Category Archives: heaven

Fight for joy…

Standard

Jim Winn winter painting image

James Winn (acrylic on paper)

Fight for joy…

I’ve referenced the above painting before by my friend James Winn  – it’s one of my favorite possessions.   While the bleak mid-western Winter imperceptibly creeps slowly, oh so slowly toward Spring, it takes a lot of faith to believe that things will ever look differently than they do in this painting.  Winter is long and hard – brutal at times – on the plains.

Intellectually we know that Spring will come – it always does.  But there are days, cold, dark days, when it is difficult to believe it.

I don’t live on the Plains anymore.  In comparatively balmy Delaware, Winter just isn’t that bad.  But the painting continues to lift my thoughts to higher things.

Some days – weather aside – that long-endured battle to be warm grips my soul.  The grass might be green, the humidity and temperatures high, and flip-flops the norm, but lurking in the corners of my mind are the dark days of endless, frigid, face-numbing cold and the struggle against it.

As I struggle to replace that feeling of dread with truth I am reminded how easy it is to believe a lie.

It’s all too easy to believe my emotions and dread the coming months, believing they will be filled with hardship and struggle – simply because that’s how they have been for so long.

My fear of what might be, based on what has been, wants to rule, which is understandable, but false.

Faith is the same way.  Sometimes what I have lived wants to dictate what I believe.  Experience tells us to look at a certain set of circumstances and presume the outcome:

“This will always be this way…”

“She’ll always do these things…”

“He’ll never change…”

“This is what I can look forward to…”

But faith says,

“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow has enough care for itself.”

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘plans for a future and a hope…’”

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…”

I’ve been kicking around the phrase “The Joy of the Lord is my strength” and have been wondering, “What does that mean – really?”   What does the Joy of the Lord look like?  Is it the happy “season’s greetings” kind of “joy” that tv, or hallmark, or Hollywood puts forth?  Is it supposed to be that 30- or 60-minute contrived, happy-ending kind of gladness, that is somehow meant to mysteriously last longer… if you just get a few things right?  I don’t know anyone who really lives like that – do you?

As is often the case for me, turning the phrase around a little bit has helped me to think about joy from a different angle.  Rather than a church-y cliché that people sometimes use to mask the struggles they are really having, the Lord’s Joy is something altogether deeper and more meaningful.

The Lord’s Joy is my strength.

Think about that.  The Lord’s joy – not mine, or yours – is given to us.  Far from the “find it inside yourself” kind of joy that we try to manufacture, the joy of the Lord isn’t something we come up with at all!

The perfect, full, rich, abundant, and over-flowing joy that the Lord possesses has been given to us.  How much joy does God possess?  Infinite amounts.  What kind of joy does God have?  The very best of perfectly complete joy – and nothing less.  What is he joyful about?  In a word, Christ.  And, inconceivably, that includes you and me.  We are his and he delights in us.  All of creation has been racing toward one fantastic fulfillment – redemption!  That is you and me living for eternity in sweet, joy-filled fellowship with the Father because of the Son.   That is the great news!  We get to be there.  FOREVER.  If that doesn’t fill you will the Lord’s Joy, what can?

What is meant by joy strengthening us?  If all this joy is ours, why do we need to be strengthened at all?

Because sometimes, often times, My fear of what might be based on what has been wants to rule, which is understandable, but false.

Life can be unimaginably hard.  We have trials.  We have pain.  We have searing disappointments and heartaches.  These things can threaten to undo us.  They can cause us to want to give up.  They can cause us to question the goodness of God and the purpose of his will.  They can gnaw at our confidence in Christ’s work on our behalf and they can attempt to grind our faith into dust.

The Lord’s Joy is our strength.  It’s there.  It’s already been freely given.  But sometimes it is so buried under our circumstances that we have to fight to hold onto it the way Jacob clung to God in the wilderness and would not let him go until God blessed him.

Sometimes we have to fight for the joy that already belongs to us.  The world may look a bit like that painting above – bleak and cold and dark.  But that is not the whole story.  Strength is growing under those furrows.  Perseverance and character and hope are being produced there.  Hope for the things that we know but remain as yet, unseen.

