How Deep Are Your Roots

parable-sower-seedBackground Passages: Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, Luke 8:1-15

“Like locusts,”
Peter marveled,
“descending on a field of grain.”
The disciple commented on the crowd
gathering for the Master’s teaching.
Another day.
Another multitude.

A disciple of Christ.
The son of Alphaeus.
Not the fisherman.
Raised his head.
Glanced back at the mass of humanity
spreading out across the mountain.
Muttered his agreement.
“Give them credit,” said James.
“They’ve come a long way in this heat
just to hear his words of wisdom.”

James watched Jesus working his way
among the crowd.
So full of energy.
Eager to engage each person on a personal level.

Stretching almost as far as he could see,
hundreds of men, women and children
congregated on the dusty hillside.
Turned its landscape into a
blossoming field of flowing robes.
Stretching their necks to catch a glimpse of the man who…
Worked miracles.
Fed thousands.
Healed the infirmed.
Spoke more clearly than any rabbi.

James shook his head in wonder.
Leaned hard against the prow of the boat.
He and Peter
pushed the small fishing vessel
into the warm waters of the Sea of Galilee.
Gave their Master a platform from which to speak.

The multitude settled at last to understand more about
the carpenter turned rabbi.
Many shouted out.
Sought answers to their most pressing questions.
“Who are you exactly?”
“Why are you here?”
“What must we do?”

Questions James had heard since the
Jewish leaders began their disinformation campaign
accusing Jesus of every type of heresy in the Law.

James watched.
Jesus waited
for the tide of questions to ebb.
Amid the silence of anticipation,
Jesus pointed to the distant hillside.
“See that farmer?”

The crowd turned to look.
James chuckled under his breath,
at the sound of rustling robes turning in unison.

The Farmer.
Stood straight against the weight of the
heavy seed bag tied around his waist.
Every two or three steps he stopped.
Dipped his hand bag.
With a casual and practiced flick of his wrist,
he cast seeds across his small plot of land.

“My work is much like his,” said Jesus,
“Sowing seeds of God’s truth to those who will hear.”
As the crowd turned back, he asked,
“Will you listen?”

“A farmer went out to sow his seed…”

James sat at Jesus’ feet as he always did.
by every word.
that the simplest illustration held such elaborate truth.
Awestruck that Jesus could pull a lesson of
immortal value from the
most mundane acts of life.


Sermon ended.
Service began.
Jesus and the disciples moved through the crowd.
Helping in any and every way they could.

James thought about the parable
throughout the day as he worked.
He missed something.
He was sure of it.

At last,
the crowd dispersed.
Jesus sat around the campfire surrounded by
his most trusted followers.
Exhausted from the day’s ministry.
As was their habit,
they sat around the campfire…
Talking quietly.
Reflecting privately.
Discussing intimately.
Debating meaning and intent of the words they heard.

Sat against a fig tree.
Arms across his chest.
Head back.
Eyes closed.
Listening, but not looking.

Shuffled from group to group.
Listened intently to the conversations.
Contributed little as he processed what he heard.
He found himself standing beside the tree where Jesus sat.
More nervous than usual when alone with Jesus.
Kicked the toe of his sandal against a root,
hoping that Jesus would notice his presence.

Finally, he cleared his voice.
Are you awake?”

Didn’t move a muscle though
a rueful grin broke across his face.
One weary eye opened.
One eyebrow raised.
“I wish!” He groaned.
Glancing up at the young disciple,
“What do you need,
my friend?”
James looked sheepishly at the others around the fire,
feeling inside that they knew things he did not know.
“That parable you told today…
about the farmer…
What exactly did it mean?”

Jesus arched his back.
Pushed away from the trunk of the tree.
Grasp his knees and pulled them to his chest.
Speaking in a voice loud enough for all the disciples to hear,
“Among all men, you are fortunate.
The secrets of the Kingdom of God have been revealed to you.”
James chuckled again as the rustle of their robes
reminded him of the crowd on the hillside.

Closing his eyes as if thinking of the multitude,
Jesus shook his head.
“The others…the people…
I speak in parables to help them understand.
So they can see what they may not see.
Hear what they may not understand.”

He paused for a moment.
Searched their eyes.
Sensed their uncertainty.

“This is what the parable means…”

The explanation.
Lengthy and to the point.
The disciples listened.
Some nodded in agreement.
Some probed with further questions.
James sat silently.
Getting the point,
but still sensing a gap in his understanding.
Innate shyness prevented him from pushing for clarity.

Jesus leaned again,
alone against his tree.
The others congregated in small clusters around the camp.
Again in quiet conversation.

