He who goes out weeping,

bearing the seed for sowing,

shall come home with shouts of joy,

bringing the sheaves with him.

Psalm 126: 6

 

This Psalm is about restoration and new growth. In it there is hope and there is the promise of God’s blessings that will come to His faithful workers. But there is also something else going on here. As the workers who are committing themselves to working in the Lord’s fields prepare for their calling, their demeanor is not at all what I would have expected. I would anticipate that they would be joyous and filled with the high energy of an athlete who is ready to step out onto the field or the court to seek after a win. There would be confidence and strength on display as the training and the hours of practice that have preceded this moment are now going to be put to good use.

 

This is not what we are given in this account. The workers who are ready to step out to begin the work of seed planting in the fields that are God’s intended land for harvest of souls are setting out with weeping. Although the writer of this psalm does not give us much more by way of reason for the tears, I would like to speculate on this a little. This world is not an easy place to dwell as a follower of Christ. The truth of God’s Word and the moral and ethical decisions that adhering to it demand will not be met with popular acceptance. Even the love of Christ is rejected and labeled as controlling, discriminatory, and irrelevant by many of the people that we might attempt to care about in His name. Sharing biblical truth is often unpopular and can be dangerous in many ways.

 

So, part of the cause for the weeping here is the natural response to going into the harsh environment of our world with the intent to plant seeds of hope in Christ. Yet, I think that there is more going on here. Each of us was once lost, and we are still traveling along a road where sin causes us to stumble and to fall down so that Christ’s grace and love are required to pick us up and to again set us out on that road of His calling. God is saying to me that I should enter into the work of sharing His truth in my world with a heart that is sorrowful and repentant for my own sinfulness and for the way that rebellion against God is causing people to live in separation from their source of true hope, peace, and joy. This is a very different attitude from that of the athlete or the warrior preparing for the battle of the game.

 

A repentant heart is a humble one, and it engages with people out of the humility and the grace that is Christ. A sorrowful heart feels and appreciates the pain of the cross. As God’s tears flow from my eyes, I see the people of my world in a new manner. Their own pain, struggles, and grief are brought into clearer focus, and Christ speaks the truth of their needs to my heart in ways that can make His message of life clearer and more relevant to each person who I meet. This time of weeping is a time of preparation for the true work of service to Christ. It removes me from the front of the effort and places the Lord in His rightful place as the voice of love that I speak while planting His seeds. Then the tears of repentance and sorrow will be replaced by the shouts of joy when Christ’s harvest of souls is completed.

 

“Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord God, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?”

Ezekiel 18: 23

 

A lot of people think that God simply does not like them. They believe that He is angry with their life choices, with their attitudes, or simply with them. They stay as far away from God and from anything that is related to Him as is possible. This is understandable for people who don’t know God. It is easy and often natural to have an unclear and a distorted view of the Lord’s character and intent toward people when He is only known about and not known in an intimate way.

 

Sadly, God’s own don’t always help the cause of understanding, either. We lash out in angry words and actions against people who can’t be held to a standard of righteous behavior since they don’t hold the key to righteousness. We approach a discussion about life and lifestyle in a manner that points to the bad behaviors of others and heaps guilt upon their heads. This is not how God does the same things. Behaving as if we are angry with people does not show them the face of God; instead, it pushes them away from Him.

 

The Lord is very concerned with the way that we live, and He sets very clear standards for people’s behavior. Still, He knows that living up to His standards is impossible for people who don’t know Him. God cares about the relationship that people have with Him. He wants all people to know Him personally. The Lord directs His children to show others the truth about Him and His character and to help them understand the reality of the love that God has for everyone. The answer to the evil that is rampant in our world is not anger, and it is not separation leading to isolation. Rather, it is found in loving those who don’t know Christ; it is found in connecting with them and in understanding their needs. God’s response to lost people is demonstrated by his attitude of sadness at their lack of hope, and He commands us to share this concern and to act upon it by sharing the love of Christ with others. The evil of this world needs to be confronted with the soul saving truth of God’s grace, restoration, and love.

 

I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and He answered me;

Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.

Jonah 2: 1

 

Let’s start with the premise that no one and no situation is beyond redemption. Most Christians would say that this is true. Yet, based upon our words and actions, we don’t seem to really believe it. Jonah’s situation was based upon a sort of double portion of doubt and desperation. He doubted that God’s sending of him to Nineveh was going to serve any good purpose. In fact, he thought that going there would result in nothing more than his own injury and death. Now, as Jonah cries out to the Lord from inside of the big fish’s belly, he was certain that death was the best outcome that he could anticipate. Still, if we examine this story well, isn’t the fish actually an agent of literal salvation? Without God’s appointed fish Jonah would have been drowned. Now, inside of that same fish, he had been alive for three days longer than he deserved.

