Wednesday, October 17, 2007

October 14, 2007 The Endangered Harvest

Matthew 9:35-38

Matthew 9:36- Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”

“God had only one Son and he made that Son a missionary.” So said the great African missionary, David Livingston.

The heart of being a missionary is realizing that missions is not about money or ability but about compassion for the lost- for those sheep without a shepherd.

Last week we had a real live missionary family come and speak to us about their experiences in Mexico, their current status and their vision of expanding the work of the church through Bible training of pastors.

This week we are going to talk about you and I as missionaries to our fields here in Oceana County.

Have you ever realized that you are a missionary? Have you ever considered that as a follower of Jesus Christ, you have a direct responsibility to reaching the lost?

“I thought that was the pastor’s job.” Sheep beget sheep; pastors lead the sheep. It doesn’t absolve me of personally sharing my faith. However, too often we miss the point of evangelism and missions because it’s too easy to see others do it rather than we ourselves do it.

In our text, Jesus speaks as one with a heart of compassion for the lost. If there is ever one thing that bothers me more than anything else and that is when God’s people who are supposed be born again, don’t have any compassion for the lost.

Here’s my challenge: love and appreciate the most unlovable person with the same kind of love and appreciation that you are showing me as your pastor this month. If you want to appreciate me and show me that appreciation, then don’t throw dinners and give me gifts; love others in our community and be willing to bring them to Christ.

Moving on…

One of the grave aspects of farming is that sometimes all of the harvest does not get harvested. There are reasons for that. Jesus points to one of them but before we get to his point let me share a few other reasons that churches do not harvest more than they do.

1. The Weather Factors.

One could be the weather factors. Too much rain, not enough rain, too much heat, too much cold and on and on- weather is a key issue to farming. These things contribute to a poor harvest.

The same holds true for any church ministry and any Christian. But there is a difference: we don’t need to let the weather determine our ministry. When we allow our ministry to be blown to and fro by the winds of societal change, we will see our purpose get knocked off course and our mission of reaching the lost lose traction.

How do we deal with weather factors?

Psalm 121 gives us some good insight to how we can deal with the climate conditions we deal with.

a. God controls the weather.

He is the maker of heaven and earth. He knows the climate we are in.

b. God watches over us.

He is not asleep but available to us when we have need.

c. God is our protector.

He is our shade in the heat of the day and covering in the coldness of the night

2. Geographical Location.

It seems to me like Oceana County is the jelly belly of agriculture. We grow peaches, pears, apples, cherries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and mulberries. But where is my favorite fruit? Bananas? What about coffee beans? Why don’t we have coconut trees? I like a good orange on occasion. Why can’t we grow them here?

Location determines what you grow and harvest. In Jesus geographical location such things as wheat, barley, olives and grapes were in abundance.

I make the geographical point to say this: we have to know what we can or can’t do. Too often churches are guilty of trying to do outreach programs that were not designed for them. It would be pretty hard for us to operate an inner city mission ministry here in Shelby. You don’t design a ministry to reach Polish immigrants if you are not in Chicago. And so we need to look at those aspects of ministry- those entry points that are uniquely ours.

What we need to do is realize three very important geographical characteristics of outreach:

Who are we reaching? Who are the people that live here? Where do they come from? From this characteristic we can begin to see that our community breaks down into a two main groups: Anglos and Hispanics.

What do they need? Everybody needs something. We need to discover the felt needs of our community. Do they need food? Clothing? Shelter? Money? How about English? Budgetting classes? Job Training? On and on, but there are felt needs. One that easily gets overlooked is friendships. People need friendships.

What do we have to offer? This is important because it forces us to realize two important facets of helping people. First, do we have the set skills and gifts necessary to reach them. Second, do we have the willingness to adjust ourselves and learn new skills and receive the necessary spiritual gifts to do the ministry?

This is the place God has called us to and this is the time that he has placed us here. Now, what are we going to do about it?

