"We who are refugees from this dying world ... have a source of strength, and might grasp the hope that he holds out to us. This hope we hold as the utterly reliable anchor for our souls, fixed in the very certainty of God himself in Heaven, where Jesus has already entered on our behalf, having become, as we have seen, 'High Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek'." From Hebrews 6
Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images
Imagine if a farmer didn't have to purchase or prepare his seed, didn't have to do much work in seeding, enjoyed much rest in the interim, and then was assured of an overwhelmingly bountiful harvest. Truly, he was promised that, mostly independent of his own activities, it would, year after year, be a bumper crop. Wouldn't we consider him blessed beyond all men? Every other farmer would watch his life and wish it was theirs.
I've been struck lately by the consistency with which "the harvest" is spoken of throughout the scriptures, most especially by Jesus Himself in the commission of His ministry. Consider some of these thoughts from throughout the Word:
“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there. And you shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him, ‘I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our fathers to give us.’ Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God..." Deuteronomy 26
"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil..." Isaiah 9
"For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed, when I restore the fortunes of my people." Hosea 6
"And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.'" Matthew 9
"And [Jesus] said, 'The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.'" Mark 4
"But he said to them, 'I have food to eat that you do not know about.' So the disciples said to one another, 'Has anyone brought him something to eat?' 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, then comes the harvest"? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, "One sows and another reaps." I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.'" John 4
"He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God." 2 Corinthians 9
Out of the harvest of His righteousness, borne by Him from within us, we are enabled to enter the fields that are already white for a daily harvest. We haven't labored for what He offers us. We do not understand the heavenly processes that make His harvest happen. Yet as we recognize how plentiful is the harvest all around us, and wade out into its readiness, we are joining Jesus - "the Lion of Judah" - as He "restores the fortunes of His people." We ourselves once walked in darkness but have now seen a great light! We rejoice now with the joy of the Harvest!
Today, let us be the "first-fruits of the Harvest" who are bringing Jesus the first-fruits of the harvest to which He's called us. May we come with brimming basketfuls of praise, adulation, joy, hope, worship and, most importantly, the hearts of the lost. For we declare today to the Lord our God that we have come into the Promised Land that the Lord Jesus bought with His blood. We set our labors down before His altar; all this harvest-work is His. We are simply the branches; He is the Vine.
"My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always,
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone."
Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude
As Jesus' ministry begins to grow, we get the opportunity to watch how John the Baptist accepts - and delights in - his own ministry's decline. Listen to how he receives that change!
"Delight yourselves in God, yes, find your joy in him at all times. Have a reputation for gentleness, and never forget the nearness of your Lord. Don’t worry over anything whatever; tell God every detail of your needs in earnest and thankful prayer, and the peace of God which transcends human understanding, will keep constant guard over your hearts and minds as they rest in Christ Jesus.
"Here is a last piece of advice. If you believe in goodness and if you value the approval of God, fix your minds on the things which are holy and right and pure and beautiful and good. Model your conduct on what you have learned from me, on what I have told you and shown you, and you will find the God of peace will be with you." From Philippians 4
So much of our personal expression of Jesus’ goodness uses “outward language,” yet it was Paul’s joyous “inner life” that was belying his circumstances at every turn. Consider this famous set of verses through the lens, not of comfortable “American Christianity,” but instead as written by a Roman prisoner imprisoned because of adherence to a small and controversial new faith-movement:
1) “Delight yourselves in God, yes, find your joy in him at all times.” With chains clanking on his wrists, Paul is looking out the window of his prison-cell with a goofy grin on his face, writing the Philippians. He writes the words, “Rejoice in the Lord always…” and then laughs out loud. Then continues, “Again I say, Rejoice!” Brothers and sisters, our personal joy – meaning Jesus’ joy pouring forth from us – must be the Church’s great calling-card to the world. Our lack-of-joy, in the face of all that we already have in Him, may be the greatest issue in the American Church today…
2) “Have a reputation for gentleness, and never forget the nearness of your Lord.” The first phrase of this sentence needs to be read in light of the second. Paul, originally one of the least “gentle” people you ever could meet, now sits in house-arrest absolutely relishing the nearness (both locationally and, according to the Greek used, “the akin-to”-ness) of Jesus. Genuine gentleness is a natural byproduct of proximity to our Savior.
