill will for him.

“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”—Matthew 5:44.

Talk about a faith that can move mountains: It’s a reminder to not let our belief in others be lessened when they are unreceptive; the weaker their faith in you, the stronger your faith in them must be.

That was just the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and his perceived blasphemy. He didn’t catch the attention of the Pharisees until the crowds started following him; but that happened right away. For people who did believe, they were healed of every possible illness.

“And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them. / And there followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judea, and from Jordan.”—Matthew 4:24-25.

For people who didn’t believe in the goodness of others, however, Jesus was a threat. And since all those thousands of people were out following Jesus, they weren’t in the synagogues. The priests were losing their audience. They were failing God. It was a catch-22 for them: In order to follow God’s law, they would have to murder this man; or they would have to accept Jesus’ new teachings, thereby abandoning their old ways.

I sometimes think we’re too hard on the Pharisees. They are the most human of all the Bible’s characters, and excellent examples of what can happen when our faith in each other isn’t strong.

First encounter

“And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?”—Matthew 9:11.

In Matthew’s gospel, the Pharisees had three encounters with Jesus before they conspired to kill him. This was the first. He had just blasphemed in front of the scribes, by forgiving a man of his sins—only God could do that, according to their laws. So he caught the Pharisees’ attention.

Surrounded by huge crowds, all of them treating Jesus the way the Pharisees wished they were treated, Jesus stood up to those who were, in a sense, the Bible’s policemen.

“But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.”—Matthew 9:12.

If he had left well enough alone, that statement might’ve perplexed them and not made them angry. He could’ve changed the subject, and everything would’ve been fine. Instead:

“But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”—Matthew 9:13.

Am I the only one who sees Jesus had an attitude sometimes? It was as if he said, I’ll let you off the hook, this time, because you need to go away and think about it. And he said that to the cops! He liked to rub his fingers in open wounds, perhaps to remind us that we’re wounded, and not infallible.

“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. / For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.”—Matthew 10:34-35.

Second encounter

“At that time Jesus went on the Sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungered, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. / But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the Sabbath day.”—Matthew 12:1-2.

They referred to the fifth commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”—Exodus 20:8. Since God rested on the seventh day, then we should too. It was the law.

“Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings.”—Leviticus 23:3.

Jesus’ disciples were breaking the law. As clever as the priests thought they were, Jesus smooth talked them, showing how their own scriptures and greatest heroes supported what he was doing.

“…Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungered, and they that were with him; / How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?”—Matthew 12:3-4.

He left the Pharisees speechless, unable to present a counter-argument. And then, of course, he had to rub it in.

“But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. / For the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath day.”—Matthew 12:7-8.

It was as if he said, I could chastise you Pharisees even more, but I won’t, because you’re unable to understand what I’m talking about. And they didn’t have a clue. They took everything literally, and were without imagination.

Once, they thought Jesus threatened to destroy the great temple in Jerusalem, while boasting to also raise it in three days. They had not only misunderstood him, but misquoted him.

“Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”—John 2:19.

They had wanted a sign, so Jesus told them that if they destroyed the temple, then, in three days, he would raise it up.

“Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? / But he spake of the temple of his body.”—John 2:20-21.

And then some lied about what he’d said, after he was brought before Caiaphas.

“…this fellow said I am able to destroy the temple of God, and build it in three days.”—Matthew 26:61.

The Pharisees couldn’t understand Jesus as he spoke, and later lied about what he said. They were so caught up in obeying the letter of the law that they forgot about its spirit.

In a two-page rant against them, Jesus said to the Pharisees, in part:

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”—Matthew 23:23.

And that brings us to his third strike.

Third encounter

“And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked [Jesus], saying, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath days? That they might accuse him.”—Matthew 12:10.

By that point, the Pharisees were already trying to trap him in his words, prove him to be a fool, and therefore a fraud. His first infraction was barely more than a faux pas: hanging out with the wrong sort of people. The second time, his disciples actually broke the law, by picking corn to eat on the Sabbath.

As usual, Jesus had a smooth, common-sense approach to help them understand what he was doing.

“And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the Sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? / How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the Sabbath days.”—Matthew 12:11-12.

But the Pharisees weren’t trying to understand. Whatever Jesus said was lost on them, except they perceived him as threat.

“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”—John 1:5.

If I don’t even try to understand my neighbor, how can I have faith in them? How many times have I been guilty of not listening? The practical way to experience faith in God is to have faith in each other. Even though they clung desperately to their faith, the Pharisees betrayed “the weightier measures of the law” by not showing mercy.

It’s one thing to not understand, or even want to understand; it’s another to seek to murder what you perceive as a threat.

“Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him.”—Matthew 12:14.

Not only was Jesus rejected by his own people in Nazareth, but by the Jewish priests as well.

“After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him.”—John 7:1.

Jesus was a wanted man.

The Pharisees would’ve killed him right there, if thousands of people weren’t cheering his name. I imagine steam blowing out of their ears. Then Jesus rubbed it in even more:

“Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other.”—Matthew 12:13.

If you see a miracle, and still don’t believe, then you are of “little faith.” The Pharisees had to choose, right then, what side of the fence they were on. Their Messiah had come and performed a miracle right in front of them. Would they fall down and worship him, abandoning their power and influence, their worldly wealth?

It is startling to think that they did, in fact, know Jesus was the Messiah. If you remember, I see the Pharisees as being us. I also have the tendency to reject what will help me. I can make it on my own: That’s my battle cry. But it’s obvious that I can’t. None of us can: We need each other. I need to treat my neighbors well, so that they’ll treat me well, so that we all can, by prospering, cause each other to prosper.

Before I can reap the rewards of such a potential relationship, I need to love my neighbors, which means I need to have faith in them.

Next time, we’ll look at the good examples of faith in the gospels.

The Sower

Test time! We’ll be grading on a 10-point scale: Anything below 70 = F. Ready?

To ease test anxiety, take a deep breath and visualize my favorite teaching moment from the gospels.

“The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side. / And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.”—Matthew 13:1-2.

We don’t have to do anything for this test, except be honest with ourselves, and see how far along we are in trusting God’s will: how much patience we still need to learn.

“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; / Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.”—James 1:2-3.

Grade F: By the wayside

“…Behold, a sower went forth to sow; / And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up.”—Matthew 13:3-4.

Jesus later explained most of this to his apostles. Remember, he spoke to the crowds only by parables.

“All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them.”—Matthew 13:34.

But to his twelve apostles he spoke openly:

“When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.”—Matthew 13:19.

Before we can hope to fight temptation, we first have to understand how to fight it.

“Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.”—Luke 8:11.

Like God, the word of God is everything.

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life: /…/ That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us….”—I John 1:1,3.

You could say that the word is God.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”—John 1:1.

Before I can follow God’s will, I have to understand the word.

However, before I can get to that point, I have to understand who the sower is. We aren’t told—which seems odd, since it’s the title of the parable. As you read, keep this in mind, and decide for yourself the identity of the sower.

This first type of ground, the wayside, is for those who don’t understand the word of God. Think for a moment. Do you understand it? Do I? I’d like to think I do. But we’re human beings. That means we don’t know much, unless it can be proven with math and the scientific method.

“…Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do….”—Luke 23:34.

I think of that plea from the cross as the definition of humanity, which is (or should be) humility.

“For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.”—John 6:38.

Therefore I humble myself by acknowledging that I don’t understand everything taught in the Bible. Think about that. Who would dare claim such a thing? I try. Sometimes I think that I have flashes of insight. But it is never total. Should I expect it to be?

My grade: F!

“And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?”—Mark 4:13.

So this is really a learning exercise. If we can understand this parable, which is all laid out for us, then we can apply what we learned to the others.

The sower gave me the word of God. This is the first hint at the sower’s identity. Who gives us the word? How does it come to us?

When I don’t understand, it’s because my earth failed to absorb the seeds. I wasn’t doing anything with the seeds, so the birds came and ate them. When we leave our faith up for grabs, and don’t take responsibility, the potential we have for loving one another slips away.

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. / By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”—John 13:34-35.

Did you fail too? Don’t give up. Understanding is all we lack. That can be overcome with patience.

“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; / And patience, experience; and experience, hope.”—Romans 5:3-4.

Grade C: Rocky ground

“Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: / And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.”—Matthew 13:5-6.

We want the seed to reach good earth, but there’s always something in the way.

“But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; / Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.”—Matthew 13:20-21.

Notice that the sower is no longer mentioned, and won’t be for the rest of the parable. Yet, everything that happens is a result of his/her actions.

So far, this is my highest score. Sometimes I do understand. I get it, and I’m so happy. Though I have faith in the word, I struggle during tribulation because of a lack of faith in myself. Faith is the root; if it’s strong, then so am I. But sometimes I get caught off guard, overwhelmed.

“But when [Peter] saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.”—Matthew 14:30.

If you’ve made it this far, then you somewhat understand the word, but have trouble using it. The rocky ground is where we suffer temptation from within. Maybe we’ve built a stone wall, which keeps everything out, including the word. Or it could be that our hearts are cold, refusing personal investment and connection. Whatever the case, the lack of faith is due to fear. We think that we have to protect ourselves, look out for number one. But this shuts us off, not only from the damage of living, but the love of living.