Paced the edge of darkness.
Hands behind his back.
Deep in thought.
He found himself once again
standing beside the tree.

Jesus again wearily opened one eye.
Raised one eyebrow.
Smiled slightly at the timid intrusion.
Spoke in a quiet, reassuring voice.
“Something bothering you, James?”

The young disciple
leaned against the tree.
Facing east to Jesus’ south.
Slid quietly to the ground,
letting the course bark scratch his back.
He settled in silence into a comfortable spot.

Always patient,
Jesus waited for his friend to speak.
After a moment, James said,
“I get most of it, I think.
You’re the farmer…at work in your world.
The seed…God’s truth. His word.
The different kinds of soil…hearers of His word.
James paused again,
unsure of his next thought.

James pressed Jesus for clearer understanding.
Deeper insight.
About the soil…the listeners.
“How can they hear the same word so differently?”

“What do you think?” Jesus asked.

“The hard soil.
On the surface, no pun intended,” he smiled.
“it seems to talk about the…
Determined opponent of God.
Disinterested in godly things.
Hard. Bitter. Beaten down by life.
Refusing to let any ounce of truth penetrate the surface.
Hardened to any possibility of faith.
Clearly, an unbeliever.”

“But, I think there’s more to it than that.”
Turning to Jesus he said,
“Isn’t it possible a person could be so wrapped up in doing good,
that he may no longer hear a new word from God?
So focused on his ministry that he misses other opportunities to serve?

Eyes still closed.
He said,
“True enough.
Look at the Pharisees.
So busy with ritual they never get to know God intimately.
So involved in “worship” they never practice what they preach.
Worship must be personal.
Must breech the hardness of our hearts
or it’s meaningless.”

James pressed on.
“The soil on top of rocky ground…
Enough sustenance to sprout.
Not enough to grow.
Some listeners,
excited about the work of God,
try to live it daily.
Yet when crisis comes,
when they fall upon hard times,
they fall away.
Faith withers and dies.”

Jesus nodded.
“We must be grounded,
rooted in our faith,
if we are to withstand the difficulties
we will inevitably face.
Life is not easy.
A true life of faith even more difficult.
Setting our roots means we must be so grounded
in our study of God’s word
that we never lack for spiritual nourishment that sustains.”

James quietly quoted something Jesus said
in another time,
another place.
“If I say I love God and don’t evidence it in my life,
I’m a liar.”

Jesus laughed,
“You have been listening.”

The two men sat in silence for a while as James thought
deeply about what Jesus said.
The disciple took another deep breath.
“Let’s talk about the third soil…
Full of weeds and thorns.
Choking the life out of the good grain.
Bad attitudes and actions strangle life.
Good intentions get choked out by disbelief.”

Sat cross legged facing Jesus.
Hands gesturing to punctuate his excitement.
“Lives get smothered by things that ultimately don’t matter.
We nit-pick each other over inconsequential things.
Kill our own spirit and the
spirits of those around us.”

Fully awake and animated
mirrored James’ posture.
Cross legged and leaning toward his friend.
He reached across the distance between them.
Slapped him on the knees.
“Now, you’re getting it!”

Jesus added,
“There is a tendency to lose the joy of salvation.
The dogs of life nip at our heels.
We let bias and prejudice get in the way of loving relationships.
Arguments over things…
great or small…
just don’t matter in the end.
It chokes our relationships.
Gets in the way of our ability to love one another.

Jesus’s eyes danced.
“Go on, James,” he urged,
“What about the good soil?”

James sat for a minute.
Stunned that he was enmeshed in this conversation.

“The good soil…

“Represents those of us who get it.
Those who understand what God desires of us.
Understand more clearly who you are.”
Those who take part in the harvest.
Bringing people to know you.
To accept your truth.

Shook his head.
“Think, James.
“It’s deeper than that. There’s more.
Keep digging.”

James found himself…
Propelled beyond
convenience and conventional wisdom.
His mind raced.
Vaguely aware that others had gathered around.
Listening intently to the dialogue.

His finger punched in frustration at the ground beneath him.
“I don’t understand.
You’re not making sen…”
James stopped in mid-sentence.
Sat back.
Mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water.
His mind processing a new thought.

Thinking aloud.

“The farmer broadcast his seed in the field.
The field…
The field…
It’s the same field…
All of the soils.
Hard packed.
They’re all in the same field!”

Jesus leaned in…
Broad smile on his face…


James looked at Jesus.
Tears of understanding welled in his eyes.
“They’re all me.
Every soil is me.
It’s not about how the multitude responds to the gospel,
it’s about how I respond.