3) “Don’t worry over anything whatever…” Stop right there. Do you even begin to understand that both here and in Matthew 6:25, we are actually commanded not to worry about anything? Commanded. Not to worry. Even without Paul’s wonderful sentences that will follow these five clear words, we should be given pause by the seriousness of the language he utilizes. Then comes the promise: “…tell God every detail of your needs in earnest and thankful prayer, and the peace of God which transcends human understanding, will keep constant guard over your hearts and minds as they rest in Christ Jesus.” This language is perfect because, presumably, Paul was looking out the window at the Roman guards standing guard over him as he writes these words. And it’s with that level of personal watchfulness that the peace of God will watch over those hearts determined not ever to worry in His presence! My favorite wording of the privileged position we inhabit? “You can throw the whole weight of your anxieties upon him, for you are his personal concern.” (1 Peter 5:7)
4) “If you believe in goodness and if you value the approval of God, fix your minds on the things which are holy and right and pure and beautiful and good.” Again, don’t forget that Paul is sitting in house-arrest in Rome, calling us – in our relative ease – to mine down deep into the “holy, right, pure, beautiful and good” goodness of Jesus. Just scratching at the surface should never be enough for us; nor should we be barely delving down with any old hand-trowel. No, we should be – by the power of the Holy Spirit – drilling down deeper and deeper until we freefall into the caverns of gold that are to be found in Jesus! We should be swimming in the vats of His glorious grace, spiritual inheritors of a spiritual lifestyle like the cartoon character Scrooge McDuck!
In late-1805, with Napoleon at the height of his military and imperial power, he joined battle against both the Russians and Austrians (backed by the English) at the Battle of Austerlitz. By daring design, complete preparation and expert day-of-action movement, he then stunned the world by defeating both armies with seeming ease. As was the custom of the day, his men exulted whenever they captured an enemy's standard and brought it back to lay at the Emperor's feet. But even more of a thrill was the capture, and thus the removal for all times from any future fields-of-battle, of an enemy's cannons and artillery-pieces.
The Vendome Column is the product of the 1,200 bronze cannons and guns captured from the allied enemies at the field of Austerlitz. Napoleon's statue literally stands atop the melted-down spoils of war.
The glory of the Grand Armée is this: that even despite the loss of blood, limbs, lives and men on that battlefield, that this pillar stands for all time as a testament to their combined sacrifice and power. Even though those men are long dead and mostly forgotten, those melted-down remnants of their victory will always rise into the azure Paris sky.
My friends, may we live like the Vendome Column for Jesus. Instead of cannons and artillery, may it be us whose lives are melted-down, burned-away and shaped-together into One Church that lifts up the Glory of Jesus. May the stories of our lives rise up and spiral their way toward the Heavenlies, where our Conqueror stands relaxed and exultant.
Just like the Grand Armée, our lives are short; the days flee past; 210 years from now, we will be, like them, long forgotten. Yet if our blood, limbs, lives, days, weeks, months and years are consumed by Jesus, we are doing our part to erect a monument to His Glory today. How much better to be a nonentity for His purposes and yet give Him eternal praise, than to be "someone" in the world's eyes and, like chaff in the wind, forgotten tomorrow.
Let us abandon the Self and be wrapped into this column rising to the Throne-room. From age to age, He stands, ever victorious.
This past Friday night, I had the opportunity to open the Front Range Region's leadership weekend at Copper Mountain by talking about Abiding in Jesus. What a joy! Below is a recording of most of the message I felt drawn to...
When a curious Pharisee approaches Jesus under cover of night, he has NO idea of what's about to hit him!
To listen, click the button below and scroll down The Sounds page to "Jesus and Nicodemus, John 3:1-21"
Mountains built of rock, we are the same
Winds from the west, we are the same
River rushing forth, we are the same
Sky, limitless, we are the same
Breakers beating beach, we are the same
Lightning scorching earth, we are the same
Cedar, forest-father, we are the same
Thunder, speaking terror, we are the same
We were built – by Him – of His own Rock
We are formed – by Him – in Mystery
We are sent – by Him – where’er He wants
We are freed – by Him – for His Freedom
We are meant – by Him – to have His Power
We are lit – by Him – to give His Light
We are rooted – by Him – in His Son
We are voiced – by Him – for His unfurling Way
“This truth [of being transformed from within], which is mentioned again and again in the New Testament, seems to us too good to be true. We labor and strive and pray as though Christianity were a difficult performance. Theoretically we would agree with the notion of the ‘indwelling Christ,’ but most of us for most of the time act as though we did not. We have lost sight of the fact that Christ is in us, both willing and doing. Consequently we lack that joy, confidence and spontaneity which rightly belongs to the sons of God. This does not, naturally, make our path smooth and free from trouble – neither Jesus nor Paul lived that kind of life. But it makes a whole world of difference when we believe that God, the whole unimaginable power, love and wisdom behind everything, is not merely on our side but actually at work in our hearts and minds.”
In finishing The Other Country, a book that walks through all the shorter Pauline epistles, I tried to imagine Paul, after finishing the words of 2 Timothy, being led off to his trial before Nero and, then, to his death. From there, I became captivated by the scene that might've occurred had Paul been given a funeral by his friends...
