Friday, April 27, 2012

Blog Moving

I was notified today that Blogger is being shut down and moving over to a more pure Google-based system.  I have serious concerns about the EULA for Google's new Google Drive.  You should really read them if you haven't.  They basically say they can do whatever they want with whatever you put on their servers.  I guess that's the price you pay for it being free.  But I'm not ready to do that, so I'm moving to Wordpress.

You can find me over at starting now!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Unleashing the Gospel

This is a long one, folks.  And perhaps the lesson that has left the most resounding impact on me.  In many instances, I could not have better said statements, so once again, I do not attribute this work to myself, but to Marty Brown and Floyd McClung.  I just organized it.  Included in this post is a ~10 min video of the remarkable power of the gospel.  Please do not read and "like" this post just for the sake of doing so.  I pray it will cause you to truly think and pray on your purpose.

Habakkuk 2:14 says, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”  The apostles were dedicated in obedience to this task.  The motive was always about the glory of God.  We can be driven today by humanitarian needs or stories of the people and how we “fell in love with them”, but those can’t be the primary reasons we go.  We go for God’s glory.  Don’t hear me wrong—human needs and people are important, but God’s glory is supreme.

With a motivation such as this, the apostles were bold in their witness.  What does the word “witness” mean?  A witness is something you ARE much more than something you say or do.  You LIVE the gospel as well as proclaim it.  By public testimony in the face of hostility, ordinary people like you and I can accomplish far more than merely affirming the truth of Christ.  Why?  It establishes the value of Christ in our lives.  And to fulfill His plan of spreading the gospel, He will ask us to publicly display our witness at some point in each of our lives.

How did the gospel spread in such an accelerated manner as it did in Acts?  Through the persistence, boldness, and faithfulness of the apostles in fulfilling the Great Commission.  How is the gospel unleashed? Through the church.  We are Plan A and there is no Plan B.  Within the church, God charged two entities with the responsiblity: the local church and the called-out teams.  In Acts, you see the church of Antioch as a so-called home base for Paul and Barnabus. Paul’s church-planting team grew out from this and became an autonomous entity, yet still related to the church.  If we follow this model, then it is the purpose of the called-out team to plant reproducing churches where there are none.  It is not their responsibility to evangelize every individual in an area.  The job of the local church is to evangelize, edify, and equip the population.  It is the church that unleashes the gospel and it is the church that we must go to establish.

In the context of these definitions we can more accurately call an unreached people group one in which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize that people group.  It is the goal of the called-out team to be involved in church planting.  This is the rapid multiplication of healthy indigenous churches in a specific people group that plant reproducing churches of their own.  These churches must be indigenous and be led by ordinary people empowered by the Holy Spirit.  This is who will maximally and effectively reach the people around them.

There are many barriers to this pursuit.  One writer likens the barriers to a wall and a canyon.  The canyon represents a barrier of conversion and acceptance.  The problem with many modern missions is that when we go in, we’re not accepted.  The mentality of the local people is that we are there to westernize them; to become Christian would be to strip them of their culture and heritage.  This is not at all what God intends!  God deserves praise and worship in every unique way He ascribed when He made the nations.  Look no further than the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 for evidence that any attempt to change a people is wrong!  The devout Jews wanted the Gentiles to be circumcised and obey the law of Moses.  The disciples said that should not be, as they were given the gift of the Holy Spirit too.  When we go to unreached areas, the model should be “become like…remain like”.  We should make every attempt to become like, and understand, a people, in order that they may remain like they are, as God made them. 

The wall represents a barrier of communication and understanding.  A people will not connect to God being their God unless He is speaking to them in their native language.  The effort it takes to translate is large and time-consuming.  And it cannot always be word-for-word because of strong cultural differences. 

Here’s a video of a missionary’s effort among an unreached tribal group.  It represents the barrier of communication encountered all over the world.  Interestingly, this couple was told they were not “missions material” by the organization they were applying with, but they went anyway.  Just watch the power of the gospel when it is unleashed.

What comes to mind with the word “passion”?  Does it invoke a deep emotion?  Does it describe a romantic situation or a strong drive toward something?  In fact, the origins of the word define it in terms of suffering.  So we could say that passion is whatever a person is willing to suffer for.

