Terrorists behead their prisoners and broadcast the video. A gunman invades a grade school and begins to murder small children and their teachers in cold blood. Children are kidnapped and sold into the sex trafficking industry. A father kills his own wife and children before turning the gun on himself.
These acts shock us. We try somehow to explain how these things can happen. How can things go so dreadfully wrong in a person’s life? What compels a person to leave the rails and commit such unthinkable and horrific behavior? We search endlessly for a person to blame or a systemic problem to fix. Desperately, we try to find a way for humans to quit doing these inhuman things.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I ate lunch with my mother-in-law, a godly woman who has served the Lord faithfully for all of her life. One of those dreadful crimes had just occurred and we wondered out loud who could do such a thing? Softly, a scripture memorized long ago tumbled from her lips, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 KJV)
She nailed it. Who could behead a man or shoot a child? Me. You. Anyone. As it turns out, these terrible things are not so inhuman, after all. People follow their hearts, and we have a heart problem. Some of us can pretty up the top layer good enough to fool others and even fool ourselves. But dig deep enough, and the ugly stuff starts to show.
So, here is the bad news: The human heart—every single one—is sickened by sin.
But, here is the good news: Jesus heals hearts.
Have you ever heard the expression, “There, but for the grace of God, go I”? It’s true.
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” (Titus 2:11-12 ESV)
While politicians, law enforcement, the media, and behavioral scientists are wringing their hands in angst, God’s Word gives the solution. Now, more than ever, let us introduce people to Jesus, because Jesus heals hearts.
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 Great Commission as Worship
The Great Commission. It’s the bedrock of the Church’s unshakable commitment to offer every living person an understandable presentation of the story of Jesus. We use terms like obey, fulfill, and finish when we speak of the Great Commission.
Rarely do we speak of missions as worship. But, what is God up to when he sends us on mission? Jesus told us that “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10 ESV) The lost. We all know what humankind lost in the Fall—eternal life and a relationship with our Creator. God lost something, too. When Adam and eve sinned, God lost the worship of His creation.
Jesus told us what God is looking for, when he told the woman at the well in Samaria, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” (John 4:23 ESV)
God has been seeking worshippers for a very long time, it goes all the way back to the very beginning. Before you continue reading, read this story from Genesis 4:1-9.
A Tale of Two Brothers
Since their parents were directly created by God, Cain was the first person ever born. Soon he was joined by a brother, Abel. Throughout history, it has amazed parents that two children from the same gene pool can turn out to be such different people. This was certainly the case with Cain and Abel. In many ways they were polar opposites.
From the story it appears that Cain was the prototypical first-born child. He was hardworking, dominating, with flashes of arrogance. Adam’s oldest son preferred an ordered life. Not surprisingly Cain gravitated toward the disciplined world of the farmer. Aside from the weather, farming was a predictable occupation. Straight rows. Plant in the spring. Harvest in the fall. Many farmers that I have known value frugality. Save. Avoid debt.
I suspect that Abel was more of a free spirit. Abel adopted the more spontaneous and less-structured life of the shepherd. He was not lazy, but not as compulsive as Cain. While his older brother was plowing straight rows, Abel wandered in search of water for his flocks and fiercely protected them from predators. Of the two sons, Abel may have been more relational, more fun-loving and easiest to be around. This young man was a giver. He valued generosity.
For some time, the “First Four” apparently lived in peace, but the brotherhood of Cain and Abel encountered a strong test.
A Test at Harvest
The story of Cain and Abel—of all humankind, for that matter—takes a big left turn during a harvest season. Harvest is a most important time for the human race, even those who have never seen a farm. During the harvest, the food that sustains us is gathered, ensuring that we will survive and thrive for another year. Harvest is a season to celebrate God’s goodness, provision and favor. God’s grace finds a simple yet profound expression at harvest. Harvest is a season of worship.
Because Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel were the first persons on earth, they were the first to do everything—breathe, walk, eat, bear children, and sin. They were the first to seek God in their brokenness. Their sacrifices were the first acts of worship.
At its core, worship is a worthy offering, from a grateful worshipper to a worthy God. “What will you offer to God?” was the test that confronted Cain and Abel in the season of harvest. Abel passed with flying colors. He offered God his best. He found a completely unblemished lamb, and sacrificed it to the Lord.
“…and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions…” (Gen 4:4 ESV)
This is the essence of worship—if God is God, he is worthy of our best. Abel’s generosity opened the door to God’s favor.
