It was a great privilege to travel recently with the international chairman of our movement, David Devenish. He taught a powerful message based on the parable of the wheat and the tares. God has sown us as children of the kingdom into this world in order that the kingdom would advance. And advance it will, until that day when the gospel is proclaimed to every nation, and the Lord will return. Yet while God has been busy sowing, so also has the enemy. He has sown weeds into God’s field. The weed he sowed, darnel, looks deceptively like wheat in its early stages. By the time it can be recognized for what it is, it’s too late. It has a deep root system that means if you try to pick it out, it will take a lot of the young wheat shoots with it. And so it is with this world in which we live. For God to destroy the wicked would involve too much collateral damage. Instead, he allows the agents of evil to remain and to spread, along with the seed of the kingdom. He will deal with the evil later.
It was the application of the text that was so riveting. Dave has been involved in dangerous areas of the world, developing church planting teams for the last twenty years. Some of the places he is involved with cannot be named publicly. The good news is the kingdom is advancing! Hundreds of churches have, like the good wheat, been planted in areas we would not have dreamed possible. Many of these churches are sizeable. Thousands have come to Christ. But in the midst of this, pastors have been martyred. Leaders have been caught in the crossfire of war and violence and killed. Many have become refugees, fleeing areas of intense conflict. In the midst of it all, courageous Christians have kept the faith.
Christians seem to have a habit of alternating between triumphalism and defeatism. Sometimes we preach a sugar-coated gospel based on optimism far more than faith. Everything will come out just fine. We’re a bit like the Jews of Jesus’ day who expected the Messiah to drive the Romans out, not wind up hanging on a Roman cross. We, like they, have no grid to deal with disappointment or suffering. On the other hand, some preachers are gloomier than Winnie the Pooh’s Eeyore. The world is going to hell in a handbasket. The only hope is for a weak church to be “raptured” out of the world before it gets any worse.
What the Bible teaches, as reflected in my friend’s preaching, is something less simplistic but more accurate. God is at work, the church is expanding across the globe as never before, yet there is a price to be paid.
After hearing Dave bring this message at a leadership day in Newmarket (near Toronto), I asked him to consider preaching it again at the next church we were heading to, Firm Foundation in Centreville, Michigan. I thought it would resonate there, and for this reason. The senior pastor, my close friend and colleague Don Smith, felt at the beginning of January that he had received a promise from God of great blessings in 2016. Two weeks later, Don lost his grandson Camden. Camden’s dad Brian pastors the church planted out last year in Kalamazoo. The two churches could not have received a worse blow. Yet in the midst of such sorrow, the kingdom advances. God is moving in those churches, and I have not the shadow of a doubt this will be the best year they have ever experienced. What I did not know in all this was that Dave himself had preached this message for the first time a year ago two days after conducting the funeral of his own two newborn grandsons.
So what do you and I take personally out of this? Here’s the most important thing. We are called to follow Jesus and to walk in the way of the cross. The rest is up to God. Whatever the cost may be, humanly speaking, will be more than recompensed in this life and the next. Jesus said it: you may lose home and family, but you will receive more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.
It isn’t the simplest or easiest answer, but it is the best answer, and it’s the truth.
Expect God to do great things in your life this year. Leave the rest to him.