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.
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.
I love the Christmas season. Everything about it. Well, almost everything. (Lifetime Network Christmas movies, for example, provide nothing except something for my wife to watch on the other television while I watch football.)
I adore Christmas music, classic old movies, gift giving, and a chill in the air. But what I really enjoy during the month of December is rehearsing, over and over, the story of the first coming of Jesus. That story tells you and me just how much we are loved by God the Father, and Jesus the Son.
1. Jesus loves you so much that He created you
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3 ESV)
I knew of a young man and woman who decided to go ahead and marry even though one of them was terminally ill. They knew the pain that waited for them, but were willing to pay that price. Even if it was only for a short time, they wanted more than anything to share their lives.
As God gathered the first lump of clay and began to shape Adam, God knew how it would turn out, but did it anyway. He ignored the knowledge that His creation would turn their backs on Him for their own selfish satisfaction.
You are no biological accident. The Word knew you and loved you before the first revolution of the earth around the sun. God knew whether you would love Him or leave Him and He loves you either way.
Because God is love, He could never be content as a disengaged, distant Creator…
2. Jesus loves you so much that he lives with you
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 ESV)
"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:23 ESV)
God has always been Immanuel. It began in the Garden of Eden. Although the Fall ruined the intimate connection Adam and Eve one enjoyed, God continued to be with the people He created. The Tabernacle, then the Temple, served as a limited expression of Immanuel. But it wasn’t enough. God longed to be with His people.
When Jesus entered the human race, He brought Immanuel near to His people. Omnipresence became immanence. The Word stepped outside the confines of the Temple, put on human flesh and pitched his tent next to ours.
God still loves the world so much that he continues to be present through the Church. A few years ago, I met a young missionary family who live in a sensitive country among people who are sworn enemies of the United States. They are loving those people on behalf of Christ.
Long before you received Christ, He was near you. The Spirit relentlessly walked by your side. Immanuel was there through the care of a godly mother or a Christian neighbor.
If you do not know Jesus, He is with you now, and always has been.
But we have just begun to explore the magnitude of Jesus’ love for you and me…
3. Jesus loves you so much that he redeemed you
"Greater love has no one than this that someone lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13 ESV)
Ironically, I am warmed as I reflect on the manger. I have been influenced by the images that pervade our celebration of Christmas. Through the centuries, thousands of artists have crafted their imaginations of the Nativity. They almost always come across as cozy—Mary, Joseph, and Jesus huddled together and surrounded by a subtle glow.
I am a native Midwesterner. Inevitably, the local live Nativity seems to occur on the coldest night of the season. The amateur actors brace themselves against sub-freezing, or even sub-zero temperatures. They experience firsthand the discomfort that Mary and her newborn son endured in Bethlehem.
As harsh as Jesus’ first night on Earth proves to be, it gets worse. Much worse. The life that began in the safety of Mary’s womb will come to a violent end on a cross outside of Jerusalem. The Word becomes Immanuel, and then the Lamb slain for the sin of the world. Jesus would pay the price for every sin ever committed in all of history.
I must confess, that kind of love exists beyond my ability to conceive—it has always been the Son’s mission to die for my sin. “Such love, such wondrous love!” The tiny little hands of baby Jesus are destined to the penetration of a Roman’s spike, the baby-soft torso will be pierced by the point of a soldier’s spear.
But Jesus loves you even more than that…
4. Jesus loves you so much that he lives in you
…that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith--that you, being rooted and grounded in love… (Ephesians 3:17 ESV)
Many legends and false religions contain stories of sacrificed heroes. The uniqueness of Christianity as that the Hero has risen from the dead! God, by the Spirit infused the body of Jesus with Divine life and brought him out of the grave.
Resurrected, Jesus loved you too much to stay here, limited by the flesh he continues to wear. So, He returned to the Father, so God the Spirit could come to live inside each one of us. Unlike other religions, the God of Christianity refuses to live apart from humans, or even to control them through possession. Instead, God dwells gracefully and peacefully within those who believe.
One measurement of Jesus’ love for you remains…
5. Jesus loves you so much that he is returning for you
"Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:1-3 ESV)
The Bible describes of the relationship between Jesus and the Church as resembling that of a husband and wife. When Jesus, the Groom, returned to heaven, it was to begin the next phase of his love-mission—to prepare your place in the Father’s house.
Our Christmas celebrations are incomplete if we neglect the Blessed Hope. Celebrating Advent reminds us that Jesus came, but Jesus is also coming again. The baby, who arrived in a Bethlehem stable, will return as the Lord of all. And we will see him face to face. Jesus is coming for you!
