The Time is Now!

combine

Do you ever get discouraged in life?  Are you afraid that the Church is dying?  Do you wonder where God is, and why people are not getting saved?  I do, sometimes.  But the best remedy to discouragement and confusion is to get in the face of God, spend time in His Word, reflect on His promises and get busy about preaching the Gospel.  Do you know this promise:

“And He was saying to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest’.”

– Luke 10.2

When Jesus was walking the Earth and training His disciples to be the first disciple-makers, He promised them that the harvest is plentiful.  When Jesus was fulfilling the Law and bringing the first good news of the Gospel, the workers were not merely few – they were non-existent.  He Himself was training the first generation of laborers to go out into the harvest and to see people saved.  We see throughout the ministry of Jesus and the efforts of the disciples in the book of Acts that thousands of people were added to their numbers at a time!

We can see both the fruit of their labor today, and also the ongoing need to follow their example and continue to go out and pray for God to send more people out.  If you live in the United States, then chances are extremely high that you live within five miles of at least one Church, and you not only know Christians, but have heard the Gospel.  There are still millions of people, however, who have never seen a church, met a Christian or heard the Gospel.  And yet the promise is still true that the harvest is plentiful!  The Holy Spirit is already working in the hearts of people in every single tribe, tongue and nation to prepare them to hear the Gospel and believe.

Modern missions groups and many Churches like to teach would-be laborers and evangelists that it often takes people a while to believe – an average of hearing the Gospel seven times and watching believers live it out.  This, however, is not Biblical teaching.  It is simple statistics.  The Bible teaches us quite the opposite, and we should expect God to move as He promises in Scripture:

“Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.  Already he who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for life eternal; so that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.  For in this case the saying is true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’  I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored and you have entered into their labor.’”

– John 4.35-38

Jesus begins to crush our understanding of “working the field” in this passage.  Does it typically take wheat four months to grow to maturity?  Does it typically take a person hearing the Gospel 7 times and watching Christians?  Sure, maybe in human forms.  If we want people to trust in us and not in God, then yes we have to be good little Christians so that they will want to follow our example.  However, if we look for the Harvest which God has prepared, it does not take four months.  It does not take seven presentations and a good witness.  It takes God’s supernatural movement, and He has already done it!  The harvest is white, the wheat is ready, we need only to introduce them to Jesus!  Consider this promise:

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“When the plowman will overtake the reaper
And the treader of grapes him who sows seed;
When the mountains will drip sweet wine
And all the hills will be dissolved.”

– Amos 9.13

During this season of grace, when we are no longer under the Law, it will happen – and is happening – that the plowman (the harvester) will overtake the reaper (the sower).  The guy who squashes the grapes with his feet in the vat will be picking grapes before the other guy can even plant the grape vines!  Did you know it typically takes 3 years before a grape vine bears fruit?

Having lived in Indiana for many years, the mental picture is almost humorous of the big green row-planter sowing the fields, and the combine harvester following immediately behind him to gather in the corn or soy beans, and trying to push him along to move faster.

Anyone who reaps a harvest will be reaping reward he did not produce.  Yes, we might plant the seed of the Gospel, but Scripture teaches us clearly that it is God alone who causes the growth (1 Cor 3.6-7).  And we so often try to put God in a box by studying statistics and watching how people “normally” come to salvation, how people “typically” grow, how people develop “on average”.  The problem is, God does not function in a predictable fashion and we would do better to expect Him to fulfill His promises than to fit in a mold.

He said that in these last days, those who harvest will overtake those who plant.  He said that the harvest is ready and plentiful, and we only need God to send His appointed workers out to reap the harvest.

So what does that mean for us?  Firstly, it means that we need to trust Him and believe His word.  He has prepared the harvest.  There are people throughout the world and all around us who are ripe and ready to receive the Gospel.  Period.  Secondly, it means that we need to start praying that God would send out workers into the harvest and enable us to be those workers.  Jesus told the disciples to pray for workers and then immediately turned around and sent them out (Luke 10)!  Thirdly, it means that we need to stand on that promise and get busy about obeying the Great Commission.  We have all been commanded to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28.18-20).  We can start right where we are and we must go wherever God leads.  If we are not making disciples where we are, we cannot expect that God will send us to do it somewhere else – and we cannot expect that we will do it simply because of a change of scenery.

Let’s be those combine drivers who overtake those plowmen.  Let’s be those harvesters who overtake the sowers.  Let’s be the faithful laborers who are sent out into our neighborhoods, our cities and our world, to reap the harvest that only God can provide – and has already prepared!

Walking in Circles.

“Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.  Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.”

– Mark 11.23-24

Has this ever happened?  I was driving through the Rocky Mountains on Interstate 70 on Monday, listening to this passage, and I tried to imagine the occurrence of someone standing in front of one of the peaks, and telling it to move, and it being cast into the sea!  Jesus promised this to the disciples in response to the their shock that He had cursed a fig tree and it withered, to the root, overnight.

