Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Psalm 67: Let the Nations Be Glad

What follows is my Sunday Morning message from 3/5/06. We commissioned some of our church members for a long term missionary assignment. They are traveling to a secure area, so I have replaced their names with *** and the name of the country to which they are traveling with @@@.

Psalm 67

Let the Nations Be Glad!

Today is a great day in the life of Immanuel Baptist Church. Today we commission two of our own, *** as they respond in obedience to the call of God to be missionaries in @@@. This is not just something that *** are doing. This is something Immanuel is doing. If we take seriously the covenant relationship that church membership is supposed to be, then we realize that we are all members of one body. It is as if Immanuel Baptist Church is reaching out to touch ***, and *** are the fingertips, and we who provide for them financially, who pray for them, who encourage them and commission them here today are the hand, the arm, and the rest of the body that they remain inseparably connected with as they go. So, it is important for us today to join together for the purpose of commissioning them, and consecrating ourselves to support them with our prayers, our encouragement, and in any other way that God may lead us. I want to challenge us for a few moments from Psalm 67.

& Psalms 67:1 (NASB) 1 God be gracious to us and bless us, And cause His face to shine upon us— Selah .

This is the way we like to pray. We like to stretch our hands out toward heaven and ask God to do something for us. And there is nothing wrong with that. The psalmist does it here. We can insert our name, or the name of our loved ones, right into the text where it says “us.” I can pray, “Lord, be gracious to me and bless me, and let your face shine on me.” I can pray, “Lord, be gracious to Donia and bless her, and shine your face on her.” We can insert “America” in that blank, or even the name of our church. Let’s try that. Let’s just read the first verse aloud together and substitute “Immanuel” for “us.”

God, be gracious to Immanuel, and bless Immanuel, and cause His face to shine upon Immanuel.”

Now, the Psalmist says Selah. This is a word that is employed periodically in the psalms as if to say, “Pause and reflect for a moment.” If we think about it for a moment, we might wonder, “Why should God answer this prayer? Why should He show us more grace, and bless us even more than He already has? We already have an infinitely unpayable debt of gratitude toward Him. Isn’t it selfish of us to ask for more? Why should He answer this prayer? The Psalmist tells us in the next verse.

& Psalms 67:2 (NASB) 2 That Your way may be known on the earth, Your salvation among all nations.

The most important word here is that. God shows us grace and blesses us, and shines on us so that through us, He might bless the world. That is what He promised Abraham in Genesis 12.

& Gen 12:2-3 (NASB): 2 And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; 3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed."

God had promised to do all this for Abraham so that through Abraham, all the families, that is not the Jews only but all nations would be blessed. This is how God has worked throughout human history, and it is the basis of the Great Commission. If you have been blessed by God, it is not so that you can sit around pondering how good it feels to be blessed. He blessed you so that blessing might flow through you to someone else. And throughout the Scriptures, what becomes apparent is that God has a heart to bless all nations.

So many of us grow up in church and Sunday School, and yet still miss this point. God did not pick Israel and bless Israel because he loved them only, or because they were his pets or his favorites. And God’s blessing was not limited to Israel in the Old Testament. Walt Kaiser explains in his book Mission in the Old Testament, “Instead, God’s mode of dealing with Israel was to communicate to them a message that they in turn were responsible for disseminating to all the peoples of the earth.”[1]

When the Bible speaks of nations as it does here in Psalm 67, the reference is not to geopolitical states, lines on a map like we think of when we say the word. We use the word nation to refer to the United States, Mexico, Canada, Brazil, China, etc. The biblical word nation refers to people groups – that is, groups of people bound together by ethnic and cultural similarities. The precise definition of the term “people group” was formulated at the Lausanne Conference in 1982:

A significantly large grouping of individuals who perceive themselves to have a common affinity for one another because of their shared language, religion, ethnicity, residence, occupation, class or caste, situation, etc. or combinations of these. … It is the largest group within which the Gospel can spread as a church planting movement without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance.