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.
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?
Rev. Leon C. De Garmo
For several months, we have been looking forward to paying tribute to my father, Leon C. De Garmo. On this day we gather in southwest Florida to honor a man who began his life eighty years ago on the western slope of Colorado. I have noticed in our family, that we are willing to give appreciation, but we normally deliver it in a plain brown wrapper. When a De Garmo says, “You did a good job,” do not receive it as a lukewarm, polite acknowledgement. We mean it. You did a good job! We want to tell Dad a little more than that this weekend. This is a milestone birthday that serves as a good excuse for us to say some things to Dad, and to others about him that just need saying.
As the oldest son, I observe that Dad's parenting style is not geared toward the verbal, even though he is a very verbal person. We learn from him, what Dad models. He and I never had a talk about being a husband, but I learned from him, by example, how to love my wife. Likewise, I do not recall receiving any parenting advice from him, nor have I sought it from him; instead I think I just absorbed it. A couple of weeks ago Bill Murray tweeted, “As you get older you realize that the ‘cool’ parents were actually just bad parents.” I am reasonably certain that neither my siblings nor I would put our parents in the “cool” category. I am equally sure that we agree that our parents were good parents, even though our family values at times put us at odds with fashion and mores of the time. Now that my own nest begins to empty, I more fully understand the goal of parenting is to pour godly values into our children, setting them free in the right direction. Dad aimed us true, and then set us free, with full confidence in the Lord to whom he dedicated each of us.
Industry is a word from another era, but it definitely applies to Dad. He is not a workaholic, but he is a hard worker. I remember the leisurely times around the fireplace while watching Star Trek, a bowl of popcorn during The Waltons, or a picnic at Lake Geneva. But just as vivid a memory is Dad working on a project well into the night. He didn't hire a handyman for anything that I can recall, he is the handyman. Only after I moved out of the house did Dad gain full-time employment from the ministry. Always, there was a second job; there were others, but I remember U.S. Plywood in Milan, Illinois, then the Swiss Maid Bakery in Harvard, Illinois. The Cassens, Grandma and Grandpa De Garmo, and our family shared a garden so we grew much of our own food. I searched my memory in vain to recall ever buying a bookshelf or a storage cabinet; no sir, such things are handmade in the De Garmo tradition. Wal-Mart would have gone out of business if they had depended on us in the 1960's and 70's.
As I entered the ministry, I learned the terminology for something I witnessed firsthand for my entire life: servant leadership. More than any minister that I have known, Dad led his churches by loving them and serving them. The same industry that we saw at home applied to the church. Dad, in those years, didn't use words like "a ministry philosophy," but here is what it is: Preach the Word. Be authentic. Work hard. Love the community.
Dad is a man with an extremely active and curious mind. I suspect that curiosity inspired a desire to travel, to see grand sights, to be where great things happened. Somehow we grew up believing that museums were the coolest places. Without doubt, we learned more on summer vacations than we ever did in the classroom, with the possible exception of spelling.
Dad loves people—to talk to them, work with them, and laugh with them. And you don't need to wonder, he will do what he promised, and do the right thing, no matter what.
We are all grateful to the Lord for the remarkable health that Dad has enjoyed. But he has carried his share of grief. I admire how Dad has gracefully moved from one stage of life to the next. His wife—and my mother—Lillian died much too soon in 1983. Five years later my father became a grandfather for the first time when our daughter, Kristin, was born. Over the years, the distance prevented our children from growing up with Grandpa, but our visits to Florida have been wonderful memories for us and our children. More than once we recalled the invisible insects that drove us from a picnic site, and the pontoon boat ride that was highlighted by the motor getting caught in a crab trap.
In 1990, Dad married Fern after they reconnected as Bible college classmates. I am proud of Dad’s love and obvious devotion to Fern and to her family for the past twenty three years. And, I am thrilled that my father continues to serve his Lord Jesus Christ as an ordained minister in the Cape Coral and North Fort Myers area of Florida. He is now the patriarch of our extended family and carries that mantle well, a genuine man of God.
As it turns out Jesus does demographic studies. He does them differently than most today, however. Read Matthew 25:31-46 and discover that the Jesus plan is to search out the following people:
Having identified these key targets, the plan is to care for them and authentically love them. I certainly believe in healing and deliverance; but in this case the love of Jesus visits the sick and befriends the imprisoned.
Where are these people that Jesus loves so much? In every state, county, reservation, and neighborhood in America.
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...