Suffering indicates there is value in Christ worth dying for.  Just a few of the Scriptures that reference this idea include:

1 Corinthians 16:9 - for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.

1 Peter 4:12 - Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

John 15:18 – [Jesus speaking] If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.

Matthew 24:9 - Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake.

Philippians 1:29 - For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,

Colossians 1:24 - Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,

The ultimate purpose in suffering and martyrdom is to advance the cause of Christ on earth, resulting in more glory given to God.  When Christ’s servants willingly identify with their Master in the depths of suffering and the pain of death for the cause of Christ, God’s truth triumphs, Satan’s power is broken, God is glorified.

How about when you hear the word “apostle”?  Perhaps the first followers of Jesus, including the disciples and Paul?  Generally speaking, an apostle is one who is sent, or is a messenger.  So then apostolic passion would be defined as the deliberate, intentional choice to live for the worship of Jesus to the nations.  It is being committed to the point of death to the spreading of His glory.  It is being on fire for Jesus, dreaming of the whole earth being filled with His glory.

What does it take to have this kind of passion?  First, need complete abandonment.  Psalm 63:8 says, “My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.”  American Christianity wants the fruit like Paul’s ministry without paying the price for it.  God’s praise among the nations must be all-consuming.  Die to self.  Be crucified with Christ.  Boldly pray for God to reveal any selfish ambition and abandon it.

Second, you need focus.  Acts 20:24, Paul speaking:

“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” 

Later on in his letter to the Romans, Paul says

“by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation, but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see,
and those who have never heard will understand.”  This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while.” (Romans 15:19-24)

Did you catch that?  Paul wanted to visit the Romans on the way to Spain.  Think about the historical timeframe.  No new world (aka the Americas) had been discovered.  Paul quite literally was laser focused on going to the ends of the earth, as they knew it then.  We waste a lot of time in good ministries.  But the focus is clear: God calls every people to Himself.

Third, you need to be deeply rooted in prayer.  Prayer walking is one of the most pivotal moments in missions, whether that is through your neighborhood or in a city of a million people in South Asia.  Isaiah 62 describes how at all hours people were set on the walls of Jerusalem to pray unceasingly:

“On your walls, O Jerusalem,
I have set watchmen;
all the day and all the night they shall never be silent.
You who put the Lord in remembrance,
take no rest, and give him no rest
until he establishes Jerusalem
and makes it a praise in the earth.” 

We can pray one minute a day in a quiet time in the morning and God will love us no less.  But you will not survive in the hard times—particularly in areas where Jesus is not known or worshipped—without intense, unceasing prayer.  One modern-day apostle described life without constant prayer like sending a soldier into battle without weapons; you would certainly be killed.

Fourth, you need the right frame of decision-making.  Let’s face it, the American Dream can ensnare us without any effort.  Oh we may use the excuse for why we don’t act that we’re waiting to hear from God, but all the while we live to make money, provide ourselves a future, to dress and impress, and have fun.  In Acts 20 and 21, Paul describes his urgent desire to go to Jerusalem, despite every warning from the Holy Spirit of what awaited him and the disapproval from close friends.  Why did he decide to go anyway?  Because the greater priority for him was the glory of God.

Maybe we don’t hear from God like we think we’re supposed to because we don’t have this as our priority.  It’s only from that standpoint that we can accurately hear God say “go” or “stay”.  With this kind of passion, you are no longer about getting and gaining but rather spreading and proclaiming.  You are not afraid of loss.  You dare to even believe it a privilege to suffer and die for the spread of God’s glory.  Your reward awaits you at the throne of your Creator.  So let us live with apostolic passion and not waste our lives!  Only those who have died in Christ are unafraid of death.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Mandate for the Nations

Whoops! Forgot to post this a couple weeks ago.  Here is part 4 of my recap.

Today we’re going to dive into the Great Commission.  But before we look at the actual text, let’s look at history again.  Remember, the Bible is not just a historical account; it is a heart account of what God is doing to overcome evil, redeem people, and receive glory.

