What caught my attention in particular as he stated this irrevocable fact, was the remarkable ‘spin’ Mark placed on this hardly unique, but rarely if ever heard or considered facet of the stated principle. The Scriptures are a clear witness to it, but I think we hardly ever hear the emphasis or specific application as clearly as it was presented by Mark.
Just as sure as the sun rises in the East and sets in the West (and we know that it does, even on those overcast days when the sun never shows), we will always reap the harvest of what we have sown. It never fails--even in the midst of the most severe drought--if there is any crop at all, the harvest always reflects the seed that is sown--always. You can count on it! We all know this--it is never in doubt!
Mark spoke of an entertainer friend of his who loved to cook after shows in her tour bus, and loving to eat her cooking, he spent many hours listening to her stories. One evening, she told him about the time she as a child had helped her grandmother plant seeds in the garden. As they took the individual seeds and gently pushed them into the rich soil, her wise old ‘Momma’ said, "You know honey, we plant a garden patch every single day in the lives of other people. We need to plant the seeds of kindness, gentleness, compassion, mercy, longsuffering and faith into the life and heart of every person we meet. They will grow just as sure, you know, as these little seeds we are putting in this little garden patch here. And in time, just as sure, the seeds planted in the hearts of those people will bear fruit the same as these seeds here!"
The passage of Scripture Mark was illustrating with his friend’s story was, Galatians 6:7-8;
"Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!--harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life. So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all . . . . "
I have had occasion to quote this entire passage of Scripture often in times past during the course of my teaching and preaching. I have heard others do the very same. And almost invariably, the first part of the passage--the warning part of sowing to one’s destruction (the word, "corruption" in the KJV speaks to the loss of life and the inevitable decay that accompanies it) seemed to be the primary focus of its application and teaching. The obsession with self and its life destroying effects were often emphasized--we reap the very same bitterness, pettiness and cynicism that we sow. This was invariably driven home each time it was taught. On the other hand, the idea that sowing good deeds were somehow connected to reaping a harvest of long lasting, even eternal consequences, seemed to usually be offered in a vague, off handed or off-to-the-side manner. And I failed to pick up on that in a deliberately conscious and focused manner.
The Scriptures, however, in Galatians chapter 5 and 6 make this clear and distinct connection. Sowing with the full intention of pleasing the Spirit, means keeping in step with Him as we give Him permission to constantly be involved in our lives with attitudes and activities that express a sense of grace, warmth, compassion, understanding, consideration and kindness toward the people around us. Intentionally living our lives in such a way with determination and due diligence invariably result in a rich harvest of the very same, ushering us into a permanent state of life before God (see Galatians 5:22-25). In the next chapter, Paul calls this reaping eternal life from the Spirit.
Because we can see with our very own eyes the effects of planting, we know (with favorable conditions) what will follow. Perhaps, as little children in a class room experiment or at home, we have seen tiny seeds we have planted, sprout and turn into small plants that could have or perhaps did eventually produce pods or some other fruit. The outcome is certain--we have proven it to ourselves!
And yet . . . somehow we question the outcome when it comes to the less visible realities that every one of us is immersed in. We sow to the flesh--that is, live selfishly for ourselves, ignoring the obvious needs of others and hope we can avoid the inevitable consequences of degradation, despair and the destructive results of a death inducing end which will come. It is inevitable!
By the same token, we doubt the far reaching and long lasting effects of a life constantly lived seeking to keep in step with God’s Holy Spirit--a life that desires very much to consistently please God. Because the effects of this kind of planting is not immediate or obviously apparent, it necessitates a bit more than a dogged determination to see this process through. It involves an abiding trust in taking a chance that our God knows exactly what He’s talking about when He urges us to sow to the Spirit honoring Him and blessing ourselves in the process.
As I pen these words, the thought comes to mind of Mark Lowry’s powerfully profound message, and somehow what I write here seems so much less compelling than his--what he said was so concise, forthright and rang so clear and true on that occasion. It was a wonderfully true message and I believe what I have written here is just as true, blending well with what he had to say. Perhaps part of it is due to the absence of the adrenaline rush of that moment among a boisterous enthusiastic crowd who loved everything Mark Lowry was saying and doing that evening. Anyway, I suspect our Lord in understanding that bursts of adrenaline will not sustain us over the long haul as we struggle to fathom this deeply rich spiritual truth, compelled Paul to reassure the Galatians: "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up" (Galatians 6:9).
One truth that can never be escaped--we will always be sowing something and eventually will reap exactly what we have sown! ~LAW~
his abbreviated suffering on the cross was not due to a lack of strength. Rather, in spite of the repeated beatings the Galilean had received, to the total amazement of Longinus the Centurion, his energy level surged moment by moment. It soon became obvious that this man was not dying as a victim at all. He alone dictated his destiny. His voice became more and more robust until at last, his shout reverberated through the surrounding hills: “It is completed! I have finished the task! Father, receive me to yourself!“
He then bowed his head and breathed his last. In that instant the earth shuddered beneath the Centurion’s feet, as if seized by vast spasms of sorrow and grief. After three hours of a thick darkness that had enshrouded them at noontide, they were again bathed in brilliant warmth as if the extinguished sun had suddenly been reignited.
For a long moment Longinus, the Centurion was rendered speechless . . . .”
(read the entire short story at the following links:)
Questions were raised concerning the authority a minister may appropriately exercise when individuals within said congregation disagree concerning what the Scriptures teach. This is not unusual. People will never see eye-to-eye on many things. The thorny question at issue was this: Who or what has the final say in my life and yours, and may we disagree with each other without becoming disagreeable? In my attempts at resolving this concern, an accusation from the leaders surfaced that ‘broadsided’ me. None of the particulars of this situation were ever revealed or discussed with me and no serious attempt at getting this matter resolved have ever been pursued despite my continuing efforts in discussing this with one leader in particular who I had considered a dear friend of mine for many years.
I have briefly outlined these circumstances for an important reason. Last week I asked the small group of people who regularly meet in my home, this question: "How many of you have ever had a real difficulty with forgiveness in your lives? Raise you hand." Would you be surprised if I told you that every single person in the room raised his/her hand? Probably not. Forgiveness is obviously a universal problem from which no one can truthfully claim exemption. Considering the circumstances in which I found myself with regard to the afore mentioned church leaders, I too have struggled through the thorny issues of forgiveness. What do the Scripture teach concerning the mechanics of forgiveness? What is an appropriate expression of forgiveness. What would this forgiveness look like if I were to initiate it? How in the world could I truly be able to forgive these people especially in light of their seeming negligence in seeking an appropriate resolution? Are there certain conditions that will be met before forgiveness should ‘kick in’? These were among the many questions and issues that I needed to get settled in my heart if forgiveness/release was to be granted.
I am very much aware of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount regarding forgiveness--this was probably the very first principle that came to mind as I considered all of the questions that flooded through my mind. Jesus said; "If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:14-15). Yep, that’s pretty clear and straight-forward. No questions need be asked here--If someone sins against you, just flat-out forgive him/her. That’s what Jesus says and ‘come Hell or high water,’ that’s what you have to do; no doubt about it! That’s the end of it, right? But it doesn’t feel that simple (After all, How many people have felt a profound sense of guilt who have found it nigh impossible to forgive others despite the clear and direct statement that Jesus levels against them here?) Are there no issues or conditions that must be resolved before our hearts can actually accomplish this? (I honestly think that there is definitely a difference between what we must/should do, and what we are able to do--a big difference).
In the struggles that I had with this whole issue of forgiveness, I was reminded also of a singular teaching of Jesus (though the same theme is discussed by Peter and Jesus in Matthew 18:21-22) in which He said; "If your brother sins, rebuke him, if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him" (Luke 17:3-4). Wha-aaa . . . . t? Jesus seems to be saying here that forgiveness may not necessarily be ‘carte-blanche’ or blanket forgiveness,--that an element of condition may or could be involved. Jesus uses the term ‘if’ at least three times. Does Jesus tuck a component of ‘condition’ into this whole dilemma of forgiveness? In my mind, this was a distinct possibility. But what could that condition be?
I had to be very careful here. It could be convenient and very easy to misapply what Jesus actually said in order to use His words to selfishly dismiss this whole mess and outright refuse to forgive these leaders, justifying my decision based on His words in Luke 17:. In my mind it sounded like Jesus was saying, forgiveness may not necessarily be triggered until repentance and a request for forgiveness are forthcoming. Thus I had no obligation to God to release them until those components were freely offered to me by them. Case closed, Right?! And yet . . , the nagging thought that Jesus had planted in my head--and heart resonated over and over again; ". . . If you do not forgive them their sins, your Father will not forgive your sin." It was critical that I not force what Jesus said on two separate occasions and make them support two very different and contradictory conclusions. What did Jesus say and what did He truly mean by what He said? What a confusing and troubling dilemma!
For a period of years, I have continued to work through many of the questions and issues surrounding this problem of forgiveness. I kept these thoughts and other conflicting ideas fairly close to my heart, speaking openly and rarely to only one or two good friends during that entire time. The conclusions that I had finally come to, I kept to myself because they sounded foreign and rather unorthodox, but the time was fast approaching when I could no longer have the comfort of keeping them close to heart. We had scheduled that very evening a study in our home. A small group of good friends were going to be there to discuss these same issues involving ‘forgiveness’. One of the Scripture lessons was to be Luke 17:3-4. I had to to decide how I should deal with these ‘if’ statements from Jesus.
That’s where Steve Brown comes in (by now you are surely wondering about the connection between him and my discussion of forgiveness in this piece). During the previous week I had been praying--asking for God’s guidance and wisdom in this whole matter and how I was going to teach these things. Well, the next week (that is, last week) on Tuesday morning (our study was to be that evening), my radio alarm came on and as usual there was Steve Brown’s mellow resonating voice speaking of something that I no longer remember. But the very last thing he said (and I will never forget that) was; "It is vital that we do for God what He has done for us!" My mind very naturally and immediately turned to the obvious theme that had been on my mind for well over a week (actually years)--God has forgiven us and so we are obligated to Him to forgive others!
