Into the Harvest (Luke 10:1-11,16-20)

Luke 10v2 harvest 06

I’m always on the lookout for effective evangelism techniques to help the people of our church share the gospel with others. For example, one approach is to do a neighbourhood door-knock to tell the people about Jesus in their homes. When that happens to me, however, I’m usually pretty quick to thank them for their time, close the door and get back to what I was doing. Another evangelism strategy is to warn people about hell and then point them to Jesus as the one who can save them. We have seen that approach used in social media recently in Australia by a prominent rugby union player. The backlash on commercial and social media tells us how successful that tactic usually is.

With these and other evangelism strategies in mind, I am fascinated to read about Jesus’ evangelism strategy in Luke 10:1-20. As far as I can tell, he gave them no formal training other than a few instructions. Jesus then sent these followers out ahead of him in a similar way a farmer would send workers into his fields to gather in a harvest. They went to the villages that Jesus was about to visit with a message of peace and the coming kingdom of God. This looks like Jesus’ main evangelism strategy – send people out to tell others that they could find peace through Jesus and the Kingdom of God.

What if evangelism is that simple? Is it possible that effective evangelism isn’t about programs or campaigns or multi-million dollar extravaganzas, but simply about followers of Jesus sharing a message of peace with the people we come across every day?
There was a time when people saw the mission field across the seas, in different countries where people didn’t know Jesus and needed to hear the message of salvation. That need still exists, but for a few decades now people who study our society have been telling us that worshiping attendance in our own country has been getting less and less. Australia is now identified as a ‘post-Christian’ country. What this means is that most people in Australia don’t attend church or, more importantly, don’t know Jesus. The fields ready for the harvest aren’t just ‘out there’ any more. They are all around us.

What I find significant about the way in which Jesus sent out his disciples in Luke 10 is that he didn’t send them out to bring people into church. Instead, he sent them out with a message of peace through the coming of God’s kingdom. It is important for us to be listening to what Jesus says because so many people in our society don’t know peace in their lives and are looking for a greater sense of peace.

Jesus’ sent his disciples out with the promise that people could find peace through him. Two thousand years later, Jesus is still promising peace through faith in him and the presence of the Kingdom of God to the people of our time and place as well. Jesus gives us good news for the people of our world. Our job is not to try to get people into church. Our job is not to threaten people with hell. Jesus sends us into the world as his followers like workers in God’s harvest field with the job of bringing God’s peace to the people we meet. Jesus’ strategy for people to hear and believe this good news in his time and for ours is simply for us to share the message of God’s peace so others can know the peace of God which passes all human understanding (Philippians 4:7).

Passing on the peace that Jesus gives to others begins with us finding God’s peace in our own lives. We can’t give to others what we don’t have ourselves. One way we can understand our congregation’s discipling plan is for each of us to be connecting with God’s peace through the gospel and growing in that peace through faith in Jesus. As we grow in God’s peace in every area of our lives, God equips us through his Spirit to be able to bring the good news of peace to others. We can share stories of how we have found God’s peace in different ways in our lives. We can tell others about the difference God’s peace makes in our lives. Like the seventy-two disciples that Jesus sent out, when we are finding God’s peace in our relationship with Jesus, then we can bring his peace to everyone we meet in the harvest field of our own homes, schools, workplaces and city.

Luke doesn’t tell us what the seventy-two disciples were thinking or feeling when Jesus sent them out to bring his message of peace to the villages. I wonder if they were excited to be part of the mission of God in the world, whether they were afraid, cautious, uneasy or just unsure about what they were getting into. When they came back to Jesus, though, they were full of joy because of the way they had seen the Kingdom of God at work in people’s lives.

Can you imagine finding that same joy as we participate in God’s mission in the world by bringing his message of peace to the people we meet? I understand that most people are uncomfortable with sharing their faith for a whole range of reasons. My hope is that all of us would be growing in our faith, as God equips us with good news to share with others and sends us out into his mission fields as his workers in his harvest.

Whatever might be happening in your life, Jesus promises you peace through a growing faith in him and his love for you. Is there someone in your life who needs a greater sense of peace? Is Jesus sending you to that person to give them his message of peace through faith in him? Jesus has given us the message of peace for people who are trapped in conflict, whether within themselves or in their relationships with others, and sends us out like workers in the harvest to bring this good news to others.

With whom can you share the good news of God’s peace in Jesus this week?