3. The Marketplace Value System.

Another reason is marketplace values. For farmers to make a profit calls for them at times to dispose of the harvest in ways that seem wasteful. It bothers me but I also understand the economic side of farming. Some do allow locals to come in and glean from the “corners of the fields” in order to avoid the wastefulness that is sometime required.

And so it is not unusual for a farm to not harvest 20% of its crops or to mow down the asparagus field late in the harvest. There are certain marketing techniques that have to be applied.

In a similar sense, the church can become susceptible to the marketplace value system.

All we need are people just like you to go into the harvest fields.

How can we avoid the marketplace value system?

a. Money does not equal ministry.

We can very easily allow the finances become the focal point of outreach. The fact is that we do not need money to do ministry.

b. People are people, not profit.

Any church that begins to view new people as a means of income has lost sight of the vision and compassion of Christ and should close their doors. If any ministry sees people as profit they have lost the heart for true ministry.

4. The Dynamics of Disease.

Another reason that fields are not harvested can be due to disease. When blight hits trees the effects can be devastating. We learned as we crossed the Mackinac Bridge that firewood is not allowed over the bridge from either direction. This is to combat the ash borer bug. The hoof and mouth disease that strikes animals has its beginnings in 60 different viruses- that is why it is so hard to combat.

How does disease affect the spiritual harvest?

a. We tolerate sin in our own lives.

It’s pretty hard to talk to sinners about the changes they need in their own life when there is no change in ours. The best witness is

b. We tolerate the lack of outreach.

In a sense, though, if we do not share Christ, are we disobeying God and thereby sinning?

Pastor Carlos shared a story with us about a man who came to Christ. He was so excited about the change in his life that he was telling everybody about it. When he was among family members, where he shopped and then when he went to work. At his job, as he was telling others, a man stepped up and said to him, “That’s great! I’m a Christian too.”

This new believer just looked at him for a moment. Then he said, “I have been working here for twenty years! Why haven’t you ever said anything to me?”

Good question.

c. We tolerate the lack of resources.
Sometimes we need the resources to combat disease. And so, rather than depending on God, we find ourselves depending- well- on ourselves. This furthers the spread of problems and doesn’t allow us to please our Father.

We can talk about weather factors, marketplace values and the dynamics of disease but Jesus hits the heart of the problem: workers.

5. The Necessity of Workers.
In all the things that Jesus could have pointed out, he zeroes in on one important aspect for the lack of harvest: workers.

But another reason is a very simple one: lack of workers. If you do not have the workers to harvest the crops then the crops will rot from the trees or you as the farmer are forced to mow the asparagus fields- as happened last spring.

There are some important points for us to consider:

a. Jesus had a heart of compassion.

Do we have a heart that breaks over the lostness of our community? Does our heart break when we hear of bad things happening to people.

b. Jesus saw the sheep without a shepherd.

By having this heart of compassion means that you will begin to have a vision for the lost. You will begin to see their specific needs. They are weary from working multiple jobs to make it in life; they are weary from the relationship problems they face; they are weary from a life of sin that offers no hope- just more of the same.

They are sheep without a shepherd. They are people who- other than not being in the church- are like you and me.

c. Jesus calls for harvesters.

This is the cry of Jesus heart. When the Samaritan woman brought others to Jesus he declared to the disciples then that the fields were white with harvest.

Oceana County boasts of one of the longest harvest seasons anywhere. We begin in April in some years with asparagus and some are still picking apples come late October. In the off season, trees are being trimmed and tractors are being upgraded. There is hardly any downtime from the business of harvesting.

And it should be that way with us as a church. I take full responsibility for my work and leadership as your pastor. Can I do more? Absolutely. But it doesn’t stop there. Everyone of us who names this church as theirs and names Jesus as Lord and Savior of their life needs to also take on the responsibility of evangelism.

This call for harvesters is a call to prayer. Are we praying not only for those God has raised up but praying that God raises up more harvesters?

They are sheep without shepherd. “Who will go for us? Who shall we send?” God is asking and the answer is the church.

We are the answer to reaching the sheep with a shepherd.

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