The contrast could not have been starker. Driving home from a weekend speaking engagement it dawned on me that I witnessed a miracle that day. The weeklong media blitz surrounding the demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri had reached its peak. If the reports were to be believed, the entire nation seemed on the verge of a racial eruption. But an entirely different scenario was being lived out in another major city not that far from St. Louis.
It is a modestly-sized congregation, some might describe it as a small church. Their pastor, a hard-working, unpretentious family man has led the congregation for nearly thirty years. I could observe no majority ethnicity among the attendees. There are Filipinos, others from the Far East, Latinos, Middle Easterners, African Americans, whites, and many of mixed races. In short, the church represents the multi-racial make-up of its neighborhood.
More than that, the congregation represents the Kingdom of God to its neighborhood. The media cycle of Ferguson, Missouri has run its course but genuine racial issues persist in our nation. Sadly, some masquerading as ministers of the gospel have driven wedges between the races and sought to aggrandize and enrich themselves by enflaming conflict. There exists enough blame to go around, whatever “side” one takes. But in this multi-racial neighborhood a church stands tall as a witness to the reconciling power of the gospel.
In the church we are not blind to color and diversity, we are enriched by it. No symphony can create a more glorious sound than the people of God, diverse yet united, lifting songs of praise to the Lord of all. What I remember most of all from our experience in that wonderful outpost of heaven, are the smiles. Anger, so vividly displayed in the video clips from Ferguson, is replaced by joy among the reconciled people of God.
Sadly, deep hostility between races exists in this world. But all across the nation and the world are thousands of these small bands of harmony we call the church. God has planted the church—yes, your church and mine—to be and to do the will of God on this planet. May God empower us to display the grace of God at work, the light of divine love shining in the darkness of sin and selfishness.
The Church. Some hate it. Others love it. Many misunderstand it. Almost all Christians worry about it. But there are four things that we know about the Church:
1. The favor and blessing of God is on the Church.
The Church is the visible expression of Jesus on earth. Paul describes it as the “body” of Christ. (Colossians 1:24) Jesus loves the Church so much that he died to create it. (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:25) Sometimes we fret that “the Church nowadays has lost its way” and perhaps some local churches have veered off track. But if we can trust the love of God—and we can—then we maintain our confidence that the Lord who established this Church with his blood will continue to pour his grace upon it.
2. Jesus promised to build His church
“I will build my church,” Jesus proclaimed, “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:19) The word picture describes a forward moving church overcoming every obstacle that its enemies helplessly place in its path. For two thousand years, opposing worldviews have taken aim against the church. Not one has succeeded.
3. Jesus is fulfilling His promise to build the Church
In the Assemblies of God alone, a new believer is added every twenty seconds, and a new church is planted somewhere in the world every fifty-two minutes. In India, Assembly of God leaders and churches have engaged in what is believed to be the largest single church planting initiative in history. They will train 30,000 pastors to plant 25,000 house churches by 2020. The conservative estimate of leaders in India is that 625,000 new believers will result.
4. Every believer belongs to the Church
“Together you are the body of Christ. Each one of you is part of his body.” (1 Corinthians 12:27 CEV) The Church is expressed as a local church. No, a perfect local church does not exist; humans bring human brokenness to the church. But it is in our life together that we find a path to wholeness in Christ. You need a church, and a church needs you.
In this series of blog posts, we consider missions and evangelism using the metaphor that Jesus often used—the harvest. For a farmer and for followers of Jesus, the harvest is not a problem, it is an opportunity. We begin to realize the harvest when we see people like Jesus saw them, as “sheep without a shepherd.” Leaders who care are desperately needed today. But, we do not have an unlimited amount of time to get the job done. We have a window of opportunity that will not last forever.
In regard to the harvest, there are three broad categories of involvement. One way that we can be involved is through prayer. In an earlier post, we described the importance of praying for laborers for the harvest. There are many other needs for which we can pray.
Another way to bring in the harvest is to be directly involved yourself. You can go—as a missionary, or as a neighbor. As we become laborers in the harvest ourselves, we are the answer to someone’s prayers.
One more way to be involved in the harvest is through giving financially. Supporting missions and the outreach ministries of your local church through giving remains a great need for the harvest.
At this point, frustration easily sets in. Status quo is not an option, we know that. But we also know that we have limited resources, especially finances. I have been a pastor and I am currently a missionary. I know that pastors want to resource missionaries and I know that missionaries have an increasing need for more resources, especially finances. Missions is not going to get less expensive, or less important. Are we stymied? Absolutely not. The Kingdom is never stymied.
