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The Fruitful Heart
Written By Bobby Schuller
This morning I want to begin with the most important figure in human history. No person ever, not Alexander the Great, not Caesar, not any President, no world leader, no philosopher has had any bigger impact than Jesus Christ has. He's the one around whom we measure history, before and after His lifetime. Jesus has had an incredible impact. He started the world's biggest religion. He's viewed, even by secularists, as one of the highest and greatest philosophers of all time. Yet in this world, as we talk about Jesus, and of course in this church as we come to worship Jesus, there is a division on what it was that Jesus actually stood for. Or rather, why did Jesus even come in the first place?
Jesus came into this world, not just to change society, and not just to get people into heaven. He also came to invite people into a new kind of life that begins right now. This new kind of life, Jesus calls it the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven. When Jesus talks about these things, He doesn't just mean the place where we go when we die; He means where we live right now. There are metaphors for these great things that are available to you and me right now: A new kind of life; a flourishing of our soul; a life that shines so bright that even when we die we continue to live. That's what Jesus came to do.
Of course, that kind of life cares for the poor, cares for the needy, and cares about society. That kind of life can't die and lives forever with Christ after the body gives way. That kind of life is available now and that is what Jesus invites us to. He invites us to be truly alive. He calls it eternal living. He invites us to eternal life or eternal living right now to enter into His story, into His spirit, into His love, into His kingdom, into His house, to inherit His treasure. These are the metaphors Jesus uses.
It seems that too often, we forget this and want to relegate the message of Jesus to something very small, when in fact it's something that ought to encompass our whole lives - that Jesus wants all of us, not just when we die, but right now; that Jesus wants us to be truly alive. He calls you, even in your weakness, even if you've lost everything, even if you feel like "I'm a sinner," or "I'm worthless," or "God's angry at me." That is not the message Jesus preaches. Rather, Jesus is constantly inviting us to what He calls a party, a celebration.
A favorite metaphor that Jesus likes to use when He talks about a person who is fully alive - His disciple, His student, or His apprentice - is a fruit tree.
In John chapter 15, for example, Jesus says, "Abide in Me and you will bear fruit." In Matthew chapter 7, He says, "Become the kind of tree that bears good fruit." Don't be a bad tree that bears bad fruit. In Galatians, Paul echoes the teachings of Jesus and says, "The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience," so on and so forth.
This metaphor of the human being entering into Jesus' kingdom right now and bearing fruit seems to be, in my view, Jesus' favorite metaphor for the disciple. Like a tree or like a vine or like a stock of grain that grows, the human life is meant to bear fruit. But what is that fruit? What is that life like? How do we get there?
This morning Glenn read to you one of my favorite parables about the seed and the sower. Jesus tells us how this new kind of life enters into our reality and touches everything we do. He's speaking these words probably with thousands of people listening to Him. People were interested in Jesus because He would do crazy stuff like raise people from the dead and heal lepers. And He would speak against all sorts of what they thought were social norms. He was very dynamic, enthusiastic, and attractive as a leader. So, thousands of people would follow Him to see the next miracle, or hear the next thing. And so Jesus had all these people following Him and He decides He needs to preach to them and tell them something.
So, He gets on this boat and heads out into this body of water, so there's a little separation. Beside the water, a hill goes up and creates a natural theater. All these thousands of people sit around scattered on a hillside waiting on the edge of their seats - or the edge of their grass because they're sitting on a hill - to hear what Jesus is about to say.
There He is, standing in a boat and He points to a guy that's working on his garden, maybe over there. He's says, "See that sower over there? That's what the kingdom of God is like." He says, "There was a sower who came to plant some seed." You get this picture of a sower taking seed and throwing seed everywhere, scattering it all over the place.
He says, "Some of the seed fell on a path, and when it fell on that path, it didn't do anything because it was a path and the birds came and they ate it up. And some of that seed, it fell on rocks and it sprung up but then the sun started shining and it died away very fast. Some of that seed actually fell on some good soil, but when the weeds and thorns grew up next to it, the plant couldn't mature, and so it died, also. However, some of the seed fell on rich, good soil, and when it fell on that soil, this seed sprung up into a plant that bore fruit, thirty, sixty, one hundred fold."
After Jesus spoke, He left. That was all He said. Everybody was wondering, "What's going on?" So, His disciples pulled Him aside and asked, "Teacher, what does this story mean?"
I'm going to tell you what Jesus said in my own words, paraphrased. He said, "The seed is the word of God. It's what God says. And God says something to everybody. Some people receive that word, and some people receive it in peculiar ways so that it dies. Other people receive it so that it bears a harvest.