Now, the numbers vary, but the figures our mission board uses tell us that there are approximately 12,000 of these people groups in the world today. Let me illustrate with an example we can all relate to: We think of Nigeria as one nation on a map in West Africa. And think about the wonderful Nigerian Christians in our church family. But do you know that these individuals represent three different people groups in Nigeria? And these are only three people groups of more than 450 who live in Nigeria. We may think of China as one nation, but speaking in biblical terms, China is home to nearly 500 people groups. And though these people may live side by side, they are separated by a great gulf of cultural differences that make reaching them for Christ very difficult. Many times they are divided from one another by cultural prejudices and long histories of bitter rivalry. But, God loves each one of these people groups, and desires to bring them together as one people under the banner of Jesus Christ. This is the picture that we see in Revelation 5:9, where John records what he saw and heard in heaven as a song went up before the Lord:

"Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth."

So, if you have a problem on earth accepting people of another culture, then you will be miserable in heaven, because we will all be one there. And the Church of Jesus Christ is supposed to be a foretaste of that – coming together as one to worship our Redeemer the Lord Jesus Christ.

God loves all people from every nation. God made them all in His image, the Bible says, “from one blood.” Christ died to redeem them all. And God desires that every nation learn of Him. He longs for them to be saved. He desires praise from all people of the earth, His praise being lifted in every language under heaven. And when we understand this, it changes the way we pray. No longer is the focus on us, and the blessings we want. The focus is on God. “God, be gracious to us, and bless us, and let your face shine on us, so that Your way may be known on the earth, Your salvation among all nations.”

Look at the next verses (vv3-4) of Psalm 67:

& 3 Let the peoples praise You, O God; Let all the peoples praise You. 4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy!”

The focus is now on God receiving the worship He deserves from all the peoples of the earth. Worship is the fuel and goal of missions. Missions begins as God’s people worship Him and draw close to Him, understanding His heart for all nations. And that kind of worship fuels missions. But worship is also the goal of missions. Missions exists because worship does not. Obedience to the Great Commission will only motivate us in a laborious sense. Love for the lost will motivate us only temporarily. But when our consuming passion becomes the desire to see God’s glory displayed and magnified in all the earth, nothing will stop us advancing His cause to the ends of the earth.

How would our lives be different, how would our church be different, if our consuming passion was to add worshipers to the Kingdom of God? If our primary desire when we got out of bed every morning was, “O God, through my life today, bring someone new to worship You!” And if that desire was universal in scope – God use my life to bring You a new worshiper today from some other part of the world – “Let all the peoples praise You O God!”

So there is a top line – God blesses us. And there is a bottom line – see verse 7:

God blesses us, that all the ends of the earth may fear Him. This is not necessarily the terror or dread of the Lord, but rather the whole faith and trust of people placed in God. Now surely, there is much to dread if we refuse to surrender to Him. But there is a fear of God that is a joyous relief, when we transfer all of our trust over to Him and allow our lives to be consumed by His glory. That is our goal. That is why we want God to bless us – so that through us, someone else might come to know Him.

God has blessed us. And because He has blessed us so richly and so abundantly, we have an obligation on this bottom line. We owe our testimony to the rest of the world. We must be willing to use our lives to bring glory to God by bringing the peoples of the world to Jesus. There are multitudes in America who need to hear the gospel. Someone will say to me, “Why should we be that concerned about Africa and Asia when there are people who are lost here?” And my answer to that is this: Please tell me about the last five people you shared Christ with and what you are doing on a regular basis to reach the lost here? If you cannot answer that question, then please do not criticize someone else who is willing to go across the ocean, when you will not go across the street for Christ.

