Thursday, December 16, 2010

We are Planting a Field, Not Cultivating a Bonsai

Many fishing stories have been built around the theme of that one great fish.  It is usually huge, it is usually clever, and it always seems to get away.  Many fishermen spend their whole lives trying to catch that one fish, or even one kind of fish.  They go on trips, the purchase the latest lures, they  read up on the best-working baits, and they study every known technique under the sun.  They spend their entire fishing life searching for that one fish or even one kind of fish.  In their obsession for the one, they miss out on the many.  Unfortunately many of us take that same attitude to our outreach.  We all have people in our lives.  These people may be loved ones, people we think really "need" the Lord (though everyone needs the Lord), or that they are "on the brink" of making that decision for the Lord.  We do all we can to reach out to that one person when many are perishing around us.  Today I want to talk about how we fail in our outreach for the many for the sake of the one and in that we usually lose the one. 

The prevailing verse I want us all to keep in mind today throughout this lesson is this:
"And when you go into a household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!" Matthew 10:12-15 NKJV
Notice Jesus did not say to return to any house or person repeating the Gospel over and over again until they believe it.  We are to preach it, planting and watering the seeds of God's message, but we can not make it grow.  That is something that only God can do. 
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.  1 Corinthians 3:6-7 NKJV
Our job is to plant and water seeds.  God's role is to give the increase.  And so we, like farmers, need to spread that seed and water the fields and not spend all our time on one stubborn seed that will not sprout. That brings up another interesting point.  I enjoy growing trees from seeds.  Some seeds need to spend time in the refrigerator (or outside over 1 or more winters), some need to be soaked, some need to be scored, and some need a lot of patience.  Some also have a very low germination rate and so many seeds need to be planted for the hopes of just getting one plant.  The point is that once I do whatever necessary treatment is necessary to plant that seed, what I need to do is leave it alone.  I should make sure it stays moist and at the right temperature, but I do not dig it up and re-plant it every day hoping it will soon sprout.  If anything, that will hurt the seed.  No, once the seed is planted, you just have to leave it there.  Some seeds take a very long time to sprout.  Palm trees are notorious for this.  I had one tree called an African Fern Pine where the seed did not sprout for over 6 months.  What did I do for that six months?  Nothing.  I may have checked it every so often to make sure it was watered and for whether or not it sprouted, but nothing else.  It stayed in its small pot, planted in some seeding soil, for six months.  Nothing I could have done would have made it sprout sooner.  That was up to the plant and just like that when we plant seeds in someone's heart, only God can make it sprout. 

I understand the heart of trying to reach out to one person, I really do.  My own family does not know the Lord and so I live with that each and every day.  But what I can not do is to just focus on one person, no matter how much I love them.  Paul even struggled with the same thing.
I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.  Romans 9:1-5 NKJV
Paul wished so much that his fellow Israelites would be saved that he even makes the statement that he wished he could give his own salvation to them.  He wept and pleaded for them.  His heart broke for them. But his ministry was to the gentiles.  He followed the call of God to where he was needed most.  He followed God to the larger world outside of Israel and brought them the good news of Jesus. 

Why did Paul leave his own countrymen whom he loved so much to reach out to the gentiles?  There are just not enough workers for us to spend our time only focusing on one person or even one family or even one small group of people.  He follow God's direction and in that was sent out to where his ministry was so desperately needed. 
Then He said to them, "The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest." Luke 10:2 NKJV
Of course you are thinking that there are millions upon millions of Christians, so how can the workers be few?  First of all, for a worker to be a worker, that worker has to work.  How many Christian do all of us know who are no more than seat warmers in church once a week.  How many do we know that seem to forget their faith for 6 1/2 days a week.  Yes, there are many Christians but not so many workers.  The harvest, on the other hand, is great.  I want you to think about some numbers for a minute.  The source of these numbers is Gospel or Asia and ONLY include those in Asia.  The worldwide number is even higher.  Over 80,000 souls die each day never having heard of Jesus and 2.7 billion people are alive and waiting to hear the good news.  Think about it, while you are fiddling with one stubborn seed, 80,000 souls are perishing each and every day.  The harvest is not just great, the harvest is unimaginable.  I am not saying to hop on a plane to Asia, but what I am saying is that we need to all open our eyes to the vast fields ripe for harvest and not just the one plant we love the most. 

And what of our loved ones?  Should they not be more important than some stranger in India to us?  I will share what the word says about that and let you make your own decision.  But I will say this, if you are conforming yourself to Christ, we must understand that He died just as much for your mother as He did for the poor tribesman in some far off land.
Then He said to another, "Follow Me." But he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God." And another also said, "Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house." But Jesus said to him, "No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."  Luke 9:59-62 NKJV
Finally, the sad truth is that repeatedly hitting someone with the Gospel is not going to get someone to accept Jesus.  In fact, it may have the opposite effect.  They eventually tune your words out.  Plant the seed once and water that seed with the example of your life and pray to God to make that seed grow.  If God directs you, share the gospel again but we should not harass them with the Gospel, only making them harden their hearts more against it.  Chasing someone around with a Bible only makes them run away faster. 

In the end, when you spend so much time harassing some for the Gospel, you will not only never gain those souls, but you will miss out on the chance of winning so many more.  We never know who are how someone will be reached for the Lord as only the Lord knows what lies deep in all of our hearts.  Only the Lord knows how to make His own seed grow.  Please, be a light to all not just the few. And, who knows, the soul that gets saved may be the one who reaches the one your heart yearns for.  God does work in mysterious ways, but those ways are centered on our obedience to Him.  Be obedient to His call to be a light to the world, and leave those stubborn souls to Him who made them.
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen.  Matthew 28:18-20 NKJV 

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