The Dirty Truth: Becoming a Fruitful Person (Overview)

(Thrive Conference 2015)

Jesus’ parable of the soils demonstrates we have unlimited potential when it comes to spiritual influence.

Many of us live as defined by our limitations and trapped by our regrets.

A four week series at Gateway Church in Austin along with an assessment an small group resources can be found here:  “The Dirty Truth Resources (Becoming)

These limitations are imposed upon us by others or adopted by us. According to Jesus, our fears, weaknesses, past mistakes, regrets, and background do not have to keep us from impacting others in dramatic ways.

Take a quick inventory: are you making progress in your relationship with God? Does He seem closer to you now than He has in the past? Are you growing in your character? Are you stronger today than you used to be? Are you making more of a difference in the lives of others now than you have in the past?

Jesus shows us how to make progress!

We can develop four particular skills derived from the parable of the soils to help us become a fruitful person.

Here’s the dirty truth: God works in our lives and even helps us trust Him, but there are things we must do to really grow. We are going to have to get our hands dirty – so to speak. With His help, we have to work hard to overcome silence, trials, temptations, and rebellion.

Which of the soils best describes you?

Luke 8:1-15 (NIV)
While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”

When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, “‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.’

11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God.12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

We can discover our God-given destiny by developing 4 skills derived from Jesus’ parable. Becoming who we were created to be means we need to become receptive, tenacious, intentional, and proactive.

Soils                                                      Skills

Hardened   –> Vulnerable         Receptive (Overcoming Silence)
Shallow    —-> Deep                     Tenacious (Overcoming Trials)
Thorny    —->  Clear                     Intentional (Overcoming Temptations)
Desolate   —>   Fruitful               Proactive (Overcoming Rebellion)

It is natural and normal for all believers to bear fruit – 30, 60, 100 times the fruit.  Bearing fruit means being transformed and transforming others. The natural result of following Christ is a life described as fruitful, rich, and productive.

Does this describe you?

According to Jesus, we have different paths we can take.

  • Some of us have a hardened heart. We have been walked on. We haven’t heard from God in a long time, or we don’t want to hear from God.
  • Some of us have a shallow faith. Our faith is based entirely on our circumstances and how we feel at the time.
  • Some of us have been distracted by temptations we keep falling back into over and over.
  • Some of us are in a good place. We are seeing change in our lives and change in the ones we care about, and it’s happening through us!

The good soil describes someone that hears the word, understands it, and produces a crop.  In other words, they obey.  The words used to describe hearing, retaining, and understanding all imply action – obeying God.  If you hear, you will respond. If you retain or put to memory what you hear, you will live it out. If you understand, you will do it. Jesus was saying: if you comprehend my message then you will put it into action. When you act on what you hear, you will bear fruit.

Even in our culture, we equate hearing with doing. For those of us with kids: Have you ever asked them: “Are you listening to me?” We equate listening with obeying. When we say: “You aren’t being a good listener.” this actually means – you aren’t doing what I am asking you to do. When we say: “Do you understand what I’m saying?” We are really implying: “If you understand me, then you will trust what I am saying and act on it.

Unfortunately, we often rebel. We know what we ought to do, and don’t do it. Or we know what we shouldn’t do, and we do it anyway.

We treat God the same way our kids treat us. Too often, we aren’t good listeners.

The four questions that the parable of the soils raise give us a process to move forward.

 A Process to Create A Better Future Today:

  1. What is God calling you to do?
  2. What trials have you faced?
  3. What temptations distract you?
  4. What sacrifices do you need to make?

Key Question #1: What is God calling you to do?

We need to become more receptive!

Don’t come too closure too soon on who God is in your life (if you are still figuring out what you believe) or what God wants to do in your life. Be open-minded in both the Big Picture and in the next steps.

Are you truly receptive to what God wants in your life?

Before you check out or discredit this idea: let me just say God speaks. I have heard His voice – never audibly, but I have had thoughts that aren’t my own. I can tell the difference between my thoughts and God’s thoughts because God’s thoughts challenge me to do something good for others and usually require faith and courage. When you have a thought ask yourself: “Is this selfless? Does this take courage? Is this consistent with God’s character?” If the answer is “yes” to all three questions then it may very well be God is speaking to you because that is not normally how we think.