“The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering.” (v. 4b, NIV)
In contrast, Cain miserably failed the test of harvest. He went to his barns and gathered “some of his crops” (v. 3, NLT) While Abel brought the first and the best, Cain offered some. His frugality got the better of him and morphed into tight-fisted greed. Cain saved for himself instead of giving to God. As a result, he erected a barrier between himself and God’s favor.
“but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.” (Gen 4:5 ESV)
Alienated from God and furious at his brother, Cain murdered Abel in cold blood. When God confronted him, Cain utters the most famous irresponsible disclaimer of all time, “Am I my brother’s guardian?” (Gen. 4:9 NLT)
What does all of this have to do with missions? The test of the harvest confronts us in many forms today. Missions is one of them.
Cain lost favor with God when he failed to take responsibility in three important areas…
Sin. Sin is an inherited trait. We do not learn to sin, it is in our spiritual DNA. It crouches at the door of everyone’s heart. Cain failed to master it, as has every person since. Murder was the culmination of Cain’s evil heart, not the beginning of it. Long before God disregarded Cain’s offering, Cain had disregarded God. His “worship” became a meaningless act to Cain instead of a connection to the God of redemption.
When Abel offered a lamb, he anticipated the ultimate and permanent sacrifice that reconciles humankind and God—the death of Jesus on the Cross. We do not need to offer a lamb anymore. But we do need to come to Jesus by faith and give our lives to him.
Service. Many people get themselves into trouble through ignorance, foolishness, or recklessness Fire and rescue personnel often find themselves rescuing persons who have made are drunks, unfaithful spouses, deadbeat dads, or violent criminals. They are not accountable for the choices made by the victims they are rescuing. As public servants, however, they are accountable for the oath they took, to provide the highest level of protection possible to citizens—and when necessary, take calculated risk to save lives and protect property.
I am my brother’s guardian. I go because I signed up with Jesus to "Go throughout the whole world and preach the gospel to all people.” (Mar 16:15 GNB) Jesus came to die so that others may live. They are in trouble and need to be rescued.
Sacrifice. God is God, and therefore worthy of our best. As a follower of Jesus you are compelled to do something—your best—in praying, giving, and going.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Rom 12:1 ESV)
Certainly the needs of the world are great. But I am not committed to missions because the needs are great—that would be its own expression of arrogance and selfishness. I am a missionary because God is great. God has given me a heart for the lost, and I love them; but, I am a missionary because I love Jesus—he called me to this ministry.
Yes, missions is worship. We value missions so highly because Jesus is worthy. Give your best, not to the cause of missions, but to Jesus.
A Debt too Large to Repay
Among the many burdens that this culture carries is the devastating weight of debt. As a nation, we owe more than we can possibly repay in our lifetime. Individuals and families are staggering under the load as well. The average household carries $15,800 in credit card debt alone. To illustrate, assume you have a credit card balance of only $10,000, with an attached interest rate of seventeen percent. If you remit the minimum payment of $142 each month, it will require thirty six years to pay the debt in full. In the end, you will pay $61,000 to eliminate a $10,000 debt, assuming you charge nothing to the credit card in the meantime. Add to this a car loan and a mortgage and we understand that the average family finds their financial margins perilously depleted. It is no wonder, then, that bankruptcy becomes the only solution for so many—they owe a debt that they cannot possibly repay.
One day Jesus and the disciples were invited to a meal at the home of Simon, a Pharisee. That was not particularly surprising, but what was absolutely shocking was the lack of hospitality shown to Jesus when he arrived. A welcome guest would always be greeted with a kiss, his feet would be washed by a servant, and he would be anointed on the head with oil. Despite being denied all of these common courtesies, Jesus took his place at the table with the other men. They began to eat, leaning on one elbow, their feet laying away from the table.
In an adjacent room sat the women. As they engaged in lively conversation, it was apparent that one woman was not at all welcome. Ignored as the others talked, this woman sat silently by herself, her eyes riveted on the room next door.
The commotion started with the gasps and protests of the women. Suddenly the ignored woman had left the table, and then returned with a very expensive flask of perfume. Gliding into the room where the men were continuing their animated debate, she moved directly toward Jesus, and kneeled at his feet. She began to weep, so profusely that her tears completely saturated the dusty feet of Jesus with their moisture. With both hands, she reached to her head and allowed her hair to fall on his feet, tenderly drying them with her long black locks. Quickly, she reached for the flask, and poured the entire contents over Jesus’ feet.
