Dear Rosten three:

By: Steve Holt Sr.

My position from the beginning is that the church through the millennia has focused on harvesting to the exclusion of sowing and watering.  As a result, we are in an age when the gap between believers and non-believers is arguably as wide as it has ever been.  The fields are not white as they may have been in Jesus’ day.  Jesus appeared on earth “in the fullness of time”—the right time because God knew it was right, when the fields were white. Even God himself is sensitive to the seasons.

The fields in Jesus’ day had been sown centuries before by prophets and others who, as agents of God, told the story in both word and deed. The entire Hebrew record is that of God cultivating the human race in preparation for the One who was coming. God worked the process by using hardships of slavery, famine, drought, oppression, persecution, and injustice as well as the blessings of deliverance, mercy, bounty, and promise to create a thirst in people for the coming Messiah.  John the Baptizer continued the watering process by pointing to “another” who would take away the sins of the world.  Even John’s baptism wasn’t a harvesting baptism, but, rather, it pointed forward to the miraculous harvest we see begun in the book of Acts.

This blog is not the place to cover the history of what happened after Jesus’ ascension when his people took their eyes off the fields, taking matters into their own hands to build the church—which, according to Jesus, only he can do.  Long story short, we know what we have today as a result: skepticism, division, fear, denominationalism, sectarianism, an ever-widening gulf between believers and non-.  Suffice it to say we have generations of work to do to repair the harm done to the fields by so-called and well-meaning Christians through the centuries. Harvesting today is kind of like a farmer tearing a young radish plant from the ground and yelling, “Grow, damn you, grow!”

 So, as I post my last blog on this subject, Rosten, allow me to sketch out what I think God would have his people be about in this barren time.  And please know, I don’t have this as figured out as it might sound.  I’m still thinking and testing and guessing.  I welcome yours and all other’s thoughts, as always.

Pre-sowing

First, Jesus says to open our eyes and look at the fields (see above).  Before we do one thing, let us consider the field.  

My dad grew tobacco, corn, and wheat.  I was with him when, in late winter, he would walk around the fields to see what’s there before even one seed or seedling was planted.  He would note rocks and tree stumps that had to be removed and field corners that needed rounding. He would analyze the condition of the soil and send samples to the county agent to see what minerals needed to be added or balanced.  Then there was the clearing, plowing and tilling…all before one plant or seed was dropped into the soil.

What if every believer dropped their scythe or got out of their combine and simply walked the fields?  What if we listened to people? Got to know them and their stories? What if we made no assumptions about people, no judgments?  What if we didn’t argue or correct?  We just listened.  For the next fifty years or so!  Here’s what I think we’d find: people at a whole different place than we thought. We would hear their objections, their hurts, their hope and dreams, and their fears.  We’d find people with the most outlandish views of God, church and faith.  We’d even find “people of peace” and a few who are ready and willing to be harvested.  We would treat every person uniquely, based on what we learn.  Landon Saunders use to say, “If you treat any two people the same, you’ve mistreated one of them.”

What’s most vital about this stage, perhaps, is that when God’s people are listening and not talking, much of what repels people would not be heard.  When we are actively listening, we would not be engaged in our political campaigns, anti-abortion marches, anti-LGBT rallies, church wars, exclusive prayer meetings and elaborate worship services—all of which seem to have worked against the purposes of God.  There would be a blissful silence over the land that provides the right climate for seeds of the Kingdom to grow.  I’ve heard the language of God is silence.

Planting and watering

When the fields have been properly prepared, the seed can then be carefully sown in human hearts.  A lengthy period of listening would put God’s farmers in a strangely unique relationship with people of earth.  Once again, perhaps, we’d enjoy the “favor of all the people.” Genuine friendships would form, stories exchanged, trust regained, bridges built and gaps filled in.  As the people of God, on whose hearts are written the words of life, we would demonstrate joy, love, contentment, empathy and all those traits seekers don’t often see in God’s people.  

Christians living in intentional faith communities would demonstrate to the world, without a word, the “multifaceted wisdom of God.” As we continue to show the world that we are allies, not enemies, messages from God and about God would be welcomed.  (God’s word is still like honey, refreshing water, and a lamp to a world that has ears and hearts to receive it.)  During this time, the messenger truly is the message.   Note:  we still have our eyes on the fruit, letting it decide what we do next.  So, when there is push back, we step back.  

This post has gone on too long.  So, I’ll stop and say thanks for this helpful give-and-take. You’ve taught me some things that I will take to heart. I know we’re on the same side, so this exchange has not been about convincing the other of some grave error in thinking.  I appreciate you and Laura and can’t wait to have you back from India…na.

Blessings,

Steve

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Dear Rosten too:

By: Steve Holt Sr.

