I preached this message Sunday morning, November 13th and shared with our church what God is doing in our hearts for His will and glory.
During the entire month of January, I committed each Wednesday night to the preaching on God’s global passion to reach not just our neighborhoods but the nations abroad. Through the course of that month, my heart was stirred. I wanted our church to be stirred with me. I wanted WFBC to be passionate about the cause of the gospel around the globe.
By the end of that missions focus month I had some clear goals. I wanted our congregation to have a greater part in missions. I wanted us to be more active in our giving to missions. I wanted us to know our missionaries. I wanted us to fast – do you remember the “5-Dollar-Fast”? I wanted (by God’s grace) to take on a new missionary for support this year.
Well, if God worked in no one else’s heart, he worked in mine. I began praying for the spread of the Gospel. I began reading more about what God was doing in the world. I looked at the Joshua Project, I talked to a director of Voice of the Martyrs, I called a few different missions organizations to hear about what they were doing around the globe. I began reading missions books and just started talking with God about how he might want me to be involved in missions personally.
I remember in January standing up here during one of those missions messages and saying, “If God wanted me to go somewhere and take the Gospel to a foreign land, I’d go.” Little did I know how he was going to use those messages and those books and those prayers and those conversations in the future steps of my life and this ministry.
Over the months that followed, certain passages of Scripture really stood out to me. This morning I’d like to preach from one that has impacted my heart deeply - Psalm 67. In the middle of the Psalm we find the primary point of emphasis. It’s about all about God…
God wants to be worshiped by all people (v. 3-5). Notice the emphasis on “all” not just some (v. 3b, 5b). Characteristic of Hebrew poetry, the Psalmist builds and specifies as he progresses. He says first (in v. 3, 5), “Let the peoples praise you, O God.” Then he says, “Let ALL the peoples praise you.” The author emphasizes the intended scope of this worship. It is supposed to be by all the peoples of the earth. The higher our view of God, the stronger should burn our passion that others would come to know and worship Him. We should have a holy zeal that people from among the nations of the world would become worshipers of the one true God. We should pray that idols would be cast down, that false teachers would be refuted, and that the blazing light of the glorious gospel would shine through the shroud of spiritual darkness.
The danger of our lives is that we become so self-focused that we are satisfied when we manage to worship God. We are happy that we made it to church, that we sang hymns, and that we gave an offering. But that isn’t that enough. God wants to be worshipped by all peoples, all nations, all tribes, and all the families of the earth. We need to have holy discontentment about the fact that God’s name has not resounded worldwide. We need to have holy discontentment that there are still unreached people groups. God wants all people to worship Him. Notice how the Psalmist describes this worship. Perhaps it could be summarized by two words – praise and enjoyment.
Worship means that God is praised (v. 3a, 5a). In our world today, God is more often cursed than praised. He is more blamed than thanked. He is ignored more than he is hallowed. O that the peoples of the world would praise Him! The word translated “praise” was used in the context of OT worship when a Jew would give thanks to God during the thank offering. O that all the people of the world would lift their hands in thanks and praise to the true and living God! The worship God wants from the all the world is that they would praise Him; but not only that, He longs for them to enjoy him.
Worship means that God is enjoyed (v. 4a). The Westminster Larger Catechism asks, “What is the chief and highest end of men?” The response is: “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God and fully to enjoy him forever.” Our text points to gladness and joyful singing in the worship of God. Those Hebrew words convey the idea of celebrating, rejoicing, making merry, cheering in exultation, singing in jubilation. Do you know what it is like just enjoying the person and work of God – A joy-filled heart of worship? God longs for the whole world to experience that. So many are hurting and longing for true joy…they are empty and broken, depressed and hopeless. They want joy, they want happiness but they are seeking it in all the wrong places. O how God wants to be praised and enjoyed!
God wants to be worshiped by all people, but that can’t happen unless the nations come to know and fear Him (v. 2,4,7). God wants the nations to know His actions, ways, and undertakings (v. 2b). He wants them to know sovereignty as the judge and guide of all people and nations (v. 4b). He judges with uprightness and equity. He governs the nations of the earth with his guiding hand. He wants them to know his Salvation (v. 2b).