Here's the ending of The Other Country, utilizing the Apostle Paul's own words as a eulogy.
Let’s imagine for a moment that we are present at Paul’s funeral, a non-flashy, hastily-arranged memorial service, but one attended by all of the Twelve still living, as well as, of course, Timothy, Titus and so many people from all the churches all over the Roman world that Paul had either planted or watered.
Not unexpectedly, it’s Timothy who walks to the front to deliver the eulogy and, again not unexpectedly, he won’t be delivering his own words. He has in hand an address that Paul himself has written. As always, Paul will have the last word…
My friends, my brothers and sisters, how grateful I am that you would be here today. As I have gone to be with Him, the Living One, may I offer some final thoughts along the lines of everything you’ve ever heard from me:
“For you have certainly heard of my past career in the Jewish religion, how I persecuted the Church of God with fanatical zeal and, in fact, did my best to destroy it. I was ahead of most of my contemporaries in the Jewish religion, and had a greater enthusiasm for the old traditions. But then the time came for God (who had chosen me from the moment of my birth, and then called me by his grace) to reveal his Son within me so that I might proclaim him to the non-Jewish world…
“Oh, I am deeply grateful to our Lord Jesus Christ (to whom I owe all that I have accomplished) for trusting me enough to appoint me his minister, despite the fact that I had previously blasphemed his name, persecuted his Church and damaged his cause. I believe he was merciful to me because what I did was done in the ignorance of a man without faith, and then he poured out his grace upon me, giving me tremendous faith in, and love for, himself.
“And I was made a minister of that Gospel by the grace he gave me, and by the power with which he equipped me. Yes, to me, less than the least of all Christians, has God given this grace, to enable me to proclaim to the Gentiles the incalculable riches of Christ, and to make plain to all men the meaning of that secret which he who created everything in Christ has kept hidden from the creation until now. The purpose is that all the angelic powers should now see the complex wisdom of God’s plan being worked out through the Church, in conformity to that timeless purpose which he centered in Jesus, our Lord. It is in this same Jesus, because we have faith in him, that we dare, even with confidence, to approach God.
“And I am not ashamed of the Gospel. I see it as the very power of God working for the salvation of everyone who believes it, both Jew and Greek. I see in it God’s plan for imparting righteousness to men, a process begun and continued by their faith. For, as the scripture says: ‘The just shall live by faith.’
“Since then it is by faith that you are justified, may you grasp the fact that you have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have confidently entered into this new relationship of grace, and here we take our stand, in happy certainty of the glorious things he has for us in the future. This doesn’t mean, of course, that we have only a hope of future joys — we can be full of joy here and now even in our trials and troubles.
“And God forbid that I should have boasted about anything or anybody except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, which meant that the world was a dead thing to me and I was a dead man to the world.
“You are those to whom God has now planned to give a vision of the full wonder and splendor of his secret plan for the sons of men. And the secret is simply this: Christ in you! Yes, Christ in you bringing with him the hope of all glorious things to come.
“I have become absolutely convinced that neither death nor life, neither messenger of Heaven nor monarch of earth, neither what happens today nor what may happen tomorrow, neither a power from on high nor a power from below, nor anything else in God’s whole world has any power to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord!
“I wish you could see how all this is working out for your benefit, and how the more grace God gives, the more thanksgiving will redound to his glory. This is the reason why we must never collapse. The outward man does indeed suffer wear and tear, but every day the inward man receives fresh strength. These little troubles (which are really so transitory) are winning for you a permanent, glorious and solid reward out of all proportion to your pain. For we are looking all the time not at the visible things but at the invisible. The visible things are transitory: it is the invisible things that are really permanent.
“When I was a little child I talked and felt and thought like a little child. Now that I am a man my childish speech and feeling and thought have no further significance for me. At present we are men looking at puzzling reflections in a mirror. The time will come when we shall see reality whole and face to face! At present all you know is a little fraction of the truth, but the time will come when you shall know it as fully as God now knows you! In this life we have three great lasting qualities — faith, hope and love. But the greatest of them is love.
“For you, my friends, are citizens of Heaven; your outlook goes beyond this world to the hopeful expectation of the savior who will come from Heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will re-make these wretched bodies of ours to resemble his own glorious body, by that power of his which makes him the master of everything that is.
“As for me, I know now that the last drops of my life have been poured out for God. The glorious fight that God gave me I have fought. The course that I was set I have finished, and I have kept the faith. The present for me now holds the crown of righteousness which God, the true judge, will give to those who have loved what they have seen of him.”
My friends, at the center of everything… Jesus. May He conform you to His image and may we meet again someday in the glories of His wonderful Presence.
Until then, and with my great love,