"The first type of person that receives this word from God, this seed, is like this path right here. Do you know how these paths are normally created? They happen when people walk over and over and over on what used to be soft, rich, and good soil. Soil that used to be ready for seeding. It used to be ready to receive seed and able to nurture it until it grew it into a tree that bears fruit. But it kept being walked on over and over and over. It's packed. Beaten down. Many of us are like that path. We are wounded, packed down, rock hard. People have walked all over us, maybe even since we were children. Others have seen only the worst in us. Never believed in us. Always criticizing us and gossiping about us, wounding us. Maybe some of us have suffered great tragedy in our lives, but something has happened to our hearts where and they are rock hard. And when the word of God or some kind of message comes to us, we just say we don't want it. It's no good. So, with a heart that is rock hard, ice cold, we can't receive the seed, God's word, because of the woundedness. That path can still become good soil, but the path must be broken and softened, broken and softened, broken and softened. I want to say to you, God still wants to use you, but you have to be broken and you have to be softened. You have to be broken, and you have to be softened."
Then Jesus says, "The Sower tossed some other seed that fell on the rocks. Those seeds sprung up, but then when the sun came out, in the heat of the sun, they died because they had no root. This is like a person who has no roots at all. Unlike the seed that fell on the path, the soil in the rocks received that seed and the seed started to grow. It's like those who, when they first hear the word of God, receive it with joy! But when the time of testing comes, they wither and they fall away because they have no roots."
To me, I think that the rocks represent emotionalism, which, as a pastor, I see all the time; people who hang on the feelings or the emotions of what it means to be a disciple, rather than on something deeper, something with roots in it. Very often, we strive to constantly feel good, feel happy, feel all of these wondrous things, and that's okay. These kinds of feelings are good. I love good feelings. Don't you? It's great to have these happy feelings, but that can't be what sustains us.
The good emotions, the good feelings that we get from our spiritual journeys is like milk. Babies drink milk when they're growing up because they need milk; it's what causes them to grow. Anybody can drink milk. But only babies can drink milk and survive.
At some point in your life as you grow, you will have to live in your faith, and not be dependent on emotions to sustain you but rather on something deeper - the spirit of God who sustains us. Sometimes we will go into what I spoke about before, a dark night of the soul, where we're learning to wean ourselves off that milk, and learning not to be so driven by emotions. Instead, we're learning to live by and be driven by what God says by His word.
The third type of person Jesus talks about is the seed that turns into thorns or weeds. The thing with the thorns and the weeds is that they're actually planted in good soil. I remember when my grandpa Persly was living with us when I lived in Oklahoma. He decided to start this garden in our backyard, and he wanted to grow all these great crops of fruit and vegetables. To do so, he made the best soil ever, always throwing stuff out in the garden mulch, like coffee grinds and eggshells and leftover food. He said that this is what nurtures the soil and makes it good for planting. And he was right.
But what would happen was, even though he planted his vegetables and all of the things that he was getting ready to grow, before those things would grow, other stuff would grow. Why? Because it was good soil. Weeds grow on good soil. And every day I was out there pulling weeds for my grandpa, one after the other, and it was constant work. It had to be done regularly, every other day; at least every week, you had to go out and pull up these weeds - pull them up, pull them up - because, if they were there growing alongside the vegetables, the vegetables couldn't grow and mature.
For many of us, Jesus says that these weeds that grow up in our lives are the worries and the riches. Many of us think that riches take away worries. We think, "If I could just win the lottery, I wouldn't have worries anymore." "If I could just get a big inheritance…" "If I could just get that great job, I'd have plenty of money and then I wouldn't have to worry about anything anymore." But, I guarantee you that plenty of wealthy people sitting in this church right now can tell you that money does not take away your worries.
In fact, there is something about life that, regardless of how much money you have, you ought to treasure something more than money. You can't stop worrying and having anxiety about life until you treasure something much bigger than yourself. And that thing that we ought to treasure is the word of God. What God says about us. What God is saying about you right now.
If we worry ourselves with other things, then, like thorns, sometimes riches, sometimes our busy-ness, sometimes the clock, will choke out God's purpose for our lives. Don't sell out your purpose for those things. Amen?
Jesus says the fourth seed is the one that falls on good soil. Luke's gospel says that this is a noble and a good heart that perseveres. In this soil, in this heart, the seed takes deep, deep, deep root. And the thorns don't choke it out. It's cared for. And, over the years, it grows and matures and someday that tree bears an incredible harvest.
What is that seed? It's the word of God. And what is the word of God? Don't be too quick to say the Bible. The Bible certainly is the word of God. However, is Jesus saying here that the Bible is thrown out onto good soil? Hear me please. I love the Bible. I love the Bible. I've read it through, I've memorized large portions of it, and I've studied it in Greek and Hebrew. The Bible is the word of God and is a center of authority, but is the word of God just in the Bible?