Now, I know that we like to cloak our expectations of prayer in the mystery of God’s will, and He will only answer prayers that are prayed according to His will (1 John 5.14-15).  This is Scriptural.  I do not believe that praying for a new Ferrari, in complete faith, will result in someone giving me a new Ferrari tomorrow.  But Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree was simply because he was hungry and even though it was not the season for figs, the tree was fully leafed and he wanted a fig from it.  When it had no fruit, he cursed it.  The fig tree is used symbolically throughout Scripture to represent Israel, and it is suggested that the purpose for the story is to exemplify God’s judgment on Israel for not producing fruit.  The tree gave the appearance of fruit bearing – being full of leaves – but barren.  In much the same way, Israel was keeping the letter of the Law but missing the heart of the Law.  There was no Spiritual fruit.

So what mountains need to be, and can be moved by faith for us?  Islam?  Post-Christianity?  Cultural narcissism?   Do we believe God and His word enough that we can stare our culture in the face and move it?

Now Jericho was tightly shut because of the sons of Israel; no one went out and no one came in.  The Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and the valiant warriors.  You shall march around the city, all the men of war circling the city once. You shall do so for six days.  Also seven priests shall carry seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark; then on the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets.  It shall be that when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people will go up every man straight ahead.”

– Joshua 6.1-5

Have you ever heard such a battle plan?  Expose yourself by walking directly under the enemy’s vantage point, six days in a row, not saying a word.  Just walk in a big circle.  Then, on the last day, do it seven times and finally, scream.  The people did it!  They listened to the word of the Lord through Joshua, their leader, and they preformed the nonsensical.  The moment they screamed, the walls fell.  They conquered Jericho.  But clearly we see that they did not conquer Jericho, God did.  Walking in circles did not break down the foundation of the fortified walls.  Screaming did not shake the mortar loose and cause the bricks to crumble.  God acted on their behalf because they obeyed in faith.

“God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.”

– William Cowper

God’s ways are not our ways (Is 55.8-9).  He calls us to obey, even when it hurts or does not make sense.  He sent His son to the Earth to pay the penalty for sin and to save sinners.  He has called us to make disciples of all the nations (Matt 28.18-20).  He empowers us by the Holy Spirit to live lives that honor Him and to proclaim His name boldly throughout the Earth (Eph 3.14-19).  He will ask us to do things that make no earthly sense.  To walk around the enemy thirteen times in seven days and scream.  To find shelter in the house of a prostitute (Jos 2.1).  To go out against a giant with a few rocks and a sling shot (1 Sam 17.40), or to pray with the consequence of death (Dan 6.7), or to sell everything that we own and give it to the church (Acts 2.42-47).

Are we willing?  Do we have the faith?  Do we believe that He will provide everything that we need and more (Phil 4.19)?  Do we have the faith to stand up and say to the mountain of ungodliness, “Move!”?  To live out a life of love for God and for our neighbor in such a way that we win our cities for Christ?  We cannot say “Move” and not act.

If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?

– James 2.15-16

In the same way, we cannot claim our cities for Christ and sit on our laurels.  We must preach the Gospel, and that boldly.  “For faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ” (Rom 10.17).

Let’s unite in faith.  Let’s ask of God to move the mountain – whatever the mountain is in your community, and let’s be active and purposeful to be the hands, feet and mouth of Christ as He has established us to be, walking the circles that we do not understand to see the victory that we cannot claim.

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?  How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?  And how will they hear without a preacher?

– Rom 10.14

mountain

Are we all [supposed to be] missionaries?

Be a missionary every day,
Tell the world that Jesus is the way.
Be it in a town or country,
Or a busy avenue,
Africa or Asia,
The task is up to you!
So be a missionary every day.
Tell the world that Jesus is the way.
The Lord is soon returning,
There is no time to lose.
So be a missionary,
God’s own emissary,
Be a missionary today!

I grew up singing this song, did you?  I apologize for it consequently running through your head the for rest of the day if you know the catchy little tune.  The Church I attended while growing up was very “mission-minded”.  We had big mission conferences, we hosted missionaries regularly, we had a book of prayer cards for all the missionaries that we supported with three or four different ones to pray for every day of the year.  They took the Great Commission seriously.  I had (and still have) heroes like Hudson Taylor, John Wycliffe and Jim Elliott.

But the reality is that we are trivializing the role of missionary and fundamentally misunderstanding the call of Christianity when we make broad, inaccurate statements like “We are all missionaries” and “Be a missionary today”.  A (Christian) missionary is one who is sent, by a local Church, to a foreign country to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ vocationally.  He leaves family and he leaves culture.

The very call of Christianity is to firstly:

“…love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

– Matt 22.37

And secondly:

“…love your neighbor as yourself.”

– Matt 22.39

It is very clearly understood that to love another (your neighbor) as yourself is to seek his eternal salvation first and foremost.  You would not want to go to Hell, and you would not want to live a life on Earth without God, and if you are loving him as yourself – if you are seeking his best and well being – you will be pleading with him unto salvation.

Jesus instructed the disciples, the “first church” if you will, to:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

– Matt 28.19-20

This is the “Great Commission”.  This is Jesus’ heart for the church and for the world; that His truth would bring about the salvation of every tribe, tongue and nation!  And the church needs to equip and mobilize its best and brightest to get out there doing exactly that.  But it is a broad command.  There has to be a supporting and sending church to facilitate and mobilize vocational missionaries around the world.  There are some who are physically unable to go, and there are some who are unwilling to leave family or comfort.

