It has been four days since we moved our little family to an island in Asia Pacific. We’ll be in this particular location for the next 8-12 months (until we move to a different island for the long-term) so we’ve been eager to show you our new home!
Our friends here picked us up from the airport and are helping us get settled – a huge help!
This is what typical traffic around here looks like.
So of course we’ve all had to pick up some helmets
Hudson is hilarious! He keeps telling people “Hi, I speak English. Do you?” And then disregarding the lack of response, he goes off in his usual fashion talking about any and every thing while people just smile and giggle. Of course, there’s nothing like a big pile of dirt to break down a little language barrier.
Hudson also enjoys walking around the neighborhood naming all the chickens and roosters we come across in the street. His favorite one is “shaky-head.”
We’re loving the tropics and all the yummy fruit! I never knew bananas could taste so good! Seriously blew my mind!! Of course, there are a few volcanoes right around us, and we hear that lends to great soil for great produce! We’ll take it! The below pic is just around the corner in our neighborhood.
Noah chowing down on some dragon fruit. This fair-skinned baby is quite the attraction here. We’ve found ourselves periodically pronouncing his name like the locals do: NoAAHHH. =)
Some of the countryside
We came just as monsoon season is beginning. It’s been raining for a few hours every evening, but we hear it’s supposed to rain more during the day as the season comes into full swing. Check out our beautiful backyard!
I wish we could show you the smells and sounds as well, but pictures will have to do. We’re enjoying meeting our neighbors and we’re having too much fun with all the newness to notice how tired we are, but suffice it to say we’ve been going to bed around 8pm each night!
We recently enjoyed spending some time out in Clyde with my (Rachel’s) family. Here are some of the highlights that we’ve had with this special crew over the last few months.
Dinosaur Valley State Park
Hunting dove right out the back door.
When we’re all together, few (if any) days go by that we don’t pull out some board games. Usually
we they will play well into the early morning hours.
Hudson cannot get enough of his sweet cousins (and Nana’s never-ending supply of ice-cream)!
And here’s proof that every now and then this Grandpa will change out of his wranglers and boots.
Here, Hudson had lined up the chairs for Nana, myself, and the stuffed animals to watch him race.
“No tires, just gas!”
I’m glad you can’t pick your family, because I couldn’t have pick better if I had tried.
It was about this time last year. I was still in my first trimester with Noah, and was completely exhausted by about 7pm each day. If I went to bed too early, though, I would wake up super-early, and then the next day I would be even more tired, so in the evenings I would usually read to keep myself awake until at least 9.
Well, one day in particular was just brutal; I was mentally and physically beyond exhaustion. I’m not typically one to enjoy sitting and watching much television, but this particular evening, the only thing I could imagine doing while waiting for 9:00 to roll around was sitting and watching a movie. There was no way my eyeballs could handle scrolling back and forth to read, and no way my fingertips could handle browsing the internet. I really don’t think my words can sufficiently convey how desperate I was this particular day to collapse onto the couch and just be mindlessly entertained.
So. After we got our son in bed, I trudged down the stairs, grabed my laptop, and crumpled onto the couch to stream a movie. I found some romantic comedy on Netflix, put on my headphones, and started watching.
After about 15 minutes or so, Jim asked if I was streaming something. The apartment we were in at the time had slow internet, and so his football game wasn’t streaming as well as it had been before I started my movie.
I answered, “Yep,” and went back to watching my movie…
A little later Jim said, “You know, the more things we have streaming at once, the slower it will be.”… “Yep.”
Now, in my mind, I knew that the thing to do was to die to myself by turning off my movie and letting Jim finish the football game. But I didn’t care. As ashamed as I am to admit it, I vividly remember knowing full well that that is what I, as a Believer, should do, and saying to myself, “I don’t even want to think about that right now.”
Instead, I justified myself. I mean, I was pregnant for cyring out loud! – I deserve this! I never stream stuff, and, the football game Jim had on was one he didn’t even care about! He just had it on because it was the game that was going at the time. Not to mention it was just on in the background while he was reading on his computer! This was a no-brainer!! I had every livin’ right to watch a movie that particular evening, so I did, and it was fabulous.
The next morning, I made some coffee and went into our laundry/sewing/play room to read. I was reading in Matthew 6: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” And the next part of the verse read very clearly for me: “You cannot serve both God and Rachel.”* At that moment, the events of the previous evening flashed through my mind.