Are you finished? For a while there, I thought you were posting a book. Interesting stuff, though; I must admit. At least you’re giving me plenty of fodder to respond to.

There is one other principle set forth in the Mark 4 passage that needs mentioning.

“All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” vss 28, 29 (NIV)

The plant (grain, in this case) determines what the farmer does next.  How does the farmer know when it’s time to harvest?  When the plant tells him! When the farmer sees that the grain is ready, he harvests…not before. In fact, the maturity of the seed is the determining factor for every step in the process…not what I think, not what the church thinks, not what the world thinks.  The clear, unmistakable signs that the fruit gives, guides the farmer as to what to do and when to do it.  Today, the signs aren’t too promising for those whose gift is harvesting.

Rosten, you can’t just deem we are in the harvest season. The plant determines that.  Jesus would say to us, “Open your eyes! Look at the fields!” (John 4:35)  Are we so blind that we can’t see all the discouraging signs here in America?  Or do we just refuse to look?  If we dare look, we’d see racism, greed, bigotry, envy, jealousy, pluralism, division, fear, aggression, blame and more (and that’s just from the Christians!) which tells me that there is much work to do before we can even think about harvesting.

This is understandable.  Church leaders through the millennia have done a poor job of teaching the whole counsel of God on this important issue. I agree with you that the tactics the church has usually tried haven’t worked very well. I can certainly relate to your thoughts on harvesting with inappropriate tools.  In fact, I cringe that I have been guilty of promoting all of them at one time or another.  The church has created an unwholesome atmosphere by thinking her greatest work is that of harvesting, even ignoring the power and necessity of loving those most unlike themselves as vital to the process.

The proliferation of military terms (“win the lost,” “army of the Lord,” “soldiers of Christ,” “fight the good fight,” etc.) has created a we-vs-them mentality that surely can be sensed by those who remain aloof. Who wants to be “won over?”

There’s a better way…Jesus’ way.  It’s a process doomed for failure unless each step is engaged and followed to the end.  It will fail unless we look at the signs and allow the hungry, hurting, fearful people to determine what we do next.  And that’s the dilemma in which we find ourselves.  A standoff.  A deep crevasse dividing two camps—one claiming to be the righteous people of God and another in which reside people desperate for truth, love, meaning.

Rosten, you made a power statement when you wrote: “The best argument for God has always been a people formed in the likeness of God.”  Sadly, the converse is also true:  “The best argument against God will always be a people who claim to be formed in his likeness, but fail to live like it.” That’s where we are today.

My final post on this issue will focus on the entire process with hopes that we will stop trying to evangelize without a clue of what season we’re in.  Don’t say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest.’ Rather, lets’ open our eyes and look at the fields.  Stop the harvest! It’s time to sow!

Blessings, friend.

Steve

Time to Harvest (Part 3)

By: Rosten Callarman

So if we don’t need a hammer, a guitar pick, and a fighter jet, then what is necessary for harvesting the Kingdom of God? For the answer, we will look back to Luke 10, the place where we started our journey. We will primarily spend time in 10:1-12, though I am a pretty big fan of the entire chapter. Especially when Jesus says “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.” What does that even mean? Sometimes Jesus talk craycray.

In the chapters leading up to Luke 10, Jesus has been traveling from city to city with his band of followers. Jesus has been teaching, healing illnesses and infirmities, driving out demons, and proclaiming the good news that “the Kingdom of God has come near to you” (10:9). And occasionally (once) he feeds five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. After raising a kid from the dead.

And you thought your preacher was good.

So Jesus is traveling around being awesome, but while this is happening there is another vital pattern that we often miss. In the towns where Jesus is doing his work, some people are receptive to Jesus’ work and teachings while other people are not. An excellent example of this phenomenon is 8:26-39. Jesus drives out either 1) a demon with Multiple Personality Disorder (actually called Dissociative Identity Disorder now, but if I had used the new name you wouldn’t have caught the admittedly lame joke) or 2) a really big group of demons that has basically set up a massive hippy demon commune inside of this guy. Jesus sends the demons into a herd of pigs, and the pigs promptly drown themselves. The people of the area are somewhat understandably scared by all of this and ask Jesus to leave. But the man who now has a lot more room in his head wants to join Jesus; in fact, he begs. Jesus tells him, “return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.”

To recap, here is our pattern that happens when Jesus shows up in towns throughout Israel: 1) Jesus proclaims the nearness of the Kingdom of God through his words and actions, 2) most reject Jesus and ask him or force him to leave, 3) some either follow Jesus or remain in their own region proclaiming the Kingdom of God, depending on what Jesus calls them to. Pay special attention to number 3, because it is the basis for the rest of our work. Those who are receptive to Jesus’ teaching either follow him and become part of his traveling group, or they stay in their own region and become local proclaimers of the Kingdom of God – people who share the peace of Christ in their local context.

In Luke 10:1-12, Jesus sends his followers out to do the exact same thing. Those who are following Jesus go to stay with those who have remained in their own regions to proclaim the Kingdom of God (number 3). Jesus’ followers proclaim the nearness of the Kingdom of God through their words and actions (number 1). Finally, some towns do not welcome Jesus’ followers, so they leave because no one there had accepted Jesus in the first place (number 2).

Those who followed Jesus get most of the attention at this point, but I want to give some attention to those who stayed behind (number 3), the ones that wanted to follow but were told by Jesus to remain in their town proclaiming the Gospel. Luke 10 does not say this, but I believe that Jesus is referencing these people specifically in 10:6 when he says, “and if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person.” The homes of these people of peace become the staging grounds for Kingdom activity in that area. The people of peace house the ones who were sent, feed them, and help make sure that the Gospel is not hindered. If one of these people is not present in the town, Jesus’ followers simply move on. They wipe the dust from their sandals…not even the active presence of Jesus in this town could bring about change in a single household, so what could they have done? “Yet know this: the Kingdom of God has come near.”

***

What then is necessary for harvesting the Kingdom of God? Based on the work we have done so far, we can finally answer our question. Specifically, we need:

  1. Workers.
  2. People of peace.
  3. Harvest fields.

The workers are those who have been called by Jesus to follow Jesus, who are now sent out by Jesus to proclaim the Kingdom of God through words and action. The people of peace are those who have been called by Jesus to stay where they already were, called to become Kingdom outposts, pockets of peace in the growing Kingdom of God. And the harvest fields? We are the harvest. All of creation. Every person, place, animal, tree, rock or anything else that is not currently fully alive as it will be in the Kingdom of God. Everything that could be included when we hear Paul say, “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God,” and that “we know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.” Harvesting the Kingdom of God is harvesting a new world…the world as God would have it.

So are we finished? Not quite yet. One more thing is necessary for the harvest, and this is important…the most important thing of all.

Attention to what the Lord of the harvest is doing.

Who is this Lord of the harvest? In case you haven’t figured it out, God the Father is the Lord of the harvest. Or is Jesus the Lord of the harvest? Or maybe the Holy Spirit is the Lord of the harvest?

In Luke 10 we meet the Lord of the Harvest, who has sent himself into the harvest, and who is now placing himself inside of his people for the sake of the harvest. His harvest is a people, the People of God, inside of which a kingdom, the Kingdom of God, is growing. His harvest is not just the restoration of all things into what they once were, but the redemption of all things into what they were always meant to become.

The harvest is always plentiful, because the creation is eagerly longing for it. Not because creation was made to be harvested, but because creation was made for the Kingdom of God. The Lord of the harvest is already actively engaged in the harvest. And we are invited to join in.

He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Dear Rosten

By: Steve Holt Sr.

So you think today is a good day to harvest?  You are joking, naive, uninformed or deceived. I would ask only that you go out today and test your position.  Do some harvesting.  Go bring a soul into the Kingdom.  Then let us know how that went.  Even if you were fortunate enough to find someone ready to harvest, it only means that someone before you has done the “hard” work of getting that person ready.  Christendom’s efforts to reap, at least in the northern part of our hemisphere, are coming up empty.

Have you read the stats? Have you noticed that harvesting in America is coming to a grinding halt? Have you noticed that the fruit in the bins is growing older, not being replaced by fresh fruits and veggies?  Have you read where more and more people are becoming less apathetic and more hostile toward Christianity?  In your last post, you attribute that to poor harvesting techniques.  Good try, but even the best techniques and tools won’t bring in a harvest that’s simply not there.

There’s one other possibility as to why we hold such differing views on this issue…miscommunication.  Perhaps we are not speaking the same language. Perhaps “harvest” to you means something completely different than what Jesus and I mean (notice what I did there?).

So, allow me to dumb down the discussion. (I could only say this to my friend who knows when I jest. I truly esteem this man highly.)

First, a few thoughts on your first rebuttal.  You really missed the point of why I used these two passages, so let me break it down.

About Mark 4, you said: “The miracle (of growth) isn’t accomplished by his (the farmer’s) careful, loving attention.”  I was not discussing how God miraculously brings about a harvest but about how each step in the process requires a farmer’s participation. (The farmer scatters the seed; the farmer harvests.)  You and I, friend, have a role in the whole process.  God won’t grow squash in our gardens unless we plant squash.  He won’t override our stupidity of not watering by bringing about a plentiful harvest.  Likewise, unless we as his people plant and water, God won’t (can’t?) bring forth a harvest.  So, I would edit your sentence to read, “The miracle of growth isn’t accomplished by his careful, loving attention, but growth would be impossible without it.”

