The Good Stuff

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My husband has worms in the basement. (He also has bees in the backyard and frogs in the dining room. He’s a odd duck, but he’s my odd duck.)

We faithfully save our table scraps and those items in the crisper drawers that have been there ever so slightly too long. (As in, I really can’t identify that green slime, but I believe it was once related to lettuce. Or parsley. It’s a tough call.)

We toss them in the compost bucket by the sink, and he feeds it to the worms. Worms do what worms do, which is basically absorb and poop, and lo and behold, we have beautiful, fine soil to add to our garden beds in the spring.

It’s a strange process, but it works.

Jesus’ story of the soils. We’ve covered the hard soil that refuses to be vulnerable and so never allows others to affect their lives.

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We need to soften our hearts with vulnerability to tell a good story.

We’ve covered the rocky soil that refuses to commit and so stays shallow, never allowing Jesus to get in and make changes.

We need to deepen our hearts with involvement to tell a good story.

We’ve covered the weedy soil that refuses to prioritize and cut out some of the clutter.

We need to declutter our hearts with focus to tell a good story.

Now, the good stuff. The fertile soil.

“Other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”

Someone had worked to clear that soil! The weeds were cut down and their roots pulled. The rocks were thrown to the side. The soil was tilled and turned and dug deep just waiting for the seed.

That heart was ready for God to get to work.

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Fertile soil is rich and deep. It’s filled with nutrients. It’s been carefully worked so that it’s not too sandy, not too much clay. In our yard, fertile soil doesn’t just happen. We’ve got solid Midwestern clay. Hence, the worms.

It takes buckets of compost, faithfully saved. A watering system that maintains a careful balance in our seasons of drought and regular gullywashers. (If you don’t live in the Midwest, perhaps you don’t know what a gullywasher is. But it is a rainstorm to behold, let me tell you.) It takes weeding and prepping and care—but when it’s ready?

You should see the crops of beans and peppers.

“The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” (Matthew 13)

A heart that is ready for God to work is a heart filled with life. Is that who we are?

Fertile soil just aches to grow things. It’s its only reason for being. Fertile soil has no interest in hanging out with nothing to show. Fertile hearts have heard and paid attention to Jesus’ story. They respond. They know you have to make growing good things a priority for it to happen. They’ve done the hard work of softening their hearts in vulnerability, deepening their hearts with commitment, and decluttering their hearts for focus. They’re ready for that seed.

But How Much Fruit?

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A funny thing happens at this point in the story. The seed sown on good soil yielded different amounts. That’s the way it works when we open our hearts to God. He knows the maximum we are created to produce, and he asks only that we grow to our own best. It’s pretty great that God isn’t standing there in the field saying, “Hey, you grew way more than that other guy. But you—you are such a failure. You only returned ten times what I gave you. Loser.”

Nope. He doesn’t do that. He rejoices over everyone’s return, no matter how much. He knows what we are designed to do, and his only desire is that we bear the fruit we were made for and make it good. We don’t need to worry about how much. We just need to make that fruit so good people will want to taste it.

In fact, when we start to compare our fruit to the person next to us who had a hundred times return on the seed, you know what happens? Those weeds start coming into our plot of land. The rocks end up back under the soil. All the worries we weeded out come right back in, because we took our focus off of producing good fruit and started to compare how much other people were doing to what we were managing.

God is overjoyed at our return. Not the size of it—the fact of it. He celebrates the people who returned ten times as much exactly the same as he celebrates the ones who returned 100 times. He says the same thing to both—the same thing he says to the servants in another of Jesus’ stories.

“Well done good and faithful servant. Come celebrate with me!” (Matthew 25.23)

The hard soil doesn’t get to celebrate. The rocky soil doesn’t get to celebrate. The weedy soil doesn’t get to celebrate.

The fertile soil celebrates like crazy—all together, all celebrating one another’s return. Because that’s how it works in God’s crazy kingdom. He loves when we rejoice over one another’s wins. He rejoices, too.

So here’s the question, after all this.

Will we take the risk to cultivate our soil, digging deep and plowing up? Will we make the sacrifice to change priorities and seek the kingdom first of all? Will we make the commitment to put those roots deep, coming to God in the every day rather than saving him for emotional highs and lows? Will we rejoice over others’ successes?

Will we love him with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind? Will we tell a good story with our life?

Then we’ll bear fruit worth getting excited about.

Good stories change us for the better.

People who are changed tell good stories.

How do we tell a good story?

We need to soften our hearts with vulnerability to tell a good story.

We need to deepen our hearts with involvement to tell a good story.

We need to declutter our hearts with focus to tell a good story.

We need to fill our hearts with life to tell a good story.

Are you ready, in this season of the greatest story of all? We’re celebrating the most epic sacrifice ever, God’s willingness—no, his utmost joy— to put our needs first and come to earth. He’s already told the story. What part in it are we going to play?

Going Deep

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Last week, we began talking about Jesus’ story of the soils. It’s part of a series on Jesus’ stories and how to be good storytellers with out lives. You can read the intro here.

The basic idea is this:

Good stories change us for the better.

People who are changed tell good stories.

More than anything, it seems, people want to tell good stories with their lives. So shouldn’t we want to hear the stories of the one who most people agree was the best at that? I do.

Jesus told his listeners about a farmer who tossed seed around—some on a hard path, some on rocky soil, some amid weeds, and some on good, fertile soil. This week, let’s talk a little about those rocks.

“Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock.”

You can guess what’s going to happen here, right?

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We have a bare spot in our garden, right along the driveway. Every so often, I decide to put a plant there. I shove the transplant spade into the dirt. And it stops, abruptly. Under that bare spot is a slab of rock, not an inch and a half down. I always forget it’s there. But the shovel reminds me with its jolt, and I know I cannot plant anything in that place. It’s roots will never grow deep enough to survive, especially in the dry, tree-root ridden soil along our driveway.

Rocks are not usually conducive for growth. The only things that grow among rocks are small plants that don’t have much for roots. (I know—things with giant taproots do as well—but that’s another theological truism.)

The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. (Matthew 13.20-21)

Shallow Soil Produces a Shallow Story

I have known so many of these people. They react immediately to hearing inspirational messages. They are all in. The emotional high grabs them, and they want to spring up and sign up as God’s right hand, right now.

Then life happens. The heat gets turned up. The high is gone, and life returns to so very . . . normal. I start to hear things like,“That’s not what I signed up for.” “I didn’t expect this.” “Well, God’s not working for me anymore.”

God ends up like a fire alarm in the hallway of their lives—pull in case of emergency, but otherwise, he stays behind the glass.

The ones whose faith lands on rocky soil never develop deep roots.

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Is your heart shallow or deep?

To tell a good story with our lives, we need deep hearts.

A story without depth is boring. If a plotline never gets beyond small demands and low risk, who really wants to read it? Who’s going to option the movie rights on the tale that never embroils its hero in anything interesting?

If Frodo just FedExed the ring to Mordor, no one would care.

The story happens in the difficult moments. Characters are created in the hot sun. When drought hits, we know which people we want to watch until the end.

The ones who have shown depth of heart.

The kingdom of God thrums a heartbeat of deep, messy, thoughtful life. The ones who see the demands, the depth, and then opt out have forfeited the opportunity to grow deep hearts.

I know that choice. It’s tempting to look at the heartbeat of the kingdom and think, “That’s too much. That passion would ask more than I can give. Feeling the things that break Jesus’ heart could break mine. Pull back. Pull back.”

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I made that choice long enough, settling for rocky soil and a heart that went to a certain level and no farther. Then, Jesus forced me to see with his eyes.

What do you see when you get eye to eye with a lonely elderly person? When you visit an addict in the hospital? When you listen to an immigrant or refugee tell her story? When you really get a look at hurricane devastation on an island unable to recover for itself? I know what you see.

You see Jesus looking back. You see yourself in a way you’ve never seen you. And you like it.

Because here’s the thing—we’re created to be more than skin deep. There’s a cost to skating the surface. It seems easier — we’re too busy. Too overwhelmed. Remaining shallow-hearted is survival, that’s all.

But the cost is our soul. Deep hearts are real hearts. Broken hearts are alive.

We need to deepen our hearts with involvement to tell a good story.

What will you risk this week to grow deep?

It’s Your Party and I’ll Come if I Want To

I am a party failure. True story. In this month of talking about community, I’ve got to come clean. I cannot throw a party. Other than unicorn/princess/Harry Potter themed birthday parties that have long since seen their day. My baby is almost twenty. She is not so into letting me plan gift bags with glitter tattoos and a rainbow cake anymore. But at those kinds of parties—I was a boss. Just so you know.
 
