I’ll just come right out and say it: The harvest is indeed plentiful. I saw this first hand while spending a week in the Amazon River Basin in Brazil. To put it plainly, the Amazon is one of the most bountiful locations I’ve ever seen. Both the water and land are teeming with all kinds of exotic fish and bizarre fruits. There are fish that look like jungle cats, fruits that look like alien escape pods and don’t get me started on the bugs (Let’s just say I thought one was a bird). But well beyond the physical abundance of the land was the spiritual ripeness of the people. Jesus stated it like this in Matthew 10:2, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
I witnessed just how plentiful the harvest was while on a three-day boat trip with a group of Brazilian pastors on the Amazon River. Without going into a significant amount of detail, we ventured onto the river to accomplish three goals: 1. Document testimonies of believers, 2. Check on church plants in the region and 3. Hold an evangelistic service in an unchurched community. I number the trip’s agenda 1-2-3, because that’s what goal-oriented, problem-solving Christians do, right? We number, bullet-point and schedule. That’s our thing. But funny enough, I learned once again that God works much differently. He does what He wants, when He wants, and how He wants, despite our iCals, pie charts, and calculated agendas.
Here’s what I’m talking about: We traveled four hours by boat on the Amazon to an island where we attended a Friday night service at a church plant that is now thriving. The next day, during a morning devotional on the boat, one of the American missionaries mentioned noticing two women who seemed to want to go forward the night before, but resisted. The Brazilian pastors discussed this, prayed, and prepared to head to the unchurched community, but we soon realized that our boat was stuck. And I mean stuck-stuck. No amount of elbow grease or horse power was going to dislodge our vessel from the beach, so it was determined that we had to wait until the tide returned at noon to leave. Soon lunch rolled around a few hours later and a pair of Brazilian pastors from our team returned to the boat with an extra skip to their step having taken the extra time on the island to find (Don’t ask me how) the women from the night before and lead them to Christ. With this joyous news, they were certain we could leave. The logic was both faith-filled and sound…the Lord wanted to reconcile the women, He gave us the extra time, and now that it was accomplished, it was go time, right?
Wrong. We pushed, pulled, levered, grunted (Some of us more than others), but we were still suctioned to the beach. Hour after hour passed. Boat after boat attempted to pull us off the shore, but nothing worked. Finally, 8 hours, 10+ men and 2 very large tug boats later, our boat escaped the clutches of the needy island. And so we were off to the evangelistic service…a third of a day late. By the time we reached what we thought was the community, it was pitch black (Who would have thought that there are no street lights on the Amazon River?). We wandered a tributary looking for any signs of life, but none was found until a small dock was discovered wedged precariously on a steep bank of the river. If it were up to me, I would have cashed in my banana chips, jumped in my hammock and called it a night, but fortunately for the Kingdom, it wasn’t up to me and God had some harvesting to be done. To make a long story short, realizing we were not going to find their target community, the Brazilian pastors found a small house off the shore and asked if they could read scripture to its surprised owners. The family graciously accepted, invited a few cousins over and, over the span of the next few hours, the Gospel of Jesus Christ was preached. The family’s response could have easily been ripped from the pages of Acts. It went something like this, “We’ve been waiting for someone to come and tell us this news. This is the happiest day of our lives!” In short, the family received Christ with open arms and a church plant was born right before our very eyes!
