The temptation is real. As a pastor, my unbridled enthusiasm and expectations can spill into the dangerous territory that is impatience and frustration. Similar to a novice bull rider, I get rocked to and fro by the violent whipping that is the natural cycle of ministry. And I say this in the least masochistic way possible: I love the cadence of ministry for both its callous inducing yet character producing moments.
With that said, I’ve been really stewing on the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13; Mk. 4; Lk. 8). It gives me good perspective. It helps me relinquish this obsession that somehow the perfectly worded sermon or counseling session is the skeleton key to salvation. It’s pretty easy typing that, though. It’s another thing to believe it.
Another reason I love this parable, or any parables for that matter, is its confounding yet simple nature. Specifically with the Parable of the Sower, it’s told in agricultural nomenclature that would have been understood by many of the stakeholders. They wouldn’t be tripped up by idiosyncratic nuances of the different soils. However, for many, the true message of of the parables were hid in plain sight. Hence, after he tells said parable, Jesus even declares, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:9)
I’m sure many of us, myself included, aren’t as familiar with these farming rhetoric. I think it’s helpful that we are privy to Jesus’ explanation to his disciples, and I think that the different types of soils is a helpful analogy, I thought to myself, what if there was a more pertinent analogy that depicted the different hearts or seasons in which we receive the Gospel of Christ. Before I begin, however, I it is of the utmost importance that I stress the fact that I am not making an extension of the parable or imputing my own clever and relevant similes on top of the statements that are already made by Jesus. What I am about to do is just expanding on my own reflections about ministry and the different hearts that I myself have experienced as the Word of God has hit me in different ways. So before I go on, please understand this.
Jesus talks about the different soils which resemble the types of hearts as the Word of God is sowed into their proverbial soils. The following list resemble a similar but not so different list of hearts that I have had and the seasons that I have endured. Not only that, these are the hearts/seasons in which I’ve experienced in people that I have ministered to. And similar to how Jesus was able accurately exegete his audience, I, too, will try to speak plainly so that you may understand as well.
1. Mr. Goodbar
A Mr. Goodbar Christian is someone who is straightforward. The beauty of a Mr. Goodbar is that while it’s not the worst chocolate bar, it’s far from the best. It’s not risksy nor is is spectacular but it’s consistent. Sometimes the cookie in the Twix or the wafer in the Kit Kat can get stale. Sometimes the nougat in the Snickers Bar can get too tough. But I have never bit into a Goodbar and been disappoint. At the same time, I’ve never simultaneously taken a bite out of a Mr. Goodbar and slowly close my eyes in delight. In fact the only time I ever eat a Mr. Goodbar is during Halloween (or Hallelujah or Hosanna night if you grew up with conservative Korean parents). I’ve never bought a Mr. Goodbar out of my own volition. The fact that it’s called a Mr. Goodbar and there is a prefix affixed onto the bar implies a sense of politeness about it.
I’ve been a Mr. Goodbar. As long as I do enough, I’m safe. As long as I pray enough, serve the Church enough, then I can make it into those Hershey’s mixed bag, with the likes of Krackle, regular Hershey’s and the Special Dark. Compared to those guys, I’m great. But sometimes, when I’m stuck in that season of being a Mr. Goodbar, the Gospel falls onto a hardened heart of pride because I think I’m all that, when in reality, I’m not that great at all. So it’s during these seasons when I am ironically in this season of being a Mr. Goodbar when in reality I should consider myself the chief of all sinners so that I am more receptive to the sweet graces of God.
2. Take 5
Don’t get it twisted; a Take 5 candy bar is delicious. If I were to combine pretzels, caramel, peanut butter, peanuts and cover it with delicious milk chocolate, you would have your interest piqued too. When my dad introduced it as a topping at TCBY, it was one of our top selling toppings. It makes sense. The contrast of different textures as well as the complex taste nodes that it offers makes it quite an adventure. And we’re just talking about a candy bar. But sometimes, the complexity of it can be Take 5’s downfall. Sometimes, there is just so much that’s going on that it can be a sensory overload.
I know a lot of people who go to church and do so many things of the church. They work full time jobs, with families and head two or three different ministries. They lead a small group and help with welcoming team. But sometimes, there is just too much going on that it’s hard to really take a moment to rest, reflect and bask. It’s not even the busy-ness that is what’s causing the problem; it’s the reason for such a frenetic life. Some mask their insecurity about their salvation, or were mistaught the Book of James. I’ve been there. I’ve been so caught up in doing that I neglected the “being.” And so whenever I feel like a Take 5 bar, it’s hard to be still and know that He is God.
3. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
You’re probably thinking this is the “good soil” example right? The tagline for Reese’s has always been, “there’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s”. I’m not going to challenge this notion, but I do want to say that Reese’s and all its permutations are downright delicious. Reese’s Pieces, Puffs, Fastbreak, Reese’s White Chocolate cups, and the rest of the Reese’s family are welcomed snacks in the Lim Household.
