Fathers & Sons

Dear Friends:

For several days and nights, I’ve preached the Gospel to teenagers, thirty-somethings, and those who have paid the dues of time and life and have the white hair to prove it. I’ve poured out my heart to them about grace–receiving grace and living grace, praying grace and forgiving grace, grace for the prodigal and grace for the elder brother, grace everywhere for everything–and salvation that comes with grace as a package deal.

The result has been uneven like planting a garden and having the carrots all bunched up at the end of the row and nothing at the other and the corn stalks growing up into a gap-toothed grin.

On Thursday afternoon, I speak about making room in one’s heart and life for Christ and how the prayers and loving diligence of parents and teachers can build that room to be filled for eternity with the love of the Father revealed to us in Christ.

I tell of my own Dad living out that love with generous heart and spirit. Dad bought me a Bible and hymnal set at camp meeting when I was twelve and taught me to love the Word and the hymns of faith as practical guides to living. I share with the group Dad’s loving acceptance of his children who were always welcomed home no matter where we had been or what we had done.

“This,” I say, “gave me a glimpse of the love of our heavenly Father and built a room in the hearts of my brothers, sister and I where Christ lives and where we still return, again and again, to find life and hope and healing. That room built in prayer, kindness, and family worship is the greatest gift a dad and mom can give their children.”

The people who come up to talk to me afterwards thank me for being “real.” One old man in a yellow coat and a straw fedora to match his ivory goatee approaches me with stern eyes and trembling body. “I hope that you are grateful for what you have,” he says with fire in his voice.

“Excuse me, sir.”

“I hope that you are grateful for what you talked about . . . what your Dad did for you.”

“I am very grateful, sir.  Everything that I told you starts from my father’s love pointing me to Jesus. . . .”

He does not let me finish. “Because my father never gave me any of that.” He pauses, obviously fighting for control.

“He was illiterate and could never hold a job for the shame of what the other men would say about him. He never told me he loved me. He never gave me advice or tenderness like you talked about. Nothing! Nothing! I never even had a Bible until I was 24-years old.” His voices rises in an anguished sob and he turns away from me for a moment.

I can see that the old man trembles because my talk of father-love has awakened emotions long since buried in his soul. He is fighting hard for control of something that is eating him away from the inside.

Now, as the late afternoon thunder rolls across the mountains and the west wind spatters rain on the windows of the conference center, he turns back with me and squares off his stance in front of me. His voice is hard as he snaps the words, “You need to be grateful, that’s all!”

The old man is rigid and fierce before me, even if moved, unmoving. He has kept the hole in his heart covered for a long time. Somehow my words have cleared away the brush and pulled the tarp back and there is the hole. He sees it now with nothing to be said for it except, “There it is!”

All my carefully crafted words of the past hour about the love of the Father are a drop in the bucket of the old man’s need that threatens to pull me in. The other people waiting to talk stand back a respectful distance from the charged electric field between the old man and me.

“Sir,” I say softly, “God is the Father that no one has ever had–not you and not me. The best of parents are only human and come up short, but our Father in heaven loves us and doesn’t quit loving us. I believe this and you need to know this in here.” I tap my finger over my heart for emphasis.

Even as the words come out of my mouth, I think, “This is preacher-talk and he knows that I am no preacher.” I doubt that my trickle of words will soak into the drought-hardened soil of the old man’s heart.

But yet, here he is in front of me responding to the message of the Father’s love with a ferocious demand that it be true. The message has come late, maybe  for the last time, so it simply has to be true.

There comes a whisper in my heart of a Scripture, but with a new understanding: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24). That was the cry of an anguished father for his child. It is Christ who answered it then. It is Christ who will answer it now when the anguished child cries out for the Father.

The word I have delivered has exposed the wound, but it is Christ who will tenderly heal it. There is something sacred happening here and my fingerprints should not mar it.

The old man stares at me for another long moment with eyes full of remembered pain and regret. Then he turns away and so do I to greet the next person in line.

All I know is that the old man is there in the third row on Friday afternoon. I see him smile when I speak of forgiveness. I do not hold back in speaking of the power of Christ to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves in prying loose the grip of the past from our souls. May the good Lord, as he knows and as he wills, have healing mercy on the pieces of the old man’s broken heart that still rattle around in my mind and prayer.

“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps 34:8).

Under the mercy of Christ,

Kent

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The Story Changes the Author

Dear Friends:

This is the eighteenth and last message in a series on Jesus’ encounter with the woman at Jacob’s well recorded in John 4.