And just as winter always yields to spring and reveals what has been covered under cold and dark layers, the seen will yield to the unseen and we will see what we already know to be true: that every hardship, every tear, every lament has a purpose for good.  Nothing is aimless, nothing is a waste.  It is all making us fit in ways we can’t imagine, so that through them we will be made like the One we love.  Perfect.  Righteous.  Pure.  And most of all, ready.   Jesus is gathering his people to himself and preparing us to live forever with him in beautiful, wonderful, perfect joy.

In the meantime, fight for joy.  It is already yours.

Advertisements

Fasting gives me a headache…

Standard

mus-fapc2020_500

In case you haven’t heard there’s a lot of talk about fasting this month.  It’s Ramadan, but Muslims aren’t the only ones who fast.

 

Recently a friend of mine asked me if I would fast with her and pray for some friends, pray for her work, and pray about the “stuff” of life.

 

“Sure!” I said on the outside.  “ugh… “ I said on this inside.  And so, like the angels and demons I’d seen on peoples’ shoulders in the cartoons of my youth – my internal war began – again.

 

Fasting gives me a headache.  A serious, throbbing, cannot-ignore-it sort of headache.  I feel grumpy and distracted and completely out of sorts.  I can’t believe how much I think about eating when I’m fasting!  It’s astounding to me that I can spend so much time thinking about what I could be eating – when my goal is to forget about eating!

 

Have you tried it?  Have you struggled?  Have you quit in the middle and said, “This is STUPID!!”?  I have.  I hate to have to admit it, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who has had to come face to face with how weak and distractable and cowardly I really am.

 

But that is precisely the point.  It is because each and every one of us is weak and selfish and filled up to the brim with lies that we believe about our own abilities that we need to fast.  Contrary to what many believe:

 

We do not fast to make ourselves clean before God.

We do not fast because it somehow convinces God to accept us.

We do not fast to pay for the wrong things we’ve done.

We do not fast to atone for the wrong thoughts we’ve had.

We do not fast to in any way clean up our act, straighten ourselves out, or try in some way to “get things right with the Man Upstairs” (as some of my childhood friends explained their fasting during Lent).

 

Fasting will show you how woefully short you fall of being in any way clean before the Lord.

Fasting will show you how prone you are to pleasing yourself rather than God.

Fasting will reveal to you how many more wrong things you do than you ever wanted to admit.

Fasting will kick up the settled dust of wrong thinking, and show you just how prone you are to thinking about ridiculous things that don’t matter – at the very least – if it doesn’t also reveal to you how prejudiced, sneaky, snarky, and just downright mean you can be.

 

By now you might be saying, “Um, and why is this a good thing?”  It’s good because we need to know these things about ourselves.  We need to know our sinfulness more and more completely, because doing so reveals to us the beauty of the cross and the glory of our Savior in ways that we can’t comprehend without it.

 

How else can the sacrifice of a perfect lamb become truly precious to us if we don’t understand that Christ died for us while we were swimming around in a sewage-filled ocean of our own making?  How else will we treasure the gifts of redemption and adoption if we never realize how far we have alienated ourselves from God and chosen instead to dirty ourselves by continuing to wallow around in and fill up our ocean with more and more insanity?  We lie to ourselves about ourselves far too easily.  We need disciplines like fasting to shake us awake to reality and remind us why we needed a Savior in the first place.  As it turns out, quietly sitting next to Jesus for any length of time will make you want to slither away from Him rather than present your “cleaned up” life to him, because we all know what it’s like to try to clean ourselves up from that kind of mess with a hanky that we’ve had in our pockets the whole time – it’s impossible.  

 

And that is why we fast.

 

When we get to the place where we realize the very best we might possibly hope for is to sneak away unnoticed by the brilliant Son of God, it is then that we can see clearly that He is coming after us – pursuing us with gentleness and love and forgiveness that we know we don’t deserve.  And yet, he brings us to stand there in His presence and accept His thorough cleansing from top to bottom, inside and out.  

 

Do you know that He loves you this way?  Do you want to know?  Come and fast with me.

 

There’s no formula – you will likely need to experience some failures and successes on your own in this because that is part of the discipline.  But we all need someone to disciple us.  It will become painfully clear to you – within about the first 20 minutes or so – that this is going to be harder than you thought.  But here are some practical things that have helped me keep my focus through the struggle to fast.

 

Hunger Pangs:  Saying “no” to food shows us how much we need to say yes to hungering and thirsting after righteousness (Matthew 5).  Hunger is a powerful drive that God has given us.  He has intended it for our survival, but He has also intended it to teach us to hunger and thirst for Him.  When I’m fasting and I want to eat something, I pray, “Lord, help me to hunger and thirst after you even more than food.  Help me to know you in such a way that you fill me up and I am satisfied, no matter my circumstance, no matter if my belly is full or empty.  Lord show me what you want me to learn about you through this fast and help me to see you clearly.”  In practical terms though, I have to steer clear of the kitchen and keep my fast elsewhere.

 

Distractions:  It’s usually about half-way through that prayer that I find myself thinking about other things!  It’s as if my heart says, “Fine, if you’re not going to give in on the food front how about we talk about the laundry that needs to get done, or the dishes, or …that stinkin’ kid didn’t take the trash out… again!”  Maybe for you it will be your boss, or the incompetent drivers on the road, or your classmate’s weird outfit, or your coworker’s bad breath, or… you get the idea.  I can be distracted by anything when it comes time to pray.  I have to have a plan.  I have found that writing out my prayers is enormously helpful, and writing out what I want to pray about first, so that my “prayers” don’t become a rambling stream of consciousness instead, is almost critical.  (go ahead, laugh, but you know it’s true…)

 

Sometimes sitting and praying close to electronics is too distracting.  I use prayers written on index cards that I can take into another room or into the car or on a walk or anywhere that I won’t be tempted to “just check real quick.”

 

Boredom:  Yeah, I know – we shouldn’t get bored when we’re trying to talk to God.  But since I’ve already been brutally honest, I figure I might as well go all the way.  Sometimes I feel as if I’ve run out of things to talk with God about.  I get bored with the whole idea of focusing on Him and I just want to do something mindless and easy.  This, too, can lead me to pray, “Lord – teach me to want you!”  And if that doesn’t spark some other requests, then simply spending some time doing ordinary tasks and then thanking and praising Him for them is unbelievably helpful.  “Lord, thank you for this laundry to do for it means you have blessed me with clothing to keep me warm and covered.  Thank you for the family members who wear these things and forgive me for grumbling about serving them.  Thank you for ordering the world in such a way that families are your design that we can learn to trust and grow and know you.  I praise you Lord for you have formed me and each of these whom I love so dearly in wonderful ways.  I praise you Lord for you have created beauty and goodness and truth that surrounds us everywhere.  Help me, Lord, to point others to you so that they, too, can worship you in Spirit and in Truth.”  Sometimes it’s helpful to simply keep your hands busy while your mind is refocusing on why you’re fasting.

 

Sleepiness: Yes, it’s tempting to just go and take a nap rather than try to keep alert and focused – especially when everything is warring against that.  Sometimes I have to absolutely command myself not to give in, but because I am doing most of my work at home, my bed or that comfy chair can be really tempting. If you’re working somewhere else, you might not have this trouble during your work hours, but when you get home you will.  When it happens, you’ll need a plan:  take a walk, put on some worship music, clean the bathroom if you have to, and commit to talking with your Heavenly Father while you’re doing them.  

 

Headache:  Yes, I really do get whopper headaches when I fast.  Sometimes I push through them, and ask God to use them to draw me closer to Him.  If they’re helping me do that, I deal with the headache.  But sometimes, I take some pain reliever.  It’s not about the headache – it’s about my heart’s cry.  Sometimes the headaches helps me to cry out to God, sometimes it really is a distraction.  Talk to God about that, too, and ask him for wisdom to discern which it is.

 

The key to all of this is that we see how much we need Jesus.  Fasting confronts us with our utter incapability of doing all that God requires of us – and realizing that we are hopelessly trapped in that condition is the first step on the journey of sweet, satisfying communion with God for eternity.

 

Come and fast with me as I hunger and thirst after the righteousness that only Jesus can supply.  Come fast with me as I seek to put to death all the loves in my life that keep me from loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Come fast with me as I ask for wisdom to know what those things are and look for ways to be thankful and joyful right where God has me now.  Come fast with me as I ache to be reminded of the One who loves me enough to rescue me from my own willful wickedness.  And come fast with me to rejoice in a salvation that is complete and glorious and free – for we have been loved with an everlasting love and fasting helps us know it.

Let me know how you have learned how to fast – or what you’re struggling with.  Let’s encourage one another as we walk this journey of faith together.