I can be at times too hard…
too busy even in service to be of service.
I can be shallow and artificial in faith…
fainting at the first sign of adversity.
I can be overly concerned with things
that don’t matter in God’s grand scheme.
Hypercritical of others.
I can be productive, fertile…
fully responsive to the will of God in my life.

Jesus looked at James.
Eyes sympathetic and understanding.
“Knowing our capacity for failure is the
first step in avoiding the pitfalls.
Like I said before,
‘All have sinned and fallen short of the
glory of God.”

James wiped away tears with the sleeve of his tunic.
Embarrassed by his display of emotion.

Grasp the hand of his disciple.
Firm and reassuring.
“Don’t worry about the tears, James.
You’re in the good soil now.
You’re just watering your roots.”


Growing Deep Roots

I’m not sure about you.
This parable speaks to my faith…
crisply and clearly.
Identifying my life, at best, as a
spasmodic attempt to respond to the call of God.

Any honest evaluation of my life shows that I am…

Busy acting good, rather than doing good.

false and artificial.
Exhibiting a show of faith, without the substance of faith.

Nit-picky and hypocritical.
Judging harshly the speck of sawdust in the eyes of others,
while ignoring the plank in my own.

fertile and productive.
Stretching my roots into the deep, loamy soil of God’s truth.
Fully responsive to his will.

My prayer.
For me.
For you.
That we find time to listen to the voice that tells us…
We’re missing something important in God’s word.
To find the courage to sit at the tree where Jesus sits,
asking for clarity and understanding.
To dig deeper into familiar scripture.
To sink our roots into the fertile soil of truth.

May our tears of understanding
water the roots of our faith.

A Different Spirit


Background Verses: Numbers 13:26-33, Numbers 14:20-24, Joshua 14:6-15

Flickering firelight
danced across his weathered face
as he paced worriedly behind his brethren.
One of the Twelve.

Forty days Canaan.
Time for a report.
The Twelve
gathered just outside the tent of Moses.
Circled the campfire.
Considered their conclusions.

For more than an hour
they talked.
The Twelve.
Leaders of their respective tribes.
Extolled the virtues of the land
God promised.
An accurate account of its…

Grape clusters .
Too heavy for one man to carry.
Grain fields.
Bountiful and heavy with seed.
Grassy plains.
Suitable for grazing of vast herds.

They showed and shared the bounty.
Tasted its goodness.
Truly, without question, a land flowing with
milk and honey.
Just as God promised.

Listened warily.
Prepared for the other shoe to drop.
“A land flowing with milk and honey”…BUT…

He heard their murmurings
during their journey.
A land of promise, but not potential.
What would be the point.
The would never posses
what they could not conquer.

by the fortified cities.
by the vast armies.
by the giants in the land.
Caleb knew their hearts to be…

They grimaced and grumbled about their fears.
Worried about facing the descendants of great warriors.

“All too proud.”
“All too powerful.”
“All too much for us to handle.”

Caleb could listen no more.
He winced at the
fury of their faithlessness.
“We cannot attack.
They are stronger than we are.”
Frustration boiling over into an agonizing scream.
“Are you children afraid of the night?”

Every eye turned to the man of Judah.
Shocked at the outburst
from a man ordinarily subdued.
Moses locked eyes with his friend,
a knowing glance,
as if to say.
“Okay, you’ve got their attention now…”

Took a deep breath.
Exhaled slowly.
Walked back to the center of the campfire.
Plucked a handful of grapes from the Canaanite cluster.
Voice barely above a whisper.
“Everything you said about the land is true.
We could not ask for more.
Everything of which we dreamed while in Egypt.
Everything God promised.

“The people are many.
Cities walled and protected.
The armies experienced and well-equipped.”
Voice growing stronger as he
emphasized his point.

“You are right.
We cannot attack.
They are stronger than us…”
Caleb paused and looked the men squarely in their eyes,
fire of the campfire reflecting in his own.
“But they do not have our God on their side.
We do.

“We should go up.
Take possession of the land…
For with God,
we can surely do it.”

The men averted their eyes from Caleb’s steady gaze.
Only Joshua stood with Caleb.
Counter arguments.
Lasted for hours.
No resolution.
As they disbanded,
Ten of the Twelve
spread panic among the people
until the the whole community refused to claim the land
God promised.


Rebellion paid its price.
God lost patience with their
constant condemnation
of their covenant with him.
The Lord made a new promise to Moses.
“No one who treated me with contempt will ever see the Promised Land.
Because my servant Caleb has a
different spirit and
follows me with his whole heart,
he and his descendants will inherit the land.”

For 40 years,
the Israelites wandered in the desert.
Time passed.
A new generation of Israelites prepared to enter
the Promised Land.