Jesus and his disciples faced a similar situation. The crowds that followed Jesus needed food, which was simply unavailable in the remote location in which they found themselves. Read the story (Matthew 14:13-21) to find the surprising, but simple solution. When the disciples were ready to give up, Jesus pressed them to look deeper. Taking inventory one more time they found one boy with five small loaves of bread and two fish. Not enough to feed five thousand people.
But Jesus blessed it and proceeded to feed every single person, with a pile of leftovers, besides. One boy’s lunch became enough to feed five thousand people, when he gave it to the Lord. A miracle occurred that today. If the disciples and the boy had waited for enough to come in, they would have all starved to death. Miracles happen when we do something—of any size—that God can bless. A miracle can occur today. But we must do something more than we are doing today to bring in the harvest.
For the sake of the harvest, consider doing something more than you are doing now. Don’t hesitate. Perhaps you can give $10.00 per month to missions, please don’t wait until you can give $100.00. Let God bless the $10.00 gift and allow him to increase your ability to give more. If you find it difficult to pray for long periods of time, don’t wait—start by praying for a minute or two. God answers short prayers as easily as long ones. Before long, you may find yourself devoting longer periods of time to prayer. You understand—do something for God to bless and to multiply.
As children, we all played hide-and-seek. The “seeker” always shouted, “Ready or not, here I come!” There is no hiding from the harvest. Ready or not, here it comes—the opportunity of all time.
We have the opportunity of all time, to fill heaven. Wow! We start to seize it by seeing what Jesus saw, but there is something that we can do, and we can start today.
Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. (Matthew 9:38, ESV)
The job gets done by people. With this instruction, Jesus identifies the workforce as the most important component of the harvest. Before he sent the disciples out as laborers in their own right, Jesus instructed them to ask God to send the workforce. They would need plenty of help to reach the world. The Lord of the Harvest chooses who to send into the fields. God builds the workforce that builds the Church.
If it were left up to me, I would certainly choose the wrong people, like Israel when they desired a king. Tall and handsome Saul pleased the people, but disappointed God. When God chose the leader of His people, he found a ruddy shepherd named David, whose own father didn't see as qualified.
Through prayer, God engages in a wonderful, mysterious partnership with God’s people that gets the job done. Our job is to pray for laborers, including leaders. God, then, will call and send the right people to do the work. As a missionary-educator, my call is to go train leaders who will lead their churches to represent Christ in their communities and countries. We are call called to pray. In missions, praying is as important as going.
Do you hear the urgency in the voice of Jesus when he says to "pray earnestly"? Opportunities are often described as windows; they can pass as quickly as they appear. Unharvested crops spoil in the field. Unfortunately, the harvest doesn't come in by evenly spaced segments, it all ripens in the field at once, creating at the same time, an opportunity and a crisis.
I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. (John 4:35b, NIV)
We have an opportunity to seize. When a window of opportunity opens, the wrong response is hesitation. Indeed, hesitation can be downright dangerous. Some time ago, a gunman arrived at an airport security checkpoint and immediately began firing his weapon. Tragically, a federal agent was killed. But, it could have been much worse. Just weeks before the incident, the agents had received training on that exact scenario. When it occurred, with training fresh in their minds, the agents knew exactly what action to take and proceeded without hesitation.
The time is now. The harvest is ready. We dare not hesitate.
Start today by praying for God to send laborers into the harvest. During 2014, the Lord has asked Ruth and I to pray this simple, but powerful prayer and to ask others to join us. If you will commit to praying at least once per week, please visit our website for a weekly reminder to pray.
(Coming Up: The conclusion of The Opportunity of All Time)
It was New Year’s Eve and I found myself engaged in the rarest behavior of all time. Seated comfortably in my recliner, remote control in hand, I quickly clicked in search of… commercials. Home before midnight, and feeling compelled to stay up until the New Year arrived, we decided to watch television coverage from Times Square. It did not take long for indignation to rise up inside of me, as revelry and drunkenness was celebrated on a grand scale. Embarrassed by the crassness of the performers, I found myself searching for relief by changing the channel from programming to commercials.
The next morning, I wondered if Jesus would have been at Times Square on New Year’s Eve. I don’t know. But if he did, his reaction would have been far better than mine.