But it is legitimate to ask that question. What about the multitudes of lost in America. We must be concerned about them. Thank God that the American church has been so abundantly blessed that we are able to present a testimony to them, if we only will. We can easily share our testimony on a given day with dozens of people. On my shelves alone I have over 30 different English translations of the Bible. There are more churches in every American town than you can count. There are Christian bookstores and publishing companies, and TV channels and radio stations and internet sites, books, tracts, tapes, videos, software, ad infinitum available to reach every person in America with the gospel. We have Christian music available to suit every preference from bluegrass to heavy metal and opera to gangster rap. But America is a unique place in the world. We need to understand that God has blessed the Church in America in such a tremendous way so that the ends of the earth may fear Him.

The burden of my heart is the issue of access to the gospel. While we have this abundant Christian presence and witness in America, most of the world spirals toward hell with no testimony of the truth of God. Of the worlds nearly 7 Billion people, approximately 600 million are what we would call “Born-Again believers in Christ.” Nearly 1.4 Billion are “cultural Christians,” meaning that they have been influenced by Christianity and may claim to be Christians, but they are not personally committed to Christ as Lord and Savior. 2.6 Billion people are unsaved in areas where they can hear and learn the gospel. But another 25% of the global population, 1.6 BILLION people are lost in areas of the world where they have NO ACCESS to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Sixty percent of the world’s population lives in what we call the 10/40 Window. That is where most of these folks are who have no access. It begins in West Africa, and stretches to the Far East. This region is dominated by Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Tribal Religions that militantly oppose the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Let me illustrate the bleak picture of the state of the gospel in the 10/40 Window with an example from China. What if you knew that every year, the entire population of New York City would die and perish eternally in hell? Well, in fact, that is the case in China. Every year in China, 7.5 million people die without Christ. In China today there are 1.2 Billion people who have never heard the gospel. And that number is growing. Every year, more people are born in China than the entire population of Texas. Of the nearly 500 people groups in China, less than 70 of them have a population of evangelical Christians numbering more than 2%.

One of the major problems in China today is governmental opposition. While there are legal churches which the government monitors closely, the gospel is spreading most effectively through the underground house church movement. Approximately 90% of China’s Christians are involved in this movement. And the Communist government is actively working to stamp out these churches in China. Just four days ago, March 1, 2006, in Huaibei City in Anhui Province, China’s Public Security Bureau stormed a house-church Bible school. They arrested 36 Christians and seized 10,000 copies of Christian literature. One who escaped called a hotline for assistance, but was told by a government official that this raid was a cooperative crackdown on illegal religious activities, orchestrated by China’s provincial leaders. While the Chinese government has continued to convince American and UN leaders that they are working to protect human rights, the evidence suggests that religious freedom is deteriorating. Christians continue to be arrested, beaten, and put to death in China for the cause of Christ.

*** are going to serve as missionaries in @@@. I assure you it is a difficult place to labor for the gospel. Everything we have described about China could be said just as well about @@@. You say, “But it is not safe.” My friends, the events of September 11, 2001 should have taught us that there are no safe places. But the safest place to be is where God calls you. And this is where God has called them. He has not promised them safety. He has not promised them success. But He has promised them that if they will go, He will use them for His glory in @@@. You need to know that they will need your prayers like never before over the next two and a half months. And I am calling you today to faithfulness in that task. I am also calling you to discretion in how you share what they are doing with others. The work they will be doing is very sensitive and strategic for the cause of Christ, and we need to be mindful that our loose lips and lack of discretion in email and other correspondence may compromise their safety and their ministry. I trust you will be wise about that.

This dear couple has volunteered to go! Some of you have responded to God’s call to give, and others of you will want to give more toward their expenses of this mission opportunity. Many of you will be the mighty prayer warriors who will fight for them on your knees. But today every one of us has a biblical obligation to surround them with support as we commission them and commit them into the Lord’s hands. Through our prayers, our giving, and our encouragement, we are partners with ***. And while they are gone, we must pray for them in every gathering, and daily in our private prayer time. Right now I want to ask them to come and share with us briefly what they can about their opportunity and anything else God has laid on their hearts, and then we shall gather around them to pray for them.

[1] Walter C. Kaiser, Mission in the Old Testament, 32.

No comments: