More than the sounds of many waters, than the mighty breakers of the sea, The Lord on high is mighty. Psalm 93:4

You Are Loved

I passed a church sign onexport (1) my way to work. It said, “Welcome – you are loved.” Hmmm! Is it appropriate to say of someone you have never seen or met, “I love you?” Don’t misunderstand me. I know we Christians are supposed love everyone. We know that. But, to the non-believers who drive past the church sign, how do they receive that impersonal affection? The implication is that we already love you, even though you are a faceless person in a sea of people. It reminds me of getting valentine’s cards in the 4th grade that didn’t have my name on it or the person’s name who gave it. Here is your obligatory expression of love given to you by someone.

I would rather see a sign that reads, “You are welcome! We are a loving and accepting congregation.” That may be a bit wordy.  How about, “Welcome, God loves you and we will do our best.” Or, “Welcome, we know in advance that we are going to love you.” That might make a great song. “I may not have met you in a restaurant or bar, but please know that I love you no matter who you are.”

Scripture admonishes us to love. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  “Through love serve one another (Galatians 5:13 and 14).” Scripture, however, does not instruct us to love with the words, “I love you” disconnected from a real, live person. The expression is good but the impression is about as cold as the customer service robot answering service, or the 911 operator that answers, “We care about your call. Please hold.”

“You are loved.” You really are. I want you to be assured that despite my complaint about tossing that statement out into the thin air and hoping it lands on someone, I do indeed love you . . . whoever you are. I’m totally sincere. Honestly! You are a totally unknown body of flesh with a personality all your own, exhibiting signs of life and belonging to the human race that lives on planet earth. And, I love you. Maybe I should add a few exclamation marks to make that more believable.  I love you!!!!! Got it? Hey! I’m talking to you. You person you.

The Parable of the Fruitful Church

 Jesus explained His parable of the sower found in Matthew 13. The seed is the word of the kingdom and the soil is the hearts of men. The seed that fell along the side of the road represented anyone who hears the word and does not understand it.  There was nothing of the heart that received the word. The seed that fell on rocky ground represented those who hear the word and rejoice in it but there is only temporary interest. When times get tough they fall away.  The seed that fell on ground full of thorns represented those who hear the word and seem to be firmly planted but there is never any fruit because the world has greater hold on their heart. The seed that fell on good soil represented those who hear and understand and their life produces fruit.

The parable is a masterful illustration of the ways in which the good news of Jesus is received or not received.  Jesus was very clear about what His parable meant. There is no question about its meaning.  As I read this parable afresh recently it made me think how it could help to illustrate another set of principles. If you allow the seed to represent pastors, the sower to represent Christ sending his called ones out into the world, and the soil to represent the churches where the pastors land, there is some application to be found.

The four kinds of soil can represent four kinds of churches. The churches represented by the soil that fell along the side of the road are those that do not understand what church is. The poor pastor who finds himself in one of these churches will not be there long.  The member’s hearts are hard, the church is dead, and no growth can be expected. The churches represented by the rocky soil receive their new pastor with joy, but the pastor will never please them. Try as he will to put down roots, the church will resist and will blame the pastor for any problems that arise. He is one church confidence vote away from being ousted.

You could characterize the churches represented by the soil full of thorns as those whose members love good fellowship but are involved in so many other endeavors that the pastor can never move them to any serious missionary action or to impact their community with the gospel in any significant way. The pastor who ends up in a church represented by the good soil will enjoy members who are ready to bear fruit for the kingdom. These are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness and are a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden. This pastor and church are the true church.

I know this isn’t the true meaning of the parable. It’s just where my mind went on the recent occasion of my reading.