 

As an aside, there is absolutely nothing normal about the story of Jonah. This entire book is strange, unbelievable, and even otherworldly; and that might be the main point. God’s view of this world is quite different from ours. His approach to things can take us along paths that we would never have selected for ourselves. The Lord is rather singular in His purposes, and I admit that my view of things tends to become divergent from His. This is especially true when the Lord’s desire is for me to say or do something, or go somewhere that I believe to be threatening or that makes me feel uncomfortable. This was Jonah’s problem. God desires that all people would come to know Him in the deepest way possible and that He, in the person of Christ, would rule all of Creation. As we people were given temporary control and management of this world by God, if Christ is to rule it in these in between times, we need to allow Him to rule in our lives.

 

Essentially this is what Jonah was sent to proclaim to the people of Nineveh. He was sent to the most unrepentantly sinful place on earth to speak the truth of God’s righteousness to them in order to grant them the opportunity to surrender to the Lord of their salvation. Jonah was sent to speak the painful truths that could, if accepted and followed, set these people free from the death grip of sin. God knew what Jonah feared. God sent him to care for and to love those people who Jonah despised in order to bring those Ninevites into the presence of the Holy King and to bring Jonah to his knees in humble submission to and total trust of His King. All of us who live in this world can identify Nineveh in our midst. It seems to me that God might be doing with us exactly what He did with Jonah. Christ is sending His people into those fearful places in order that His love, grace, mercy, and truth would be proclaimed. The Lord wants us to set aside our concerns and reluctance and allow His heart of salvation and redemption to speak of His glory through our mouths into the lostness of our world. As I said at the beginning, in Christ’s view there is no one and no situation that is beyond His redemption.

For the earth will bring forth its sprouts,

and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,

so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise

to sprout up before all the nations.

Isaiah 61: 11

 

The promise of spring is a part of the hope that makes the dark days of winter a little easier to handle. We know that it is not too long until new life will begin to sprout out of the cold, dark ground. I know that my mind can already see that day when all of the trees start to take on a greenish glow as the buds of summer’s life open for the year. God’s creative design has devised this cycle of renewal and rebirth in the order of our natural world. He has also promised this same potential to the people of His creation.

 

There will be a day when the newness of a fully redeemed creation will be the unending existence of this world. The day of Christ’s return and the unbroken state that He will restore to all of creation is near. Yet, it does not seem as if it is today. There are aspects of God’s desire and intent that are not completed. There is something to be set in place before that final cleansing and the restoration that will follow are set in motion. In that light, one of the things that God has been very clear about is that He desires that every person on the earth should have had the opportunity to hear and to respond to His Gospel of love, truth, and redemption in Jesus Christ.

 

The Lord calls each of His people to engage in the process of making this happen. He sends us out of our comfort and ease and into the world around us. Every one of us who know Christ is granted the honor and the responsibility to represent our Lord and King in all that we do and to take the story of our new life in Christ out to those corners of the world where He is not known. Some of us will travel far and live a long distance from our places of birth and some will go and talk with our next-door neighbors. We may use profound words that come from God’s word of truth while others of us will speak in acts of love, respect, and justice. Yet, in all of this, we are planting the seeds that the Lord will tend and cause to sprout into the beautiful life of His redeemed garden.

Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you. And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.

Luke 8: 39

 

This was a very unusual situation. The man from the area of the little town of Gadara on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee had been healed from the horrible oppression of demons. He was free, he had his life back, and he had a new purpose for that life. This man wanted to pursue one course, that of following along with Jesus, but Jesus sent him off onto another path. He was sent back to his home, that is to the place where his family and he were resident. This would include his immediate family, his village community, and those who lived in the region around the village. These were people who had expressed great fear and concern over the power of this strange Jewish teacher, Jesus.

 

So, the healed man is sent back to his family, friends, neighbors, and others in their broader sphere of contact. Jesus instructs him to tell these people about the great and wondrous things that God has done for him. He is to tell the story of the miraculous and transformative work that Christ has accomplished in him, and he was to declare to all the salvation from a life of slavery that comes through this same Jesus. This was no easy task in light of the negativity and even hostility that his community and his culture were likely to express toward this message of hope and peace that comes from acceptance of Christ as Savior and Lord. Yet, sharing this good news was the man’s new life calling and his commission from God.

 

So, I wonder, how much different is my calling from that of this man? I don’t have the drama that surrounded the expulsion of the demon, but Christ has claimed my life out of sin’s slavery and death. He has given me freedom, peace, and purpose for this life that I have in and through Christ. All of this would seem worthy of much more than just mention in my home, around my neighborhood, and throughout my community. It also seems to me that this message of Christ’s work in me is not limited to a singular time and event. The Lord continues to do His work in and on me, and this ongoing story of transformation and growth is a significant part of the story that I have to tell. So, like that man from Gadara, I too am sent by Christ to declare how much God is doing for me.

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 ripe for the harvest.