Many accounts describe this.  Abraham’s blessing in Genesis 12:1-3, which we looked at the first week.  God told Abraham, “I’m blessing you so you can bless others.”  God raised up Joseph to be a witness to the Egyptians In Genesis 41:37-41, 56).  He recruited Moses to convince the Midianites, starting with his father-in-law, of God’s authority (Exodus 18:9-12).  He appointed Daniel to influence the Babylonian empire (Daniel 6:26-28).  He drafted the psalmists to describe how the Great Shepherd pursues us (Psalm 23:6) and to sing of His global mission (Psalm 67).  And He sent His Servant to achieve the world’s salvation (Isaiah 49:6).

God has mandated us to carry out His purpose.  To live under a mandate is to be entrusted with a task of lasting significance.  In Matthew 28:18-20, we are commissioned to join God:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

There are several pieces to this.  First, we have a Savior who has all authority to give us this mandate.  He expects obedience.  If want to see some examples of this authority, study Revelation 5:1-14, Daniel 7:9-14, and Psalm 110.

Second, is the statement of making disciples of all people groups.  We know that the original word did not mean nations in the sense of geo-political borders, but rather this sense of ethnicity.  We define an “unreached people group” as a people group where there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize their own people.

Third, we are to baptize and teach them all that He has commanded.  This has to do with proclaiming allegiance and growing obedience to Christ.  The idea is to bring up a new believer in the ideas of prayer, reading the Bible, and following other key spiritual disciplines.  Then by their growth, they can in turn being making disciples of their own.  In other words, it’s not to prepare fully trained and taught followers, but rather to plant a church that can begin to reproduce churches themselves.  Ordinary people, empowered by the Holy Spirit, must lead them. 

And lastly is referenced to carry this task out until it is finished.  Jesus said He’d be with us always.  And that an end is referenced signifies that idea that the task will, in fact, be completed.

Each of the gospels underline this mandate.

Mark 16:15-16 - And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Luke 24:46-49 - “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

John 20:21-23 - Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Acts 1:8 - But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Israel did not understand the original commissioning as given to Abraham.  Christ illustrated their failure with a parable.  He described a man who planted a vineyard and left some people to work the land.  When the time came for the harvest, he sent a servant to the workers, but they beat the servant.  So he sent another and they killed him.  Finally, he sent his son, thinking surely they would respect his own flesh and blood.  But they killed him and threw his body out.

Will we, the church, fall into the same trap?  Our mandate is clear from our Savior who has all authority to give it.    The job is not done because Christ has not yet returned.  How will each of our lives count for eternity?  What is it going to take in each of our lives to understand this not as an obligation, but as a privilege?  God is more sovereign than we think He is.  We are more responsible that we think we are.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Your Kingdom Come

This is a recap of the third lesson from Perspectives.  This lecture was much more academic, on a seminary level, so I took the basic concepts and tried to make a more practical, applicable lesson for Compass and my readers.

A couple weeks ago I introduced the statement of God’s mission in the world today:

For His glory in global worship, God purposes to overcome evil by redeeming a people who will love and obey Him within every people.

And really what today’s topic is about is believing that God will overcome evil.  This is something we must believe if we are to set foot into the mission field.  Why?  Because we will be on the front lines of spiritual warfare.  There’s a reason a passage is included in the Bible about donning spiritual armor.  We’re going into battle!  We have said “yes” to committing our very lives to the proclamation of the Gospel.  How do we know we have a fight and suffering to look forward to?  Look no further than the extreme cost of the cross.  We cannot expect Christ to undergo His extreme suffering and we as His followers not to.  The Bible is very clear that in order to be glorified with Christ, we must suffer with Christ.  Well why in the world would we want to push head-on into such conditions?  Because our victory is assured!

Christ’s focus in His ministry was on the kingdom of God.  So we need to know what this kingdom is!  Our initial thought of what “kingdom” means would probably include some defined territory under the authority of a ruler.  In the context of the kingdom Jesus preached, kingdom simply means the rule or reign of God.  This is more than ruling over a realm, it is Christ’s rule over all creation and creatures.  It is the exercise of God’s kingship, His authority, and His right to rule based on His might, power, and glory.

For us, living in the kingdom of God means we are anchored in God’s Word, we’re engaged in spiritual disciplines, and we’re dependent on God in every aspect of our lives.  (Each of these could easily fill a blog post, but for the sake of staying on topic, we’ll move on.)

Jesus often described the mystery of the kingdom.  What did he mean by this?  It has to do with the timing of the arrival of the kingdom.  Jesus talked about how the kingdom was here, but he also talked about the kingdom yet to come.  And that’s the answer that defines the mystery:  the expected Messiah would come twice!  From an OT perspective, they saw a single apocalyptic event in which Messiah would come to rule.  From a NT perspective, the kingdom has come in the person of Christ the King, recognized only by those devoted to Him.  The kingdom will come again openly visible to all when Christ returns.

This “mystery” brings about a progressive victory.  When Christ died on the cross and defeated sin’s power by rising from the grave, He also defeated Satan’s power.  Sin, death, Satan…all defeated.  Yet these things still have some power remaining on earth, creating a time of conflict in which we now exist.  As an analogy, think about the story of Lord of the Rings.  In the First Age, Sauron was defeated but his evil still existed in Middle Earth, until it was finally destroyed.  When Christ comes again, sin, death, and Satan will be utterly destroyed.

So the message we proclaim about this gospel of the kingdom is one of joyous victory and blessing!  It is a promise of what God will do to reconcile all things under the headship of Christ!  We proclaim the victory of Christ!  This truth gives us, the church, our purpose for existing.  Our motivation is the final victory.  Do you see now why we have to push into the battle?  That final victory is awaiting our completion of the task!  (Matthew 24:14)

So what is our role in the spread of God’s kingdom today?  Well, we’ve first got to know our God.  We can’t tell others what we do not know.  We’ve got to know our story.  This is how people are going to relate to us; they can’t argue a personal experience!  We need to use our God-given resource and not keep them for ourselves.  Our time, our talents, our treasures; we’ve said it before that we must be conduits of God’s blessings.  We need to be focused and intentional on God’s glory.  No other reason can motivate us to go.  And we need to proceed with a God-dominated imagination for completing the task.

Remember God’s purpose statement?  God is going to overcome evil because His kingdom advances His assault against the Satanic counterfeit kingdoms in the world.  His kingdom’s victory opens the way for God to redeem all people to Him, so that all nations will know and glorify God as King.  We’ve got to surrender our lives, defy rival kingdoms, and give control to the true King.  It’s all got to start with you and me.  Lord, may Your kingdom come and Your will be done here on earth as it is perfectly done in heaven.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Story of His Glory

As in my previous post, this is mostly not my own teaching.  As I'm giving brief reviews to my Compass friends, I'm transcribing them here.  This is a summary of Lesson 2 from Perspectives, given by Mark Palfreeman.

Are you a believer or a disciple of Christ?  Do you know the difference?  We can believe a lot of things about God, but are we willing to really follow Him?  Have we counted the costs, really?  Luke 14:26-33 describes the cost.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple."

Anything that is about ourselves, we’ve got to let go.  It’s how things get so complicated!  If we fix our eyes on God, things really are simple!  And the simplicity of it is this: we are created for God’s glory.  It’s when I start to put my good ahead of God’s glory that everything begins to fall apart.  We play a “Cat vs. Dog Theology”.  The owner of a dog treats it well and provides all it needs, so the dog thinks the owner must be God.  The owner of a cat does likewise, providing for it and loving it, but the cat thinks itself must be God!  We do the same thing do we not?  Isn't that the essence of sin?  Man substituting himself for God?

We talked about this some last time; how we pick and choose the pieces of the Bible that are about “me”.  Then, truths that are meant to be simple become issues of “right and wrong” between us.  However, that’s really not the issue.  The Bible is right; it is truth.  But what we’ve done is make our interpretations right, but incomplete.  But once you view the Bible through the lens of God’s glory, the reality becomes readily apparent:

In Psalm 6, David cries out to God to answer him “for the sake of Your steadfast love.”  In death, David says, he would not be able to give Him praise, but if God delivered him from his enemies, it would be God who would get the glory.