To restate, we have not done the “hard” work (love and service) of preparing the field, planting the seed and watering the crop.  As a result, we have nothing to harvest.  And even if we did, unless God’s farmers set about the task of harvesting, the fruit will lay waste in the fields.  The demise of God’s church in America is clear and unmistakable.

Next, you said: “John 4 and Mark 4 paint a picture of a plentiful harvest.” Yes they do.  And that illustrates my point all the more.  Sowing the fields to result in what Jesus called “ripe for harvest” was begun hundreds of years before when prophets like Isaiah painted those beautiful images of the “suffering servant” who would bring justice and peace to his languishing people.  What a contrast this passage makes between the fields of Jesus’ day and our day.

You just can’t escape the lesson Jesus presents in these two passages:

  1. Farmers play a crucial part in the whole process.  If the farmer fails to do his part at each phase, the crops fail.
  2. Often, the one who reaps is not the one who sows and waters.  Such was the case with the Samaritans and especially the multitude that was “harvested” on Pentecost. The Samaritans who believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony had been prepared to receive that word (You did a good job of recounting the Samaritan’s rise to ripeness and favor. Jesus is so good and so inclusive!)  Too many people think that simply spouting information will result in a harvest when there has been no preparation.  How shortsighted and wrong!
  3. Each of the phases in farming is distinct and vital.  (More on this in my next post.)
  4. Sowing and watering are the hard work.  Harvesting is relatively easy in comparison.

 

What few ripe souls there may be in twenty-first century America were prepared by faithful farmers who took the time to love, nurture, and feed them.  We can expect fewer and fewer ripe souls as God’s church continues to believe that the fields are ripe and, therefore, refuses to do the hard work of loving and serving. It’s time to sow!

 

Love you, Ross,

 

Steve

Time to Harvest (Part 2)

By: Rosten Callarman

In my previous post I argued that, contrary to the opinion of Steve Holt, it is always time to harvest in the fields of the Kingdom of God. I also left the argument unfinished, because in a conversation discussing “when is the time to harvest?” it is also important to address “how do we harvest?” Before I answer that question, I would like to answer the question, “how don’t we harvest?”

At the end of my previous post, I left you with a rather silly cliffhanger: “I will be back (hopefully soon) with an explanation (hopefully good) of why we shouldn’t try to harvest corn with a hammer, a guitar pick, and a fighter jet, and why we probably shouldn’t try to harvest for the Kingdom of God with those things either.”

Well. That certainly doesn’t make any sense when taken out of context. Let’s both take a minute to go back and read my last post. Come on, I am doing it too.

***

Okay, I understand now. I was trying to be cutesy. Regardless, it was a valid point.

I said that I would give an explanation for why we shouldn’t harvest corn with a set of crazy random tools, but I don’t think I actually have to give that explanation. Though most people are fairly separated from the processes that go into getting canned corn on their dinner plate, I sincerely hope that most people are not so separated from logic that they think hammers, guitar picks, and fighter jets are part of the corn-picking process.

(However, if you know of a farm where those are normal corn-picking tools, please respond with their information in the comments section, because that would require a field trip.)

So moving past the corn metaphor (finally), why is it also a bad idea to enter the harvest of the Kingdom of God with a hammer, a guitar pick, and a fighter jet? And why in the world is that even a question?

Because we have tried to harvest for the Kingdom of God with a hammer, a guitar pick, and a fighter jet. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

First, the hammer. No, I do not mean the hammer and sickle. Communism isn’t the problem. At least, not in this country.

The hammer is our attention (and sometimes addiction) to building bigger buildings inside of which we hope that we can build bigger gatherings that will gain the momentum of bigger audiences, bigger encouragement, and bigger worship experiences, showing the world that we have the biggest God.

Don’t get me wrong. A lot of good things happen inside of big church buildings. I have spent a LOT of my time in big church buildings, and a lot of who I am is directly connected to my time spent in those church buildings. However, absent the actual tools of the harvest, those big buildings have very little to do with the harvest. That leads me to what I consider a pretty big question; if those big buildings have little to do with the harvest, then why do we spend so much time, energy, and money on them?

Second, the guitar pick. The guitar pick is strongly connected to the hammer, but not the same thing. The guitar pick is our attention (and sometimes addiction) to the experience, the big show and the big names, the big teaching moments, programs, and campaigns.

I was feeling particularly gutsy the other night while Laura and I were having dinner with a couple who used to serve in the eldership at the church we are working with. I said that what most people participate in on Sunday mornings looks more like the theater than the church. And then I held my breath and waited to get torn apart. Imagine my relief when they both jumped in and immediately agreed, and not just about “the denominations” (an old Church of Christ way of saying “everyone else”) but also for the a cappella Stone-Campbell churches they had usually been part of.