Shocked into speechlessness, Simon could only say to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner." (Luke 7:39, ESV) Yes, she was a sinner. But this story isn’t about a woman who finds forgiveness. Indeed, it is the story of two debtors. One the consummate insider, Simon, the respected religious and civic leader. The other, the very definition of an outsider, the woman with no name but with an admitted profession, prostitute.
One of these debtors will leave this encounter completely relieved of debt. The other never quite gets it. It is easy to identify with one or the other of these characters, but, as we shall see, it’s not that simple.
Grace that Truly Amazes
Financial debt weighs heavily on families, individuals, organizations, and nations. But there is an even greater burden to bear than a maxed-out credit card. That heavy load is sin. We inherited it, but willingly accumulated more. We're in deep trouble, because there is no way out--well, almost no way.
Sitting with Jesus are two people who would never be in the same room, had it not been for their interest in Jesus. Simon and the woman are so different from one another that you might call them polar opposites. Simon the Pharisee represents the ultimate insider. He has the favor of God all over him. Just ask him. His ticket to heaven was reserved a long time ago. Or so he thought. You see, Simon missed something along the way. While his life of service to God as a Pharisee was an honorable thing, he forgot that it was people that God loves, not their performance. Simon was devoted to the system and missed the Savior.
The “sinful woman”, in contrast, was the definition of an outsider. She wasn't just marginalized; she was hanging on to the edge of the page by her long fake fingernails. We don't know her first name, but Hopeless was her middle name. When she saw how badly Jesus was being treated by Simon (not much better than she had been treated herself), she had to do something. She was wired to be a worshipper, so she started worshipping the only way she knew how, without reservation.
To Simon, the behavior of the woman and of Jesus was completely unacceptable. So Jesus told him a story.
“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?" (Luke 7:41-42 ESV)
An intelligent man, Simon knows exactly the point that Jesus makes with this anecdote. He sheepishly answers, "The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt."
“Bingo!” replies Jesus. Between the two, there is no doubt who's the longest rap sheet was. But there they sat, side by side in debtors’ prison. Both owed more than they could ever hope to repay.
To Simon the Pharisee and to the Sinful Woman, each from opposite ends of the social spectrum, comes the same message of grace, "You are forgiven."
Imagine that Chase Bank sends you a letter, declaring your $10,000 credit card debt forgiven. But it goes further than that. Now imagine that in that very same letter the president of Chase Bank says, “Not only do I forgive your debt, I want to be your friend. I’ll send the jet to pick you up for lunch next Tuesday.”
“That will never happen,” you say. Of course not. That is exactly the point. The outrageous love of God produces grace that God extends to us through forgiveness of our sins. If we accept God’s offer, our sin goes away completely, the load of debt is lifted. Chances are, you believe that your sins are too many and too large. Forgiveness is out of the question. You’re wrong. The love of God can lift the weight of any sin. Give it a try.
It’s Personal No matter how you come to meet Jesus, the bottom line is this: he wants to forgive you. As amazing as that seems, it goes so much farther—God wants to know you, to have a personal relationship with you. And it doesn't matter if you are an insider or an outsider.
One might say that here we are, reclining at the table with Jesus today. Are you the “Simon” in the room? You have been near the things of God for a long time, perhaps your whole life. You have done good things and avoided doing evil things. But the personal relationship just isn’t there, and you know it. When I first met Jesus, I was a Simon, albeit a very young one. The oldest child of a pastor, I literally “grew up in the church pew.” I knew the songs by heart, learned my memory verse every Saturday night, and said my prayers at bedtime. But I didn’t know Jesus personally. That all changed on a hot summer Sunday night. Seated in my accustomed spot, I began to hear the words of the guest preacher (who happened to be my grandfather) in an unusual way. As the Holy Spirit began to speak to me, I suddenly understood that the Lord wanted to know me, and I wanted to know Jesus personally. I came to the altar, pouring my heart out to God, and sensing God’s presence for the very first time.
Perhaps your story is more like the Sinful Woman/Sinful Man. The first Sunday that Lori (not her real name) attended church, she was covered in an undeniable attitude of resistance. Invited by an acquaintance, she had reached the bottom of the barrel. No money, estranged from her family, with nowhere to turn, Lori arrived with plenty of doubts. She looked downward, with a mix of fear and anger. During the service, an invitation was given for individuals to come forward for prayer for special needs in their lives. Lori reasoned that it probably wouldn’t hurt to go ask the minister to pray for her to find a job. I asked Lori what we needed from the Lord. She surprised even herself when she blurted out, “I want to ask Jesus in to my heart.” And I had not yet even preached my riveting sermon! Jesus was meeting Lori in a direct and personal way. Her life was altered dramatically in that moment. Lori remains a follower of Jesus today, a blessing to her church, her family and her friends.