God’s voice is that prompting to say an encouraging word to a co-worker, that prompting to hug someone who seems discouraged, that prompting to give to someone in need, that prompting to call or text someone who comes to mind only to discover your efforts are exactly what they needed at that moment.

What is God calling you to do? How is He wanting you to be transformed? Who is He wanting you to impact?

Key Question #2: What trials have kept you from living out your calling?

What has happened to you to keep you from making progress towards your calling?

When things get tough, you may not know what to do, but you can know the One who does. You can trust Him. You can trust that somehow what was intended for evil, He can work so miraculously that good can come out of the darkest moments. We do not know why things like this happen, but we know the One who does. We can trust Him.

We can choose Hope even when we don’t feel like it.

Become tenacious!

Want to give up?!? Live a life worthy of the calling you have received, and God can help us do this!

The Thessalonians suffered greatly (riots, violence, persecution, expected Jesus to return so soon that they stopped working, a fake letter convinced them that Jesus had returned and did not come for them, as a result they were disappointed and disillusioned). To encourage them in the midst of their suffering and to keep them from giving up, Paul writes:

1 Thessalonians 2:11-12
“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.”

We see this idea over and over in the Scriptures. When things get tough, live a life worthy of the calling you’ve received.

What God is calling you to do is worth the struggle, challenge, and hardship.

2 Thessalonians 1:11
“With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.”

Too often we give up too soon. We give up right before the breakthrough.

Harvard professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter said the following: “Everything looks like failure in the middle.” 

Some of us have spent too much time blaming our circumstances and blaming the environment. We need to  live a life worthy of the calling we have received.

Don’t let your circumstances determine your level of faith. Let your faith determine how you respond to your circumstances.

Key question #3: What temptations keep distracting you from your calling?

What decisions have you made that keep derailing you?

Take an honest look at your life. What are you doing to undermine yourself?

We have a great example to learn from when we look at the ministry of Titus. Paul traveled all across the Middle East and what is now Europe reaching out to people and starting churches. He traveled with others. Often when one of those he was mentoring was ready, he would leave them in a city with the task of carrying on their work without Paul. In one situation, Paul left Titus in Crete. Titus’ goal was described in Titus 1:5

Titus 1:5 (NIV)
“The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appointelders in every town, as I directed you.”

Paul goes on to describe elders as spiritual overseers who have integrity, they aren’t corrupt or given to stealing or drunkenness. Instead, they are slow to anger, demonstrate self-control, trustworthy, hospitable. They are faithful to their spouse and they know and live out the truths found in the Scriptures.

Paul points out to Titus that he realizes what a difficult task this is because there weren’t a lot of people in Crete that matched that description. In fact, Paul says in Titus 1:12-13a:

Titus 1:12-13a (NIV)
One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.”This saying is true.

Even to this day, to refer to someone as a Cretan is not a compliment.

Sounds like a tall task! Titus, I want you to turn Cretans, people who are always liars, evil brutes, and gluttons into spiritual overseers. Titus’ goal was to create a community in which evil people became overseers, a community where unlikeable people became world class leaders.

We see it right here in Scripture: People are invited to come as they are, but they don’t have to stay that way!

So then, what is the process Titus used and Paul used to help people become intentional and make progress in changing their character? They were going into all sorts of crazy places with very broken people who had no Christian background and even no understanding of a loving and just God.

Paul describes intentional people as those who take off the old by putting on the new, take thoughts captive to renew their minds, and eliminate bad habits by living out the good habits they want to be true of them.

To help Titus enable the Cretans to become more intentional and less distracted by their destructive habits and pursuits, Paul writes these words:

Titus 2:11-14
11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age…

God’s part in becoming who we were created to be is his grace – the love He lavishes on us even though we don’t deserve it.

Our part (and He helps us even with this) – gratitude compels us. We need to be thankful for what we have and not mad about what we don’t have.

We need to reflect on all of the great things that God has given us.  We have life, breath, health, family, friends, freedom, a new life in Christ, and so on.  He has done so much for us and given so much to us!  Our lives should be motivated by a deep sense of gratitude.  We should passionately serve Him and follow Him willing to endure any trial that comes our way.