 

(image credit: https://www.magnoliabox.com/search?q=sad&type=product)

Further thoughts on Luke 10:2… therefore

Standard

“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.”  Luke 10:2

 

Therefore

You’ve probably heard this before, but it’s worth saying here:  whenever you see the word “therefore” you need to look and see what it’s there for.

Therefore is a connecting word.  It connects what has preceded it to what is coming next.  There is culmination involved.  The speaker or writer has been building a case, setting the stage, laying it out as it were to get to something else.

Jesus has done just that here.  The stage is set:

“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” has been laid out for all it’s glorious, yet problematic reality.  Jesus has a gargantuan task for his followers to work hard in.  A task so big and so far reaching that it is impossible, except that we know that nothing is impossible with God.

And now he’s about to explain how we are to participate with Him in His glorious plan.  There should be anticipation, expectancy, hope! – for we’ve just seen the problem but we know that the Savior we serve is full of miraculous, unexpected answers for the impossible.

We’ve looked closely at each of these words, both in their meaning separately and in how they stand together.  This is Jesus talking to us.  This is our Savior who has drawn us so effectively to himself that he has taken our hearts of stone and turned them into hearts of flesh to follow hard after him.  This is our friend and teacher – our guide and protector – who has told us “fear not, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.  He will never leave you nor forsake you…”

Everything that precedes the “therefore” is to remind us of the kind of Master we serve.  It is setting the foundation for what follows.  It gives us all the reasons for the next part.  It is saying, “because of all of this….”

We need the foundation because we forget who we are talking about.  We need the setting of the stage because we lose sight of the plan.  We need the case to be built again for us – plainly – because we get distracted by so many lesser things.

Remembering that he is good and kind, faithful, true, loving, patient, powerful, and every other thing that we know is TRUE of the mighty God we serve  will give us courage for the impossible task he is calling us to.  It is because of this that we are reminded that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” and like Paul we preach to ourselves, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

These truths anchor of our souls.  They keep us from being blown and tossed by the storms in our lives.  They center us on what is important and our focused gaze on who is talking to us will help us ignore the thousands of things around us at every given moment on every given day.

Being reminded that Jesus has a purpose to all of this and that he is calling us to see his plan – to be intimately engaged in his mission –  reminds us that the world is not spinning aimlessly into oblivion.  He is in control of all things and through Him all things hold together.  He was sent to bring a people to himself and he is calling us – inviting us – to the same purpose.  He is calling us to be actively involved in his Kingly work.

In calling us to remember that he has already accomplished everything he needs to achieve his stated goals.  He reminds us that His work will be accomplished – we need not ever fear that our labor for Him will be the toil that grinds us into the ground.  Instead, he promises good fruit for faithful service.  Jesus says there is a plentiful harvest.  He doesn’t say, “Look guys, if we all work together we just might be able to pull this one off.”  No!  It’s a sure thing.  A sealed deal.  We have assurance that the One with the power, might, and authority to do all of this is telling us it has already been secured.

“With my plan and purposes in mind,” he says “therefore…”

“Because I am the God of the Universe,” he says,  “therefore…”

“Because I have conquered sin and death,” he says,  “therefore…”

“Because I have a people to call to myself from every tongue and tribe and nation,” he says, “therefore…”

“Because I am who I am,” he says, “therefore…”

And here, if we’re listening and paying attention to the One we know and love and trust, we hear what Jesus is saying.  He is telling us, “Because I have a beautiful harvest that is ready to be brought into my good and perfect kingdom storehouses of souls that will live forever in My presence and sweet communion with me and all who are mine, and because there will never be enough of you to accomplish that – to bring in all the magnificent, glorious, God-magnifying plentiful bounty I have prepared to reap today and in every age until I return, from here and every group of people on the face of the earth… therefore.

These are unshakable truths.  They are not hopeful wishes or sighs of optimistic, positive thinking.  They are givens.  Absolutes.  Unqualified and unconditional.  Jesus will accomplish what he has said he will accomplish because he already has done everything needed to accomplish it.

They are because he says they are – and we can trust in them because we trust in Him.

Further thoughts on Luke 10:2… the laborers

Standard

“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.”  Luke 10:2

The Laborers

I have spent most of my life being surrounded by laborers.  Farm laborers, factory laborers, ship yard laborers, and landscape laborers just to name a few.  I have visited other countries where this is also true – on any given morning on any given street the hustle and bustle everywhere was of laborers who did everything from laundry to construction, and some simply walked along the roads each day and picked up trash.  I have seen trains in big cities packed to the seeming breaking point of laborers shuffling from home to job and back again.  Every day, no matter what else in life is swirling about, people working for others do just that – they get up, go out, and they work hard – for someone else.

