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Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  James 1:2-4

Last week my wife and I were able to meet up with some old and dear friends from our past.  Our friends described some amazing experiences they’d had since we had seen them last and, in their words, some of the “valleys” as well.

Our common parlance reveals our prejudice.  Mountaintop experiences are great.  Valleys of shadow are bad.  Mountains are inspiring.  Climbing to the top of a mountain gives one a glorious view, not to mention an awesome sense of accomplishment.  Descending into a valley forces one to focus on one’s own problems.  Perspective can be lost in the valley.  It can be depressing.

But something very important happens in valleys.  That is where we are challenged to grow.  The valley is the place where we can be pushed beyond our ability to cope and be compelled to turn to the Lord and His people for support.  Valleys can be extremely productive, building our patience, kindness, courage, compassion, and wisdom.  I have often joined people as they traveled through a valley and found that I hated what they were experiencing, but loved what it was doing to them.  That was definitely the case for our old friends.  They had grown in wisdom and maturity and the very love of Christ.

Once we have traversed enough of those valleys, we can start to gain some perspective on them.  We can look back on them with a respectful appreciation for what we gained there.  But God expects more from us than grudging appreciation.  He wants us to experience them as pure joy.  That may sound far fetched to most of us.  But that probably reflects how most of us feel about spiritual growth.  We consider it nice to have, but not as important as our comfort.  If we have to experience emotional or physical hardship (read valleys) to grow, then maybe growth isn’t that important.

Wrong, my friends.  Becoming like Christ is worth more than all the creature comforts in the world.  Next time the valley comes into your view, embrace it with affection.  It is the fast lane to spiritual maturity, the glory of Christ in you.

Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.  Mark 4:3-8

 If you want to manage any organization to be productive, you have to set it up for effective operation.  You have to train your colleagues so they are prepared to perform.  You have to build their commitment through education and leadership. Competing goals that can cause the organization to lose focus have to be dispatched.  Your ability to produce at a high level will be a function of the kind of organization you are able to build.

In our text for today, Jesus tells us that the same is true for our sharing the gospel.  Think soil.  What kind of dirt are you?  Are you hard dirt – ignorant to the eternal value of what you have received?  Maybe you are shallow dirt – uncommitted to the work of the Kingdom.  Are you thorny dirt – so distracted by other goals you don’t really have time and energy to do the work to which God called you?

Your answer may be like mine.  I am lousy dirt, replete with all those problems.  But here is the great news for us.  We can improve our soil!  Pull up the thorns by throwing your competing goals out of your life.  Grow your commitment to the gospel through prayer, sacrifice and working alongside God in His redemptive plan.  Your dirt will get deeper.  Soften your soil through praise, and love for God and your fellow believers.

Just like a poorly performing organization doesn’t have to stay that way, you don’t have to keep being unproductive, hard, shallow, overgrown soil.  We can make an unproductive organization produce through good management of the business.  We can make ourselves more productive through better management of ourselves.  All it takes is a willingness to follow God’s leading and a commitment to pick up your shovel and go to work every day.

This week, improve your soil, my friends.  Do the work of pulling up weeds, breaking the surface and tilling down deep.  The reward of being a productive acre for Christ is worth many times the effort.

How Large is Your Family?

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;

I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;

and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12:1-3

9/10 of the Law

“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God. Do not steal”.  Leviticus 19:9-11a.

Avoiding the Dead Zone

To the angel of the church in Sardis write:  These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.  Revelation 3:1-2