In Psalm 25, David asks God to remember His own mercy and love and to remove his sin “for the sake of your goodness” and “for the sake of your name”.

Psalm 109:21 again asks God to “deal on my behalf for your name’s sake”.  A few verses later (26-27), David pleads again to be saved so that people would know that it was God’s hand at work.

A popular song by Chris Tomlin, “Not To Us” is taken right from Psalm 115.  “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.”  It goes on to say that all the nations should proclaim that his God is the true God.

David’s defeat of Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 is more than a story about facing our giants in life.  In fact, it’s not about us at all!  David would not stand for Goliath blaspheming his God and his cry just before the giant’s defeat included, “that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear.  For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.”

After Israel was taken into Babylonian exile, King Nebuchadnezzar ordered everyone to worship a golden idol (Daniel 3), yet three faithful men would not and were thrown into a fiery furnace.  The result?  God’s name was known in another nation!  The king decreed that on one could speak against their God.  Similarly, a few chapters later (Daniel 6), Daniel was thrown into a den of lions for continuing to worship God despite a royal edict to stop.  When Daniel stepped out the next morning unharmed, the king decreed that “all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end.”

Even in hardship, God works toward His glory.  We turn back to David in Psalm 69:7, where he says “For it is for your sake that I have borne reproach, that dishonor has covered my face.”  The Psalmist in Psalm 44 also stated “Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”  This key verse was used by Paul in Romans 8.  Our problem with this is, when life is about us, we balk at the hard times.  But if Christ suffered, even having lived a perfectly sinless life, how could we then expect not to encounter hardships in our own lives?

Even the most despicable example of hardship, evil, and death was purposed to glorify God.  The cross was the ultimate expression of God’s steadfast love.  A popular song states “…and thought of me, above all”.  That’s true but it’s incomplete.  Christ was thinking about the glory of His Father on the cross.  Before the cross is for anyone else’s sake, the cross is for God’s sake.  Ultimately, Christ died for God!  The forgiveness that results from out salvation is not about us.  Isaiah 43:25 says “’I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake.’”  God redeems people to bring glory to Himself.

The challenge against today’s Americanized Christian clich├ęs and conventions is this:  if I get today, if I don’t get what my sins deserve, then may I live a life so that God is glorified.  Our love for God drives us to the ends of the earth.  It cannot be kept for ourselves.  And before we take our next step in our role in joining God in His mission work, we better count the costs and surely remember that it is all for His glory.  As long as there is one more nation, one more people not giving their worship to God, then He has not received what He deserves.

Friday, March 16, 2012

God is a Missionary God

I do not claim any of the following as my own.  It is a culmination of several teachings and readings from great Christ-followers such as Todd Ahrend, David Platt, and the writers of "Perspectives".  I've just summarized what I've learned into this 20-min talk I gave to Compass and transcribed here.

If you were asked to define what the "gospel" is, you'd likely cite the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  But what you may not know is the gospel actually began way back in Genesis 12!  God's master plan of providing redemption to His people was revealed to Abraham!  And He chose to reveal His plan in the form of a promise.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3)
God's promise was to use Abraham and the people that would come from him, to bless all nations so that the name of the Lord would be made known throughout the whole world.  This is a promise that is actually being progressively fulfilled.  It was revealed to Abraham in his day.  It was fulfilled in Christ.  And it will be finalized at the end of the age.  What is shown here is that God is on mission to be loved, served, and worshiped by every people on earth.  And there's a threefold purpose to this.  First, for God Himself.  He desires that worship come from every nation.  Second, toward people.  He intends to bring redemption to every people.  And third, to overcome evil.  God will overcome evil powers to bring about His everlasting rule.  The totality of the promise is this:
For His glory in global worship, God purposes to overcome evil by redeeming a people who will love and obey Him within every people.
Before we move on, let's look at what "blessing" actually means.  Most of us would probably define a blessing by something tangible or monetary.  In non-western cultures, it is to endow the person with a potency of life in order for it to flourish to its intended fullness.  (As an example, there is an account where Jacob and Esau struggled for the blessing of their father Isaac, which he would bestow on his oldest son.  Jacob deceived his father and ended up receiving that blessing.)  Blessing can also be something tangible.  There are Old Testament examples of this, especially in the life of Abraham.  It can represent material wealth, as Abraham was very wealthy in land and livestock.  God's presence is a blessing, as well as peace with neighbors.  Both are blessings Abraham experienced as he obeyed God's command to go to the land He provided.