People who are motivated know how to work.  The term “laborers” carries with it the understanding of hard, physical exertion.  Jesus was not talking about tourists, or onlookers.  He wasn’t referring to passers-by, or those whose station in life has made it so that they have others do their work for them.

No, Jesus was talking about the grit and grime of exhausting, sweat-producing, ongoing work.  

So who are these laborers?  Who is Jesus referring to?

In one sense surely Jesus was talking about the disciples who would start his church.  The world was ripe for a huge harvest and after his work was done, the harvest began.  But in another very real sense there is another group of workers who must sit up and listen as we heed Jesus’ words.  For in the same way that he was speaking to his disciples (and also to us) when he said, “go, therefore, into all the world and make disciples…” he was speaking to the same future disciples when he spoke the words of Luke 10:2.

We are those workers!  We are the ones who are to live giving our lives and energy and devotion to the sweet and rewarding task he has called us to.  Isn’t it wonderful to know that you have been hand-picked by the maker of the universe to be in his service?

But let me ask you something that might make you wince a little….

When was the last time you broke a sweat for the Gospel?  When was the last time you fell into bed exhausted from your efforts to woo people to the warmth and peace of the Love of Christ?  When was the last time you labored to see another soul brought to Christ?  When was the last time you were working so hard at this that you thought you couldn’t go on?

(I’m asking myself these questions, too.)

I wrote once about the joy I found in cleaning a particularly filthy bathroom because I realized I was doing it for the Lord.  That has remained a powerful lesson in my life.  It doesn’t matter what God asks me to do, I’m happiest doing that, knowing Who it is that I am really serving, than I am doing anything else!  There is great joy – giddy, delightful, soul-rejuvenating joy – when we know that our work is for the Lord of the Harvest!

Work is hard, but work is good.  Sometimes I have to remind my kids that work was not part of the curse when sin entered the world.  God gave Adam work to do before Eve came along!  Work is our mission.  Work is sweet and rewarding.  We were made for work!

Toil is what came about as part of the curse.  Toil is that relentless, exhausting, fruitless struggle that brings about no product for all our effort and barely keeps us from losing ground.  Toil is part of our existence right now, but work is, too.

Being a laborer in Christ’s harvest is magnificent work.  If you’re finding that you are lacking joy in your mission, let me lovingly suggest that you might be toiling for the wrong harvest, because Jesus promises that his burden is easy and his yoke is light.

Further thoughts on Luke 10:2 – Plentiful

Standard

Continuing the series…

“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.”  Luke 10:2

Plentiful

There is a harvest of souls to be reaped and it is plentiful – it is not meager or sparse.  The Lord of the harvest has invited us to be laborers in this joyful work.  He has promised to bring people to faith from every tribe and tongue and nation – do we really consider what that means?

Heaven will be filled with great variety, sure, but heaven will be FILLED!  He has not given us a small task, but a bountiful one!  Revelation 7 describes it like this:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

“Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

No matter how you look at this, “a great multitude that no one could number” is a LOT of people!  I’ve been in crowds where hundreds of thousands are gathered.  I’ve seen crowds where 1 or 2 million are gathered.  These are seas of humanity converging in one area together.  It’s an overwhelming number of people…. But those crowds were numbered!

What does it take to gather a crowd of people together that can’t possibly be numbered?

But I have a confession to make here – I don’t really want to be crammed into close quarters with – I don’t know – billions (?) quadrillions (?)   centillions (I looked that up – it’s 10 to the 303 power!)   – of people!  Do you ever struggle with the imagery of a heavenly city crowded with throngs of people praising God in worship and song with all the gusto they can muster?  I do.

But this is the City of God I protest to my own self.  How can I not want to be part of that?

Well, of course I want to be there, and I know, intellectually, that it will be good.  So where do my perceptions and emotions collide with the truth of what that reality will be?

My ideas of large crowds of people are based on unpleasant experiences with large crowds of people!  Masses of strangers jockeying for position in hot, close quarters (or jammed parking lots) all looking to get where they want to get before everyone else gets there…. Sporting events where people are loud and obnoxious… and then they start drinking…  Conferences where being first means getting a good seat and being last means you can’t hear or see the speaker… Market places in developing countries where one wrong step could land me hopelessly lost and everyone is yelling in words I don’t understand… Amusement parks where you’ve paid a small fortune to get you and your family through the gates only to spend so much time waiting in lines that the day ends up costing $15 or $20 per ride and you’ve waited with people who have no desire to shelter your youngsters from even the coarsest of language or behaivor… No thanks.

But will this heavenly crowd be like this?

First of all, that crowd will not be strangers – it will be family.  Even if we haven’t met them yet, we will know we are deeply, meaningfully, connected – related – to each other through Jesus.  Family reunions, even rambunctious ones, are different from large crowds of strangers gathering together.  There are lasting connections with that group – history – that makes us glad to be there.  (“For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:50)

(OK, I know not all families are great to be with, but Jesus’ family will be everything our earthly families were meant to be and more.)

Secondly, everyone in that crowd will be freed from their sinful selves and be on their most loving, caring, considerate behavior all the time!  No selfish jostling people out of the way.  No crude or angry voices.  No lines that lead to disappointment.  No bad seats.  No one cutting in front.  Rather, we will all have the genuine heart attitude of, “No, no, please, you go first.” (“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35)

Thirdly, we will care for one another the way we care for ourselves.  We will be looking out for the well-being and best interest of each other – because it will give us great joy.   (“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”  Romans 12:4-5; and to further clarify, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body” Ephesians 5:29-30)

But most importantly, all will be right because God himself will be dwelling among us.  .”  (“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  Revelation 21:1-4)

So then, the crowds will not be the ill-mannered sports fans or conference goers or amusement ride aficionados we’ve all encountered but will be the kindest, gentlest, most genuinely thoughtful people we can possibly imagine, because God will be transforming each and every one of us!

Now, I can’t wait to see that!

Further thoughts on Luke 10:2 … “Is”

Standard

“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.”  Luke 10:2

Continuing the discovery of this verse:

 

Is

Ok, this is reminiscent of a certain debate in the ‘90’s … but “is” does have specific meaning.  And it’s not really open to debate.

“Is” is one of those words that is so foundational to our communication that it is, however, a little difficult to clearly and precisely define.

Miriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines “is” as, “present 3rd singular of be.”

Not particularly helpful, I continued looking…

The American-English Online Dictionary had a bit more to offer including several definitions of “be” including, “to have the quality of being (as in ‘John is rich’),” “identical to something (as in ‘John is the president of the company’),” “to occupy a certain position or area (as in ‘John is somewhere’),” “to exist (as in ‘there is a God’),” etc.

The main point is that “is” is definitive.  It makes a statement.  It makes a claim.  It declares something.  It stands.

“Is” doesn’t leave room for “possibly,” “perhaps,” “could,” or “might.”

Now I might make a bold claim and state that “this is that,” but you could come along and challenge my claim.  You could say, “No, no, no, you’ve got it all wrong.  This is not that.”  We are both making definitive statements, but one of us is wrong.

But in this passage Jesus is telling us that something “is.”  This is huge as we consider what this passage is conveying.  If Jesus tells us something “is” it holds infinitely more weight than you or I making a similar claim.

We don’t have “possibly” with Jesus.  We don’t have “perhaps” or “could” or “might” with Him here.  He says simply, “The harvest is…”

What does Jesus mean when he says something “is”?

Go back for a moment to your elementary school lessons on the conjugation of the verb “to be.”

I – am.

You – are.

He/she/it – is

Stop.

I am?

How many statements did Jesus make that begin with that?  “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me.”  “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will not die.”  “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  “I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never be hungry.  He who believes in me will never be thirsty.” (there are more, but you get the idea.)

We place huge value on Jesus declaring things to be true.

And we should also do so when we read that “the harvest is…”

It is a declared certainty.  It is a given.  It is a foundational truth.  It is a trustworthy and true statement.

So what are the implications for us?

If this is true (and we can have complete assurance that it is) then we can look for it.  We can know with utter confidence that the harvest exists.  It exists perpetually in all generations and will continue to do so until the end.

We don’t have to waste any time wondering if there is a harvest here or there – the harvest is…

One of my students asked me recently why I care about missions.  She asked, “if you know that God will save those whom He calls, why do you go to places to help people working in missionary efforts?”

