Pray to the Lord of the Harvest

March 25, 2011

The headline captured my attention: Religion may become extinct in nine nations, study says. A paper read at the American Physical Society had used a mathematical model to explain the interplay between the number of religious respondents and the social motives for remaining religious. The model looked at data over the past century, and it predicted the extinction of religion in Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Switzerland. A similar model had been proposed to deal with the decline of lesser-spoken world languages.

I particularly noted New Zealand and Australia because of our work with the South Pacific Bible College in Tauranga, New Zealand, but this is a serious matter for all of these countries. New Zealand and Australia are very secular societies. Church attendance for all religious groups is about 10% of the population. The study only confirms what we already in some sense know. These countries have great needs for evangelism and may be slow and difficult areas in which to work. Lest we congratulate ourselves on being more religious than they are, the trend in the United States is going down as well, although the U.S. is at 44%.

A mathematical model is a way of looking at data and making projections; it is not prophecy. It is not written in stone and unalterable. But it should still be taken to heart. If good people do nothing, the picture for these countries is dire. However, mathematical trends can be reversed.

What should we do? I’m struck by Jesus’ words as he sent out the seventy:

“And he said to them, “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, ESV)

Jesus commands us to pray to God to send out laborers, and note that it is not just a command to pray, but a command to pray earnestly.

I’m convinced that those kinds of prayers are being offered, but the news story reminds me of how important those prayers are. For those who pray, often find that they are also the ones who send, support, and go. The prayer changes them as well as seeking God’s providence. In the midst of dire projections, pray to the Lord of the harvest.

When Tyrants Rage and Buildings Fall

March 18, 2011

When tyrants rage and buildings fall, it may seem that our world is falling apart. Stories of political unrest and natural disasters fill our 24-hour news cycle, and there may be an emotional impact to it. We feel that we are living in a time of uncertainties, and we may wonder: what’s next?

Such questions are not new.

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1–5, ESV)

We don’t know for certain the motive of those who related the account of Pilate and the Galileans. Some have suggested that they were following up Jesus’ discussion about interpreting the times a few verses prior (Luke 12:54-56). What is interesting is that Jesus doesn’t turn this into a national or global discussion.

With question and answer, Jesus affirms that these Galileans were not worse sinners than others. It wasn’t as if this calamity had fallen upon them as a matter of divine justice. This was a case of moral evil — the actions of a tyrant — falling upon individuals caught up in the politics of the day. Jesus expands the example to include a tower that had fallen and killed eighteen. Here we have a case that we would describe as a natural disaster. Construction accidents occur. Storms come. Earthquakes happen. Again, Jesus affirms that these victims were not worse sinners than others in Jerusalem who escaped the disaster.

Instead of drawing some big picture application from these disasters, Jesus makes a very personal warning: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Death and disasters are a consequence of sin in the world, but the spiritual consequences of sin are very personal. I may not know what will happen in tomorrow’s news, but I’m aware that two events are in my future: my death (unless Jesus returns first) and the Day of Judgment. When I see disasters happen, I need to ask a personal question: is a spiritual disaster coming upon me because I’m not ready to meet my Maker. Repentance is that change of mind and heart that leads me to say and live “not my will, but Yours, be done.” When tyrants rage and buildings fall, the important question is: am I spiritually ready?

The Payment

March 15, 2011

Have you ever borrowed money? It is almost silly question in our culture. My son and daughter started receiving credit card applications (which I promptly shredded) before they had even graduated high school. We understand what it means to receive a good or service and yet have the payment for that good or service delayed.

Most of the time the payments start the very next month. On a few occasions, the delay may even be longer. I’ve seen furniture stores advertising no payments until the next year. You use your furniture and maybe even spill things on your furniture for the first time before the initial payment comes due.

That analogy helps me understand forgiveness in the Old Testament. Clearly, sinners felt great relief in forgiveness. Observe Psalm 32.

“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. ” (Psalm 32:1, ESV)

“For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. ” (Psalm 32:3, ESV)

“Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart! ” (Psalm 32:11, ESV)

David could exult in the joy of forgiveness even if he didn’t completely understand what it would cost God to grant forgiveness. Paul explains the situation further in Romans 3.

“and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. ” (Romans 3:24–26, ESV)

God had passed over former sins. Passed over means “deliberate disregard, passing over, letting go unpunished” (BDAG, p. 776). If God had not dealt with the debt of sin in Jesus, it would have called into question His own justice and holiness as Paul makes clear in verse 26. God showed his righteousness “at the present time,” that is at the time of Jesus’ death. Jesus paid the debt, so that God could be both just and justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Whether they are sins committed before the cross or after the cross, the death of Jesus is the payment for the debt of sin.

Is Life a Test?

March 4, 2011

Dr. Gregory House is television’s fictional curmudgeonly doctor. House is a misanthrope and an atheist. In a scene where the characters were considering whether there is anything to people seeing a white light at the end of the tunnel in near death experiences, House retorts that it is simply the chemical reactions to the brain shutting down. There is nothing after death, and he finds that comforting. When questioned about this being comforting, he replies: “I find it more comforting to believe that this isn’t simply a test.”

The scene succinctly raises an important issue about life. Is life a test or not? The Christian worldview gives a much different answer than the one given by the fictional Dr. House. The question is worth pondering.

I suspect that the comfort gained from saying life isn’t a test goes something like this. Death is the end. There is no judgment, heaven, or hell. We can’t get life wrong. It’s like the elation of the student who finds out there is no final exam.

Yet, this perspective comes with a terrible cost. It would mean that life has no ultimate meaning despite the fact we all seem to seek to make our life meaningful. It would mean that no moral values exist, other than the ones I subjectively create for myself, or we decide as a group, or some elite, powerful group decides for us. Yet such values are more akin to “I like chocolate; you like vanilla” than they are to “thou shalt” or “thou shalt not.” The dictator who exterminates millions, the gunman who takes out passersby in a shopping mall, or the woman who donates time at a soup kitchen are all just different ways of living life. Who’s to say which is better? They all die. If life is not a test, no one passes or fails.

Believing that life is a test certainly has ramifications. Since my choices in life can lead to eternal loss or eternal bliss, choices are filled with meaning and cannot be taken lightly. A choice between good and bad really exists. Doesn’t my sense that some things are not fair suggest that there is something about moral decisions that goes beyond my subjective feelings about them?

Such a life is more than a pass or fail for the afterlife. Life becomes a moral adventure. We have the opportunity to grow in goodness, love, and kindness. We learn the challenges of standing up for justice and fairness in a world that is frequently unfair. Honesty grows into transparency as we learn to be honest about who we are in all circumstances. The trials of life produce patient endurance.

I find comfort in life being a test. It means life matters, and death is not the end.

It’s a profound question. The course of your life will be affected by your answer. Is life a test?