Since we’ve made it to Grade C, it’s time to start using our understanding to fight temptation. The Bible is full of quotable mantras. This is my favorite one for dealing with fear:

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”—Psalms 23:4.

Repeating this to yourself in times of need may not make you fearless. It won’t solve all your problems. But it is a good first step. We have to remind ourselves that we are not alone.

“When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.”—Isaiah 43:2.

Rocky ground is the hardest level for me. I am my own worst critic. While the kingdom of heaven is within us, so are the worst angels of our nature.

My goal is to learn how to control my fear, by reminding myself that God is with me. Through patience and honesty with myself during prayer, and using the Bible’s mantras in mindfulness meditation, I have faith that my grade will improve.

Grade B: Thorny ground

“And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them.”—Matthew 13:7.

Whatever we put our faith into, that’s what gives us strength; whatever we put our time into defines who we are.

“He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.”—Matthew 13:22.

Sometimes we get our strength from the things of this world: (the good) family and friends, and (the bad) addiction and greed. While these can work, if my strength doesn’t come from God, but from the things of this world, then I’ll have to choke and smother myself with temporary fixes. All we need is one God, but we need countless cars, clothes, food, cigarettes, promotions, larger apartments, etc.

At this level, we would’ve learned to understand a majority of the word, and dealt with our inner demons, but we’re still a fat camel trying to squeeze through a needle’s eye. The good news is that we’re almost perfect, just one letter grade remains. The bad news is that one can’t find anything more contrary to the gospels than the temptations of the physical world.

“…for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”—Luke 16:15.

“For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul…?”—Matthew 16:26.

“…My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.”—Matthew 21:13.

Is that what we are: a den of thieves? Are we the Pharisees, or the Romans who cast lots for Jesus’ torn garments?

At this level, the thorny ground, we must answer these questions. Basically, where do we put our faith? The needs of this world spring up like thorns: unpredictable, unstoppable, at least by conventional methods.

“And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.”—Mark 10:27.

We can’t fight sin without sinning ourselves; it infects everything it touches. That’s my problem. That’s why I’m here: to find a way to cleanse myself, and then share that knowledge.

“Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator.”—I Peter 4:19.

We suffer so that we can learn patience. We need that very kind of patience to follow God’s will. We have to follow God’s will, or the cares of this world will overcome us. It’s an impossible fight without the word of God: the seeds that bring fruit according to our actions, i.e., what type of ground we’re on.

That reminds me of how the sower’s actions are all we have to determine his/her identity. And it reminds me of Judgment Day, the ultimate test.

“For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.”—Matthew 16:27.

Grade A: Good earth

“But others fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.”—Matthew 13:8.

We are into science fiction territory here.

“But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”—Matthew 13:23.

Our sower never stopped to clear the thorns and stones. He/she didn’t even seem to be aiming. Everyone got treated the same, no matter what type of ground they were on. This is how the word comes to us. The question remains: who is the sower?

At this level we understand the word, and rejoice in temptation, since it tests our faith. We are pros at being tested, because we’ve faced all our demons, maintaining patience through every tribulation; and we were able to do all that because we put our faith in the will and word of God.

If I were to get an A, what would the prize be? What’s my goal in all of this? First, my goal is to be what I just described. But there must be something beyond that, on the other side of the door.

“Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”—Matthew 7:7.

Once we’ve understood the word, and faced our inner and outer demons, then we are able to bear the fruit of our seeds. This is unique to the good earth. Since the seeds are the word of God, what kind of fruit would that be? Think back to how you received the seeds, and the peace they brought to your life: comfort during tribulation, strength during temptation.

“Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.”—Matthew 10:8.

That’s what Jesus said to his apostles, before sending them to minister to the people. For the twelve, Jesus was the sower. He brought them the word. For those ministered to by the apostles, the twelve were the sowers. They sowed by their actions: cleansing, raising, casting out; we sow, or bear fruit, according to our actions. Therefore, we not only receive the seeds, but give them to others as well.

We are the sowers. It’s all entirely up to us. The kingdom of heaven is within us. We are the source of evil in this world.

“Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.”—Matthew 15:11.

We have two potential roles in this parable: giving and receiving. Sometimes we are the sower; other times we’re on rocky or thorny ground; or we may just be by the wayside.

We are free at any point to shift to another level, seek better understanding, fight our demons, free to decide if we want to follow God’s will at all: Some people like a lost cause; I know I do.

“For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”—Luke 19:10.

Amen to that.