Again, don’t think that I am saying there is nothing good, important, or even useful about our worship experiences, programs, campaigns, sermons, etc. But again, I say that absent the actual tools of the harvest, these things have very little to do with the harvest. So why do we spend so much time, energy, and money on them?

Finally, the fighter jet is our attention (and sometimes addiction) to winning arguments. Being right. Having the last word. Attempting to force our beliefs and way of life on others in any way, shape, or form. Defending God.

(Before I get into the point that I actually want to make, there is a different direction that I could have gone with the fighter jet metaphor. My friends, the United States of America is not the same thing as the Kingdom of God. Not even close. Let’s please not treat them like they are the same. I wish I did not feel the need to say that, but I will keep saying it until I am convinced that the two are not confused. If you do not understand why I could have gone that direction with this metaphor, then say something in the comments and I or someone else will point you in a good direction.)

We are entirely unable to force, manipulate, or coerce others to agree with us, join us, or even like us; at least, not in a healthy way. I’m not just saying we shouldn’t try to do those things for high-brow moral reasons, though I suppose that could be true as well. I am saying that coercion is completely ineffective and incredibly harmful in the harvest for the Kingdom of God – the Kingdom of the God who would rather die for his People than to defend himself from them. God does not need our defense.

The best argument for God has always been a people being formed in the likeness of God.

There is certainly a place for debate in the Kingdom of God. There is certainly a place for argument, conversation, and disagreement, especially because those things are not always coercive at heart. These things can in fact be quite healthy. One of the main reasons for this series of posts is that I disagreed (somewhat) with my good friend Steve, and decided to say something about it. But again, absent the actual tools of the harvest, these things have very little to do with the harvest. So why do we spend so much time, energy, and money on them?

***

If the hammer, the guitar pick, and the fighter jet aren’t helpful in the harvest of the Kingdom of God, then what is helpful? Again, I have run out of time. I will return soon with one final discussion on this topic in which I discuss what is necessary for the harvest of the Kingdom of God. In the meantime, Steve has already threatened me with his next poorly-exegeted post…look out!

Time to Harvest

By: Rosten Callarman

He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Steve Holt Sr. recently wrote on this blog that “the grain is not ripe…stop trying to harvest it!” Steve suggested that Christians have not done the hard/good work of sowing love to the world, and that until we do this work there will be no harvest.

To this, I say: Poppycock!

(Steve is a good friend of mine. He and his wife, Lynn, officiated mine and Laura’s wedding. However, they didn’t technically “marry” us because they had everyone present pronounce us husband and wife. It was pretty sweet.)

To make his point, Steve referenced Jesus’ teachings found in Mark 4:26-29 and John 4:34-38. I will let you go ahead and read those passages now. Seriously, please read them.

I’m just going to take these one at a time.

Mark 4: Jesus’ point isn’t that the man who scattered the seed has to do a bunch of hard work to scatter the seed. His point is that all that the man does is scatter seed, and all of a sudden there is a harvest. Scattering seed isn’t exactly a tough job (though it is a bit more labor intensive than sitting here at my computer). He scatters seed, and a miracle happens out of seemingly nothing. “Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain” (emphasis mine). This is not the tale of a man who needs to get down to business and get some work done, getting out into the fields and toiling so that he can make absolutely sure that through his hard work and attention the soil will produce a harvest. This is the tale of a man who is standing in the middle of a miracle. The miracle of the harvest is that the harvest isn’t accomplished by the law. The miracle isn’t accomplished by his careful, loving attention. This man is the recipient of the beautiful miracle which is the Kingdom of God.

John 4: This one is a bit tougher, so stick with me and I’ll try to be quirky. This passage takes place in the context of Jesus’ conversation with a Samaritan woman. The Samaritans were the descendants of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and considered themselves Jewish while the descendants of the Southern Kingdom of Judah considered the Samaritans foreigners. Let me explain this as awkwardly as possible. Mom (the Northern Tribes) and Dad (Judah) broke up. Mom was conquered and deported by Assyria, and Dad was conquered and exiled by Babylon. When Mom came back from Assyria, Dad decided that she wasn’t racially or religiously pure anymore, and that Mom was therefore no longer Jewish enough for Dad. Also, Dad got to keep Jerusalem and everything after the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures) in the divorce. This all happened hundreds of years before this scene with Jesus and the Samaritan woman, but it is important.