This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know his testimony is true (Jn 21:24).

It is the scholarly consensus that John wrote his Gospel about 60 years after Jesus’ death. The passage of time is helpful to a writer because it brings perspective on what is really important out of past circumstances.

John apparently had two primary concerns that he wanted to address: He wanted to engender faith in the person of Jesus and he wanted to discredit the religious authorities who denied Jesus’ acceptance as the Messiah.

He has many stories to choose from his years at Jesus’ side. At the end of the book, John writes: “There are also many things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (Jn 21:25).

So why does John choose to describe Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well during a rest stop in a “back water” town?  He devotes 42 verses to telling the story in a detail that would have been described after-the-fact by Jesus and the woman since there were no apparent eye-witnesses to the story? Why does this encounter stick with John for 60 years as one of the most important things that he’s witnessed in his time with Jesus? I have pondered this question for a long time.

Obviously the conversation says something that John considers important to his theme of faith in Jesus as the Savior of the world who gives power to become children of God to men and woman who believe in his name (Jn 1:12).

Here is a woman on the margin of society, a member of an ostracized ethnic and religious minority, despised in spiritual matters because of her gender, and apparently shunned by her own strictly traditional people as an adulteress. Jesus, with apparently every reason not to do so, talks with her and leads her to faith in him, restores her relationship with her neighbors and, through her, brings her whole village to belief in him as the Messiah. This all happened despite the prevailing prejudice that “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans” (Jn 4:9).

We are too superficial in our reading of this story if we think only of the effect on the woman and the villagers of their encounter with Jesus. We have to consider the effect on John who writes the story.

John was no doubt one of those who came upon the conversation and were bemused that Jesus was speaking with a woman. The silent questions, “What do you want?” or “Why are you speaking with her?” are likely in his mind since he describes them (Jn 4:27). It sets him to thinking and John needs to think about who Jesus is and what he is about.

John has connections to the most privileged religious class of Israel (Jn 18:15).  Yet, John and his brother James have such a volatile temperament that Jesus gives them the nickname “Sons of Thunder” (Mk 3:17)

That nickname proves most apt when James and John come upon a Samaritan village that refuses to receive Jesus because he is headed toward Jerusalem. The Samaritans have no hospitality to offer Jews going to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover (Lk 9:51-53). James and John want to call in a divine air strike and obliterate the entire village (Lk 9:54). Old prejudices die hard, but Jesus has no time for them. He rebukes the agitated brothers and moves on (Lk 9:55-56).

Even when Jesus pours out his heart to them about his impending betrayal and execution, James and John are locked in arguments with the other disciples over who is the greatest among them (Mk 9:30-34). Jesus has to call them back to the humility of service and childlike faith that he is seeking (Mk 35-37).

The brothers, however, ignore Jesus’ repeated descriptions of his unjust and painful death to come, and concentrate on their ambitious conniving. They try to box Jesus into giving them the most honored places in his kingdom. This provokes yet another angry argument with the other disciples (Mk 10:32-45).

James’ and John’s request indicates that they have completely misunderstood Jesus’ mission and refuse to hear what he has repeatedly told them about his manner of dying. It has to be heartbreaking for Jesus to know his closest associates would rather fight than surrender to him and his way of love.

But love is Jesus’ way, in fact his very nature (1 Jn 4:19). Love, the kind that lasts for eternity, is typically not an “at-first-sight” kind of thing. It has to soak in over time and over our aspirations, expectations and best intentions.

John was mending nets on the deck of the family fishing boat on the day Jesus called him (Mk 1:19-20). He was astounded at Jesus teaching, for “he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Mk 1:22). But what is that authority?

Matthew sees Jesus as the long awaited king of prophecy and the successor to David. Mark sees him as a prophet and martyr-messiah preaching and practicing action for spiritual renewal. Luke sees Jesus as God’s Son, the savior of humanity, who brings the kingdom of God to the ordinary lives of people.

The other gospels are written and in circulation before John sits down to write his. He has the benefit of a life-time of experience in putting the teachings of Jesus into practice as an evangelist and pastor. Those teachings are the distillation of truth to John. He writes to one of his churches in Asia Minor, “Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both Father and Son” (2 Jn 9).

John must have reflected on what had led him from the deck of his fishing boat on Galilee to shepherd six congregations along the coast of the Aegean Sea. It was the reality of Jesus that moved him. “The Word became flesh and lived among us” (Jn 1:14). Jesus manifested God in common things–bread, water, light, life, word, shepherd, door, way.

