Seeds grow… it’s their nature

DaAndMuleIt’s the nature of seeds to grow (see Mark 4:27-28).

The farmer doesn’t really know how, but if he sows seed in the ground, the dirt makes the seed sprout and grow. Then the farmer takes advantage of that process and harvests the crop. That somewhat explains the earlier verses in Mark chapter 4.

Picture the planting season: The farmer takes a sack of seeds down to the field. Some seeds fall out along the roadway, not the designated place at all – hard, packed down dirt. Still, those seeds sprout!

Further along, the edges of the field are lined with stones, probably gathered out of the field to prepare it for planting. Some stray seeds fall into the stones, and they too sprout.

A bit further along, the farmer crosses the perimeter of the field where the thorns and weeds still exist. Here too, some seeds drop out and here too, they sprout.

Finally he gets to the plowed land. He sows the seeds where they are supposed to be, in the field where the ground has been cultivated. The stones, briers and weeds have been carefully removed so there’s nothing to prevent the seeds from getting plenty of nutrients and water.

Eventually the farmer harvests a good crop, even discounting the seeds that sprouted in all the wrong spots.

Why? Because it’s the nature of seeds to grow. No farmer can create seeds, or dirt – but the smart farmer knows how they work and he takes advantage of them.

Jesus relates the seed to his word. If we’re as smart as farmers we’ll take advantage of this principle.

(Originally posted February 17, 2008.)

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What’s so special about mustard seed?

BirdInMustardTree“Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.” (Matt. 13:31-32 KJV)

“And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.” (Luke 17:6)

Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. He also said, if you had faith as a grain of mustard seed you could do miracles.

Why did he use mustard seed to compare those things?

Mustard seed, he said, is the least of all seeds. And it is tiny, very tiny. But if left alone to grow, that one tiny seed will make a bushy tree large enough for birds to nest. Okay, that’s pretty neat.

But that’s not the most important thing about a grain of mustard seed. Not the essential thing.

The seed has to be alive or it won’t grow. You can prepare the soil, plant the seed with care, water and feed it, cultivate and weed it. But if the seed is dead, it will just rot in the ground. It must be alive.

Seeds are fascinating to me. Do you know where all the plants on earth came from, to begin with?

“Then God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them’; and it was so.” (Gen. 1:11, NASB)

Also notice: “Then God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind’; and it was so.” (Gen. 1:24 NASB)

So, did God make the plants first? Or did he make the seeds first? Interesting question! Actually he made the dirt first. The seeds were contained in the earth itself. Plants and animals came from that earth, including Adam himself.

The point is this: God imparted life to the seeds. Every seed of every kind since then has needed that supernatural, God-given life to survive and to thrive. Even the tiniest of mustard seeds. (Of course, if you never plant a seed… you know what I mean.)

Well, where does the kind of faith Jesus meant come from? It’s not the normal, ordinary, human-only belief. This faith is a gift, freely-given but requiring a willing recipient. Grace is free, but it’s not automatic.

Jesus was blunt when he confronted his own disciples about their lack of faith. Didn’t they have it? If they did, most of them didn’t exhibit it on those occasions.

Only Peter walked on water, the rest didn’t even attempt to. Mustard-seed faith, even that tiniest of tiny faith, was powerful enough to create the entire universe. And later it would be powerful enough to take the Gospel around the world.

Over the years I’ve written and taught a lot about seeds, and about faith. Here are links to several of those articles. Hope you’ll click and read.

Unlimited potential, unlimited capacity

CornKernels CornEars CornStalksWithEars

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21 NIV)

“In me… in you… in us…” Really? In – from the Greek preposition “en,” meaning inside the interior of something. Not a complicated, mysterious word at all. This was Jesus’ prayer, just before being killed.

I’m a life-long fan of murder mysteries. Hercule Poirot. Sherlock Holmes. Nero Wolfe. When trying to figure out “who dunnit,” the wiley detective always asks, Who benefits?

Thinking back to the events leading up to Easter, the cruelty, the overwhelming horror and anger and grief of the helpless disciples as their leader was assassinated, an odd question floated into my mind. Cui bono? Who benefits?

Well, I knew I would. I would benefit from not having to go to hell for my sins. But what was in it for Jesus? What could Jesus do after he was resurrected from the dead that he couldn’t do beforehand? What was in it for him?