More to think about:

  • Imagine you were one of the 72 disciples that Jesus sent out with his message of peace. What do you think your reaction might have been? Do you think you would have been able to do what Jesus sent you to do? Why or why not?
  • What do you think God’s peace is like? Can you describe it?
  • Are there things in your life at the moment that are causing you worry, stress or anxiety? How might you be able to find a greater sense of God’s peace in your own life?
  • How might growing in God’s peace in Jesus help to equip you to share God’s peace with others?
  • Do you have a story to tell of how you encountered God’s peace in your own life?
  • Is there someone you know who needs a greater sense of God’s peace in their own lives? How might you be able to share God’s peace with them this week?
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Peace (Luke 1:68-79)

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As a motorcyclist, I tend to want to look for a longer, more interesting way, hopefully with lots of corners, to get from one place to another. There are times, however, when I need to find the quickest, most direct route to my destination. That’s when I go to the app on my smartphone where I can type in my destination, add my starting point, and it will guide me in the most direct way to get to where I need to be.

The final line in the Song of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79) basically describes Jesus in a similar way. This is the song Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, sung when his son was born. Zechariah didn’t believe the angel who had promised him that his wife, Elizabeth, who was ‘well along in years’ (v18 NLT), was going to have a baby. The consequence was that Zechariah wasn’t able to speak during Elizabeth’s pregnancy. When the child was born, however, and Zechariah told people that the baby’s name would be John, his mouth was opened, he was filled with the Holy Spirit and he prophesied about his son’s future and the Saviour whose arrival he would announce.

Zechariah describes Jesus as the one who will ‘guide us to the path of peace’ (v79 NLT). The peace which he talks about is very different to the way a lot of people understand peace today. Most of the time it seems like we think of peace as a feeling we experience, or being calm in the middle of the chaos of life. The biblical idea of peace includes this, but means a lot more. Its foundation in is the concept of shalom from the Old Testament. This shalom peace rises out of an end to armed conflict between two tribes or nations. Not only would they stop fighting, but the shalom peace they could find was a new relationship where they were able to work together and live in harmony with each other.

Shalom peace, then, means a restoration to what had previously been broken. It is repairing what had been fractured to the point that it is returned to its original state. If we break something like a cup or a plate, it’s never quite the same again. Relationships can be like that too. Shalom peace returns something to its original condition so that no evidence of brokenness can be detected at all. Shalom peace makes everything new, the way things were meant to be from the beginning.

This is the peace that Zechariah tells us Jesus came to guide us into by the most direct route. The way Jesus does it, according to Zechariah’s inspired words, is by telling us how to find salvation through the forgiveness of sins (v77). When relationships are broken, forgiveness is the only way to establish shalom peace and restore what was broken. Creating this shalom peace by forgiving sin was the reason for Jesus’ birth which we will celebrate in a couple of weeks. Jesus opens the way for us to find shalom peace through forgiveness by joining us in our brokenness as an infant, carrying our wrongs to the cross, and raising us to new life through faith in his resurrection. In his birth, life, death and resurrection, Jesus makes it possible for our sins to be forgiven so he can lead us in the path of shalom peace.

We can find shalom peace through the forgiveness Jesus won for us in four main aspects of our lives. Firstly, we can have shalom peace with God as everything which got in the way of a relationship with the Divine is washed away and we are made new through faith in Jesus. Secondly, we can have shalom peace with others as we extend forgiveness to people who wrong us and we receive forgiveness from people we have wronged. As we move towards Christmas, it is worth asking who we can give the gift of forgiveness and shalom peace to because this is really the greatest gift we can offer someone. The third aspect of this shalom peace is within ourselves. I don’t tell people who are struggling with guilt or shame that they need to forgive themselves because you can’t give yourself something you don’t already have. Instead, a better way is to find forgiveness in Jesus, because God has already forgiven us because of what Jesus has done for us. It’s a done deal – all is forgiven! We can find shalom peace within ourselves through this promise. The fourth aspect of shalom peace is in our relationship with creation. We do significant damage to the world around us each and every day, even though we have a responsibility to care for the earth God has given to us. When Jesus comes again to establish his kingdom of shalom peace, then our relationship with the world will also be restored to its original state as God intended.