John watched and listened to Jesus salvage the joy of a wedding celebration (Jn 2), help a leader of the Jewish nation understand God’s plan of salvation (Jn 3), transform a Samaritan woman and her town in a simple conversation (Jn 4), heal a hopeless cripple (Jn 5); feed a crowd of 5,000 plus with a boy’s sack lunch then describe himself as the Bread of Life (Jn 6), walk across the water to tell tired and struggling fisherman not to be afraid (Jn 6), extend an invitation to the thirsty to come to him and drink the living water of his grace (Jn 7), face down a crowd of rock-throwing vigilantes intent on killing a woman for her sins (Jn 8), heal the eyes of a blind man with his saliva and mud (Jn 9), use the principles of sheep herding to describe his ministry (Jn 10), bring his dead friend back to life (Jn 11), strip down and wash his disciples’ dirty, scuffed feet (Jn 13), take great care to explain his mission and encourage his disciples who were challenged to understand why events were unfolding as they were (Jn 14-15), reveal the ministry of the Holy Spirit to keep them connected with God after he left them (Jn 16), pray for his disciples to be one with his Father and him (Jn 17), endure a sham trial and torture with calm poise (Jn 18), be crucified on a Roman cross with his last expressed thought for John to take care of his mother, Mary (Jn 19), rise from the grave to comfort and instruct (Jn 20), and call the distraught disciples back to their place with him with a breakfast on the beach (Jn 21).

John concludes that love is the common element in these incidents and stories. He realizes that the authority of Jesus is love (Jn 15:9, 17:23). Jesus knew that he had come from the Father and was going back to him and also knew that he would be betrayed from within his inner circle. Yet, John marvels, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (Jn 13:1).

On the night that John comes to understand that love he reclines back against Jesus and may even feel his heartbeat. From that night on he refers to himself as “the disciple that Jesus loved” (Jn 13:23, Jn 19:26, Jn 21:7, 20). He goes on to write that “Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 Jn 14:7-8).

Who knew that the Son of Thunder, a man quick to take offense and to argue for his prerogatives, the would-be destroyer of Samaritan villages in defense of Jesus, would become a lover and a follower of Christ renowned for his gentleness? But that is what John becomes–the beloved of Jesus. Part of the becoming was watching Jesus tear down walls that afternoon at the well to set a child of God free. Water flows and love thrives in freedom.

Along the way, John stops thinking of God as the great, big “No-Trespassing” sign of Temple-centered, hereditary, “go-through-the-motions” religion and realizes him as “a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). “No one has ever seen God,” John writes. “It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known (Jn 3:18).

John writes the story of the woman at the well to show that Jesus is not put off by who we are or what we have done. He is waiting to reveal the Father’s heart to her when she walks up for some well water. He gives her the Living Water because she says that she wants it. Her own heart is so full and satisfied that she doesn’t even take the water jar with her when she returns to the village.

John comes to know the same fullness by watching Jesus work with people like the woman.  He writes, “From his [Jesus] fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (Jn 1:16).

And you, what do you want? What is it that you thirst for as you walk through your daily routines? Why does that jar that you carry with you never seem to hold enough?

Jesus says, “Those who drink of the water that I will give will never be thirsty. The water that I give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (Jn 4:14).

“Sir, give me this water” is all you have to say with an honest heart to never thirst again (Jn 4:15).

“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him.”

Under the mercy of Christ,

Kent

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The Smell Test

This is the seventeenth message in a series of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well recorded in John 4.

Dear Friends:

Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world” (Jn 4:39-42).:

“I declare that I am personally acquainted with the facts in this statement. I declare these facts to be true of my personal knowledge under penalty of perjury.” These are the statements of a witness testifying by affidavit or what we call in California, a “declaration.”  Such a statement may be used in many legal proceedings.  I have prepared hundreds of these declarations in my career. The key to its effectiveness is the witness’s personal knowledge of the facts.

If a witness gives live testimony in court, he or she is subject to the same personal knowledge requirement. Testimony that depends on something that was said or done when the witness wasn’t present is objectionable on the ground of hearsay because it is no more reliable than gossip. An effective witness has personal knowledge of the facts and communicates them in a truthful manner.

Common sense often tells us when someone is telling the truth. We call it the “smell test.” A communication passes the smell test when the circumstances and knowledge coincide to make sense. Failing the smell test means the facts, as communicated, defy logic or experience and are inconsistent with other evidence.