Now let’s go back to John 4. The biggest idea that we are getting out of this scene is that Jesus is saying that Samaria is ripe for the harvest, or to put it in a non-parable way, that Samaria is popping ready for the Kingdom of God (watch out for that corn reference, it’s going to come back). We even see a few verses down that “many more believed because of his (Jesus’) word,” and that they knew that “this is truly the Savior of the world.” This is Samaria, which is the remnant of the Northern Kingdom; remember, Mom isn’t Jewish enough for Dad. But here we have this woman who is bringing all of these Samaritans to Jesus, a Jew, who is totally cool with Samaritans in the Kingdom. Already Jesus is showing us that the harvest is much bigger than most of the people around him would like to imagine. And because of this, it is time for him and his community of followers to dive into the work of the harvest; that is, proclaiming the presence of the Kingdom of God with their words and their lives.

If Steve wants to say that right now, at this point in history, in North America, it is time to sow rather than harvest, I respectfully disagree but am willing to grant that the point is reasonable. Just don’t use Mark 4 and John 4 to try to make that point. John 4 and Mark 4 paint a picture of a plentiful harvest. This plentiful harvest does not germinate or grow to maturity by our labor, but we can share in the delightful work of the harvest…the rich, soul-thrilling work of living and sharing the good news of the present and coming Kingdom of God.

***

So if the harvest is plentiful even now, what are we waiting for? Let’s go do some harvesting! Woo! (Runs out into a corn field waving a hammer in one hand and a guitar pick in the other. Also, there’s an F-14 Tomcat.)

At this point, I hope someone is saying, “Whoa there, hold your horses buddy. You expect to harvest corn with a hammer and a guitar pick? And where in the world did that fighter jet come from? Is Tom Cruise around here somewhere?”

Hopefully that sounded ridiculous. If it didn’t, you probably need to stop watching Spongebob Squarepants, or whatever crazy thing is on TV right now.

Now if we think that it would be crazy to attempt to harvest corn with a hammer, a guitar pick, and a Top Gun reference, then why do we think we can enter God’s harvest with such similarly ridiculous implements?

This has become quite the long post already, and this seems as strange a stopping point as any. I will be back (hopefully soon) with an explanation (hopefully good) of why we shouldn’t try to harvest corn with a hammer, a guitar pick, and a fighter jet, and why we probably shouldn’t try to harvest for the Kingdom of God with those things either.

Take Your Gloves Off

By: Janet Mendenhall

My hands are not pretty. They are rough and marked with ant bites in varying stages. My nails are a mess: broken, dirty, with torn cuticles. I have been in my garden a good bit over the last month, preparing the soil, planting, and weeding and weeding some more. My daughter is ashamed of my hands and joins a host of others in puzzling over why I don’t wear gloves. I don’t like gloves. They make me claustrophobic. I have tried wearing them, but within minutes, they are thrown off. My hands get hot, feel suffocated and I feel like I am not really there. My hands want to be there, to be involved, to be “hands on,” if you will. And gloves just don’t allow that.

When I garden, I expect to get dirty. I actually want to get dirty. The rich soil now teeming with tiny earthworms feels good to my hands. I feel connected to the earth, this source of life and growth. I can now tell just where to grab each type of weed to uproot the whole plant, and easily separate them from the clinging dirt. I can sense the difference in the soil, where the ants have been happily setting up housekeeping and avoid surprising both of us with a painful encounter.

Of course, there is a price to pay for this close communion with my garden. I don’t always anticipate the ants’ appearances. Years and years of buried glass is being unearthed with each season’s tilling and sometimes is discovered just below the surface by my sensitive fingertips. Some of the weeds proudly display their prickly stems, but others are more subtle and discovered only upon close contact.  My hands are tired and sore, but they are stronger and a strange mixture of calloused and more sensitive.

My job as a community coordinator in a north Abilene neighborhood allows me to live in the neighborhood I am partnering with in the process of community renewal and revitalization. I am thankful for one of the core principles we have adopted from community developers like John Perkins, founder of the Christian Community Development Association: relocation. Moving into the neighborhood and nurturing and being nurtured, giving and receiving gifts, and sharing in the promises and challenges of the neighborhood, as a fellow neighbor and friend.

It just makes more sense to me; to really be there, to be involved and be “hands on.” I am connected to this place and the people in this place. I am more aware of the subtleties of my neighborhood, of the abundance of gifts that might be overlooked without close and continuous connection. I am available daily to listen to the sounds of the neighborhood: the stories and dreams and ideas of the people who know the neighborhood best – the folks living there.

Sometimes my hands get dirty. Sometimes sharp edges surface, and there are moments that surprisingly sting. But I just don’t like wearing gloves.

God Sends

By: Steve Holt Sr.

God sends.   He sent Jesus.  He sent the Holy Spirit.