Stood on the hill east of the Jordan River.
Stared across the deep valley into
the rugged terrain of the Negev.
The ancient city of Jericho just below the horizon
lay between the river and the mountains.

Joshua’s task.
Divide the land among the Tribes of Abraham.
Take the land God promised his forefathers.
It would not be easy.

The Israelite leader heard the crunch of
stones under sandal.
Felt his friend of many years
standing at his side.

Joshua glanced to his right.
Nodded his head in simple greeting.

Though 85-years-old, Caleb stood…
He smiled at his younger friend.
Let his eyes follow the gaze of Joshua into the morning haze.
Stared deeply into the distant lands.
Thoughts dwelling upon the people they must defeat.

“Do you remember,”
asked Caleb quietly,
“what the Lord said to Moses about you and me?”
A question in need of no answer.
The Two discussed that day many times
during their desert wanderings.

“I let my heart speak then about the possibilities,” said Caleb,
“though our brothers did not see it the same.
Yet, I have always followed God with all my heart and
always trusted his promises.”
He shrugged as if his next statement was a given.
“If God gave the land to us, then they,”
Caleb nodded toward the unseen enemy,
“they cannot defeat us.”

Caleb knelt on his haunches,
pushing aside the pebbles with his knife.
“You know as I do.
Our people feared the Anakites more than any other.
Their cities are fortresses.
Their men strong and tall.
‘Like giants,’ our people said.”
Caleb laughed softly,
knowing there was some truth to their words.

Then, he let out a long breath.
Stood and squared his shoulders.
Pointed to the rugged countryside across the river.
Toward the land of Anak and the giants.

“Give me those mountains.
With the Lord’s help,
I will drive them out just as he promised.”

Amazed at the faith of his old friend.
Nodded in agreement.
Placed both of his hands on Caleb’s head.
Offered a prayer and blessing for God’s
presence and protection.

Without another word,
Caleb turned and walked away with purpose.
Prepared to claim that which
God promised.


The Bible tells us.
Joshua assigned to Caleb the land he requested.
The land filled with giants.

The Bible tells us.
The Lord helped Caleb defeat every enemy,
opening the land to Caleb and his family.
As history began to unfold.
Caleb’s land became…
The land that gave life to David.
The land that gave birth to the Messiah.
Caleb’s faith became a critical cog in the
plan and purpose
of God.

The Bible tells us.
Caleb experienced all God promised
“because my servant Caleb has a different spirit…”
“…follows me wholeheartedly.”

Too often
we live a timid faith, recognizing the…
beauty of God’s promise.
bounty of God’s provision.
benefit of God’s presence.
But, altogether failing to embrace the role we play in God’s plan.
We see the real or imagined giants living
in the land we’ve been called by him to conquer…
and we cower.

Because he hold his plan in contempt,
we wander the desert of our heart
never experiencing the land
God’s promised.

“My servant Caleb has a different spirit…
“follows me wholeheartedly.”

What does this mean?

Ten of the Twelve
believed God’s promise a lost cause.
Though they saw his provision in the land,
they lacked the conviction to claim it as their own.

Stood convinced that God would finish what he started
when he brought them out of Egypt.
Convicted of the truth that God would
honor his covenant.

We must
recognize that God’s purpose and promise
is more than unfilled potential.
Our conviction moves us.
Moves us beyond thinking the task ahead is impossible
into a certain realization that
all things are possible to those who are called according to his purpose.
Conviction creates within us a
different spirit.

As one of the Twelve,
Caleb walked among the same fortified cities.
Stood in the shadows of the same giants.
Yet around the campfire
he demonstrated his complete confidence in the promise of God.
For we can certainly do this.”
Unwavering Faith.
Unyielding Trust.
Unbridled Confidence.

We walk among the walled cities of a sinful world,
knowing, without doubt, that we face a difficult battle
if we stay on the path God chose for us.
Life’s circumstances can seem…

In our own strength,
we remain powerless to overcome.
Yet, within the power of God,
the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit,
our confidence soars.
Even as we walk among the giants,
our confidence in the Father allows us to walk with a
different spirit.

Caleb begged Joshua.
“Give me those mountains.”
Not because those mountains represented the
most fertile or the
easiest enemy to defeat.
Caleb wanted those mountains
because they were the most
difficult and dangerous.

Conviction and Confidence
allowed Caleb to trust in God.
Courage made it possible for him to
take that first step toward victory.

One leads to the other.
All point to a personal God
who desires only the best for us.
Living wholeheartedly for God,
living with a different spirit requires that we are
of his promise.
in his provision.
within his presence.

Whatever walled fortresses prevent us from moving forward,
whatever giants cause us to tremble,
let us walk as Caleb walked.
May God see in us a
different spirit.

When Christmas Is Over

The Christmas story of the Bible remains one of the world’s most cherished stories for more than one-third of the world’s population. Those of us who celebrate the birth of Jesus reflect upon its meaning, using the day as a reminder of God’s plan and purpose to bring the world back into relationship with him by sending is Son.  It is far too easy for many of us to revel in the birth of the child and forget that God expects more from us.

What do we do after we read that beautiful story for the last time this year? After we snuff out the Advent candles? After we sing the last carol? After we dismantle the Nativity scenes? What change does it bring to our lives? What do we do after we celebrate the birth of the Christ child?

The Christmas story does not end with the birth of Jesus. Once the baby is born, the story and its impact should serve as a catalyst for God’s power in our lives. What should we do when Christmas is over? We need look no farther than the scripture recorded in Luke 2.

Consider the Parents. The baby promised by the angel was born under those most unusual circumstances , but afterwards,  the new family settled into a routine in Bethlehem, awed daily by the presence of the baby Mary and Joseph held in her arms. Six weeks after baby is born the parents take Jesus five miles to Jerusalem at the required time of purification, commending their first born son to the service of God.

In this we learn our first lesson of Christmas. Joseph and Mary ensured that Jesus started out on the right foot by dedicating him to God from the beginning, the start of a process of “training him up in the way he should go.” So, after we celebrate the birth of Christ, it is a time of recommitting ourselves to God’s service, repaying him for the greatest gift we will ever receive by dedicating ourselves to his will and way. Rededicating ourselves to the worship of our Father.

Consider Simeon.  This “devout and righteous” man of God had been told by the Holy Spirit that the Messiah would come during his lifetime. As he entered the Temple and stumbled upon the purification ceremony for this little baby boy, he knew in his heart that he was looking at the one God had sent to bring salvation to the world. His response was simple (Luke 2:28)…

“Simeon took him in his arms and praised God.”

As Simeon holds on the God’s Son, we experience our second lesson of the season. The days after Christmas ought to be a time when we embrace God’s Son and declare our praise to God for the salvation he offers, not just on that day, but every day. Give him the proper place of prominence in our lives. Hold on to him during the good and difficult times as the sources of our strength.

Consider Anna. This elderly widow worshiped at the Temple day and night, devoting her life to God. Her love for God evident to those who entered the Temple court. Heard her prayers. Listened to her proclaim truth she had been taught. On the day of purification, she was drawn to the young couple holding a little boy. As she heard their story and listened to Simeon’s pronouncement, she believed with all her heart that the child before her was the Messiah. Luke 2:36-36 tells us what she did…

“She gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Anna’s lesson is a reminder that we are to be so thankful for the presence of Jesus that we bear witness to those around us of his saving grace, giving testimony to the difference he has made in our lives. Serving him with faithfulness no matter where we live. No matter what we do. To be God’s voice. God’s hands. God’s heart in a troubled world.

Consider Jesus. Born to human parents, but also divine. God’s Son. It’s a hard concept to grasp. So much of it we accept by faith. Jesus may have been born with God’s DNA, but understand the full measure of what it meant to be Savior did not come instinctively. He learned. When he turned 12-years-old, Jesus journeyed to the Temple with his parents. Look at Luke 2:41-52, where we find Jesus…

“spending his time sitting among the teachers,  studying scripture and asking questions…” Learning more about “his Father’s business.” Eventually, he returned with his parents to Nazareth where…“Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men.”

Understanding our relationship to God and his will for our lives is not implanted naturally into our DNA just because we are born to Christian parents or attend church regularly. Our understanding of what God requires of us comes from following Jesus’ lead. We learn. We grow. We “spend time sitting among the teachers, studying scripture and asking questions.” In the end, our desire is to grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men.


Christmas ends. When that last Nativity gets put in its box and stacked in the closet, we can forget its meaning and live our lives ignoring the demands of discipleship,  or we can…

Consider the Parents. Commit ourselves and our lives to God.  Every hour. Each day.

Consider Simeon. Embrace the Son, not just for the holidays, but each and every day. Praise God for sending his Son as our Savior.

Consider Anna. Give thanks for God’s goodness and bearing witness to all we encounter about everything he has given to us.

Consider Jesus. Live as he lived, growing in our understanding of God’s will for our lives and putting into practice all God reveals to us each day.

There is life after Christmas. As we approach the New Year and its resolutions, let’s recognize that Christmas never ends. Rather, it stands as a time of recommitment and rededication as we pursue life worth living.

May you and your family enjoy all of God’s grace and wisdom in the year to come.