The Apostle Paul watched victorious legions returning to Rome and found a smell test for Christian witness. The armies would parade their human captives through the streets along with animals and plunder from the exotic lands at the frontiers of the Roman Empire. Some of the captives were destined for life as household slaves. Some were going to die for sport in the Coliseum. Their faces reflected this life and death saga and the tension was palpable as they passed by the cheering citizens. Paul described it this way:

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence (2 Cor. 2:14-17).

The woman’s witness to Jesus as the Christ is passing the smell test with the Samaritans.

The Samaritans are a religious people. The very name “Samaritan” derives from a Hebrew word for “keepers” referring to the law of Moses. The Samaritans claim to follow a more authentic version of the Torah followed by Israel prior to the Babylonian exile. They assert that the Jews returned from exile with amended and watered down religious practices. The rough equivalent in modern Christian terms would be that the Samaritans would claim to follow the King James Version of Scripture and practice “old time religion” while claiming that the Jews read the New International Version or even The Message and engaged in contemporary and worldly worship practices.

The Samaritan woman likely came to the well alone in the heat of the day to avoid the heat of the judgments of her pious neighbors about her past and current relationships. Now she returns to them in the early afternoon with a surprising message. “Come see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (Jn 4:29). What she had hidden in shame, she now discloses without embarrassment and even names who caused this transformation in her attitude.

The honesty and wonder that accompany the experience of being in Jesus’ presence is infectious. People want to know who or what has made a difference that cannot be manufactured or manipulated. One blessed by such an encounter is a credible witness and attracts those who hear the testimony of Christ as nothing and no one else can. A living witness to the grace of Christ always carries more authority than an accurate but cold presentation of doctrine.

The Apostle Paul describes why this happens. “You show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3:3-6).

One has to witness something personally to be a true witness. The authenticity of Christian witness depends upon a personal experience with Jesus Christ. It requires a partaking of his life given to us and poured out as Living Water in ordinary places like the town well.

The Samaritans know the prophecies of the Christ (Jn 4:25-26), Now one of their own says that she may have met him and offers as proof an accountability for her sin and a change of heart that cannot be explained in any other way than the power of God which is called “grace.” Her testimony compels her neighbors to speak with Jesus for themselves and they come away from that conversation absolutely convinced that He is their Savior and Lord.

This openness of response and authenticity of witness did not make its way from a theory in my head to a reality in my heart through seventeen years of Christian education and an upbringing in a Christian home. It did not come alive for me in the first eleven years of service as an administrator and attorney for Christian institutions.

Like the woman at the well, the resources of my self proved inadequate to the challenges of my life. I had my own confrontation with Jesus in the middle of the day while on a business trip. He devastated me with the grace I had thought was for the other persons in the world who didn’t have my spiritual “advantages.

Those advantages proved to be elements of faith, but it took the personal application of the love of Christ to my needy, sinful soul to transform that faith from a “parts inventory” to a working model. Witness comes to life in the experiential encounter with Christ. The last words Jesus spoke on earth to his followers announced this principle: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in all Judea and Samaria, and to all the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Interestingly, Jesus had a heart for Samaria, the place he had just been passing through when he met the woman at the well and her neighbors. Part of the legacy of her conversion is this instruction to the new church.

When I returned to my office after my encounter with God, there were three active believers out of 26 employees, and I wasn’t one of them. I quietly and spontaneously began to tell others what happened to me. Some of them experienced the same reality and passed it on. Years went by and many co-workers and friends accepted Christ as their Savior and Lord or renewed a languishing relationship with him. The number grew through contacts in town and small groups and community formed.

Before this happened I thought Christianity was best transmitted from a pulpit or teacher’s desk. I was taught that it was important to learn “proof texts” from the Bible and tell them to non-believers wherever you found them. Best of all get these people in the door of the church or the evangelistic meeting to hear the “truth.”  Well, it does little good to possess answers to questions that aren’t being asked or try to reach people in places that they don’t normally go. The effort is so unnatural, awkward and downright painful that I, along with most of my “well-trained” Christian friends just avoided it. After all, isn’t that why we hire preachers–too take care of stuff like that?

The religious establishment, on the other hand, berates us to do more. Pass out gospel tracts, hold Bible studies with your neighbors and co-workers who you may have never shared a personal word with before now, show them that your lifestyle is really better than theirs by not smoking, drinking or running around with members of the opposite sex that do, put a bumper sticker on your car, give liberal offerings to evangelistic ministries–do something!!!  The whole thing is pitched as a slightly smarmy, personally intrusive, competitive enterprise labeled “soul-winning.” So in reaction we fall into a graceless, lifeless existence. Knowing that we can never do enough, we attempt nothing at all. We leave the whole thing to the professionals and do not attempt the same feats at home.