I was reading recently about a man named John Eliot. He was an Englishman born in 1604, but 11 years after the Mayflower made its voyage to the Americas, John Eliot crossed the Atlantic. He lived in the colonies until his death in 1690. The interesting thing about his life was that when he came to the shores of America, he could not avoid the implications of the Scriptures when they promised that “all nations would one day bow before Christ.” He was slightly over 40 years old when he began to labor as a Puritan missionary to the Native Americans. He was called the “Indian apostle” by many in his day. He set himself to study Algonquin an Indian dialect. He deciphered the vocabulary, grammar, and syntax and eventually translated the entire Bible (which, by the way, was the first Bible printed in America – Algonquin, not English). He labored in ministry for decades and was instrumental in the conversion of many Massachusetts Indians. By the time he was 84, there were numerous Indian churches, some with their own Indian pastor. John Eliot had a burning desire that other tribes of the world would worship the true and living God. But he knew it couldn’t happen unless they came to know and fear Him. So he shared the great salvation of Christ with Native Americans.
In response to such knowledge, God wants the world to fear Him (v. 7b) “that all the nations of the earth may fear him.” People of the earth need to know and fear God – they need to be saved.
God wants all people to worship him, but that won’t happen unless they come to know and fear Him. So God has determined to bless us in order that we would channel His grace to ends of the earth (v. 1-2, 6-7). Let there be no doubt, God’s blessings are bountiful (v. 1, 6-7a). He shines his grace, favor, and blessings on our lives. The opening of this Psalm is a reference to the Aaronic blessing recorded in (Num. 6:24-26). When the passage says “make his face to shine upon us,” it is referring to the favorable countenance of a king when he would smile on a subject with pleasure. The psalmist is pleading that God would smile on us with favor and pleasure.
God doesn’t just favor us; He fills our lives with increase (v. 6a). Now by increase, we are talking about a harvest in which the crop outweighs the seed it took to plant it. In our lives, we refer to increase as that which is above and beyond the bare necessities. God has given all of us more than daily bread. He has given all of us more than food and clothes. He has filled our lives with increase. Our cars, wallets, homes, cupboards, and closets declare the bountiful blessings of God.
God’s gifts are bountiful, but not only that, they are also purposeful (v. 2, 7b). God wants to bless the nations, but he wants to do it through us. And so he pours out his grace on us with the expectation that we will share it and spread it to the ends of the earth. Notice how the psalmist pleads and prays for God’s blessing. But the sentence doesn’t end with (v.1). There is a purpose clause beginning with the word “that” in (v.2). “O God, pour out your blessings on us, SO THAT, we might bless the nations.” This is repeated at the end of the Psalm in (v. 7). The Hebrew grammatical structure points to a translation of “so that” instead of “let” or “and.” This last phrase underscores the ultimate purpose of God pouring out his blessings on us. “The earth has yielded its harvest. God blesses us. He blesses us so that all the ends of the earth might fear him.” The reason for seeking God’s blessing is not to be self-centered. It is to serve a wider purpose of revealing God to the nations.
You know, we are really good at praying the first part – “O God bless us… give us health, prosperity, success, pour down your favor on us.” But then we so often stop. God wants to change our prayer lives. “God bless us so that we might bless the people of the earth, the tribes of the world.”
God’s goal for us is not that we would be blessed. Our blessings are God’s means of extending his grace to others. We must not confuse the means with the goal or else we will become cul-de-sacs instead of freeways. We will become receptacles instead of conduits. God wants to make us a channel of blessing. Now this doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love us or is just trying to use us. He knows that our joy is increased when grace expands to the lives of others.
God has deposited gracious blessings into our accounts so that we can invest them for the sake of His name among the nations. I can’t help but think about God’s dealings with Abraham in (Gen. 12:2-3) “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… in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." The problem was that the Jews didn’t fulfill the intention of this Psalm. It clearly states that God desires to be worshiped by all people, but that can’t happen unless they come to know and fear Him. The Jewish people however didn’t channel God’s blessings toward reaching the nations. Instead they took this Psalm and arranged its 49 Hebrew words into the form of a seven-branched menorah and hung the decorative display in their synagogues. They associated these words with the 49 days between Passover and Pentecost. Some even practiced reciting this psalm on each of those 49 nights. They recited it, but they didn’t obey it.