So many strange things, supernatural things, miraculous things he had done before he died. Commanded the winds and waves. Walked on water. Multiplied bread and fish. Created wine out of water. Vanished into thin air. Completely disguised his appearance. Raised dead people back to life. Healed incurable diseases. Took authority over invisible evil spirits. Conversed with thousands-of-years-old patriarchs. Flattened Roman soldiers with two words, “I am.”

All those amazing things Jesus did as an unchanged human being. Things he told the disciples they could also do, and trained them how to do.

And toward the end he explained – several times in fact – what was coming next. Arrest. Trial. Guilty verdict. Death penalty. Roman execution. Resurrection. To give you eternal life, if you believe in me. This is necessary. This will benefit you.

But how did he, Jesus, benefit, I wondered? What could he do for himself after he came back to life, that he couldn’t do before he died?

Inhabit other human beings. Know them inside out. Enable them to know God. Experience God. Empower them to obey God.

Beforehand, he was limited to one place; limited to paying attention to what was going on in the immediate vicinity.

He had potential like no other human being at that time. He knew who he was, he knew God’s plan from beginning to end, and knew the end game would be successful. But it was limited potential. Limited capacity. One man. One “seed.”

One seed of corn can produce one stalk. One stalk can produce several ears. One ear can produce many seeds. Several ears can produce a multitude of seeds. Fields full of stalks. Unlimited potential. Unlimited capacity. (See John 12:24)

Jesus’s prayer answered. John 17:21 fulfilled.

Seeds

Reading through Luke Chapter 8, I came to the parable of the sower and the seeds. Curious, I researched “seeds” online and found some new-to-me information.

A seed contains a live plant embryo — a new baby plant, female and male plant cells having combined in the parent plant. The scientific description of this process is fascinating, to say the least.

In order for the baby plant to grow and break free of its container it needs light, water and oxygen, and soil in which to find those things. In Genesis chapter 1, God created the earth (soil), light, water and sky (oxygen) first, and separated the seas from dry land.

In 1:11, “Then God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.’ And it was so.”

The soil came complete with the necessary ingredients to produce vegetation. The life-forms God created inside the vegetation was self-sustaining and still is, to this day. Seeds planted in soil and provided with proper light, water and oxygen will grow into mature plants, which in turn produce more seeds.

This plant reproductive process is so similar to that of animals it is incredibly interesting to me. How someone can think this all happened randomly?!

Back to Luke 8. As I was reading, the Lord began expanding the story for me.

When the farmer sowed his seeds, he used the common broadcast method still used by many today. Some seeds fell on the pathway where they got trampled underfoot, maybe by the farmer’s own feet (although birds still managed to find and gobble them up).

Some seeds fell on rocks where there was little soil, thus little moisture. Although they sprouted, these seeds couldn’t put down roots and the poor things thirsted to death.

Other seeds fell among thorns, stronger and more aggressive plants which took most of the ingredients for survival away from the seeds. Those seeds both starved and thirsted to death.

Of course, the seeds that fell on the “good ground” survived, thrived and produced a crop. Jesus ended the parable with “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” – i.e., give this some serious thought.

What’s the moral of this story? When asked, Jesus patiently explained the parable. It’s not just the seeds… it’s the soil. Seeds = God’s word. Soil = men’s hearts.

Hard-packed dirt: hardened hearts. Rocky dirt: unstable hearts. Thorny dirt: troubled hearts. The seed is the same every time. But if the soil isn’t properly prepared, the seed can’t produce a proper crop.

In the early 1970’s my family bought a house in the country with a small farm attached. Willow Creek was nearby, and the first time there was a heavy rain for several days the creek overflowed, ran through the field nearest the house and almost to our front door. The water ran right across the top of the dirt – it was hard as cement. It hadn’t been cultivated in a long, long time.

The solution? My husband borrowed a tractor and a “middle buster” plow. He plowed the field several times, breaking up the hard ground to a good depth. The next rainstorm didn’t cause a flood. The soil acted as it should, the water soaked in, and when planted that vegetable garden produced enough butter beans, squash and tomatoes to feed an army.

The difference in both cases, the parable and our experience, was in the ground preparation. A good lesson for preachers and evangelists who wonder why they get such poor responses.