It doesn’t have to be this way. What changed all of this for me was a personal encounter with Christ on a warm October afternoon in 1989. I saw, I heard and was convicted of the ultimate truth of Jesus Christ. This reality dominated my waking and thinking. Everything was different. I could testify of my own personal knowledge of the fact of Christ. To my considerable shock, this mere testimony has persuasive power. Personal experience made me a witness. Persons of my acquaintance began to seek out Jesus on my “word of mouth” recommendation.

We all approach the equivalent of Jacob’s well every day. There is our workplace, the gym, and the stores and restaurants that we frequent. There are on-line email relationships and chat rooms. We don’t have to lead with “Jesus” in those places. We need to be led by Jesus into the quiet conversations of our relationships.

People are jaded by superficial relationships and alienated by the results of trust misplaced on to people and institutions who have proved unfaithful. If you have a genuine relationship with Christ–meaning you have frequent and pleasant conversations with him as your best friend, take delight in reading his letters and live by his Spirit–then you have something real to share with someone by demonstrating love without asking for anything in return and, when you are asked, by sharing where you find hope and encouragement (1 Peter 3:15-16, 4:7-11).

Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well isn’t just a nice story. Its power lies in the fact that Jesus takes an ordinary encounter, on an ordinary day, with an ordinary person and offers an extraordinary future and a hope to her in love. She then simply tells her story of who Jesus is and what he has done for her and her whole town comes to belief. Witness doesn’t have to be fancy and should never be complicated or angry. Our testimony of Christ should be straight talk among true friends.

Your witness has to be as authentic as requesting a drink of water on a hot day from whoever you meet that can give it to you and thanking them or by offering someone the same hospitality; by sharing the story of what Jesus has done in your heart and mind with someone who knows, really knows, that you care about him or her;  by truthfully telling where you find hope and encouragement when you are asked; and by living honestly and openly regardless of the circumstances. Anything more than that and you are probably making it up and your witness will fail for lack of credibility.

My hope in all of this is to spread some more grace around and encourage you to do the same. Our Father is rich in love, you know, and there is plenty to go around. We need to take this word to heart and spread the good news.

“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps. 34:8)

Under the mercy of Christ,

Kent

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Look Around You

This is the sixteenth message on Jesus’ encounter with the woman at Jacob’s well recorded in John 4. I missed the last two weeks due to work load and may miss again next week  due to travel. I am sorry.

Dear Friends:

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat of that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’I sent you out to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor” (Jn 4:31-38).

“There is a time for everything,” said Solomon (Ecc 3:1). For the disciples, it is time to eat.

They’re still missing the point of Jesus. He has just revealed himself to the woman as the Messiah, but they see him as no more than a teacher. . . “Rabbi,” they call him.

They offer friendly blandishments, “Eat something. You have to keep up your strength for the journey.”  People are always urging him to do something, “Save the wedding reception” (Jn 2:3-5); “Give us a sign” (Jn 5:30);  “Make a good showing in Jerusalem” (Jn 7:3-6); “Come home with your family and straighten yourself out” (Mk 3:20-21, 31-32).

His schedule isn’t our schedule for sure. “My hour is not yet come” he tells his mother at the wedding reception. “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here” he tells his brothers who are trying to goad him into a public display of his powers (Jn 7:6). He rebukes those who try to stop him from blessing children (Mk: 10:13-16). He stands still on the road to Jerusalem waiting for a blind beggar to catch up with him while the disciples urge him on (Lk 18:40). He stays two extra days along the Jordan rather than go to the side of his dying friend after he has learned of the illness (Jn 11:6).

The disciples are thinking that they are on a retreat from the stress of ministry in Jerusalem. Jacob’s well is just a rest stop on the road to Capernaum where they will unwind, do a little fishing, and make some plans. Whatever their work with him is leading up to will occur in the future. They think that it’s not only not the time for ministry, but it also isn’t the place and how could a Samaritan woman be worthy of Jesus’ time and attention? They clearly don’t want to think about it, so they say, “Let’s eat.”

Something is energizing Jesus and he doesn’t hide it from them. “I have food that you know nothing about.”

They grope through the dark tunnel of literalism. “Surely no one else has brought him something to eat.”