That was the end of Steve’s program and I promptly hit the ‘snooze’ button. In the six or seven minutes that I had before the radio would again come on and beckon me to climb out of bed, I prayed. Again I asked for the wisdom, insight and courage for what I was facing for that coming evening’s study. I asked our Lord to give me a better understanding of what I had studied and learned and what I would be compelled to teach in just a few hours. And finally, I did the one thing that I have never done before--I said (more as an afterthought than anything else); "Are you gonna show, Lord?!" At that very moment, the radio came on and the exact first word I heard was; ‘Forgiveness’ . During the next ten minutes, the round table discussion of participants on ‘Radio Bible Class’ spoke to every single point, question and issue right down the line, that I had ever considered in my struggle for peace regarding our quest to forgive others! I had my lesson for the evening and confidently presented it without a hint of concern or hesitancy!
But, here is the rest of the story! The next day, I pulled Steve Brown’s entire lesson up on my computer because, like usual, due to my tendency to fall in and out of sleep during his broadcasts, I had only heard bits and pieces of it. I wanted to hear the context of what he had to say, but I especially wanted to hear what he had said in the final moments of his lesson. I wanted to hear the exact words (the terminology of the quote I had used in my Tuesday evening lesson) to make sure I had gotten it right. I was astounded! Though I carefully listened to every syllable of that message two or three times over, I found that he had NEVER said; "It is vital that we do for God what He has done for us!" I had distinctly heard the statement in that deep resonating voice with my very own ears, but . . , Steve Brown had never said it! . it! [more to come]
I don’t think I have ever been a model employee and this was particularly true during my employment at the bakery factory where I worked for twenty eight years. However, during that time, I experienced my share of shabby treatment from both my co-workers and supervisors in that place. Whether I was responsible or not for the many conflicts that I experienced there, my heart was fully determined to resolve the difficulties that I had with the various people in that place. I was staunchly devoted to the ‘ministry of reconciliation’ (see II Corinthians 5:18-20), the divine mandate to do my very best to get matters settled between myself and others. I soon found that many of these people had no intention nor any interest whatsoever at restoring our fractured relationships. There was simply no spiritual desire to do anything about this sad situation. Rather, they not only preferred the constant state of conflict, resentment, contempt and bitterness; they promoted and cultivated it as well.
I learned some important lessons during this very difficult period of time as my heart did the unbelievably hard work of incessantly seeking solutions and answers for restoring these shattered connections. First and foremost, it was simply not going to happen. My strong commitment to reconciliation was not strong enough. The required cooperation from others was not there and likely would never be. This realization compelled me to abandon my attempts at resolution. Reconciliation requires accountability from everyone involved. I came to understood that my best efforts to make these people accountable and responsible for their own attitudes and actions was no longer possible. In their hearts, there was no sense of need or desire for reconciliation and so the only option left open to me was to release them from these obligations, and forgive them. And I have.
I am now forced to accept the extremely slow and painful understanding that the situation at the bakery factory as I was compelled to leave it, is likely very much the same one that I face with the church leaders previously mentioned here. My commitment to reconciliation has driven me to extreme lengths (they must acknowledge this) in challenging their accountability in this matter. Over the last couple of years I have gone way out of my way, taking various approaches in order to engage these people to assume an appropriate role in resolving the differences between us. All to no avail.
Being the spiritual leaders of a church, one would imagine that there should be an absolute, even eager dedication to the principle of the "ministry of reconciliation" as outlined by the Apostle Paul and demanded by our Lord. Sadly, I have found this devotion entirely lacking. There simply seems to be no spiritual desire to get these matters that are causing this deep rift between us finally resolved.
Spiritual leaders that are just that, spiritual leaders, will always be committed to the principle of reconciliation. I guess that is why I am so saddened and disappointed to realize that these leaders with whom I have experienced a break in relationship, seem in many ways to be quite like the people in the bakery factory. They have seemed to have abandoned their spiritual mandate to be committed to the ministry of reconciliation. I have demanded accountability to both myself and to them, but for whatever reason, they have consistently refused to be held responsible for the admittedly hard work of reconciliation.
The work of reconciliation is finished whenever people either finally accept, or reject the call to accountability. All that remains is the responsibility to forgive. And that burden may either be one of joy or great sadness. Once the work of reconciliation (the attempts to get issues resolved) is finished, whether it succeeds or fails, forgiveness kicks in and the impulse to genuinely forgive is surprisingly abrupt and complete. For me, the light came on when the work of reconciliation was finished, and the burden carried in my heart for many years had been lifted; I have forgiven these people once and for all, and what a ‘watershed moment’ it has been for me! By God's grace, I have done the unbelievably difficult--even 'gut-wrenching' work of reconciliation and forgiveness. And I PRAISE GOD!!