But let’s rewind to that motto: there’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s. I think there are many who practice their faith in such a way. I am not saying that there needs to be an agreement of issues such as baptism, polity and other theological hills, but there are many desire to be a Christian without the necessary brackets of theology. The irony of someone who declares a disdain for theology or claims that theology is too legalistic is in itself a theological statement; they are saying that the study of God is unimportant in the pursuit to live for Him.
“Knowing about God is crucially important for the living of our lives. As it would be cruel to an Amazonian tribesmen to fly him to London, put him down without explanation in Trafalgar Square and leave him, as one who knew nothing of English or England, to fend for himself, so we are cruel to ourselves if we try to live in this world without knowing about the God whose world it is and who runs it .The world becomes a strange, mad, painful place, and life in it a disappointing and unpleasant business, for those who do not know about God. Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfold, as it were , with no sense of direction, and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.” – J.I. Packer, Knowing God
Yes, it might be popular to attempt to live, not just as a Christian but a human being bearing the image of God, to abandon the discipline of getting to know God, it is a very daunting task. In this day in age of the pursuit of the mystical and experiential, and as someone who has been a Reese’s, it’s not all fun and games. Life suddenly becomes an unhinged roller coaster where my circumstances, and not my identity in Christ, become the ultimate dictator of my joy.
Toblerone is next level. It’s not like Godiva level, but it’s definitely a step up from Hershey’s or Milky Way. Let me put it this way: I’ve never got them in any of my many Halloween hauls and it’s so fancy that it’s considered a desired gift that gets stolen many times during White Elephant. I don’t think Tootsie Rolls get that kind of treatment.
And I must admit, Toblerone is delicious. First of all, it’s Swiss. You already know the chocolate, the most important component of any good chocolate bar, is going to be finer. Maybe it’s because it’s European. I don’t know. I feel a bit more elevated and classy whenever I break a piece of that Toblerone. Second, it has made with honey. Honey just makes everything taste better. It’s the Earth’s natural sweetener. If bees are working so hard to make this stuff, I have to assume that it’s far superior to normal sugar. Finally, it’s shaped in such a way that is iconic; it’s perfect triangular form makes it seem majestic and a candy bar that stands out from the rest.
In fact, whenever I eat a Toblerone, I never want to finish it. I just want a taste, a tease, a smattering, a modicum. I want that ever fleeting moment to create a deeper desire and anticipation for the next experience. I never have this with Snickers. I just want to have an eating competition without any other competitors. So there’s a sense of pretentiousness about a Toblerone bar.
But this is another heart that I have had, and perhaps the current season that I am in currently. I’m realizing more and more, that theology is not enough. And I am aware, now more so than ever, that theology has its own connotations and preconceived notions. People are intimidated by it. They have had bad experiences with the academic and cerebral bashing that goes on, especially on social media. So while theology in itself is not bad, people combine it with their lived and very real experiences and now it becomes a trigger word. They almost treat it as the antithesis to love. And that’s unfortunate. But I’ve been that pretentious preacher, spouting off theological truths and hoping it changes hearts and minds. It has become an identity marker. So for many people who sinfully take pride in their knowledge of God, which in itself should be more humbling since the study of God can never be exhausted, they have hardened hearts that do not follow a path of humble worship but rather, they cultivate a garden of self-entitlement because they know a few things. I think this is where I am currently at.
5. Tootsie Roll
If you know me, you know how much I hate Tootsie Rolls. They don’t do anything for me. Even the chocolate that is used is so vastly inferior to everything else. It’s so bad, I’d rather get an apple or floss rather than a handful of Tootsie Rolls. The fruit flavored Tootsie Rolls are great (sans the vanilla one), but having that alternative is just another reminder of how bad chocolate Tootsie Rolls are.
But to be honest, that’s where I want to be. Normal and unassuming. Malleable and mundane. There are a few catch phrases that I have seen lately on the bumpers of many Honday Odysseys, such as “He>I” or “I Am Second,” and while that notion is noble, it’s impossible to achieve on our own merits. Now, do I want to be regarded in the same way I view Tootsie Rolls? That’s a negative. But if I am going to, not only preach but live the words of John the Baptist (God increase and I decrease), then it is the way of the pedestrian and unimpressive Tootsie Roll. I know. The analogy is corny, forced and at this point, just trying to squeeze my mind for even the tiniest of globules of creative juices, but I’ve had a combination of a hankering to write and a conviction to be more of a Spirit-led leader so that I can point my congregation members to Christ as I pursue, holistically, the life and ministry of Christ. And if that means a relinquishing of all the other styles of hearts and motives that I have had, then let it be.
So yeah. Tootsie Rolls. Not quite as an eloquent and profound comparison to soils, and I don’t even think young hipsters eat Mr. Goodbar, but at the very least it’s relevant to me because I lived it. I never thought I’d make a Gospel comparison, but I guess that’s just the way my mind works. Next up, how the way we eat our Pho is an example of the Gospel.