There is only one way to authentically connect with God in a personal relationship. Humble yourself. Absolutely, no way around it. Humbling yourself means to quit trying to fool yourself and quit making excuses. Simply make an honest assessment by asking yourself, “Do I have a personal relationship with Jesus?”
Sadly, Simon never got it. He walked away from an encounter with Jesus. His life continued on as before, alienated from the God he claimed to serve, carrying his unbearable burden of sin-debt. In contrast, the woman who had lived a life filled with shame and regret walked away transformed and debt-free. Because Jesus forgave her, she could forgive herself. Jesus lavished her with grace. She responded in a surprising way.
Most who witnessed her actions that day said that she went way too far. But how do you say thank you for restoring a ruined life?
And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. (Luke 7:37-38)
What Simon could not bear to do, the sinful woman could not wait to do. She fell at his feet in worship, in complete abandonment of her life to the one that she now knew loved her more than she could imagine. Her most valuable possession had to suffice as her expression of love for Jesus. If possible, she would give much more.
Worship in its purest form is to pour back on Jesus everything that you are and everything that you possess. The enormous grace that God lavished on us compels us to worship without end and without limits.
God’s Love for You is Greater than Your Failures
As this emotional drama has unfolded, perhaps it has become clear that there is a barrier of sin that exists between you and God. That barrier is no shorter for church kids; it's no taller for drug pushers. There is one and only one solution to that barrier—God's unmerited favor. Even if you are coming from a very bad place, Jesus will meet you with forgiveness, if you will approach Him in humility. Many times over, Jesus Christ loves you more than your failures, more than your sins, more than the pain you have caused to Him and to others.
Experiencing God’s presence doesn’t require a church service, just a prayer from your heart to His. There is an ocean of grace and forgiveness waiting for you.
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.
Wow, what a winter we are experiencing! While large parts of our nation have endured a historically cold and wet winter, other parts, including the southwest, have been unusually dry and warm. The snow, ice, and rain continue to fall in some places while a streak of 70 days with no precipitation was just ended this weekend in Phoenix. In our travels, we have experienced some of both extremes. Some like it hot, others like it cold, but we have all been reminded that we cannot control the weather.
Nature reminds us that we encounter seasons in our lives. And, they are mostly out of our control. But each season prepares us for the next. The winter snow provides the moisture needed by the summer crops. In turn, we are sustained through the winter and spring by the fall harvest. In the same way, each season of our lives prepares us for the next opportunity that God has in store for us.
Our sense of anticipation grows stronger every day. Windows of opportunity continue to open around the world and in the U.S.A., and we are eager to get to work at the International Offices of Global University. But, we have embraced the deputation season of our ministry. A strong network of prayer support and financial provision will sustain us as we equip a new generation of Spirit-filled leaders in the years ahead. What a joy it has been to meet so many pastors and visit incredible churches that are engaging the harvest in their communities and around the world.
We thank the Lord that our financial support is growing, and we hope to be fully in place soon. The unique training ministry of Global University has been raised up for this time. Thank you for praying for us and for your faithful and generous financial support.
I grew up under Soviet rule. I was told that the whole world spoke Russian. I thought I would live and die under Soviet rule. Then one day the wall fell, and we saw the truth. I believe just as in a day the Soviet rule ended, that in a day Islam too will fall.Armenia, largely regarded as the first Christian nation
-An Armenian church leader
Armenia, largely regarded as the first Christian nation in the world (301 A.D.), finds itself surrounded by nations that are 98% Muslim (Click here to view a map). Among the Christians in Armenia are two Pentecostal Unions and a strategic Pentecostal church (Word of Life), from which a coalition of leaders have requested the assistance of Global University to train leaders to reach the Muslim world.
Currently, there are no Bible colleges in Armenia. In 2014, Armenia Bible College: a School of Global University will launch. The Graduate School of Theology has already begun, with a goal of establishing a largely Armenian faculty. Next, will be translating Global University's undergraduate curriculum into Armenian. Then, the Unions will engage in training leaders to reach Armenia and beyond. Their goal is to train 250 people in the next five years to serve as missionaries to the Muslim world.
Please pray for these efforts. Most importantly, pray that the Lord of the harvest will call those 250 men and women to go as missionaries.
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.
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...