This idea of shalom peace might sound great but how do we achieve it? At this point, it might be tempting to offer a handful of easy steps to achieve shalom peace in our lives, but life doesn’t often work like that. Instead, Zechariah tells us that Jesus will guide us into the ‘path of peace.’ Zechariah’s words tell us that shalom peace is something we journey into as we follow Jesus in our lives, just like I might follow the directions of my maps application to get to where I’m going. This is discipleship language. It is about learning a new way of living from Jesus, the way an apprentice learns a trade from the master tradesman. The evangelists Matthew, Mark and Luke describe this ‘path of peace’ as learning to love God with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28). The Apostle John gives us a slightly different version of the path when he gives us Jesus’ new command to love one another with the same self-giving, self-sacrificing love with which he loves us (John 13:34,35;15:9-17). Paul’s letters are all about guiding us in this same path as he explores what it looks like for Christian communities to be following the way of faith and love (Galatians 5:6).

All of these are ways in which Jesus guides us into the way of shalom peace, just like my maps app shows me the way to where I need to go. Our destination is a full experience of God’s shalom peace where everything will be restored to the way God intended in the beginning. Until that day we can still walk the way of shalom peace as we follow Jesus, living in his forgiveness, and growing in restored relationships with God, other people, ourselves and all of creation.

Sleeping Jesus (Mark 4:35-41)

boat in storm 01

Storms can be scary.

I’m not just talking about the time I was riding my motorbike through the Sunshine Coast hinterland and I had to get home through pouring rain, thunder, lightning and poor visibility. Or the time I was driving our family to Brisbane from the Gold Coast, trying to negotiate through the one-way streets of an unfamiliar city in the dark while a storm raged around us.

I’m talking more about the storms that hit our lives from out of nowhere and we have no idea how we are going to get through them.

These storms are the things that happen which are out of our control and seem too big for us to cope with. They are the dark times of our lives when we feel like everything is pushing against us and it’s hard work just to get through the day. The storms we face can take many forms. They might be short-lived or last for a long time. They might be severe or constant. We might be able to see our way through them or they might seem to have no end. In one way or another, at some time or another, we all go through storms in our lives. And they can be scary.

When the storms hit, we can be a lot like Jesus’ disciples in the story from Mark 4:35-41. It is a natural human reaction to look for God in the storms, but not see him. Like Jesus, God can seem to be sleeping through our storms because if God really was all-powerful and all-loving, wouldn’t he do something about stopping the storms? As far as we can see, it can seem like God doesn’t care about us when he is silent in the middle of our difficulties and suffering. Doesn’t God care, even if we are drowning in the storms that surround us?

Jesus’ reaction to his disciples when he wakes up challenges me. He asks them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (v40 NLT) Of course they were afraid – they thought they were going to die! What were they supposed to do? And if they had the kind of faith or the amount of faith Jesus expected, then what should they have done different?

The best I can come up with at this stage is that the faith Jesus was looking for was the assurance that everything was going to be alright because Jesus was with them. After all, here we have the Son of the almighty God in the same boat with them, right in the middle of the storm. But he isn’t afraid. Instead, he’s sleeping. He could be grabbing some shut-eye because he’s exhausted from telling parables all day, but maybe he’s sleeping because he’s at peace. Maybe Jesus’ faith in his heavenly Father is so strong that, in the middle of the worst of storms, he trusts his Father enough to sleep like a baby in the peace that comes with believing that everything’s going to be OK.

Imagine having this kind of faith. What would it be like to trust Jesus so much that in the storms of life we could still find the peace to know that everything’s going to be alright?

This Jesus, whom the wind and the waves obey, is in the boat with us through all the storms of life. Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus experienced the storms of human existence and came through them. I’m not just talking about the storm on the boat that night. I mean the storms of rejection, loneliness, physical pain, emotional suffering, even the experience of being abandoned by God. Jesus weathered the storms of shame, suffering and death. But just as he commanded the wind and the waves on that lake and they obeyed him, so he commands even death itself to let us go, and death can only obey him. The One who has total authority over the elemental forces of the universe is in the boat with us. While it might seem like he’s sleeping, the fact is that he’s there and he will bring us through the storms.

That means that we can find peace in the storms of our life. Trusting that Jesus is with us and he has authority over our storms means that we can live each and every day in the assurance that the wind and waves will not overwhelm us. The storms will not end our lives because the One who is in the boat with us is bigger and stronger than the storms.
With Jesus, everything’s going to be OK.

