To The Fields!

By Julian Wells

Series: Lessons From The Cotton Field

“When he saw the crowds. he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:36-38 NIV)

imageMy wife recently purchased a stalk of cotton, placing in it in a vase to serve not only as a decoration for our living room, but also as a reminder of this series and the lessons I learned in the cotton fields of my youth. Last year, as I drove by those same cotton fields in South Georgia that inspired this series, the above verses from Matthew’s gospel came to mind. They reminded me of one last lesson from the cotton fields which, while seemingly obvious on the surface, is often neglected in practice.

As I recall those days, I’m reminded that very little work was ever accomplished in the comfort of our home. Daddy would educate himself on the latest developments in the propagation, maintenance, and harvesting of crops. But all the work that had a true impact- the preparation of the soil, the planting of the seed, the application of fertilizer, the initial removal of excess cotton plants, the hoeing of weeds that would choke the remaining plants, the spraying of insecticides to control boll weevils, and the eventual harvesting that put food on our table and clothes on our back – took place in the fields. As followers of Christ, the work he has commissioned us to carry out takes place in the fields as well.

On another recent trip south, my wife and I were in Callaway, Florida, just outside of Panama City, enjoying some time with our grandchildren before they returned to school. Just down Tyndall Parkway from the hotel where we stayed, there is a new church advertising itself as “the perfect church for imperfect people”. The most intriguing aspect to me about this church is its location next door to a small plaza housing an electronic cigarette shop, a payday loan lender/pawn shop, and a tattoo parlor.

Initially struck by the irony of the site selection committee’s choice of that location, my views changed as I reflected upon the true mission of any local church. Those establishments next door exist to fulfill the perceived needs of imperfect people, be they financial, addictive, or simply products to establish or bolster an identity – needs that are better addressed by the Gospel of Christ which is now being proclaimed in that new building among that sea of imperfect people.

Sometimes we tend to forget that the bulk of the work for which we have been commissioned takes place in the fields of those imperfect people who are often more like us than we dare to admit. We grow too comfortable in our enclaves of fellow believers, preaching to and teaching one another, taking Bible study after Bible study, and enjoying the fellowship of other like-minded believers, while the world around us is starved for the hope that only the Lord we proclaim can provide.

It is fitting and proper that we gather to worship our Lord, to enjoy fellowship with one another, to encourage and pray for one another, and to equip ourselves for the greater work of spreading the Good News. But we must never forget that the greater work takes place outside the walls of the church building. We are called to be salt and light in a world filled with imperfect people and in a culture that is often hostile to our message.

Rather than withdrawing from that culture, we should engage it as Christ did, realizing that a life modeled on Biblical principles is a powerful testimony in itself. Then we must be prepared to give an answer for the hope that others see in us. (I Peter 3:15)

After class some years ago, a dear friend once commented that she wished she knew the Bible as well as I do. I replied, “I wish I lived the Bible as well as you do!” On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus said to his disciples, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:15-17 NIV)

Unless we put its teachings into practice, few people will ever be impacted by our knowledge of the Scriptures. James 2:17 says “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” Faith without works and knowledge without action, like that stalk of cotton in my living room, is little more than a decoration.

As I learned in the cotton fields of Georgia, the work of growing the Kingdom of God takes place in the fields – not in our comfort zones. The harvest is still plentiful and all too often the workers are still too few. That might not be the case if we were as concerned over the fields of lost people all around us as we are uncomfortable around some of them.

All too often the church holds up a mirror reflecting back the society around it, rather than a window revealing a different way.” ~ Philip Yancey

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A Miracle At Cana

Series: Reflections From John

“On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. … When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’” (John 2:1,3)

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The account of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana has provided background material for numerous jokes and generated lively debates through the centuries. Christians disagree over whether the wine that resulted was alcoholic, or simply unfermented grape juice. The answer to that question usually depends upon one’s view toward the social consumption of alcoholic beverages. Personally, I’m convinced it was the real stuff!

On the surface, one cannot help but wonder why John even included this account in his gospel. It seems to be a strange miracle with little divine purpose. No other gospel writer found it worthy of telling. Jesus even seemed initially reluctant to address his mother’s concern that the wine had run out, telling her “Dear woman, why do you involve me? … My time has not yet come.” (John 2:4)

Neither did this miracle appear to serve a great public purpose at the time. In fact, only Mary, Jesus, the disciples, and the servants likely knew that a miracle had even taken place. Jesus generated no great spectacle surrounding the event. He didn’t stand over the water pots, wave his hands over them, or utter some powerful prayer. He simply gave instructions to the servants to fill the pots and serve the contents.

Given that John elected to detail only seven miracles in his gospel, why include this one? Although some have tried to use this account to justify their consumption of alcoholic beverages, I don’t believe John’s purpose was to resolve this debate among Christians.

Mary’s instructions to the servants to “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5) certainly serve a great spiritual purpose, reminding us of the importance of being sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives and obeying him promptly when his directions are clear. This lesson has served me well through the years taking me down many worthwhile paths I might have avoided otherwise – a topic I covered in “The Paths Of Life”.

Mary’s actions also provide a picture of effective prayer. All of us are likely guilty of suggesting to God how he should respond to our prayers, as though we know what is best. But we don’t see what God sees and his solutions often far exceed our wildest expectations. I doubt that Mary had any idea what was about to take place, any more than we do when we bring a problem to him in prayer ourselves. She doesn’t suggest what to do or how to do it. She just brought her problem to Jesus, trusting him with the solution.

While these are worthwhile spiritual applications to be taken from this account, I don’t believe John was thinking of either of them when he decided to include this miracle. I believe John’s sole purpose for including this miracle among the seven he details is stated clearly in verse 11. “This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.”

John likely recorded this miracle simply because it was the first miracle he saw Jesus perform, thus sealing in his mind once and for all that Jesus was more than a teacher or prophet – he was the Son of God, just as John the Baptist had proclaimed. John concedes at the end of Chapter 20 that Jesus performed “many other miraculous signs” which he did not record. But he chose seven specifically “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name.” (John 20: 30-31)

All of us have a story to tell. If you are a follower of Christ, you have your own “gospel” story – a term that simply means “good news”. You too can point to a time in your life when the veil over your heart was first lifted and Christ revealed himself in a way that was undeniable and that forever changed your heart, renewed your outlook on this life, and transformed your expectations of life beyond this one.

Share your gospel story with someone this Easter season. As Mary commanded the servants at the wedding, do whatever The Lord tells you. Jesus has commissioned us all to be his “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) That hour you first believed might not have resulted from something as dramatic as the miracle John witnessed, but it is no less life-changing. And it is likely just as compelling to someone desperate for the hope they see in you – a hope that only God can provide.

“How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.” – Amazing Grace, John Newton

Note: All Scripture references from the New International Version (NIV)