Friday, April 27, 2012

God Making His Glory Known...

John Piper, in "Let the Nations Be Glad", has a quote that is often seen from mission authors...

"Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn't."

To me, Piper is saying that God desires missions because He deserves worship. He deserves the worship of every person that ever was and ever will be. He deserves the worship of all principalities and all of creation. In essence, because He is God and is perfectly holy, nothing is completely right until every living, breathing person and thing worships Him and gives Him his due glory.

He is even a self-promoting God in that there is none other to promote save Himself. All of history is about Him making His glory known. In the OT, it is the "shekinah" glory seen in the presence of the Ark and the mercy seat. In the NT, it is the "doxa" glory which culminates with, "...a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb...And they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the the throne, and to the Lamb!...Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen." (Rev 7:9-12 HCSB)

As I am reading through the middle chapters of Ezekiel 25 to 32 and God's judgement on the nations, I am once again struck by the fact of why God says He is bringing His judgement. Over and over He says regarding the coming judgement...

(Ammon) "...and you will know that I am Yaweh." (25:7)

(Moab) "...and the will know that I am Yaweh." (25:11)

(Edom) "...They will know that I am Yaweh..." (25:17)

(Tyre) "...Then they will know that I am Yahweh." (26:6)

(Sidon) "...Then they will know that I am Yaweh their God." (28:26)

I could go on (because Ezekiel does) but I think the point is made. Even in destruction and punishment, whether it is a result of consequences of choices or not, God is in the business of making Himself, His way and His Name known to the nations.

Application? I am a bit naive to think that my greatest efforts to make God known are even a grain on the sand of the seashore of God's self-proclamation. However, I do tend to think of myself as the fly on the chariot wheel running across the desert who observes the great dust cloud generated (by the chariot) and say, "My! Look at what a great dust cloud I am creating!"

In truth, everyone of us, at best, are most fortunate to be a small part of God's great plan to make His glory known among the nations. You and I "joining" in the work of God is far less benefit for God than it is for us. To be in His stream of goodness and obedience has much more affect on our lives that what we have on the Kingdom. In short, God doesn't need us, but He does desire us. His Kingdom doesn't depend on us to go forth but He invites us to go with Him.

He is an awesome God who is in the business of making His Name known among the nations. I am glad, for some unknown reason, He has called me to be a part of His purpose.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Judged According to our own Ways...

In Ezekiel 18, God has a word for the nation of Israel regarding His judgement. He refutes a popular proverb of the time purporting the sins of the father carry over to the son and vice-versa. The Israelites were saying, "The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge", indicating that what the father does in terms of sin will carry over to his children.

God immediately forbids them to use the proverb anymore. (18:3) Moreover, He declares that every life belongs to Him - both father and son - and the person who sins is the done who will die. (18:4) When Israel cries, "The Lord's way isn't fair", God replies, "Is it My way that is unfair? Instead, isn't it your ways that are unfair?...I will judge each one of you according to his ways." (18:25, 30)

As I read this, there is both hope and a warning in what God says. While some would trust in the position of being a part of a Covenant people, the warning is that each of us are still accountable and responsible for our choices and sins. True, there is privilege and a certain measure of assurance of being a part of a corporate body but in the end, each individual member will have to answer both good and bad not only for the corporate results but their individual choices as well.

I wonder if this speaks a word to the church today? How many of us are comfortable with our corporate identity in the church? How many are banking on the fact that we are members of a group and thus our value and even destination in life goes with that group? I wonder how many of us will wake up one day to a judgement where we will say, "But Lord, we attended church faithfully, we sacrificed for You, we tithed, etc..." but then hear, "But what about the way you treated the poor or the way you shared your faith?"

It is interesting to me when God in Ezekiel 18 describes the actions of the righteous man as doing "just and right", most of what he describes in relation to our social responsibilities. He paints the picture of the righteous as (Ezekiel 18:6-9)...

* He does not eat at the mountain shrines or raise his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel (God-centered)
* He does not defile his neighbor's wife or come near a woman during menstrual impurity (Community-centered)
* He doesn't oppress anyone but returns his collateral to the debtor. (Community-centered)
* He does not commit robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with clothing. (Community-centered)
* He doesn't lend at interest for profit but keeps his hand from wrongdoing and carries out true justice between men. (Community-centered)
* He follows My statutes and keeps My ordinances, acting faithfully. (God-centered)

He then declares (18:9b) that, "Such a person is righteous; he will certainly live."

It is interesting to note that two of the descriptors are God-centered and the remaining four are fellow man-centered (societal and community relationships). It is also worthy of noting that the societal/community related righteous acts are couched within the God-centered acts (numbers 1 and 6). To me this signifies not the balance but the intricate interlacing of non-separation of love for God and love for fellow man. You cannot truly have one without the other. Both ways.

In the end, the whole discourse on God's teaching on the personal responsibility of our sins is a plea from Jehova God for His people to repent and truly turn to Him. At the end of the chapter, He sums up his word to Israel by saying (18:32)...

"'For I take no pleasure in anyone's death.' This is the declaration of the Lord God. 'So repent and live!'"

Comforting yet disturbing...judged according to our own ways... 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Keeping It Simple...

On the way home from a trip to India yesterday, I had some time to read. I actually vacillated between two books: "Common Sense" by Thomas Paine and "The Pursuit of God" by A. W. Tozer. Both are very different in focus and outlook. Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" was published during the American revolution and presented a popular case for American independence and freedom of rule from the British Empire. Tozer's "The Pursuit of God" is of course a devotional classic written for any follower of Jesus Christ hungering and thirsting for God. However, I noticed a common thread between the two and it revolved around the idea of simplicity.

In our quest of pursuing God, Tozer states, "If we would find God amid all the religious externals we must first determine to find Him, and then proceed in the way of simplicity." For, he postulates, "When religion has said its last word, there is little that we need other than God Himself."

Paine, on the other hand writes about freedom and choice of government. He actually is writing against the tyrannical form (according to him) of the current English monarchy and parliament system of his time. It is also to encourage a new age of freedom and self-determination that he sees in the American colonies in their struggle for independence.

Paine also invokes the idea of simplicity by pointing to the principles found in nature. He says, "...the more simple any thing is, the less liable it is to be disordered, and the easier repaired when disordered;..."

When all is said and done, our efforts to see "God's kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven" is really rather a simple process. We load ourselves down with theology, missiology and all kinds of other "ologies" when in simple, plain truth, we need more to focus on God Himself. I have always liked to describe myself as a "theophilus" rather than a "theologian": a lover of God over a studier of God. In truth, if our theology does not cause us to fall more in love with God, then we should definitely change our theology.

The call to simplicity, a single-eye, focusing on God Himself, is a call to freedom. Focusing on anything else in this life - honor, fame, success - even in religious and well-meaning efforts, leads to bondage.

"Keeping it simple" means to simply focus on God. In the midst of the hectic swirl and pace of life, when pressures and trials abound, keeping our eyes fixed on the author and perfecter of our faith is the simple answer.

We "seek the kingdom" when in actuality we seek the King.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

I Wish You Could Have Seen What I Saw Today...

Today, I am in Bangalore, India. I am attending our BGR team meeting. I have been hearing amazing reports from our BGR field based Area Directors of what God is doing through our efforts around the world to alleviate poverty, respond to disasters and to touch people in need with the love of Christ. Amazing stories.

I also had the opportunity and privilege to go along with the team to visit several projects in both rural and urban settings. Both settings were among some of the poorest of the poor in their respective communities.

I saw some amazing things...

* An urban slum project that was feeding 250 undernourished children each day and giving them after-school tutoring as well. As our team helped served them their evening meal, it was amazing to watch children as young as 4 and 5 years old taking their treasure of food on their plates or in their containers back to their home to eat. Lots of smiling faces.

* A rural program focused on bringing light and hope to disabled children. Some of the children were smiling and even laughing during the program and visit. Almost everyone of the mothers there with their disabled child was smiling for the simple fact that somebody cared about them and their child.

* An urban program of ministry to widows. Over 50 gathered together in a small room praising and worshiping God, giving thanks for the ministry, food and care that they were receiving. Destitute and poor yet smiling with joy at someone caring.

* A rural alcohol and addiction recovery program and two men sharing their testimony of how after 20 years of alcoholism, they now were sober, holding down jobs, gaining weight and becoming the father and family man that they were supposed to be. The wives shared, with smiles, how nice it was especially since their husbands did not beat them anymore.

* A rural health care clinic that sees about 30 people/families per day in an area that has little or no access to government health care. Smiles on the faces of parents getting help for their children. Smiles on the faces of people getting access to affordable medical care.

* A job skills program for women helping them to learn and ply their trades in being beauticians and seamstresses. Smiles of pride that they had a chance at gainful employment.

I saw a lot of people in need being helped through our Southern Baptist efforts. I saw a lot of smiles on faces that went deeper than the fact that they had help, jobs, different lifestyles, etc. Smiles that also came out in words from many of the beneficiaries saying, "thanks to Jesus, I am now a changed person."

I wish you could have seen what I saw today...smiles from people who have come to know that somebody cares for them and even better, that there is a God in heaven who sees and cares as well.