John says, "In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God and the word became flesh and dwelt among us." So, in the words of John, the Bible says the word of God is Jesus!
The word of God isn't just the Bible, and it's not just Jesus, but rather the "word of God" very simply means "what God says." What God actually says. And what God says is in the Bible.
But what does God say over you? What is God saying over you right now? Based on things in the Bible, or what Jesus is teaching, God is saying that He wants you. God is saying that He wants all of you. God is saying that He forgives you. God is saying that He is trusting you with a big and important project that is your life. God is saying that He believes in you. God is saying that He has forgiven and forgotten all of that stuff that you feel guilty about.
Many are plagued with this image of a God who is angry at us, a God who doesn't think about us, a God who is barely dangling us by a string. However, the God you see in the story of the prodigal son is not a God like that. When the prodigal son returns, the father runs out to the field, even though he was offended and hurt, and wraps his arms around his son and says, "You're my beloved son. We're going to kill the calf and have a big party to celebrate that you've come back!"
And the son says, "No father, no. I need to become your slave. I need to become worthless."
But the father says, "No! No! You're a prince!" And he puts a robe on his son's back and a ring on his finger and he says, "I love you."
This father is the metaphor Jesus uses for God. The word of God in our hearts is the knowledge of the love and grace and forgiveness and purpose that God is speaking over us right now.
To be good soil is to believe with faith that God is actually saying these things over us now. To say, "I want the word of God so bad I will take it into the deepest part of my soul. I want the word of God so bad that I will pull up the thorns and I will not allow anything else to distract me, but I will believe and learn what it means to abide in the love of God, the grace of God, the purpose of God, and His Holy Spirit."
What Luke tells us, though, is that this comes with patience and with endurance, virtues many of us have forgotten in our technological age of an over-the-counter, microwave, easy-oven, order-your-pizza-to-go kind of culture. We want it right now. Is it a pill? Is it a channel we can turn on? No, it's a tree. It's a tree.
Try growing a tree from scratch, waiting to see how long and how much work it takes for that tree to bear fruit. I remember my dad planted a little avocado tree sapling in our backyard and it was years before that thing had avocados, but you could watch the progress. It got bigger, it got thicker, it got greener, it got taller, and one day, it wasn't just one or two avocados; all of a sudden, it was thirty, sixty, a hundred avocados. It was avocados everywhere! We ate a lot of guacamole and it was a pleasure.
That's what the kingdom of God is like. It takes endurance. Don't be like the rocks, saying that it has to be instant, over-the-counter. Instead, say that this will become the most important thing in my life, what God says about me. He says I love you, I believe in you. He is speaking His calling over you, and you just need to listen and want it and nurture it. It takes time, it takes patience, and it takes endurance.
My friends, the kingdom of God is like an orange grove. Imagine an orange grove with a giant tree in the middle. And, all of a sudden, the oranges start to fall from the tree and roll away. Then, those oranges start to take root, and new trees grow up around this big tree. As those new trees bear fruit, oranges fall from them and trees grow next to them. This is what has been going on since Jesus came.
Jesus is this big tree in the middle from which all fruit in the kingdom of God came. He wants you to be this type of a person, a person that is fully alive, a person that is living eternal living right now, a person that is baptized in the life of God completely. He wants you to be the kind of person that people know will encourage them and bring life to them, and forgive them, and set the example. That's what God wants you to be, an exceptional kind of person.
Even though you say I'm weak, I'm broken, I've got this wrong, I'm too young, I'm too old, I'm too poor, I've failed too many times, whatever it is, all the things that you want to say to choke out this word, don't do it. Nurture the word of God. Love the word of God. Let it grow, let it take root deep in your soul and someday, my friends, you will become a tall and huge and lush tree that bears amazing, delicious juicy fruit that blesses those around you naturally. You won't have to try. It will be natural just like a tree. And you will change the world for the positive. That's what Jesus wants, and that's why He called you the light of the world.
Let's pray: Father, we thank You for Your word. We ask, God, that we could have the faith to believe that You love us and don't hate us, that You take pleasure in us, that You're not angry with us, that You've called us to heaven. You haven't called us to hell. You've called us to something higher, not something lower. We ask to believe that when we see ourselves as cars, You see ourselves as planes on the runway. When we think we're driving around as a car, You say, no, you're a plane. Take off. I pray, God, that we would learn what it means to live in Your kingdom, to become Jesus' disciples, to be more like Him and have eternal living right now, regardless of health problems, regardless of money challenges, regardless of circumstances, that we would know what it means to live in Your kingdom right now. Oh God, we love You and we're so thankful for Jesus, whom we love with all our hearts. We're so thankful He gave His life for us, and that He lives at Your right hand. It's in His name, we pray. Amen.