The call of Christianity is to make disciples.  Every day.  Wherever you are.  Loving Jesus, talking about Him, pushing others towards Him is the life of the believer.  When you are crazy in love with someone, you cannot help but talk about that person, and that is the outflow of a regenerated heart:  to talk about Jesus.  It is not obligation or forced, it is natural.  This is not missionary work.  It is being a Christian.  We are all called to this task!

Missionary work is doing this in a foreign culture.  Crossing all sorts of borders to the end of furthering the Kingdom of God.

Now, to be clear, missionaries are by no means super-Christians.  Jim Elliot, one of my aforementioned heroes who was killed by the Indians he sought to serve made this statement:

“Missionaries are very human folks, just doing what they are asked. Simply a bunch of nobodies trying to exalt Somebody.”

God gives us faith.  He gives us abilities.  He gives us passions.  And He expects us to utilize those according to that ability:

“For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.”

– Rom 12.3

And it is according to the measure of faith and ability He has granted us that we will be held accountable.  Your measure is unique to you.  You will not be judged by your pastor’s measure, your coworker’s measure, your parents’ measure or any one else’s.

That being said, Jesus left us with one task.  And that is to make believers of the world.  Often times we over-spiritualize the missionary calling:  we want a passion or a personal encounter with God.  We want a sign or a direct word that is extra-Biblical and personal to affirm that God’s desire to transform the world includes us.  If you have faith, you have been called.  The real question should be, “Why would I not go?”  And if you do not go, then let’s get busy being obedient in our daily life, making disciples where we are planted.  Just be a Christian.

“Perhaps if there were more of that intense distress for souls that leads to tears, we should more frequently see the results we desire.”

– J. Hudson Taylor

missionary1

We just won’t tell them about Jesus.

My family has a saying that we regularly quote and and about which we laugh.  When my sister was three or four years old, my Dad took her for a walk/ride in the cemetery close to where we lived.  Dad was walking and my sister was riding her tricycle, complete with an “ooga horn”.  You remember the horn, the one that has a bulb on the back of it, and when you squeeze it, it goes “ooga”.

horn

Upon entering the cemetery, my sister left her tricycle and they were walking through the grave stones looking at people’s life stories when a group of teenagers came walking through the cemetery as well.  When passing by the tricycle, one of the teenagers squeezed the bulb on the horn, and my sister heard her horn going off and looked to see what was happening.  She got upset that someone had honked her horn and asked Dad to do something about it.  Dad explained that there was no harm done, but my three year old sister wanted revenge, and decided that the best solution was “I know, let’s not tell them about Jesus”!

Have you ever thought about the true meaning of some of our profanities and curse words/phrases?  I hear “God damn it/you” so often, that I have to think people do not truly comprehend the depth of what they are saying.  “You cut me off on the highway; I hope God sends you into an eternity of pain and suffering – an eternal fire – where there is no hope of relief.”  Or, “Your dog went to the bathroom in my yard and I stepped in it, I hope you spend eternity in judgment and misery separated from God and everyone/everything that you love”.

Really?

Is there truly anyone in your life upon which you would wish such a fate?

Apparently my sister did, at such a young age.  But at least she had a grasp on the implications of not knowing about Jesus, His gift of salvation, and the fact that salvation is in Him alone.  And this was the worst thing that she could do to someone:  to withhold the hope of salvation from them.

Jesus’ purpose in coming to Earth was to glorify God by saving sinners.  “I have come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19.10).  “I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10.10).

Jesus’ purpose in leaving us on the Earth was to make take His teaching to the world, to make disciples of all nations:

 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

– Matt 28.19-20

Do you live purposefully to fulfill that calling upon your life?  Because that is the calling on anyone’s life who is a believer.  This is not an extra calling that only some, or that “super Christians” experience to missions.  This is the call of Christianity: to make Jesus’ name known.  This does not mean that everyone is called to leave life and land for the purpose of foreign missions, but it does mean that we are all to be intentional about making disciples.  Everyday.  Everywhere.  All the time.  And it starts with me!  I have to be a disciple to teach others to follow Him.  I have to be mature to teach others to be mature.  I have to know and obey all that Jesus commanded in order to be able to help someone else to know and obey all that Jesus commanded.  But you do not have to have all of the answers before you start.  It is a domino effect, there is a fluidity of growth:

“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

– 2 Tim 2.2

I learn from my mentor (and pastor, and friends, and church).  And I pour into younger, newer Christians than myself, and teach/expect them to do the same.  I am one link of the chain.  For the purpose of maturity (Heb 6.1).

Does this mark your life?  Because if not, you are in action saying, “I just won’t tell them about Jesus”.  If you have the hope of eternity in your heart and you look on another human being and do not offer him the hope of eternal life, the gift of forgiveness, you are in action saying, “God damn you”.  Or “I don’t care if you spend eternity in Hell.”

Let’s care.  Let’s tell them.