How the ground is properly prepared is a lesson for another day, but keep in mind who the Farmer is.

Don’t eat the seed corn

seed-cornSeed corn: don’t eat it, plant it.

Back when most people grew their own food, that didn’t have to be explained.

When I was a little girl spending my summers on my grandparents’ farm, I learned that you didn’t eat the seed corn. I helped my grandmother pick over a big basket of seed corn that was being put aside for the next year, cleaning the trash and dead bugs out of it.

A seed has life built in, no matter whether it’s corn, or butterbeans, or sunflowers. It doesn’t have to wonder what to do, it “knows” to grow. The faith for growing is entertwined in the life…

But there is something else about seeds. They need stuff. Like soil, food, water, fertilizer, and protection from pests. Today, vegetable and flower seeds are sold in stores with a coating of plant food and/or bug killer surrounding them, so you have a head start on getting a good crop. Smart idea.

Jesus told his disciples, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you can tell this mountain to be removed and be cast into the sea, and it would obey you. (See Matt. 17:20)

Now, a mustard seed is really small. And Jesus was saying they didn’t have even that miniscule amount of faith.

They could have, though. It was offered to them as a gift when Jesus said, “Have the faith of God.” It took Jesus making a gift of it to get it back then, and it still does. That’s how we get saved, born again, in the first place (Eph. 2:8).

And that seed of faith Jesus gives us contains life, just as seed corn contains life.

But some people leave it like that, tiny, encapsulated and dormant, and then they wonder why no mountain ever moves for them.

Mark 4:14-20 explains part of it. Seeds have to be nurtured and cultivated. No self-respecting farmer would plant corn in an uncultivated field full of rocks and briars.

Seeds have to be planted in good soil, soil deep enough to allow for roots to get a good start. And weeds need to be weeded, rocks removed, and critters prevented from getting in.

When my children were small we lived on a mini-farm outside of town, and one summer we planted lots of field peas and corn at a distance from the house. When it was time to pick them, we discovered the raccoons had taken a bite – just one bite – out of every ear of corn. And the deer had made a good meal out of the field peas! The critters won that round and we learned a good lesson. Electric fencing solved that problem the next year.

II Peter 1:5-8 continues the explanation. Faith seeds also need to be fed, watered, and fertilized with virtue, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, kindness and love.

Well, all that takes work. And you have to deal with “critters” like fear and doubt, fatigue or depression, and ordinary every-day distractions from a lot of different sources.

Faith has all the life it needs built right in, just like a seed of corn or field peas. And the nature of life is to grow, mature, and eventually replicate itself.

It takes work to get to that place, but the one who gave us the faith in the first place is still present to instruct us and help us grow it, if we’re willing to do the work.

The Apostle Paul commended the church of the Thessalonians, because “your faith groweth exceedingly…” (II Thess. 1:3)

I would love to receive that compliment some day, wouldn’t you?

So, how do we take advantage? (of the nature of seeds…)

Prepared fieldPrepare the field. Remove the stones, the briars and weeds, plow up the soil and fertilize. Then sow the seeds. Follow-up with proper cultivation. Okay, that’s how a farmer does it. But how does the word-sower do it? Let’s look at how Jesus did it.

Pray first, find out where Father wants you to go and what he wants you to do.

Love people and help them. Turn water into wine. Feed hungry people. Heal sick people. Return a dead son to his mother. Return a healed sick boy to his father. Drive demons out when necessary. Whatever shows the Father’s mercy, compassion and practical help, do that. Then, when you speak they will listen.

Teach in easy to understand ways. Use understandable examples. Use the weather. Carpentry. Farming. Housework. Business. Warfare. Scripture, where the people are familiar with scripture. Be practical, useful, helpful. Build up, not tear down. Encourage, not discourage. Be merciful, not judgmental. But be truthful.

I have a problem with folks who quote one particular verse out of context – you shall know the truth and the truth will make you free. Not so! The truth that sin will kill you doesn’t make anyone free. Jesus said, if you continue in my word, then you’ll be my disciples – and THEN you’ll know the truth, and THEN the truth will make you free. (Read John 8:31ff)

While we go about preparing the field, sowing the seed and cultivating afterward, let’s don’t forget that the seed we’re handling is God’s word. Let’s handle it with care and integrity, and be smart. Do it Jesus’ way.