Jesus sends.   He sent the 70/72.  He sent the apostles.  He sent the demoniac.  He sent the blind man to wash.  He sent the man with leprosy, and he sent the paralytic. He sent the woman at the well.  He sent, he sent, he sent…look it up.  And he still sends his disciples…even today.

*Church keeps.   Church ensnares.  Church creates a membership.  Church keeps count.  Church traps and manipulates.  Church exacts money.  Church maintains lists.

Jesus knows that in the safety of his shadow is no place to grow spiritually.  If it were, he would have stayed forever.  He knows that outside, where there are threats and dangers, is where one grows in faith…where one displays faith.  Jesus knows that away from his physical presence, where there are obstacles, traps, temptations and enticements, his power to provide and protect can be seen in its fullness.  Otherwise he would have built a temple and lived here permanently.

 Jesus calls, then he sends.

Church calls and keeps.  Church is afraid to let its people go.  Church doesn’t trust its people to trust God.  Church has deceived its people into believing that they can’t make it “out there,” that membership in their institution is where it’s safe and secure.  Therefore, Christians are afraid to let go of Church in order to walk more closely with Jesus.

Jesus trusts his people to trust him and him alone.  Not all do, but he continues to trust.  His goodness and power are so overwhelmingly obvious that the competition pales in comparison.  “Where else…?” is the response of those who have truly tasted his goodness and power.

Jesus takes away guilt. Church induces guilt.

Church is jealous of the competition.  Churches compete for the affections of the public.  Read it in the newspaper ads and Church bulletins and other shameless promotions.  Church lives in fear.  Church constantly has to improve, become more, do more, do better, do bigger, build bigger, build better.  Nonetheless, Church blends in with the competition, and in most cases, pales in comparison to what the world has to offer.  Jesus says Be last.  Churches all claim to be number one.  (One day I saw the “Blessed and Highly Favored Christian Center,” I kid you not.)

Aside: Take a look at the Church bulletin where you are a member.  Be truthful…have you ever seen a more blatant display of self-promotion?  Can you imagine what Jesus would say if his disciples ever presented the concept of a Church bulletin to him?

I think I’ll place all my eggs in Jesus’ basket and see where that gets me.

What about you?

 

(*Church with a capital C refers to an institution of Christendom with its pomp and ritual and countless denominations.  Church with a little c means God’s eternal family which transcends denominations and that he brought into being through Jesus.  If your Church has a name out front that differentiates it from other Churches in your neighborhood, it would probably carry a capital C.)

 

No “I” in TEAM

Kobe Bryant, aka: The Black Mamba, entered the National Basketball Association in 1996 at the age of 18. He is arguably one of the best and most dominant individuals to have competed in the league.  In two consecutive seasons Kobe Bryant led the entire NBA in scoring. He is the runner-up [behind Wilt Chamberlain] for most points ever scored in a game by a single player. And he was awarded the “Most Valuable Player” for the 2007-08 season.  Also, Bryant had his best 3-point shooting playoff season in 2003, his most steals per game during the 2004 playoffs. In 2006 he averaged more minutes per game and a higher shooting percentage than any of his other playoff performances. And he had his best free throw percentage and averaged his most points per game during the 2007 playoffs. The Las Angeles Lakers are the second most winningest team in the NBA with 16 championships, and Bryant contributed five of those over the past 15 seasons

Although the afore mentioned achievements prove that Kobe Bryant should be considered among  the best, none of those outstanding performances took place during the five championship seasons.  It was not when he played best that the championships were won, it was when the team played best.

“There’s no ‘I’ in TEAM”, is a familiar adage that reveals a TEAM to be a cohesive unit made up of cooperating parts or players. The fact that the Laker’s championship seasons alternated with Kobe Bryant’s seasons of personal triumphs illustrates the TEAM principle at work.

Vine Deloria Jr. says it like this,

“[a] conglomerate of individuals, [is] not a people. Being a people is more a state of mind than it is a definable quality. Indians had it and now they began to give much consideration to strengthening that state of mind…

Most conglomerate organizations function like a basketball team full of young ambitious Black Mambas. Each part operates independently with its own set of interests. Sub-businesses within a conglomerate will often even compete with each other while working under the same parent-company umbrella. Deloria is suggesting that people can operate under a single banner without truly being a people. And the deal-breaker is their state of mind. In the United States today, individuals and households of believers often relate to each other with a conglomerate state of mind. Each one looks to their own self-interests, only collaborating under the Church “umbrella” when it does not threaten to impede their personal interests and autonomy. But what if there is no “I” in CHURCH? The Laker’s team had a collective goal, but that goal was not to help Kobe Bryant set records and get championship rings. It was Kobe Bryant’s purpose in the NBA to help the Lakers win championships together. We’ve got to start realizing that each one of us is a piece of the whole.