It felt a bit simplistic saying that to the people of our congregation on Sunday because I know that some of them are going through some very serious storms right now. But that’s really what it comes down to –Jesus is in the boat with us, and his resurrection says to us that he is stronger than all the storms, so we’re going to be OK when we stick with him.

When the storm hit, instead of freaking out and accusing Jesus of not caring about what was happening to them, maybe what the disciples could have done was grab some pillows of their own, lie down with Jesus, and get some rest. Maybe that’s what Jesus wants from us as well. Instead of trying to struggle on our own or try harder to battle through the storms, maybe Jesus just wants us to get close to him, trust him like he trusted his heavenly Father, so we can find peace and rest in the middle of our storms.

It might sound simple, but I know it’s often not that easy to do. That’s why we need to recognize that we’re all in the same boat together. We all have storms in our lives. Jesus is with us all in the middle of it. The more we are able to find peace and rest by trusting that Jesus will bring us through the storms to a better day, the more we will be able to be the presence of the sleeping Jesus to each other, so we can all find the rest and peace of a sleeping Jesus.

The Peace Road (Isaiah 40:1-11)

Talking about peace at Christmas can seem like an oxymoron. All you need to do is to walk to the local shops to see people frantically running around, buying gifts, and doing the things we often think are so important in the attempt to have ‘the best Christmas ever.’ We are not immune in the church, as we set about planning and doing the many things we think are necessary to bring the message of our Saviour’s birth at Bethlehem to the world. All the while, calendars get full, stress levels rise, and the peace we talk about at Christmas seems more and more distant.

Is it possible to find a real sense of peace at Christmas?

Like last week’s text from Isaiah 64:1-9, these words from Isaiah 40:1-11 were written for God’s people in exile after their homeland, their temple and their freedoms had been destroyed by the Babylonians. God tells the Prophet to comfort his people with a message of peace. In order to prepare for this coming peace, the people of God were encouraged to ‘make a straight road through the wasteland’ (v3b NLT). Isaiah is telling God’s people that he wants them to remove everything that might be an obstacle to the peace God was bringing so that when it came, nothing would stand in the way.

As a person who enjoys riding a motorcycle, I understand that some people find straight roads boring and would prefer to take the longer, windy, more scenic route when travelling. We do the same thing in life, especially at Christmas, when we run from this to that, busy with a lot of things that our society, our church culture, or even our families think are so important. However, what they end up doing is getting in the way of the peace God promises. We can be so busy trying to fulfil other people’s, or even our own, expectations that Jesus can get lost and we end up being tightly compressed balls of stress rather than experiencing the peace the Prophet promises and the angels proclaimed.

Sometimes what we need to do is to ‘fill in the valleys, and level the mountains and hills, straighten the curves and smooth out the rough places’ (v4 NLT). We begin to do that by remembering and focusing on what Christmas is all about, and removing what gets in the way of that focus. It might mean buying less presents, having a simpler Christmas lunch without all the trimmings, not trying to see all of our relatives on the one day, or giving the most valuable thing we have to the people who mean most to us: our time.
Because none of these things are really what Christmas is about. As the church, we should know better, but we still get sucked into the busyness and pressure of Christmas that our society expects. Instead, we should know that the reason we celebrate Christmas is the coming of God’s peace through Jesus and live every day with that as our focus and guide.

What’s significant about these words from the Prophet is that this highway through the wilderness was not for the Jews to return to their homeland. Instead, it was for God to join them in their exile. In verse 9 the Prophet brings the good news that ‘Your God is coming!’ God was coming to people who were exiled, rejected, broken and lost to give them something better. He was coming ‘in power’ to ‘rule with a powerful arm’ (v10 NLT). The Prophet tells us that when comes, God will use his power in this way:

He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. (v11 NLT)

The Prophet is telling us that God comes he will take care of all our needs in his grace, to hold us close in his love, and to lead us home. This is where we can find peace. In the middle of the stress, anxiety and uncertainty of life, we can find peace in God’s promise to us that he will feed us, protect us, and lead us.

God fulfils this promise in Jesus, which is why the angels sang ‘Peace on earth’ when Jesus was born (Luke 2:14). Jesus comes to us in the craziness, busyness and unpredictability of life to feed us with his promise of forgiveness and mercy, to hold us close to his heart as he becomes one with us and shares in our humanity, and to lead us through life to our heavenly home by his Spirit. No matter what our circumstance might be in life, we can find a deep sense of peace through faith in Jesus and his all-conquering love for us.

