Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Harvest of Hope


John 4:31-38 “Meanwhile the disciples were urging Him, saying, "Rabbi, eat." But He said to them, "I have food to eat that you do not know about." So the disciples were saying to one another, "No one brought Him anything to eat, did he?" Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work."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." nasb

Alan Hirsch - A working definition of a missional church is that it is a community of God’s people that defines itself, and organizes its life around, its real purpose of being an agent of God’s mission to the world. In other words, the Church’s true and authentic organizing principle is mission. When the church is in mission, it is the true Church. The Church itself is not only a product of that mission, but is obligated and destined to extend it by whatever means possible. The mission of God flows directly through every believer and every community of faith that adheres to Jesus.
Dan Kimball in "The Emerging Church" (Zondervan, 2003) describes the missional church "as a body of people sent on a mission who gather in community for worship, encouragement, and teaching from the Word that supplements what they are feeding themselves throughout the week."
"Missional is a helpful term used to describe what happens when you and I replace the "come to us" invitations with a "go to them" life. A life where "the way of Jesus" informs and radically transforms our existence to one wholly focused on sacrificially living for him and others and where we adopt a missionary stance in relation to our culture. It speaks of the very nature of the Jesus follower." ---Rick Meigs
Being missional is about the individual and how he or she lives out their faith. The building itself is just a structure and the community is an infrastructure. The programs we have are just tools in the hands of the people. This church is missional, then, only in the limits that we as individuals are missional. The Great Commission is to go and make Disciples. Disciples are not made by programs and buildings, they are made by one person imparting what they have to the next.
In this passage in John 4 we have Jesus sharing a couple thoughts about “this mission we are on” with His disciples.

Perseverance (verse 32-34)
Jesus connects His missional pursuit on the same level as eating. Food is pretty basic. Most of us eat 3 x a day plus snacks. We are well fed. We know there are many people who do struggle to make ends meet, and at the heart of all of us is the need for regular nutrition. One thing Jesus was emphasizing is that living out our faith in our everyday life is as necessary as eating. His meat, His nutrition was to do the will of the Father. His pursuing of all that God had made Him for was so vitally important.
We’ve talked before about the fact that Jesus wants all of us; following Jesus is largely a decision to surrender all of what and who we are to Jesus. What does this mean?
This is not about abandoning people. Following Jesus actually enhances our relationships with people because of our increased ability to love. Before we met Jesus we may have been pretty good people, but I would say that until we came to understand what Jesus did for us at the cross, that led to our salvation, our capability to love selflessly was hindered. It is hindered by sin, by fallibility. John says that we love because God first loved us. Because God showed us the pattern of love, of while we were yet sinners Jesus died for us, we can understand what agape love is. That is what God calls us to – Perfect Love. Another term people use for entire sanctification is perfect love. The ability to be so full of God because we are so empty of ourselves is not about beating ourselves because we are worthless, because we are worth more than anything – that is why God died for us. It is about recognizing that for us to be all God created us to be we have to let the Creator who made us and understands us be in control of our direction. Take the relationship between a mother or father and a little girl or boy. The child can fight all they want about bedtime and eating habits and school attendance – all aspects of life. If that parent allows the child to control things, they will grow up spoiled, thinking life owes them everything, wanting to get everything for nothing. The parent, as hard as it is, directs the child’s life, gives information, disciplines when necessary so that the child will mature and be able to be a part of a community. We surrender to God because He knows all and we are but like little children. Know that your daddy God loves you more than you could ever realize.
And so we persevere. We persevere in following Him even if all else around us fall away. We persevere in living our faith in front of everyone because it is who we are. Just as we eat day in day out, so we strive to stay close to Jesus day in day out.

Listen to the words of Rudyard Kipling, and think about what he says and how it relates to you and I and the integrity of our faith in God:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

--Rudyard Kipling

Immediacy (verse 35 - Now is the day of salvation)
The field is white (ready for harvest) – look around now. God has called you to be here, so here is where your field is. Look for it, it is right here. Imagine Jesus sitting there talking with His disciples and pointing to the people coming from the city (verse 30). Sometimes we think that tomorrow is the day of ministry, that we have to be better prepared, more studied, more healed from the baggage we carry around with us. There is a place for taking time for healing. There is a time for study and preparing. But even in the midst of those seemingly self-oriented pursuits, there is and should be room for ministry. Our faith is not compartmentalizable. You can’t walk through your week with a back pack and put your faith on and off like a shirt when you choose. Your faith is more like your skin. It is part of the very fabric of your being. And because it is right there, there is an immediacy to faith. One small word you say today, goes much further than a sermon you might say four months down the road. In Proverbs we read “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances (25:11)”. How do we do this. This “live in the present” with our faith. First, we need to keep short accounts with God. Don’t let sin linger – deal with it right away. Second, Do whatever it takes to get to know God as best as you can. This includes prayer and Bible reading and fellowship and worship. Thirdly, focus on loving your neighbour, in thought and word and deed. Love them from the inside out. Live today as if it were the one day that counted in your life, for indeed it is all you have right now. Jesus said to let the problems of tomorrow stay in tomorrow – focus on today.