So…back to my point (actually, not mine as much as Jesus’). “The harvest is plentiful”. There are people out there waiting to here the Good News of Jesus Christ. All that’s needed is workers to preach it. And that’s where we come in. Yes, ALL OF US. Think about it…if you have heard the Gospel, received it, and have been transformed by it, you now have been commissioned to go and preach it. Do you need a seminary degree and a plane ticket the Amazon? No. The harvest is plentiful everywhere and, as far as I can tell from scripture, the disciples weren’t schooled in New Testament theology. In fact, God was using them to write it. So excuses aside, start thinking about your harvest field…work, family, school, even church (Yes, there are actually people at church who have yet to hear the Gospel). Do you need to know everything and possess the answer to every question that’s bound to be asked? Nope. Will it go as planned or even prayed about? Probably not. It certainly didn’t while I was in the Amazon. I have to say that I learned a lot from the faith, trust, and obedience of the Brazilian pastors that I had the opportunity to join on the river. They never blinked an eye or complained when things didn’t turn out the way they had planned. You see, they understood who’s really in control. They understood who allows boats to be stuck, the women to be reconciled, pastors to get lost, and families to receive Him. It’s indeed an understatement, but Jesus was right, we need to pray that the Lord send more workers like them into the harvest field and, while we’re at it, take a nod from their example and start harvesting the fields ourselves.
It might come as a surprise to you, but there are people out there just waiting to here it.
I’m just going to come out and ask it: Are we desperate for the Lord’s presence? This question has been rattled around in my skull for a little over a week now after digging into Exodus 33. To setup the story, the Israelites had just messed up big time after being freed from Egypt. While Moses was receiving instructions from the Lord on Mount Sinai, those left wait and wonder at the base of the mountain got impatient and made a golden calf to worship. This ignited God’s anger, leading to a full-on sword assault by the Levites, a nasty plague and, most frighteningly, the Lord declaring this to Moses in Exodus 33:1-3 (pay special attention to the text in bold), “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.“
It goes without saying that this was devastating to Moses (he was on quite a roll up to this point), but what I find interesting is that, despite the golden calf debacle, God didn’t break his promise. No. He was still going to give them the land He had promised (Hence aptly named “Promised Land”) and even send an angel to lead the way and drive out the bad guys before them. Suffice it to say, this was a pretty sweet deal. If I were Moses, I would be tempted to count my losses and take God up on His gracious offer. But this didn’t satisfy God’s chosen servant and desperation quickly kicked in. Exodus 33:15-16 reads, “Then Moses said to Him (God), ‘If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” Man, what a bold request. Moses was essentially saying that he would rather risk of being obliterated by God than to experience the journey without Him. In short, he was so desperate for God’s presence that he was willing to risk everything to have it. EVERYTHING!
Wow. Moses got it. He seemed to be more desperate for God’s presence than he was for His promise (Something I so often get switched around in my life). Not only that, but Moses realized something else that I forget all too often as well: He couldn’t accomplish anything without God…not even look different. Verse 16 says, “How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” What Moses is saying here still applies to believers today. We are nothing without God. We are ineffective, incapable, incompetent and even incognito. Without the Lord’s presence, the Israelites would look no different than people they had set out to oust (and they were some pretty nasty people). Similarly, without the Lord’s presence (read: The Holy Spirit), Christians today look no different from those who live for their own dreams, desires, sins, and glory. Point being: We need to be as desperate for God’s Presence as Moses was!
So how do we do this? First, we need to recognize who we are without God. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 paints the Godless like this, “But mark this: There will be terrible time in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Having nothing to do with them.” (Take note Christians, that’s us minus God). Second, we need to recognize who we are in Christ. Paul, again, described it best in Romans 8:37-39, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (A collective sigh of relief should be heard here). Finally, we need to obey Christ’s commands (an impossible thing to do apart from Him). Moses’ task was leading the Israelites to the Promised Land. Yours might be unabashedly proclaiming the Gospel to those around you or quitting your job to step out in full-time ministry or revamping your monthly budget to give sacrificially. It’s going to look different for everyone, but the question remains the same for all of us, “Are we desperate for the Lord’s presence?” If your answer is “no”, you might want to get on your hands and knees and repent for living fully dependent on yourself. Like Moses, we need to be unsatisfied with any substitute for God’s presence…even if it means risking everything to have it.