Two things immediately came to mind.

First of all, Romans 10:14 says this: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”

For some inexplicable (yet amazing) reason, God has deemed human communication his method of choice to reveal himself to mankind.  He could have imprinted knowledge of himself on our brains.  He could have stamped, irrevocably, into rocks or mountains all we needed to know about Him.  He could have emblazoned it in the stars.  (Some might argue that he did, in fact do all these things, but he did these things in a way that we might know there is a God, but not in a way that we can know that Jesus died on a cross and died for our sins).

No, he chose to use spoken and written words – from one person to another – to reveal himself and his plan for humanity.

But the second thing that came to mind is equally as important – and that is the foundational truth that there is a harvest to be worked in.  There are people – in every land – who belong to Him who have yet to hear of Him.  There is no doubt.  It’s not a “possibly,” “perhaps,” “could,” or “might.”

The harvest is…

Go confidently, then, and work in the harvest that we know exists.

Further thoughts on Luke10:2 – “harvest”

Standard

Yesterday I started a series of posts on what I am learning through meditating on one passage daily over an extended period of time.

Here is the next post in the series:

“Harvest”

So, then, what is this harvest we are to be about working in?  Why is it so important to be singularly focused on?  What makes it the harvest and not just any old one?

It is, in fact, a harvest of people – kingdom citizens – that God is calling to dwell with Him in peace for eternity.  The kingdom of heaven has come to you.

It’s the end game – the goal – the reason for plowing, planting, watering, tending.  The harvest is the bounty, the reward for one’s labors.  And this bounty is the promised reward for Jesus’ labors – His perfect obedience and submission to a far greater plan than anyone had any notion was going on.

Luke 6:37-40 spells this out.  Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.  For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.  For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

A harvest of people – of men, women, boys, and girls who are otherwise dying without ever hearing the Good News that Jesus came to save and rescue them from everlasting death, torment, destruction, wailing and gnashing of teeth, deepest regrets, sorrow, fear, terror… eternal punishment.

I think we easily forget that this is the only other option.

It’s not nothingness that we are watching our family, friends, loved ones slip into.  If they never turn to Jesus in sorrow over their sin it isn’t peaceful slumber.  It isn’t light or goodness or freedom.  We have all been made with souls that will never die.  Our every wicked thought or deed separates from the blazing goodness and holiness of a righteous God  – so we either turn away from them and seek forgiveness and spend eternity in Heaven with God, or we remain guilty and spend eternity in Hell separated from Him.  There is no palatable third option.

And it’s not quick and over with.  It’s eternal – thousands upon tens of thousands of unending years of unimaginable torment.  It’s Hell without the silly pointy-tailed, red-suited demons jumping about to entertain us.  It’s Hell that is devoid of anything good whatsoever.  It’s palpable darkness that never yields, for there is no light.  It’s aloneness that we cannot fathom, for there is no fellowship.  It is separation from everything and everyone that gives us any amount of comfort, for comfort of every sort is absent.  It’s burning flames that burn but do not consume.  It is not a frat party filled with debauchery – that would be tolerable and even preferable to some.  It is devoid of even that kind of companionship.  There will be no room for that kind of oppression, for everyone there will be overcome with what is yet an unknowable weight of their own guilt and shame.  No, it is an un-ending agony, a nightmare of suffering and pain that never ends.  Anguish is its only quality, and the Lord has invited us to participate in his saving souls from it.

But it is also easy to forget what he is saving us to.

Equally as eternal, and oppositely glorious, is an eternity with God.  As stark and dramatic as hell will be, heaven will be even more gloriously good because it is filled with God’s presence.  Everything about heaven is good because it is saturated in the goodness of God.  Every vista will be glorious because he is glory.  Every task will be fulfilling because he is all-satisfying.  Every relationship will be deep and rich because he is rich in goodness and mercy.  Nothing will need to be hidden or done in the secret, dark places – because he is light and love.  There will be complete friendship and fellowship because God Himself is our friend.  There will be no need or want because He is our provider.  Everything is His to give and He does so generously. None of us will need to jockey for position or rank because we will all be perfectly readied – able to stand guiltless and righteous before a Holy God without blemish or fault because of Jesus’ labors for His harvest.   Friends, this is what God is harvesting to.

Let us not forget what he is asking us to do – participate in his joy-filled work of harvesting.  And let us be ever-mindful of what he harvests from.