I’ve known that particular verse of Scripture for years, but that particular morning, the part that says, “you will be devoted to one and despise the other” made full sense. As I was busy serving myself the previous evening, I knew that obedience to God would mean dying to self and serving my husband. But instead, I had disdain for the very thought. I despised the idea of serving God in that particular way at that particular time, and so despised God.
Now, I love my precious Savior. I talk to Him all the time. He helps me through countless moments every day. It broke my heart to think that I had at that time (and every day in various ways), despised Him.
But at the same time, I really really love serving Rachel. She’s really demanding, but oh so fun to serve… But no one can serve two masters.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.’” (Mt 16:24-25).
Jesus invites us to find life. Find life by losing it. That’s how His kingdom works. It’s waaay above what the wisdom of this world could ever come up with. Dying to Rachel would mean such freedom for me! She makes demands constantly, and if I could tear away from having to serve her, just imagine how fruitful my life could be! I would be free to live for that which is infinitely more valuable and worthy than myself.
Of course, the problem is that it’s so stinkin’ hard to die to self! However, Jesus doesn’t ask us to do it alone. While on Earth, He daily let go of His status as God to take the role of a servant. Daily took up His cross. And although no longer walking the Earth, He continues to serve us daily, behind the scenes. So when He invites us to take up our cross and serve, He is inviting us to accompany Him.
In my Christian life, by far the most precious moments of fellowship with God have not been during worship services, or climbing scenic mountaintops. They have been in the midst of unglamorously serving, and particularly when the people I’m serving are unappreciative (just as I rarely appreciate what Jesus does for me on a daily basis). Those moments often occur when I’m doing laundry, or changing yet another diaper of an uncooperative child, or cleaning up a stranger’s mess. It’s the least glamorous moments – during times that my heart naturally wants to be bitter, but when I, instead, uncharacteristically remember to turn my eyes away from myself and I realize that Jesus is right alongside me, sleeves rolled up, serving these very same people knowing he won’t receive gratitude.There is an incredible bond that forms when two people are suffering in the trenches together, bleeding and sweating (whether literally or figuratively) for a common cause.
The Apostle Paul spoke of this very thing as one of the things He counts all as loss so that he could attain: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death (the continual dying to self), and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead (not the physical resurrection that is guaranteed for all believers, but the new, “resurrected” life that Romans 6:4-7 speaks of – one not enslaved to sin and self) .” (Phil 3:10-11)
I love the fact that only in our God’s upside-down Kingdom would dying bring life. Only there would the King of Kings be a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. And as follows, only there would suffering and dying bring the sweetest companionship with Him.
Still, it takes a conscious choice. A day-by-day, moment-by-moment choice of who our master will be. We have no shortage of masters to choose from, but we can only serve one. Oh, that narrow road.
*The passage reads, “You cannot serve both God and money,” but it was clear what message the living and active Word had for me that morning.
This June we moved out of the house that we’ve been staying in since we got back to Texas.
Through this living situation, I could tell you countless ways that I saw God’s hand in providing exactly what we needed at exactly the right time (some were answers to specific prayers, and others were just God doing His thang: knowing what we need and providing), from the location, to the timing, to the accessibility of a language helper… (I really could go on and on), but I’ll save the specifics for another time.
During this season following our formal training with NTM, as we make our final preparations for moving to Asia, living close to family has been a priceless blessing.
Until we depart in November, we will be on the road quite a bit. We would love to see you if/when we’re in your area! We’ll be going to Chicago and Michigan in July, College Station and Central TX for a few weeks in July/August, and then to Missouri. In between trips, we’ll be staying with family in Clyde and Frisco. We have a lengthy to-do list, and I have a feeling November will get here before we know it!
There’s been a lot going on these last few months, and little time to post an update.
We’re currently wading through visa paperwork, insurance, etc. Regarding the visa application, what I want to know is: Who the heck knows where their high school diploma is? (Or perhaps I’m the only one who doesn’t?)
Jim is about to head to North Carolina for two weeks to get further medical training for living in the bush. Just today I picked up one of the text books for the course and opened right to the section describing how to take a skin graft…You know, just the typical skin grafts you do every morning over coffee.
Hudson turned four in April. This was his first birthday in Texas, so we enjoyed having lots of family out for a party. This sweet boy is full of imagination. He needs to know how everything works, and will explain it all to anyone who will listen. Right now, Spiderman is pretty much the coolest thing ever.
He also got to play in a Blast Ball league (similar to T-ball, but for younger kids) and was sad to see the season end. Of course, for him, the main highlight was the cookies he got after each game.
Noah is two months old now. He and his crooked, dimpled grin seem to be getting cuter every day!
The following text was originally intended as a short booklet with which we could communicate to our friends and partnering churches the basic Biblical context for missions that has helped to motivate us to take part in cross-cultural ministry. This is the fourth of a four part series.
In Part 3 of this series I made the argument that God’s program with Israel served a dual purpose: Israel was blessed as God’s special possession, and that blessing was ultimately to extend to the nations. We also looked at how, unfortunately, the nation of Israel up until the time of the gospels had so far failed this task. But then came Jesus…
Jesus Christ as Savior of the World
The gospels proclaim that Jesus was the anticipated Messiah, the Christ (lit. “anointed one”) of God. He had come to fulfill all that the scriptures had predicted pertaining to Israel and the nations. Unfortunately, the Christ turned out to be quite difficult for Israel to recognize. The years of harsh and humiliating submission to foreign conquerors had led the nation into the expectation that he would come foremost as a military genius, marching on Jerusalem to overthrow Caesar’s grasp of their land. He was expected to usher in the glorious kingdom of God with a rod of iron, reigning on David’s throne for eternity.
Yet when he arrived on the scene, it was not as the conquering king, but a suffering servant. This was completely unexpected among Israel. Despite the proclamation of angels (Luke 2:8-20), the affirmation of prophets (Luke 2:25-38), the appearance of John the Baptist as the forerunner (Matthew 3:1-12; Mark 1:1-8; Luke 3; John 1:15-31), the audible words of God (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34), Jesus personally identifying himself with messianic prophecies (Matthew 11:1-6; Luke 4:14-21), and hundreds, if not thousands, of validating signs and miracles, Israel failed to recognize her king. It is easy to scoff at what appears to be so obvious, but Israel’s error was one we are equally capable of making. Egocentric theology had led them to an unbalanced understanding of scripture. They had focused for so long on what they would get from God that God’s heart for the nations gradually slipped out of view. Like a horse wearing blinders, all they could see was their own redemption; but Jesus had arrived with the Father’s agenda, of broader scope and greater impact than they could imagine. It was not the Jews only that needed redemption. He had come as the savior of the world.
The result, as we know, was the rejection of Jesus by his own people. Israel turned against her king, and then turned him over to the Romans to have him executed. But to the glory of God, the atrocity committed by that generation of Israel was the same act that allowed God to pour out His grace on the world. This was the plan all along! Through his death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus Christ secured for all mankind the blessing spoken of to Adam – the chance to join men and women across the globe in worship around the throne of the glorious God. The invitation was opened to all who will believe.
Numerous gospel passages illuminate the global aspect of Jesus Christ’s ministry. The most recognizable are:
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:16-17,NASB)
“Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.’” (John 8:12, NASB)
“And they were saying to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.’” (John 4:42, NET)
The Christ who died is the one who paved the way for the nations to know God. He is the savior of the world, the perfect mediator between men and God, and the fulfillment of the blessing to the nations. But he is not done yet. In the days following the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, he announced his departure. He would return again, this time with a throne and a kingdom (God had not forgotten His promises, after all), but for now he was returning to heaven. And in his absence from the flesh, he was leaving a gift and a commission.
The Global Mandate
I hope that by now you will agree that story of the Bible is a story of missions, but there is a final (and perhaps most challenging) piece remaining. God has demonstrated through the pages of scripture that His heart is for all the nations of the earth to know him. He blesses His people so that they can be a blessing. But it is about to get personal.
In the waning days of Jesus’ earthly ministry he gave his church a prominent role in God’s mission. Israel as a nation had faltered and was being set aside for a time (The Apostle Paul argues in Romans 9-11 that God has not rejected Israel, but due to their disobedience they have been set aside “until the full number of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25)). God was about to raise up this new body of people to stand in the gap – to pick up the banner as a constant and vocal promoter of the Most High God before the nations. The four gospels and Acts each record statements made by Jesus to this end. For instance, Luke 24:44-49:
“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it stands written that the Christ would suffer and would rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And look, I am sending you what my Father promised. But stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’” (NET)
I appreciate John Piper’s commentary on Luke 24 in connecting it to Abraham’s purpose:
“The context here is crucial. First, Jesus ‘opens their minds to understand the Scriptures.’ Then he says, ‘Thus it is written’ (in the Old Testament), followed (in the original Greek) by three coordinate infinitive clauses that make explicit what is written in the Old testament: first, that the Christ is to suffer; second, that he is to rise on the third day; and third, that repentance and forgiveness of sins are to be preached in his name to ‘all nations.’