In the previous post, we were reminded that the harvest—a huge one—lies before us. God has offered us the outstanding opportunity of living just before Jesus returns, the most important era of human history. And, the harvest is everywhere. It is global, local, and personal. Jesus promised, “I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:19) And, he is beginning to fulfill that promise around the world. But “the laborers are few.” (Matthew 9:37)
Until the crops are actually gathered, they are not a harvest, just the opportunity for harvest. Seizing any opportunity is rarely easy. To continue the harvest metaphor, field work is unglamorous, backbreaking work, usually from sun-up to sundown.
Israel sang a song that describes the emotional cycle of the harvest. "He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him." (Psalm 126:6, ESV) Missions and evangelism is a lot of hard work, no doubt about it, but joy comes from persevering through the weeping times to the reaping times. Joy comes from seizing the opportunity, not from avoiding it.
When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. (Matthew 9:36, The Message)
We begin to seize the opportunity by seeing what Jesus saw. That is what I failed to do on New Year’s Eve. Jesus looked full into the faces of those wandering, troubled, and troubling people and saw "sheep without a shepherd." (Matthew 9:36) Some might use less flattering language. The truth is that some of those people were good people. Others were sick or in emotional pain. Many were flat-out sinners, undesirables. The insiders of Jesus' day accused him of hanging out with the wrong crowd.
Remember that the harvest is raw, and may not be pretty. When I was growing up, we had a huge garden. We grew vegetables mostly—corn, green beans, tomatoes, and the like. But the first ripe produce of the summer was always strawberries—red, juicy, sweet strawberries. Impatient, I often ate my first strawberry of the season right there in the patch. You can’t do that with potatoes.
The farmer brings in an unrefined harvest. So does the Church. When you look at the potential harvest, do you see undesirable sinners, or do you, like Jesus, see sheep without a shepherd? Are you drawn to them or repelled by them?
Missionaries have always gone to the neediest places, not just the prettiest places. Many go where the response has been positive, and people accept the message in large numbers. Others, follow the Spirit’s leadership to hard places, where obstacles are many and where “success” is limited. As a result, some of the hardest, most Gospel resistant places are the places where Jesus, today, is building His church. The sheep are being connected to their Shepherd.
The mission field starts next door. May we look at our neighbor, classmate, or co-worker with the eyes of Jesus. By grace, God has placed him or her in your life, sheep with a shepherd—your Shepherd.
The opportunity of all time… In the next post, we will look further at how we can seize it.
Jesus often used metaphors. One his favorite metaphors compared evangelism to a harvest. On more than one occasion, Jesus described the reality of the situation as an urgent need for laborers. There exists no shortage of “crops” to harvest, but there is a shortfall in the workforce.
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." (Matthew 9:35-38 ESV)
At first glance, it seems that Jesus is describing a problem. It has often been said that a problem is just the flip side of an opportunity. One can choose. Will you see your situation as a problem to be solved (or avoided? Or, will you choose to see an opportunity to be seized? I am not talking about semantics, mind games or spin. Our approach really matters. It matters to yourself, and, more importantly, it matters to God.
For many years, Ruth and I lived in rural communities. I am not a farmer, but I have watched the agricultural cycle, up close and personal. Several of our friends have been farmers and others that work in related industries. I guarantee that you will never see a farmer complaining about the inconvenience of harvest season! The harvest is not a problem, it is an opportunity. Months earlier, that farmer could not wait to get in the fields, first to prepare for planting, then planting, followed by pest and weed control. Finally, the culmination—harvest time—pay day!
Do you feel the same way about the Great Commission as a farmer feels about his crops?A lot of people were following Jesus, for a lot of different reasons. But when he looked into their eyes, he saw a harvest, and an opportunity.
May I say it again? The harvest is not a problem, it is an opportunity. We are told that more people live on earth today than have ever lived in all of history before us. If the return of Jesus is near—and it certainly is—the greatest harvest of all time lies before us. Follower of Jesus, are you excited, awestruck, and somewhat fearful as this reality settles into your mind and your heart? The Lord is offering to us the opportunity of all time—to fill heaven!
The harvest is ready, and it is everywhere. This is our opportunity to tell the story of Jesus. Billions of people will hear and receive the good news, if there are laborers to tell it.
Until the crops are actually gathered, they are not a harvest, just the opportunity for harvest. Seizing an opportunity is rarely easy. In the next post, let’s consider how to meet the opportunity of all time.
Jesus' instructions to his disciples is a well-known text to all of us involved in missions, whether we are missionaries, pastors, or passionate supporters of the Great Commission.