John 4: 35

 

The meaning of this comment by Jesus is obvious. He is telling His disciples to look around them and to see the large numbers of people who need to come to know their Savior and King. The statement includes the imperative, “Look!” which could be rendered more accurately, if also more awkwardly, as, “look and keep on looking with all of your faculties and senses”. I think that He is telling His followers to stop viewing their world from their own limited perspectives. Instead, Christ wants them to become open to seeing what he does. They are being lead to start living in a world that is ruled and governed by God’s spiritual rules rather than by people’s earth-bound ones.

 

Remember, they are currently in Samaria which is a place where Jews of their times were not particularly welcome. The Samaritans were people who the Jews had rejected and considered to be second-class citizens. When Jesus tells His disciples to look, He is pointing to people who were typically antagonistic toward them and that they found to be undesirable company, at best. In this brief comment, Jesus is challenging some of the deepest held beliefs that His followers had. Christ is directing them to do things that would shake up their world. He wants them to view other people in a way that will take them down a path that is irretrievably different and divergent from the one that had previously been the main highway of life.

 

Christ wants us to look as well. He desires that each and all of His followers would open our hearts and our minds to be filled with His perspective on our world. God’s view of humanity is not based on history, position, status, or on any other coincidence of circumstance. God sees the soul, and He sees the person as one who was made in His own image. When Christ says to us, “Look!” He is telling us to lift up our eyes so that we can see our world from His viewpoint. He wants us to begin to comprehend our world by listening to His Spirit so that our assessment of it is formed and informed by eternal contemplations. On a daily basis, we will encounter great numbers of people whose lives could be altered forever by meeting Christ. Each of them is a precious soul, and we are blessed with the opportunity to reach out to them and to share the living water of Christ in the midst of our parched and dying land.

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. This is a desert place.

Acts 8: 26

 

This is a dramatic moment in a very powerful and strange scene as Philip is specifically directed by an angel. Now there were many dramatic, powerful, and strange scenes that are recorded as a part of the lives of the apostles and other followers of Jesus in these early days after His resurrection. Yet this one does seem beyond many of the rest. God seems to want Philip to travel away from the usual places and out of the comfort and protection of his friends and fellow followers of Christ. He is sent toward a desert place; that is, literally, along a road that had almost no water available, was hot, and where there were few people and no shelter.

 

The rest of the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch is wonderful and full of God’s appointed events. However, the thing that catches my eye here is this moment of calling and instruction that Philip receives from God. Philip is sent on a journey that takes him out of easy security and into the prospect of hardship or even peril. But greater than this is the way that Philip sees the reason for the journey in the presence of a foreigner, a traveler and a seeker. It is at this point that Philip truly steps out of himself and enters into his calling from Christ. He seems to be open to and listening for the prompting of the Holy Spirit; so, when that comes, he readily responds by running to the Ethiopian man’s chariot. The two men then engage in a dialogue during which Philip shares the truth of Christ and the Ethiopian accepts life and is baptized.

 

In one sense, the way that all of this happens is quite unique and is very unlikely to occur in any of our lives. I have experienced no appearances of an angel and have not heard the voice of one, at least as far as I am aware. Yet, the Holy Spirit is with me and with all of Christ’s followers every moment of our days. He does speak, and He does guide, direct, and counsel us along the path that we follow. To me, it is not so amazing that God spoke to Philip, what is special is the way that Philip listened and responded. Every one of us lives in or near a desert place. All of us encounter Ethiopians along the road. My question, directed at myself, is am I listening, and how will I respond?

Arise sleeper, awake from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.

Ephesians 5: 14

 

When Christ comes into our lives He changes the status of our souls from ones that are dead and already in the process of decaying into ones that are fully alive and that are then in the process of being transformed into ones that shine with the glory of Christ. Turning my life over to the Lord and following His path of righteousness in my life has the effect of quite literally awaking me from the deep and dark sleep of that spiritually dead state into the light Christ’s life. As Christ shows me truth and His Spirit makes acting upon that truth an imperative, my now wide open eyes begin to see that my world has a profound level of need for a savior.

 

This awareness is not a part of the thinking of a person who is still asleep, and, I fear, that there are times when those of us who do know Christ are also caught napping. We tune out the voice of Christ as He points us toward the hurt, the broken, and the spiritually needy people around us, and we excuse our untimely slumber by pointing to how much energy we are using in order to survive the day or to all of the really good things that we are already doing for the sake of our religious practices. To Christ, these statements are simply excuses, and He asks, “Am I not enough, am I not all that you need?”

 

The honest, true, and real answer is, “Yes, You are more than all that I ever need.” I speak to myself when I say that we should awaken, arise, when our hearts and minds have slipped into a drowsy state. It is time to pull back the curtains and let the glory of Christ in. Then, it is also time to become like a rooster in the world crying out in celebration of the new dawn of life that is to be found in and through Christ, alone.