Such neglect however would not stop God’s redemptive plan. The nations would be reached. The blessings of Abraham would bless the people of the earth. And so Jesus was born. As it says in Matthew 1:1, he was the “son of Abraham.” We know from the Gospels that He was crucified while the Jews celebrated Passover and the Spirit was poured out when they celebrated Pentecost. The disciples were given the ability to speak in other languages/tongues (Acts 2) and 3000+ from different nations were converted. They became worshippers and the message spread from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth.
And so, we get to this point in the message where we must realize that we are part of the Psalm 67 fulfillment. We must admit that we have been blessed with many gracious gifts, but it is not so that we can keep them. God has blessed us so that he can accomplish his purpose of reaching the nations through us. We were never meant to hoard the benefits of his grace, but rather invest them for the cause of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
So at this point in the message, perhaps I can share some implications and applications of this Psalm. At the beginning, I told you about those January missions’ messages and those missions’ books and those prayers and those conversations and special passages of Scripture like this one. Well, the Lord began to work in my heart and burden my heart for the worship of God amongst the nations. I began to pray that those who did not know or fear God would be reached with the Gospel.
I began to really wrestle with God in prayer. I felt that he wanted me to do something, but I didn’t know what. I wrote journal entries as prayers wondering if God wanted me to go and be a missionary to the refugee camps around the globe – I thought about those displaced by famine, natural disaster, and war and how they were grouped in tent cities with no church, no preacher. I prayed about that. I talked to a director at Voice of the Martyrs about medical missionaries who fly and aid the persecuted church and prayed about whether God wanted me to go to Med School and become a medical missionary. I was just burdened about something but didn’t know what God wanted me to do.
Well, this past summer our family went on vacation up in Wisconsin. While we were at Northland Family Camp, we were able to fellowship with some friends of ours – the Galkin’s. I told Will about what was going on in my spiritual life and my prayerful struggles feeling burdened but not knowing what God wanted. That week he asked if I had ever considered church planting. He went on to talk about his family and what the Lord was doing in their lives. He felt like the Lord was working in his life and that his ministry dynamic was supposed to change. He wanted to partner with a church planter and see missional works begun.
That same week, I connected with Jonathan Albright, an assistant pastor up in Wisconsin at a large church. He shared things that were going on in his life and ministry and talked about how he felt like the Lord was redirecting him to partner with a church planter to start a new church in a needy place.
Will gave me the number of another guy named Jon Kopp and said, “I’d like you to talk to this guy.” Well, I called Jon up a week or two later and as we talked, he just shared how the Lord had been working in his life over the last several months and he was thinking about leaving his assistant pastor role and planting a church or partnering with a church planting team.
I was praying for direction and that week I started to hear echoes from different people about church planting. It wasn’t really the missionary-thing like I had thought about, but it was “missional.” I began to pray and fast and ask God if this is what He wanted for me. I felt like it wasn’t coincidence that I was up at Northland that week with Will and Jonathan. It wasn’t coincidence that the Lord had individually worked in all of our hearts at the same time. It seemed like God was doing something.
As we talked more about church planting, it came to the surface that I was interested in a community that had military connections. Jonathan was interested in a university town. Will was interested in a city location. All of us were thinking out West. We began to research and then pray.
Salt Lake City came onto the radar. It had the University of Utah with 30,000 students. It had Hill AFB and an Air National Guard Base. It was a large city that could sustain multiple church plants. And it was a needy city. A 2007 survey found that only 1.2% of Utah’s population attended an evangelical church on an average Sunday. That is the lowest in the whole country. Salt Lake City itself is the least evangelical metropolitan area in the US. Less than 3% of the state attend any kind of evangelical church service on Sundays.
A couple months ago, I talked with the church leadership men and told them about what was going on in my life. I told them about my spiritual wrestlings and asked them to pray for me and with me about God’s will.