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." (Matthew 9:35-38, ESV)
Included in these instructions are three non-negotiables for missions.
1) The heart of Jesus.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them. (Matthew 9:36)
Jesus loves the lost person. Sure, he recognizes the sin and brokenness, but his shepherd's heart compels him to act on their behalf and minister to them, not to recoil in disgust. His critics often accused Jesus of hanging out with the wrong crowd. Jesus was mission-focused. "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." (Luke 19:10 ESV)
2) The ministry of Jesus
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. (Matthew 9:35 ESV)
In a later blog, I will break down this three-fold ministry of Jesus in greater detail. For now, let's note that Jesus engaged in a balanced approach to evangelism-discipleship. He 1) prophetically declared arrival of the kingdom of God, 2) accurately taught the scriptures, and 3) compassionately cared for the physical needs of the lost.
3) The prayer of Jesus
Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." (Matthew 9:37-38 ESV)
Do you find it surprising that Jesus did not instruct his disciples to pray for the harvest, or to pray for the lost? The same mandate is ours. There is no harvest problem, but there is a workforce problem. The need for compassionate, dedicated, empowered workers continues. With a sense of urgency, let's pray for those workers.
Let's engage in the mission that the Lord has given to us, by doing what Jesus did.
In an earlier post, I made note of the importance that Jesus placed on the need for laborers for the harvest. God uses people like you and me to get the work done.
But the people of God need the power of God. The Holy Spirit provides that power. Read Luke 24:46-49 and you discover that the Great Commission may also be seen as the Great Promise. Before His resurrection, Jesus assured His followers that they would indeed carry the Good News of His grace everywhere. But, their first responsibility would be to wait until the Spirit filled them with God's power.
Ministry in the 21st century requires the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. We depend on that power just as much as Peter, John, and Paul did in the first century. When the good news is proclaimed and validated by signs and wonders, people find an opportunity to respond in faith for salvation.
Dr. Anthony Palma, a leading Pentecostal scholar has written a practical article in which he provides straightforward advice for leaders as they lead their Spirit-filled ministries. Pastors, teachers, and evangelists, please proclaim and lead the people of God to fullness in the Spirit. The harvest demands it.
Click here to read the full article by Dr. Palma.
In a recent Harvest 365 post, Dr. JoAnn Butrin makes a compelling case for viewing missions as a fundamental purpose of the church. In her view, a church, does not "do missions". Instead, a church is missions. The mission statement of a church cannot, be definition, be separated from missions, the primary disciple making mandate that Jesus gave His Body, the Church.
I agree with Dr. Butrin's assessment. With a church-is-missions mindset, there exists no "Missions Department" of a church because missions is embedded in every group or activity of the church, like DNA is present in every cell of a person's body.
Sending missionaries to the world and to every people group in the USA is hard work, it is expensive, and it requires unceasing devotion. If missions is just one thing we do, we will fall short. But, if we embrace the mandate as a fundamental purpose, and with the Spirit empowering us, Jesus will build the Church.
What do you think?
Click here to read the full article by Dr. Butrin on Harvest 365.
Missionary itineration brings us, for a couple of weeks, to the state of Illinois, where I was raised and where Ruth and I spent many happy years in ministry. It has been wonderful to renew friendships and make new acquaintances across the state.
In two weeks we have traveled approximately 2,500 miles across the state. We have seen a lot of corn. And that corn is nearer to harvest with each passing day. I can't help but think repeatedly of the words of Jesus: "Do you not say, 'There are yet four months, then comes the harvest'? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest." (John 4:35, ESV)
The harvest has not caught a single farmer by surprise. For an entire year they have worked for this opportunity. They are ready and waiting for the harvest to become ready.
For followers of Jesus, harvest also speaks salvation, the wonder of God's grace that forgives, restores, and brings the lost into the family of God. Harvest is what we long for, live for, and work for. There has never been a greater opportunity to fill heaven with harvest than we have today.
But one over-arching need remains. The workforce. "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few," Jesus said. "Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." How important is it that we pray for laborers? Jesus issued this instruction to his disciples before he sent them out themselves.
As we have been driving by miles and miles of unharvested corn, I cannot help but think of the urgency of the hour. The harvest is ready. Are we?
Will you join us in praying for the Lord to send laborers?
David L. DeGarmo (D. Min.) serves Global University as Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Theology. Along with his wife Ruth, he is also a U.S. Missionary. He has extensive experience as an educator, missionary, and pastor.
David writes an additional blog on a variety of topics. Check it out...