He makes it plain. “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” He isn’t here to line up with our interests. He’s here to line us up with his interests. That’s what it means to be a disciple.

He tells them, “You think that you have work to do and time to do it. Four months from now everything will be ready and you’ll reap the harvest. But I’m telling you the time is right now.

“Look around you,” the grain is ripe and ready to be cut. Quit thinking that you can only harvest what you’ve planted and watered.This is grace that I am talking about. The harvest isn’t dependent on your work. It depends on your willingness to take the opportunity that the Father gives you to introduce the souls that he’s prepared to him.”

This is a lightning bolt of a message in any age. We plan, we prepare, we work hard, and fix a time in the future when it will all come together. We do this personally, we do this professionally, and we do it institutionally. Somehow though the arteries carrying the fresh blood of the Gospel harden and our attention, individually and communally, turns from living to preserving.

This transition is very seductive. “We have to take care of ourselves and keep our strength up,” we say. “We have to eat before we work,” literally as well as figuratively. Then we get together and form an enterprise and say, “We must have a profit margin before we can have a mission.” But inevitably we come to focus more on building strength than expending it. The margin never seems quite large enough for the uncertainties of mission. So we turn to re-paving the parking lot rather than building launching pads, and establishing endowments rather than surrendering all.

We dream and fund-raise to build mega-barns (Lk 12:16-21). Meanwhile sparrows fall while we accumulate pennies (Mt 10:29-31), and the principal of the”the widow’s mite” (Lk 21:1-4) becomes no more than an illustration for offering appeals to other people.

Jesus is going to send the disciples out like lambs among wolves, with no equipment, and no advance planning, and only the peace of fellowship to be their guide. He will tell them, “Don’t be looking around for a better house, better meal, or a better class of people, but stay and bring them healing and the good news that the kingdom of God has shown up in their town and household” (Lk 3:6-11).

But now at the well, he’s telling them “lesson one” in spreading the Good News is to look up from your lunch, your Bible, your bank statement, your retirement plan and even your prayer and see who is around you because that is who needs a Savior now, not four years, or even four months from now.

If we don’t take that “look” to see who around us is ready for “harvest,” then we are no better than the scribes who knew Bethlehem was the place of Jesus’ birth, but made no effort to see for themselves, or the religious scholars who keep spiritual knowledge to themselves, but don’t act on it and keep others from acting on it (Mt 2:1-6; Lk 11:52).

There is an exposition of this in the Letter of James that challenges motivated, organized, “just-get-it-done” types to trust grace, not their good intentions and abilities.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”­ yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for that person it is sin. (Js 4:13-17)

We are to do the right thing for God when it needs to be done instead of  planning out our future with the specificity of “this is what will happen and this is when it will happen.” Rather, we are to submit ourselves completely to God and do what he shows us needs to be done in the moment (Rom 12:1-2). This does not require strength and endurance so much as it requires the discipline of alertness. As Solomon noted, “Again I saw under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor riches to the intelligent, but time, and chance happen to them all. For man does not know his time” (Ecc. 9:11-12).

Too many of us spend our time and efforts trying to figure out the specifics of the future and our place in it instead of submitting all things to God and living for him in every moment of our lives. So we are fearful and tentative because of what we don’t know much of the time.

Jesus’ original and unadorned teaching turns us to a different truth that should cause us to look around ourselves and look for opportunities for God everyday in the people who he puts into our lives. “I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, or what you will drink, nor about your body, what will you put on . . . your heavenly Father knows you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will have trouble enough on its own. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Mt 6:25, 32b-34).

The day may be hot, our throats dry, our feet tired and sore, and the people we’re seeing along out path are neither who we expect or want to see in our human frailty and limited perspectives, but our heavenly Father has other plans and no “write-offs.” Jesus is driving the point home to his disciples that we are only indulging out pride, if our following of Christ is conditioned on expectations of future service and success.

There are no perfect days on earth, or even ideal moments, and the Lord knows that there are no perfect people. What matters is the immediacy of his power and presence in the hearts and actions of surrendered men and women who reach out to give Jesus’ love and hope to those who do not know him or have forgotten.

The entire power of the Gospel is embraced in this statement of Jesus: “Your Father is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:35. Cf Mc 6:8). By its very terms, that statement requires us to look around and do what we can now. Four months from now who knows where we will be, but right now someone needs to know the grace and truth of Jesus so tell them in actions and words if necessary. Another lesson from the well.

“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps 34:8).

Under the mercy of Christ,

Kent

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