Last week we discussed Luke 5:1-11 in our small group. The Cliff Notes version goes something like this: Peter, James and John had a rough day of fishing, but Jesus asks them to throw our their nets one last time. Begrudgingly (my interpretation) they oblige, then BAM! It happens. They raise their nets and they’re packed to the gills (yes, pun intended). They summon another boat to help, but both boats begin to sink due to the size of their catch. In response to the fiasco, Peter falls on his face and begs Jesus to leave because he’s a “sinful man”. To this, Jesus simply responds, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” It’s at that point that Peter, James and John leave everything and follow Christ.
First off, WOW. Jesus is so cool. He fills their nets without breaking a sweat and His encore is simply, “now you will catch men”. And if that’s not enough, Peter, James and John leave everything and follow Him. Every time I read that story, I look at their faith and think “Man, if only I could do that.” For most of my life, I have put their response on a pedestal, but last week, it hit me. I shouldn’t celebrate what Peter, James and John did. They simply chose what was better. Meaning: JESUS IS BETTER. I apologize to anyone thinking, “Duh”, but this means everything to me. The reason we, as Christians, applaud acts of faith like theirs is because we struggle to grasp what they understood very quickly…JESUS IS BETTER. Don’t get me wrong. What those guys did was incredible. They left their jobs and a windfall of fish (read: cash) on the seashore. They left everything they knew to pursue something they didn’t understand at all. That’s awesome, yes, but if you think about what they experienced on that beach, their decision becomes very reasonable very quickly.
Let me put it this way. If I offered you the choice between a dirty bowl of soggy Cap’n Crunch or a steak dinner, which would you choose? If you picked the steak dinner, you’re in good company, because I believe that’s exactly what Peter, James and John did. Think about it. They saw a beach full of fish or the man who could summon them from the depths and they chose the better option. So here it is. If there are things in your life that are holding you back from completely following Christ, it very well might be because you’ve been deceived into thinking that Christ isn’t the better choice. Make a list and see for yourself. Is Christ better than your job, your house, your comfort level or even your sin? Let me assure you, the answer is exactly the same as it was 2000 years ago on that fish-filled seashore…JESUS IS BETTER. It’s like being given the choice between life or death. Scratch that. It IS the choice between life or death. The Israelites faced the same dilemma before entering the Promised Land in Deuteromony 30:19-20, “The day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessing or curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” To butter the bread a little thicker, Jesus adds this in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
So how do we learn to view Christ (or Life) as the better option? We start by reading His Word. Once we begin to understand who He is and what He has done, things change. That’s what happened to Peter, James and John. And they didn’t even know that Jesus would go on to heal the sick, feed the hungry, raise the dead, stump the wise, forgive the sinner and ultimately stand-in as the unblemished, atoning sacrifice for our sins. That’s the Christ we know, so let’s all do ourselves a favor and start choosing what’s better than all the temptings that are dumped on the seashores of our lives. And, if I’ve done my job you’ve probably guessed what that is…JESUS IS BETTER!
I took this picture while visiting one of the oldest inhabitants on planet Earth: The Citadel in Irbil, Iraq. It was a strange thing to walk through a city that existed during the time of Cain and Abel (That’s right: Cain and Abel)! Think about it. This wall was standing when God made His covenant with Abraham, when He parted Red Sea and, even more thought provoking, when He leveled the much more fortified walls of Jericho.
Oddly enough, I’ve been thinking a lot about walls lately. It’s strange, I know, but I’ve been witnessing quite a few Christians building them over the past few months (myself included). And these aren’t just ordinary walls. These suckers are the kind that weather storms, fend off threats and stand the test of time. Oh yeah, and they’re invisible. “Invisible”, you ask? Obviously, I’m not talking about brick and mortar structures like the one in my photo. I’m talking about figurative walls reinforced by the excuses we, as Christians, invent to protect ourselves from the uncertainties of following God.