“So Jesus is saying that his commission to take the message of repentance and forgiveness to all nations ‘is written’ in the Old Testament ‘Scriptures.’ This is one of the things he opened their minds to understand. But what is the Old Testament conception of the worldwide purpose of God (which we saw above)? It is just what Paul saw: a purpose to bless all the families of the earth and win a worshiping people from ‘all nations.’” ((Let the Nations be Glad, 185.))
Like Luke 24, each of the following passages constitute a call to action:
Matthew 28:18-20 (NET) – “Then Jesus came up and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” (This passage is often referred to as “The Great Commission”)
Mark 16:15-16 (NET) – “He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved, but the one who does not believe will be condemned.’”
John 20:21-23 (NET) – “So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.’ And after he said this, he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained.’”
Acts 1:8 (NET) – “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 farthest parts of the earth.”
The imperative command of Christ is for his people to make disciples among all the nations, to take his gospel to all the world, to give all the people groups of the earth the chance to join the crowd around God’s throne. This was not a suggestion; it is a mandate rooted in the depths of God’s Word.
The missionary task did not begin with the church, it was given to the church as a continuation of God’s mission from the very beginning. Further, though the church became the vessel by which the gospel goes forth, God remains the principal actor. His gift of the Holy Spirit means Christ’s presence and power would remain with his people to enable them to do his work. What seems a formidable task to us is imminently achievable to God. And remember, the outcome has already been written:
“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, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’” (Revelation 5:9,10 ESV)
The Church on a Mission
From its inception with the apostles and the first congregation of believers, it has been the work of the church to expand the reach of the gospel until the task is finished. Yes, there are other important functions of the church – vital, necessary functions – but the chief mission of the church is to see God’s glory proclaimed to the nations. If you are a member of Christ’s church, then this task is your task. Consider yourself called.
You have a role in the worldwide mission of the church.
It may be to pray – Jesus told his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38). Andrew Murray, a preacher who spoke and wrote extensively about the church’s call to missions, said, “The man who mobilizes the Christian church to pray will make the greatest contribution to world evangelization in history.”
It may be to send – Paul said it best in Romans 10:15: “And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” Senders support missionaries in the field by advocating for them, praying for them, and giving to meet their financial needs.
It may be to mobilize – Men and women who have taken upon themselves the task of infecting fellow Christians with the vision of God’s global purpose and equipping them to take part in it have had a more profound impact on global missions than any missionary in the field could dream of. Some have launched entire missionary movements.
It may be to go – Approximately 2200 people groups still have no scripture in their language. Still more are isolated from the gospel for political, cultural, or religious reasons. Unless someone is willing to transplant themselves into their culture to share the message of God, they will never have the chance to hear it.
Which role could you fill? Not all members of the church have the same role, but all have a role. We have been blessed to be a blessing. The missionary impulse among churches in America can be traced back to a statement made by Samuel Mills to a group of his fellow students at Williams College in 1806. He implored them, “We can do this if we will.” How much more true is it today – the age of air travel, satellite communications, electronic banking, and malaria medication? There is nothing left to hinder us but our own willingness to take hold of our God given purpose and run with it!
What now? Here are a few ways you can get involved in missions.
- Perspectives on the World Christian Movement is a 15 week college level course offered around the globe. Gain a deeper understanding of missions and be exposed to great sending organizations.
- Work through a missions-focused Bible study like God’s Heart for the Nations or XPlore.
- Explore the Joshua Project and add a people group focused element to your personal prayer time.
- Ask about the missionaries connected to your church and pray for them. Most missionaries send out regular prayer newsletters to give you specific ways to pray.
- Support a missionary to an unreached people group. We would love for you to partner with us, or find a missionary connected to your church and include missions giving in your monthly budget.
- Give toward a ministry project like printing new Bible translations, missionary aviation, or new missionary training programs.