I joined the group of guys interested in this church planting endeavor, and together we visited the city and spent 5 days praying and seeking God’s will. We met with people there, asked questions about the city, tried to survey the need. We had one pastor tell us that he had been praying for 28 years that good church planters would come to Utah. Another pastor told us that he had been praying that a church planting movement would come to SLC. We found out on that visit that the five largest evangelical churches in the whole state could fit inside First Baptist Church of Wichita Falls! Their combined attendance is less than 10,000. In the SLC valley from Ogden to Provo, the evangelical church density is 1 church to every 10,000 people. Now that includes Church of Christ, Calvary Chapel, Assemblies of God, Willow-creek model, and non-denominational churches. In a city our size that would mean having only 10-11 evangelical churches total! We have hundreds and hundreds.
During the trip I felt a bit like Gideon. I had doubts and fears about all this. Did God want me to move? Did he want me to change the nature of my ministry life? Did he want me to sell everything? Did he want me to go on deputation? I really wanted clear evidence from God to help my weak faith. One of the passages of Scripture that I had been praying through and meditating on, and talking with the other guys in the group about… was (Hebrews 11:6,8): “Without faith it is impossible to please him… By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” I knew that if God wanted me to do this, then I would need that faith. I can remember being in one pastor’s house in SLC the day we arrived. We asked him questions about the city and his ministry and at the end asked him to pray. As he did, he said, “Lord, if you would have these men come out here, would you give them Abraham like faith? Faith to leave what they know and go to a place they don’t.” While he was praying, we just opened our eyes and looked at each other. The same thing happened with another pastor. Again he prayed a passage of Scripture that we had been talking through as a group, and it was just weird and supernatural. We felt like God was grabbing our attention in an unmistakable way.
I got back from that trip and prayed for about a week, and felt confirmed that God wanted us to be part of a missions endeavor to reach the lost in SLC through church planting. I told the leadership of the church what God was doing and they have joined me in prayer leading up to this day. All of us knew that this would be painful and hard.
I want to go back to our message this morning – God wants to be worshiped by all people, but that won’t happen until they come to know and fear him. So God has determined to bless us so that we would channel his grace to the ends of the earth. God blesses us so that we in turn will invest in the cause of the Gospel to the peoples of the earth.
I would say that this church has been blessed. Over the last seven years it has grown. The Lord has not just miraculously sustained us, he has poured out his grace in super-abounding ways…so many blessings… but we are not meant to be cul-da-sacs, but rather channels. God wants us to invest our blessings for the Gospel.
One of the ways he wants you to invest is to let me go – to send me with painful joy to declare the Good news in a dark place. Over these past seven years, I’ve had to say goodbye to scores of people who have moved at the beck and call of the military. But now, the Lord is placing me on the other side of the fence. I am the one leaving. I am the one saying goodbye and that is hard for me.
God is asking me to part with this church and all its blessings to share his grace with others. It is a bitter-sweet thing. Bitter because I am parting from people the Lord has allowed me to shepherd, share the Gospel with, preach to, and baptize. I am going to have to say goodbye to people I love… you guys. I know that this is hard for some of you. I never tried to bind you to me. If that happened over the course of these years I’m sorry. I only meant to point you to Christ. This is a difficult thing. In some ways it is bitter.
But it is also sweet. It is sweet because this isn’t really a loss. It is an investment of this church into the Kingdom cause. This isn’t like losing a thousand dollars to a windstorm. It’s like investing $1,000 in Microsoft in the late 70’s. In both cases your wallet ends up empty, but one is loss with no profit, just pain. The other is investment for future rewards. That is what this endeavor is.
We are all going to have to walk by faith not by sight. The Lord is not just carrying me and my family on a faith journey, He is taking you on one too. Let me say this with confidence. He wants to use this stretching time to grow you as he has been me. I have some friends out in MD who never were able to have kids. They aged together and had a sweet relationship. The husband would intermittently plan these mini trips and vacations for his wife. But he wouldn’t tell her the details. He would tell her the date, how long, and what climate to prepare for. He called them “destination unknowns.” She always got excited about them… I wondered how she could be excited about going somewhere and doing something she didn’t know anything about. Then the answer came to me. The reason she could go on this destination unknown with joy, was because she loved and trusted the one who was taking her. So it is with these next months in all of our lives. It is a bit of a destination unknown. But I hope that you will seek to respond with joy because of your love and trust in God who is taking us through this.
May God be worshiped by all people. May they come to know and fear him. May our blessings be shared with the nations for the sake of His name.