Be Alert!!! The Harvest Is Ripe

Evangelism. Does anyone else feel like you never quite measure up when it comes to sharing the gospel?  I’m convinced of the importance of evangelism and I’m deeply moved by stories of people coming to Christ – and yet I still struggle to share the gospel regularly. What would it take to make evangelism a natural and regular part of our Christian lives?

Jesus often describes our mission with the metaphor of a harvest. In Matthew and Luke he says, “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” (Matt. 9:37-38; Luke 10:2). In similar words, Jesus tells his disciples in John 4:35: “Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.” Here’s what I want you to notice: if Jesus is sending the disciples and us into the harvest, then someone has already prepared the field.  Implication? You and I are surrounded by people already ripe for the gospel. In our grocery stores, on our sports teams, besides us at our coffee shops, or next-door in our neighborhoods, there are people God is preparing to respond to the gospel. Do you believe that?

I’m convinced that one thing that keeps us from sharing the gospel is the unspoken belief that it all depends on us. I need to find someone to share the gospel with. I need to have the right words to say. It’s as though we think God gives us a barren piece of ground and says, “Grow me a crop of wheat.” But God is already at work to prepare the harvest! We follow in his footsteps. The restaurant you choose, the gym you join, or the Starbucks you frequent are not random choices or events in your life. Each one is God preparing and positioning you in his field for his harvest. Our call is to do what Jesus said: “Look, lift up your eyes and see.”

Let me suggest just one way we can live in the Lord’s fields. If it’s true that God is at work to prepare the harvest, that the fields are ripe because of his work, and if it’s true that God has made each one of us workers in his field, then be alert for small windows of opportunity. Only once in my life has an unbelieving stranger asked me a direct question about God. Every other opportunity I’ve had to share the gospel and build friendships with unbelievers came through what seemed like a small thing: giving a pedestrian a ride up a steep hill, asking the checkout lady how her day is going, saying hello to a person instead of passing without acknowledgement. Look for those small opportunities that the Lord gives you, and expect some of them to lead to more conversations.

Wherever you are, the Lord of the harvest is already preparing his field and has you there for a purpose. Lift up your eyes and see! The harvest is ripe.

It’s Not About Religion. It’s About A Relationship. Really?

On the sign of a local church: It’s not about religion.  It’s about a relationship with Jesus.

When I first saw the sign I thought, that’s great, they’re trying to reach people – and I know what they’re saying. Christianity isn’t drudgery; it’s not a bunch of tedious rules and regulations we slog through; it’s a joy-filled relationship with God through Jesus.  I commend that church for reaching out to our community.

But the more I thought about it the more it bothered me. Bear with with me here – remember, I’m an old guy and I’m entitled to these kinds of musings.  If you want you can blast me afterwards but hear me out for a second.

The sign bothered me because being a Christian IS about religion.  Religion and relationship with Jesus aren’t mutually exclusive.  Being a Christian is about religion AND a relationship.

Religion is a specific set of beliefs about God and the practices those beliefs require. If we don’t believe Jesus is God, who became a man, lived a life of perfect obedience to his Father, died on the cross for our sins, and rose from the dead, we won’t be saved and can have no relationship with the Father or Jesus Christ. Without religion there is no relationship.

James certainly saw religion as important:

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.  Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:26-27

If one can think he is religious yet not be, then it must be possible to actually be. If there is a religion that is worthless, then there is a religion that is true and worth having.  James says true religion will lead us to bridle our tongues, visit afflicted orphans and widows  and live holy, unstained lives.

In other words, it IS about religion – which affects how we live. It affects our speech. It makes us loving and holy.

The problem with the statement “It’s not about religion.  It’s about a relationship with Jesus” is that it’s vague.  It’s undefined, warm and fuzzy.  But it can say the wrong thing.

If taken the wrong way people might think they don’t need to believe specific truths or be a committed member of a church. That they need not gather with others to hear the word preached or learn sound doctrine or serve others or speak the truth in love, confront sin or repent. It’s just me and Jesus; I don’t need all that religion stuff.

Yes, it is about relationship with Jesus which we receive as a free gift of God. But we cultivate that relationship by abiding in his word, prayer, worship, exercising faith, obedience and loving others – by our religion.

So what would I put on our sign? Maybe something like – It’s not about religion – if you think religion means boring drudgery and meaningless rules. It’s about a religion that leads to and fuels a satisfying saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

Of course that’s too much for a sign you have 1.2 seconds to read as you drive by. But you know what I mean.  Ok, old man’s musings are done.  Fire away.

Now That’s Interesting! A Font for Doctors, Cancer and Salvation, The Expendables Made by Pixar, More…

Mike Seaver: School, Suicide, Cancer, and Salvation – “I don’t know much about this Jesus thing,” said Cassy, as I entered her classroom. I had never met Cassy, but she had asked to speak with me. She said, “Can we talk?”  I said “Sure.” For the next 45 to 50 minutes Cassy asked me question after question about God, Christianity, and death.