The entire Bible is God's redemption story, unveiling His progressive plan of desiring worship from all peoples, bringing redemption to them, and overcoming evil.  If we look at the Bible as a modern day novel, it actually plays out in a similar manner.  Genesis 1-11 is the prologue to the story.  We see a perfect creation, with man as the pinnacle, made to worship and glorify God.  But rather than renown God's name, man attempted to make a name for himself.  This culminated in the Tower of Babel and God scattering the people into 70 different cultures and languages.

The plot of the story unfolds from Genesis 12 through Jude.  God reaches out to Abraham with a promise to bless the nations through him.  This promise was repeated to his son Isaac in Genesis 26:4 and again to Isaac's son Jacob in Genesis 28:4.  Through the rest of the Old Testament we see events transpire--whether good or bad--that work toward making God's name known among the nations.  Some of the more well-known stories include the giving of the Ten Commandments, the ten plagues of Egypt, people coming to witness Solomon's wisdom, the fiery furnace in Babylon, and David & Goliath. As the story moves into the New Testament, the fulfillment of the promise is achieved in Christ, who brought the message to the Gentiles.

The conclusion of the story occurs in Revelation.  Christ defeated sin, Satan, and death on the cross, but at the end of the age, these things will be utterly destroyed!  All creation yearns for the moment when the scroll is opened and the end is ushered in.  As accounted in Revelation, no one was found worthy to open the seals of the scroll...until Christ, who paid the price so that all peoples could know God.  And indeed, this will be realized.  God will receive worship from every people group on earth.
And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God  from every tribe and language and people and nation," (Revelation 5:9)
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10)
Out of all the nations on earth, God chose Israel to be a blessing to the other nations.  The laws that God gave them were designed to set them apart from the idol-worshipping nations.  Christ would eventually come from this lineage.  Solomon, in all his wisdom, understood this.  In his prayer of dedication of the Temple--the place where the Lord would dwell among His people--he prayed for this blessing to occur:
“Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name's sake (for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name." (1 Kings 8:41-43)
Take a look at Psalm 67, too.  The message becomes clear.  God was blessing Israel so they would be a blessing to all other nations.  The problem is, Israel failed.  Look no further than the story of Jonah to see this.  Jonah did not run from Nineveh because he was scared of them.  He ran because he knew that God would relent from his judgement and save them!  Nineveh was a city in the neighboring enemy country of Assyria.  Israel was very prideful and thought God was meant for themselves.  They completely missed it.  And in the end, God did exactly what Jonah was afraid He'd do when the city repented.  Throughout the Old Testament is story after story of God's chosen people either turning to their own idols or hoarding God for themselves.

So in the fulfillment of the promise through Christ, God gave the responsibility to the Church.  Take a look at some of the first words Jesus taught in His ministry.  He was teaching in a synagogue and read a passage from the book of Isaiah.  The people were enamored at His words at this point.  The next thing He said, which we often read and give no further thought to or maybe just don't understand, roused them to anger.
But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath.  (Luke 4:25-28)
Why would this be the first thing He taught?  He's essentially telling them, that although there was famine and disease in the days of the prophets, the prophets didn't minister to the Israelites themselves.  No, they went to the Gentiles and shared God's blessing with them.  This angered the crowd listening because they believed God to be for themselves.  The part of the promise to BE a blessing was forgotten.