It’s written that, “Once you were not a people, but now you are…a holy Nation, a People for him to possess.” Even if we thought of ourselves as self-contained at one point, we chose to make a change our outlook when we decided to follow Yeshua on the path he walks. We are not our own, we belong to the Master, and to his People. Even within myself, I feel something resisting and rejecting the fact that I belong to others. But it is still true, and we’ve got to help each other learn this. As we get into exploring what Messianic Nationalism it is important to realize that this philosophy, this way of life will require a reorientation in our state of mind, from individualism to collectivism. We share a King, so we are not a religious institution of fair-weather individuals, we are a Nation!

Messianic Nationalism (An Introduction)

By: Brian Scott

Have you ever heard the phrase “This is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh!”?  It is attributed to Adam. If you think about it for a moment that quote expresses a sentiment of “One-ness”, a level of relationship that is often missing in the world today.

If you’re familiar with the creation stories in Genesis you probably remember the creator[s] deciding that humanity should be made in their likeness. Well I believe that the “One-ness” which Adam expressed was a large part of what it meant for humanity to reflect the divine image and likeness it was created in.  

However, when destruction entered Eden, Adam [aka Ish: the male half of humanity at creation] had a different sentiment to express, “The woman you gave to be with me — she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Quickly, he sets out to absolve himself from involvement with both Eve [or Isha: the female half of humanity] and from his creator by saying, “The woman- you gave….she…”

As generations rolled by and humanity increased in diversity this attitude of distancing and separating for the sake of SELF- preservation has stayed with us. The more we became infatuated with saving our own lives, the further we wandered from the garden. But just as the instinct to save our own skin has stayed with us it’s equally true that our original purpose to reflect divine One-ness cannot be undone.

Even in our splintered state, all people still have an instinct, a spark of desire for togetherness. This relational instinct keeps us trying to establish groups even under the most transitory banners. In our attempts to gather under these imperfect banners, we often assemble at the expense of others.

But a way has been made. The Eternal One, our creator, has been working to offer himself as an eternal banner that all humanity can assemble under. Over and over he has chosen (what appears to be) the most insignificant people and circumstances to achieve this goal. His providential handprints continue to appear on the tapestry of human history as it unfolds.

He became the god of Avram, Yitzhak, and Ya’akov to draw a Nation of Families, and from this Nation of Families he drew out their greatest leader, Yeshua the LORD’s Messiah. Yeshua once prayed:

“The glory which you have given to me, I have given to them; so that they may be one, just as we are one.” The Messiah was chosen for this reason: To lead his Nation of Families back into One-ness with each other and with their creator. And this time it will endure forever.

Forever… A nation that endures forever…Where is that Nation of Families now? We know that within 100 years of the resurrection, Gentiles were being added to his Hebrew People. But over time it seems that believers gradually drifted from thinking of themselves as citizens of the Messiah’s Nation, to individuals who attend the local church building on Sundays. There’s a problem with that… the Messiah did not live, die, and live again for you and for me. He came, to deliver “us”. He came to redeem a People.

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 5.08.00 PM“…during the Selma March, Abernathy introduced Martin Luther King with a stirring speech. He reminded his audience that “God never leaves his people without a leader.” When we [Native Americans]   heard those words we knew….It was then merely a question of waiting until blacks began to explore peoplehood… and then consider tribalism and nationalism.” 

The above quote is taken from Vine Deloria Jr., a prominent Native American thinker and leader of the late 20h century. He was born in 1933 and passed on in November of 2005. For three years Deloria served as the Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians.

What Deloria recognized in Abernathy’s words was a shift in thinking for Blacks. A shift from making decisions separately, to moving as a “People” unified behind a leader. Those words, “his People”, materialized in the form of thousands of African Americans marching as one, through Alabama for five days until arriving in mass on the capitol steps.

We live in a society which aims to minimize the day-to-day need that people have for each other. But we were made for One-ness.

The Question that’s inspiring this series of articles is:

“What does it look like for an Eternal People to thrive among temporary Nations?”

More specifically, “How do we advance Messianic Nationalism while living in the United States?”

Please allow me to have privilege of introducing you to the thoughts and dreams of Vine Deloria Jr and other Native American and Black Nationalist thinkers such as: Stokely Carmichael, W.E.B. Dubois, Sterling Stuckey, Paul Robeson, Fredrick Douglas, and others. In a land where many left behind what they had known in order to pursue the American Dream, these leaders were searching for ways to maintain the unique peoplehood of their ancestors. They spent their lifetimes considering how to resist being assimilated by American society. And I believe that today, Churches in the United States have much wisdom to gain from them.

This is a series on Messianic Nationalism.