They go a little something like this: “I can’t go on that mission trip, because I’m too old” or “I can’t give more, because I just bought a house” or “I can’t move overseas, because I have kids”. And the list goes on. Brick-mortar-brick-mortar, higher-and-higher, excuse-after-excuse, we Christians build walls that prevent us from stepping out and serving our Lord and Savior with everything we have. And this isn’t a new thing. It’s been happening for millennia. Luke 9: 57-62 says, “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him (Jesus), ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’ He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’ But he replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.’ Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’” Think about it. God has been hearing these types of excuses since the beginning of time. They don’t surprise Him and they certainly don’t fool Him. Besides, no matter how wonderful and seemingly rock-solid our excuses are, God is a Master Wall-Leveler. If He wants you out of your fortified little safe-haven, he’s going to take you out and it might not be pretty. Just ask the fine residents of Jericho.
So I write all this to say, we as Christians need to stop making excuses that hold us back from truly following Christ and start trusting in the One who promised to be with us “to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 20). So if you know God wants you to go on a mission trip to proclaim His name, do it because He’ll provide the strength. And if you know God wants you to give more money to help further His Kingdom, do it because He’ll provide the necessities. And if you know God wants you to move overseas in full-time ministry, do it because He’ll provide the company.
So one question remains: Is God big enough to handle the dangers and uncertainties that are sure to come when we decide to live outside our cozy, yet heavily-fortified strongholds? Well…He parted the Red Sea with a breeze, leveled Jericho with a shout and redeemed His chosen with His Son. I think He’s qualified for the job.
I write this in a state of complete and utter shame. In fact, if shame were chlorinated water, I would have enough to fill a very lovely in-ground pool with some left over to cap off a gaudy Roman fountain to rest beside it.
It all began the other day when I was thumbing through some pictures from my Fall trip to Haiti, when BAM! There he was: Michaelson (the good looking young chap in the red t-shirt). Michaelson was a child I met in Haiti while on a spur of the moment visit to a Christian orphanage in the city of Cap-Haiten. He was one of the most kind and thoughtful children you will ever meet. He was inquisitive, intelligent and, most importantly, he knew Jesus (All this due to the eye-popping, sacrificial obedience of the two sixty-year-old American women who have been running the orphanage for the past thirty years…a subject for another time). Needless to say, the kid was awesome. So why the sudden “BAM”? And why was I belly-flopping in my own swimming pool of shame (I did mention it had a diving board, didn’t I)? It’s because, after seeing that picture, I was reminded of our parting words, which went something like this: Peter, “Michaelson, I have to go.” Michaelson, “Will you write me when you get home, Peter?” Peter, “Yes.” BAM! There it is. I told Michaelson that I would write him and to this day (seven months later), I have not.
In Matthew 5:37, Jesus says, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Such a simple concept, isn’t it? Letting your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’. I’ve been confidently quoting that scripture to many Christians (including my own children) over the past few months when they begin to backtrack on their word and now the Spirit is shouting it back at me. Ugh. This raises a BIG, FAT question that I have to address: Why am I (or maybe “we”, as Christians) so flippant with our word? Or even more frightening: Why am I (or maybe “we”, as Christians) so flippant with THE Word? Jesus said let you ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and that’s it. It’s Bible 101. Yes, we live in a culture where everything is spoken with a wink and a shrug and a “maybe, we’ll see”, but that doesn’t mean we throw our swords on the ground and join the cause. As Christians, we must do what we say we’re going to do. It’s a grade school concept, I know, but following that simple command gives glory to God and that’s what we’re here for, right? Think about it. If Christians shrug off this instruction from our Savior, what kind of witness are we to the world (Dare I even say it’s a Great Commission issue)? If I say I’m going to be somewhere at a certain time, I do it no matter if the traffic is bad (that’s a bad one for me). If I say I’m going to help a friend move a sofa, I do it no matter if there is a Back to the Future marathon on that afternoon (tempting as it is). For those of you who are mathematically inclined, this might help: Yes=Yes and No=No (no complex calculus involved).
So Christians, it’s time to get old school and be men and women of our word. Which, in turn, means being men and women of THE Word. It glorifies God and makes our testimonies that much sweeter. As for me, I need to write my long-lost friend, Michaelson, after I dry myself off from my evening dip in my pool of shame. I just hope he remembers me.