Abiding in Christ (verses 36-38)
Finally, this whole reaping and sowing metaphor is about God working in and through us. We don’t save people – God does. We can never argue someone into heaven. A person is only saved as they see their need for Jesus to deal with the sin problem in their life. We can and are used of God to be a conduit of His love and grace. It is a privilege, and one we tap into by staying close to Jesus, by abiding in Jesus, in the vine. God calls us into the world to show His love, to reveal Himself to the people around us. My twin brother Dan has been called to do that in Cameroon. He went because God asked him and his wife to go. He went, expecting much trouble both physically and spiritually because of the nature of their work. I wasn’t directed there, but have been called to the pulpit, to the ministry of overseer. Bonnie’s call is different, and her work with words is a fulfillment of that calling she has. Dan translates Scripture. I preach sermons. Bonnie writes books. All three of us talk with neighbours about Jesus. All 3 of us pray for people. All three of us study the Bible even though we have been Christians for decades because we know the need to stay connected to Jesus. All 3 of us rely on the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us everyday. We aren’t perfect, but we strive to be all we can be in all that God has supplied for us.

I was at an Alcoholics Anonymous information luncheon of Friday. Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. Staying sober is the constant mission for each member. It is a day by day, moment by moment thing. As the speakers explained what the program was about I was struck by the fact how applicable it was for us as Christians. The speakers got up and each started by saying, “My name is such and such. I’m an alcoholic.” They went on and mentioned the day of their sobriety. What if we had a Sinners Anonymous program? Our mission moment to moment is holiness. Here are AA’s 12 steps with the word sin and sinner replacing alcohol and alcoholic and put in the first person, but otherwise verbatim of what their creed is.

My name is Steve, and I am a sinner.
1. I admit that I was powerless over sin – that my life had become unmanageable.
2. I came to believe that a Power greater than me could restore me to sanity.
3. I made a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand Him.
4. I made a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself.
5. I admitted to God, to myself, and to another human being the exact nature of my wrongs.
6. I was entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. I humbly asked Him to remove my shortcomings.
8. I made a list of all persons I had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. I made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. I continued to take personal inventory and when I was wrong I promptly admitted it.
11. I sought through prayer and meditation to improve my conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, I tried to carry this message to sinners, and to practice these principles in all my affairs.

2 comments:

pj said...

hi again. :)

Enjoying catching up on my reading of your blog. I had a question if you have a minute some time to answer.
Do you think that a person's salvation is related to their ability to comprehend the Perfect love of Christ? Or would you say that salvation 'allows' one to comprehend the love?

Steve G said...

Hey PJ, thanks for visiting... By the way, I like that - I may put it on my luggage... PJ. Maybe I should change my name to Prince John.

But back to your question. "Do you think that a person's salvation is related to their ability to comprehend the Perfect love of Christ? Or would you say that salvation 'allows' one to comprehend the love?"

The short answer is Yes.

The long answe is that the old Calvinist/Armeniest question never seems far from the surface. I believe in prevenient grace, that God actively pursues us. This also means I believe in free will, that people have a choice in how they respond to God's grace (for it is God that draws people to Himself). That choice is the question of faith, and born out of faith. The work of salvation is done through the finished work of Jesus, but it is not automatically applied to us in this life or the next. It is that old addage of receiving a gift. You don't have it unless you reach out and accept it.

Your phrase "ability to comprehend" is a bit awkward, but I believe God speaks to us in many ways. He created us and knows how to speak to us. And having once received Jesus us Lord, there is a continuing process of sanctification as we yield to the Spirit's guidance and direction. So there is a decision of faith in salvation where we recognize that we need something outside of ourselves to get to God because we cannot do it on our own (and that is God-revealed in us, the prompting of the Spirit). The flip side is that just as we are saved through faith, we also need to live in faith. Salvation is not just a transaction - it is much more than that, for it is a relationship.

Jesus said that our lives will be changed if we are in Jesus, but who determines what that change is for each person? I do know that in reading Romans 7 and 8 I came to understand quite a while ago that God has given me everything I need to live a sinless life - not because I am that good, but because He is that great! It is only in a moment to moment keeping in step with the Holy Spirit that perfection will happen, so my salvation is revealed and realized by the work of grace already accomplished by God in my life. There is a process of sanctification that is not unlike maturity. The ultimate goal of a Christian is to become Christ-like, in thought, word and deed.

Consider Abraham. He obeyed God in his willingness to sacrifice Isaac. He actually never did it, but it was his faith that was driving his actions that was accounted to him as righteousness.

Do I consider faith as a "work"? No; but it is a necessary response to God's grace, and it will lead to good works. Good works don't save, but they are there in genuine Christians, for that is what we are called to do/be.