The problem is very much similar today.  We've made it about God and "me".  When we understand the full scope of the story and that it is really about glorifying God and making His name known, it plays out completely differently.  The story of David and Goliath becomes more than just a nice lesson about facing the giants in your life.  No, it becomes a story of a boy who would not stand for the name of his Lord being blasphemed by this man.  And Goliath's defeat would prove who God really was!  So much of our teaching and preaching is about what God does for "me".  And whether from good intention or bad, we take the pieces of the Bible that make us feel good and ignore the rest, falling into the same trap as Israel.  Two popular examples:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures.  He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul.  He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake." (Psalm 23:1-3)
Sounds good, doesn't it?  You know this one.  He provides, He gives me peace, He restores me, He guides me.  All that is true.  But why?  The last part of verse 3, which we often leave off, tells us.  He does those things so that through us, His name will be known.
"Be still, and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10a)
This is an oft-memorized verse. Or, part of a verse.  We like to memorize this part and keep it for ourselves, but it is the rest of the verse that is key:
"Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth!”  (Psalm 46:10)
The Bible is not about us!  When we understand this and see that everything God has done--from Creation, to the promise to Abraham, to our salvation in Christ, to the defeat of evil--is about gaining glory for Himself, it begins to pop out of every single page!  (That's right, even our salvation is not about us.)  If we turn back to our definition of blessing, how will we respond with the charge to be a blessing to all peoples?  Will we allow the very things God has given us to bless others to hold us back?  Will we hoard them for ourselves?  We are blessed to be a portal through which other people may know Him.  In an Americanized portrayal of what it means to be a Christ-follower, will we sit back in our comforts and complain about them when they aren't there, or will we give our lives to the spread of His glory to the ends of the earth, no matter what comforts, safety, or security we have to sacrifice?  He is worthy of worship from every people.  He has brought redemption to them (us).  He will overcome all evil and establish His everlasting reign.

God is on mission for His glory.  He has a Church in the world who gets the joy of working with Him.  We get the joy; He gets the glory.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Complete the Task

God, You are sovereign over all creation.  You are worthy of all our worship.  May Your name truly be hallowed among all the nations.  God, in Your great mercy and love, You have given us this time in history to take Your Gospel message—Your redemption story—to all those who have not heard it.  From the very beginning, when You called out Abraham, Your plan was to make Your name known among the nations.  You have invited us to be a part of Your mission, so let us not waste our lives in meaningless pursuits any longer, but be radically changed toward completing the task and ushering the return of Christ!

God, this world is broken but You are still at work in Your sovereignty.  For the parts of the world that are closed to us, would You open doors and allow Your children to take the Gospel where it has not been heard.  God, Your church is under persecution in ways we cannot even fathom here in America, where our tribulations are little more than risking offending someone.  For those hidden places where our brothers and sisters are meeting in small groups, hungry for Your word, completely dependent on Your power in their lives, praising Your great name, and carrying on Your message to their families and friends, I pray for safety and for Your Spirit to fill those rooms so they fear nothing and know that death nor life nor rulers nor powers…nothing…can separate them from Your love.  God I pray that Your church will persevere through the persecution.  They may burn down buildings but the true foundation of Your church can never be destroyed; they may jail Your followers, but Your mission continues in prisons, and they may take lives, but as Your word says “For Your sake, we are being killed all the day long”. God by whatever means Your name is to be known, do it, for You are worthy of our very lives.

God in the places around the world where Your work is being done even in this very hour, I pray that You would go before every effort to connect with people of a different culture, to communicate the Gospel in their language, and to plant churches that they can then begin the journey of making disciples.  God through Your mighty works, would You show Yourself to the unreligious.  Lord, open paths for us to go to the remotest of tribal areas so that they can know who You are.  In the Hindu nations, would You help us to show them that You are the One and True God.  In the areas of the world where Buddhism is prevalent, will You help them to see the eternal security they seek can only be found in Christ alone.  And for the Muslim nations, God, would You help us find common ground and teach them with our lives and our love that Christ is the only way, truth and life.

One day, Lord, Your Word says that every tribe, tongue, and nation will be represented before Your throne, seeing You in all Your glory, worshipping You.  You are truly worthy of nothing less, Lord.  As we pray daily for the peoples around the world--individually, as families, in small groups, and corporately--would You unite us in this one heart:  to bend our lives to You and complete Your mission.  Do this for Your name’s sake, Lord.  Thank You for the privilege to be involved, for there is no higher purpose.  We ask through Your Son, our Savior, Christ Jesus, Amen.