A handwriting font for doctors – This is about right. Whenever I look at prescriptions written by my doctor I’m amazed that the folks at the pharmacy can make out anything.

While I was lining up the shot, an older man walked by, smiled,… – I like this blog, Humans of New York. It’s interesting, and it also reminds me of the masses of people who need Christ.

Basketball Class – The script was written by kids, the voices were done by kids, and the acting was done by adults. Brilliant.

If The Expendables 2 Was Made By Pixar – I would definitely see this movie.

Full of Sap and Spring at Age 93

They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green…(Psalm 92:14)

This is my grandpa, J.J. Altrogge. He’s 93 years old, and he’s still bearing loads of fruit of Jesus. The picture is of him doing a Bible study at a retirement home, which is something he regularly does. For the last 15 years or so he has also painted birthday cards for every member of our church. That currently puts him at around 5,000 birthday cards. Lately he’s been bringing a down-and-out friend of his to church to hear the gospel. He also gives the guy rides to the grocery store to help him purchase groceries.

So what’s his secret? How is he still so fruitful for God at age 93? I think it’s because he is in regular fellowship with Jesus. Every morning he sits in his sunroom, surrounded by his paintings, sips on bad coffee (instant!), reads God’s word, reads a devotional, and takes time to pray. Nothing fancy. No extravagant, mystical rituals. Just time with Jesus.

I’m convinced that the more closely we stay connected to Jesus, the more fruitful we will be. The more we marinate in his word and open our hearts in prayer, the more we will blossom with spiritual fruit. That’s why Jesus said:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5 ESV)

My grandpa abides with Jesus which then leads to him being fruitful. It’s the same with my dad. His fruitfulness as a pastor for the last 30 years is because he is regularly abiding with Jesus. I want to be like my grandpa and my dad. I want to imitate them as they imitate Christ. There’s no gimmick or trick to being fruitful for the Lord. It’s simple. Abide with Jesus and then walk in the works he has prepared for you.

How To Exteriminate Envy And Its Insidious Cousins

The spirit of envy is the very contrary of the spirit of heaven, where all rejoice in the happiness of others; and it is the very spirit of hell itself … Jonathan Edwards, Charity and its Fruits

Years ago at a pastors retreat I shared that at times I envied others’ gifts. One man’s jaw dropped and he said, “But Mark, you probably receive more encouragement than any other pastor I know.” Sadly, he was right – I’d been blessed to preach and pastor and write songs and regularly received lots of encouragement.  But when others were praised for their preaching or leadership, jealousy would rear its ugly head.

Envy is no light thing –  it’s one of the “evil things that come out of the heart of man,” along with sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, deceit, sensuality, slander, and pride and all these, including envy, “defile a person” (Mark 7:22-23).

Envy and its cousins, jealousy and selfish ambition, are “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (James 3:15) and “where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice” (16).  When we open the door to envy it ushers all its foul friends and every kind of chaos into our lives.

Like the Orkin commercial where a homeowner answers a knock at the door and there stands a 6 foot termite, who says, “I was wondering if I could use your phone – my car broke down a few blocks over, and – (looking down at the floor) is that oak?”  Envy knocks on the door and says “Mind if I come in for a few minutes? I’m not that bad.” And when we let it in it brings all its cousins – jealousy, selfish ambition, disorder, and every vile practice.

Envy springs from a debased mind (Romans 1:28), is a work of the flesh along with immorality, idolatry, sorcery, drunkenness and orgies and those who practice these things, will not inherit the kingdom (Galatians 5:19-21).  Not only does envy trash us for heaven, it ruins us now – “envy makes the bones rot” (Proverbs 14:30).

When we envy, we are saying Jesus alone isn’t enough to satisfy us –  we need Jesus PLUS possessions, admiration, and success.  Then we’ll be satisfied.

And envy is the complete opposite of love, because “love does not envy or boast” (1 Corinthians 13:4). Instead, love rejoices when others are blessed.

How can we exterminate this filthy vermin and its insidious cousins?  

Edwards says the spirit of heaven is “where all rejoice in the happiness of others.”  So when tempted to envy, ask, “How would I react if I were in heaven and God blessed someone more than me?”  In heaven we’ll be free from all sin – including envy.  So we’ll rejoice to see others blessed, honored, and rewarded above us, and we’ll worship Jesus for his generosity.

That’s the spirit of love. The spirit of heaven. When we love others we rejoice to see them blessed – even more than us.  And Jesus will help us to love others this way as we confess our sin, ask Jesus to satisfy us with himself, and help us rejoice when he blesses others.