When we are compelled by gratitude to become the best version of ourselves, we become fruitful – transformed and transforming others.

Answering these last two questions (what trials have slowed me down? and what temptations have distracted me?) are important because it helps us take account of the pain in our lives and helps when we come up with our strategy for moving forward. Often we are haunted by the selfish, mean, evil, and stupid choices of others, but too often we don’t see how our own choices have been part of the pain we’ve experienced. Taking into account the trials and temptations helps us determine why we aren’t moving forward and helps us better answer the next question.

Key Question #4: What sacrifices do you need to make to live out your calling?

If it is important then it is worth the sacrifice!

When we are willing to make sacrifices, we are better able to re-calibrate our hearts with God’s heart for our lives.

We need to take personal responsibility to do the hard work it takes to become who we were created to be. That’s the dirty truth!

Are you willing to give up whatever is keeping you from moving forward in your calling? Are you willing to take a risk to do what you know you should be doing?

Some of us lack the courage to try something new. Some of us lack the character to stay and work to make where we are better.

Are you a proactive person?  Or are you more reactive?

Being “proactive” is defined as “acting in advance to deal with an expected difficulty; anticipatory.” Synonyms include aggressive, ardent, banzai, can-do, eager, energetic, enthused, enthusiastic, fanatical, fired up, intense

A proactive person doesn’t remain a victim no matter what they may face. A proactive person doesn’t complain about something they are unwilling to do anything about!

To be proactive means we hear and act on what we hear.

Only those who trust God obey Him.

Obedience has negative connotations in our society, but think of obeying God as being invited by someone to your surprise party.  You don’t know why they are asking you to do what they are asking, but you know you can trust them.  The result of obeying them (even though you don’t want to) is a fantastic party (even if it wasn’t totally a surprise).

Our you familiar with the 5 Love Languages

Created by Gary Chapman, this tool has helped many people learn to love others the way they receive love and help people communicate better what they need. For example, some of us express and receive love through words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service, quality time, quantity time, or giving/receiving gifts.

God’s love language is trust.

When we trust God by obeying Him, we express our love to Him.

John 14:21
Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.

Just as we need to go to God for help for guidance in what He wants us to become, we need to go to Him to help us get there.

When God calls you, you can do it. I have seen people use this process to overcome addictions, work through major issues, breakthrough areas where they’ve been stuck for years, or move forward faster towards their God-given destiny.

Choose to live by this mantra: Don’t complain about something you aren’t willing to do anything about!

Are you willing to take personal responsibility for your future?

What is God calling you to do? What are your next steps for making progress in your marriage or family, in your career, in your relationship with God to become a healthier person and to have healthier relationships?

With God’s help and help from others, are you willing to make the sacrifices to move forward? It will be tough, and it will be worth it!  Don’t give up!

I want to add one more layer to the parable of the soils

Four Paths

Isolation                 Independence                 Influence

Hardened    –>      Vulnerable        —->           Prophet
Shallow     —->       Deep                  —->           Guide
Thorny      —->       Clear                  —->           Trailblazer
Desolate        —>       Fruitful          —->           Catalyst

Our journey doesn’t end when we move from a hard heart to a vulnerable heart. When we learn to hear God’s voice, we can actually help others hear His voice as well. I’ve referred to this ability as a “prophet.”

We can grow from a shallow faith to a deep faith when we overcome trials and help others overcome the trials they face as a “guide” in their life.

We can get past the thorns and live a life of clarity by overcoming temptations and helping others do the same. Since we have gone to where they need to go, we can show them the way like “trailblazers” creating a path of hope for others.

We can move from a desolate, disconnected, and rebellious place to become fruitful and help others overcoming rebellion and get past where they are stuck by becoming a “catalyst” in their life.

We can move from isolation to independence. That is a good place to be, but the journey doesn’t end there. We can become people of influence!

We can make a real difference in the lives of others.

If you are following Christ, consider this: God loves you so much that He intentionally brought into your life someone to help you follow Him.

So then, who in your life does God want you to help discover His love? God loves the people around you so much, that He brought you into their lives!

Who do you need to serve? How does God want you to make a difference? So what is your next step to make progress?

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