Why would we put anything in the way of this peace he offers?

To clear the way and straighten the road so God’s Spirit can bring this peace to us is often easier said than done. We all live with pressures, expectations and stresses in our lives, especially at Christmas. Clearing some of them out of the way so we can find the peace Jesus comes to give us is not always easy. However, that is the challenge the Prophet gives us in this reading.

When I’m teaching my kids to ride a bike, I tell them to look where they’re going because they will go where they are looking. Maybe it’s the same with clearing the way for the peace Jesus brings. When we focus on Jesus and his birth for us at Christmas, we will no longer be distracted by all the different things pulling us in one direction or another. Doing this will help us to straighten the path, clear the way, and prepare for the peace Jesus brings.

More to think about:

  • Do you generally prefer to drive on winding roads or straight? Why do you prefer them?
  • What do you usually find more of at Christmas: peace or stress? If Christmas is a stressful time for you, what are the main sources of stress or worry for you?
  • If Jesus comes to bring us peace, what gets in the way of you experiencing peace at Christmas? In your life generally?
  • What might you be able to do less of in order to clear the way to finding a greater sense of peace this Christmas?
  • What difference might it make in your life if you trusted the words of Isaiah 40:10,11 that God uses his power to feed you, hold you close and lead you through all the circumstances of life, both good and bad?

‘Welcoming God’ (Matthew 10:40-42)

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It’s always good to feel welcome. I’m really thankful whenever I am visiting people that, firstly, I have the right address, but also that people are generally welcoming to me. It’s a real blessing to be invited into a people’s homes, to spend time with them over a coffee, and to talk with them about life and the journey of faith that we’re all on. That is why it is important for us as a congregation to be a welcoming community, so that people can feel at ease when they connect with us, and they can find a sense of belonging with us through the welcome we offer.

This text from Matthew 10 comes at the end of Jesus’ instructions to his Twelve Disciples before he sent them out on their first missionary journey. Jesus warned them that not everyone would welcome them and receive the message they brought (vv13b,14). However, Jesus said that those households that did receive them would also receive the peace of God (v13a). Then, at the end of his instructions, Jesus went even further by saying that those who welcomed his disciples also welcomed him, and by receiving him, they even welcomed the presence of God among them.

Stop and think about that for a moment…

On the one hand, these were Jesus’ specific instructions to a certain group of people at a particular time and place. However, as followers of Jesus whom he also sends out into our time and place, Jesus is also saying that when people welcome us, they welcome him and the presence of God with us.

This becomes really important because so often I have heard people ask where God is in the world. When people are hurting, confused, struggling or broken by life’s circumstances, God can often seem to be absent and uncaring. Jesus is saying here that God is present in the struggles, pain, uncertainty and joys of life in the presence of his people. As we live in the good news of God’s present and coming Kingdom, and as we participate in God’s mission to bring his peace into the world, God is present in the living, breathing body of his Son in the world. God makes himself known and extends his healing, life, cleansing and freedom through our words and actions.

This leads me to ask: do our words and actions reflect the grace and love of Jesus and our heavenly Father? As people welcome us into their homes and lives, is the presence of our forgiving and peace-giving God made real in their lives through us?

This becomes our goal as Jesus’ disciples: to grow in the peace of God as members of his Kingdom so that we can be bringing his peace, grace and love to everyone that we meet. The aim of being Jesus’ disciples is less about getting to heaven, and more about making the Kingdom of God real in our world by extending God’s gracious and life-giving presence to everyone who welcomes us. This might be in our homes, our work places, our schools or universities, anywhere we are welcomed and received by other people. The promise of Jesus is that as they welcome him as they welcome us, and by welcoming him they also receive the presence of God who is the source of all life. This is the same God who forgives sinners, who shows grace to those who need it the most but deserve it the least, who brings the light of new life out of the darkness of death, who washes the feet of his followers, and who gives us his all in his self-sacrificing love of the cross.

As we begin a new week, spend some time thinking about who will be welcoming you this week. How can you be the peace-filled and grace-giving presence of God in their lives? Ask the Spirit of God to keep you close with Jesus through faith so that, as people welcome you this week, they might also welcome Jesus in you, and through you they might find peace in the presence of our gracious and loving God.