Wednesday, January 27, 2016

On Sowers and Batting Averages

The Sower by Jean-Francois Millet, 1850
Jesus’ parable of the sower (Mk. 4:1-20) describes a .250-hitter who, nevertheless, has a strong RBI total* (to mix metaphors). He only hits good soil one out of four times—the other three seem to be a miss. But each hit yields strong results, producing abundant fruit. From the outset Jesus is describing what would typically be considered failure three out of four times. Satan, rootlessness, and worldly cares seem to win the day. That’s the half-empty (or three-fourths empty) way of looking at the glass.

On the other hand, there are at least a couple of things that make this “failure” a true success. First, the sower. The sower is faithfully doing what he should do, indiscriminately scattering seed—perhaps generously scattering seed would be more appropriate. As Wayne Gretzky said (to add another metaphor), “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” So the sower is taking shots, not knowing where he might find receptive soil, but sowing nonetheless.

And that’s the other successful aspect of Jesus’ image: the healthy soil. The seed that finds healthy soil yields fruit in abundance, including enough seed for much more sowing by other sowers. The fruitfulness becomes exponential. The harvest is greater than the sower’s meager average. He only connects one out of four times, but each hit advances others. The harvest doesn’t depend on the sower. One sows, another waters, but God makes it grow (see 1Cor. 3:5-9). Jesus seems completely confident in the slow, subtle, seemingly small advancement of God’s kingdom. And Jesus seems confident in the shared, communal work of God's kingdom. It isn’t about Paul, Apollos, or you or me.

But two things do depend on the sower. One, s/he must sow. That’s success for the sower—not how much seed finds good soil or even how much grain is produced, 30- or 60- or 100-fold. Just faithfully sowing—that’s success. And two, the sower must keep his/her own soil healthy. The word in the sower’s soul can also be robbed, withered, or choked, and end up fruitless. And one of the surest ways for this to happen is for the sower to start worrying about his/her average. To paraphrase Nike: JUST SOW IT!

*Admittedly, the value of such a player in baseball is debatable, but serves the point here.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Chosen Instrument

Jimi Hendrix, Monterey Pop Festival, 1967
Photo by Jim Marshall

Recently I was conversing with Jesus about the calling of Saul (Paul) of Tarsus. After Paul’s conversion experience on the Damascus Road, Jesus instructs an understandably cautious Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles…” (Acts 9:15). I confessed to Jesus that I’d like to be his “chosen instrument” for something (despite the fact that Jesus’ next line about Paul is, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name”!). I wondered about the nature of a calling. Are we indeed called to something specific? And, if so, can we resist and/or miss our calling? But mostly I just wanted to be Jesus' chosen instrument for something.

After sitting in silence with Jesus, his response emerged: “You are my chosen instrument to be Robert.”

So the answer is yes, we are called to something specific. And yes, we can resist and miss our calling. When we don’t become ourselves—through pretending, numbing ourselves, aimlessly wandering, ignoring God’s leading, etc.—we are missing our calling…the calling to be ourselves fully alive. You are Jesus’ chosen instrument to be you. What does that look like, you fully alive? It’s a unique and powerful calling…one that no one else on earth can answer.

My Friend Thomas

I met Thomas when we ditched school together. We were 16, and my friend Scott and I had planned to skip out after homeroom and take Scott’s ...