But now? Friends, neighbors, coworkers—all those people you want to have over and just kick back and have fun around the backyard fire? Fail. I have them, and no one comes.
 

Party Fail

I once threw a surprise birthday party. And No. One. Came. Do you know what it’s like to sit around with a big tub of sour cream and onion dip and and pretend to your spouse (the birthday-ee) that no, there was just a good sale so you bought that industrial-sized cheetos bag for only the two of you? I cannot even remember how I explained the Happy Birthday banner. Whatever, people. It’s been over 25 years; I think we’ve moved on.
 
But it’s not just me. See, I googled it this morning. There are pages of stories of people who have thrown parties to which no one came. Advice columns. Blogs. Humor essays. Ugly crying in latte essays. All over the world, people throw parties and no one comes. I thought it was just me.
 
In fact, it’s endemic.
 
No one RSVP’s anymore because everyone is just planning to wait until the day to see if they feel like it or not. 


Guilty as charged. 
 
And the reality is, on the day, more often than not inertia sets in. No matter how much you think you should go or you know you’d enjoy it, the pull of not changing the status quo is too great. We don’t go. We find better things to do. We find nothing to do, which is often what we need after a hard day/week/year. 
 
I am one of these people. I know of what I speak.
 
But while I talk about how important it is to create community, I have to be honest, too. I am a community creating failure. And I know it’s not just me. Lots of us are feeling the same way. How do we create a community in the midst of a culture that won’t commit, needs downtime like we need oxygen, and considers relationships as disposable as hitting the “unfriend”button on facebook? How do we not just quit when no one shows up to our lives?
 
I don’t know. If I did, I wouldn’t be a party fail. But I have found some interesting tips. I am terrible at most of the things experts say to do, so there is that. Maybe some of these ideas will stick. But honestly, I don’t know.
 

Timing Is Everything

In her blog, Conrinna Gordon-Barnes writes, “In my experience, there’s an optimal time frame between too lengthy notice and too short notice. Experiment and find what works for the people you want to invite.” In other words, my method of inviting people to come to an event in approximately ten minutes probably isn’t the best modus operandi. Figure out what the magic window is for your people. They’ll still cancel or not RSVP, but you’ve set yourself up for a better chance.
 

Personal Touch

I hate rejection. I hate leaving people out. So I don’t invite people personally. I make blanket invitations. Those almost never work, according to professionals (and according to all those would-be party throwers crying into their drink of choice whose blogs I read). With a blanket invite, people feel free, almost empowered, to not show up. Someone else will. It wasn’t meant for me anyway. I’ll come next time. Here’s a big hurdle for me. I need to do better.
 

Make ‘Em Pay

Not literally. But most experts tell us that having some kind of stake in the commitment makes people keep their word. If someone commits to bringing the flaming pumpkin dessert, he or she is not as likely to flake out on you at the last minute because the ex-boyfriend is back in town and maybe they’ll get back together. That’s good news for you and for the dessert bringer.
 
This is hard for me, because I prefer low key, casual, come and go. If you can you can, if you can’t, no worries. But more often than not, can’t is what happens.
 
I don’t know the answer. I really don’t.
 

But I know this. I need to be a better committer if I want this elusive thing called community.  . Maybe that’s the real answer. Maybe it’s not learning how to throw a better shindig or understanding the exact equation for maximum attendance. Maybe it’s as simple as being a committed friend. Being what I want to see. Because like I said, I am so one of the guilty people.

 
And the truth is, sometimes, we need to be. Sometimes, we do need to take some stuff off our schedule and say no. But sometimes? I think we overdo that.
 

The late Chuck Colson writes, “The basic building blocks of society simply erode without commitment. Any sensible society must address this problem by educating people that commitment is the very essence of human relationships. When we refuse to commit, we miss out on one of the great joys of life. When we obsess over ourselves, we lose the meaning of life, which is to know and serve God and love and serve our neighbors.”

 
If I want to be a better community-maker, I need to serve.  .Not hors-d’oeurvres. People. I need to be the commitment I want to see. Oh, that’s scary. And uncomfortable. And opening myself up right now to anyone who reads this and says, “Hmm. I can guilt her into whatever I want at this point.”
 

But scary is sometimes the best thing we need to move forward.

Do you have any answers for community building? Anything that’s worked for you? Any failure stories you’d like to share (so I don’t feel so alone)? Start the conversation below!