- Explore WeaveFamily.org for ideas about incorporating missions into your family time.
- Lead a missions-focused Bible study like God’s Heart for the Nations or XPlore.
- Start to investigate sending organizations and find one that lines up with your goals. Unreached people groups are all over the world, but not every organization approaches them the same way. I’m obviously a fan of New Tribes Mission, but there are plenty of good organizations to choose from.
- Get some training. How much training is enough?
The following text was originally intended as a short booklet with which we could communicate to our friends and partnering churches the basic Biblical context for missions that has helped to motivate us to take part in cross-cultural ministry. This is the third of a four part series.
I argued in Part 2 that the blessing God pronounced upon His newly created humanity also revealed the reason for their creation – their purpose – which was to ultimately become a globe full of God-glorifying humanity. And though the encumbrance of sin resulting from the fall necessitated a redemptive element within humanity’s purpose, the purpose none-the-less continued unchanged from Adam to the nation of Israel.
God’s Heart for the Nations
From Genesis 12 to the gospels, the narrative is dominated by Israel. But as the pages of scripture reveal how an old man with no heir grew into a nation, was led out of Egypt, faltered in the wilderness, took possession of the promised land, endured cycles of prosperity, sin, judgment, and salvation, forfeited its place in the land under God’s disciplinary judgment, and received the promise of a future restoration, I want to highlight two aspects of Israel’s history relating to God’s original purpose: 1) Israel essentially failed in their task of blessing the nations; but 2) the coming Messiah (an Israelite) would be the fulfillment of that blessing.
The Failure of Old Testament Israel
I’m not trying to be overly harsh here. Most readers of the Old Testament would agree that Israel was in part a shining image of God worshiping, faithful devotion to the Lord, and yet at times the nation completely failed to live up to God’s requirement of them. Like Jekyll and Hyde (and me and you) they flip flopped between excellence and shameful rebellion; we observe God’s repeated calls for the nation to repent and return to Him. What many readers may have neglected to notice, however, is that God’s ultimate purpose, for which He created Adam and Even in the first place and sent Abraham and his nation into motion, was a greater issue than Israel’s specific sin and idolatry. It is true that they transgressed the covenant and broke the law throughout their history, but to stop there is to miss the bigger picture of God’s heart for the nations. Israel’s sin cost them in their own relationship with God, but it also caused them at times to falsely represent their holy God before the nations – precisely opposite of their purpose.
As Israel reeled under the weight of exile, having been vomited out of the land and taken as captives to Babylon, God sent His prophet Ezekiel to speak on His behalf about the redemption and restoration that was to come.
Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went.
“I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord,” declares the Lord God, “when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight.”’ (Ezekiel 36:22-23, NASB)
Israel’s sin failure caused them to neglect their greater task as a kingdom of priests. Their harlotry with the false gods of their neighbors threw mud upon the exalted name of God. They had failed to be a blessing. God was about to act on His own behalf; His restorative action would bring incalculable blessing to Israel, but He would not allow them to be ignorant of His reason. God’s redemption of Israel would accomplish what they were unable to accomplish: His name would be praised among the nations.
The Coming Messiah
The whispers of the Messiah (lit. “anointed one”) can be seen from the beginning. Long before Israel existed (and needed a redeemer) he was identified in the protoevangelion of Genesis 3:15 as the “seed” of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent. ((Jim Hamilton wrote a lengthy, but excellent, article on this interpretation of Genesis 3:15 in the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. The author’s summary can also be seen here.)) Through progressive revelation he would eventually be identified as the anticipated savior of Israel. The Apostle Paul saw him in God’s promise to Abraham (Galatians 3:15-18, exegeting Genesis 12:7), and Abraham’s grandson Jacob foretold the messiah would be a descendant of his son Judah (Genesis 49:10). Much more would be revealed in time: he would be a king from the line of David, his reign would never end, and through him Israel would finally become all that they were meant to be, partake of all that was promised them, and enjoy eternity with the covenant blessings. His kingdom would be the Kingdom of God, wherein Israel would finally and fully rest in the security and provision of their Lord. This was great news for Israel, but Israel is only the tip of the iceberg. Even in his direct association with Israel, the Messiah’s global purpose remained.
God affirmed through the prophets that Israel’s Messiah would be used of God to complete His program with the nations. The following two passages in Isaiah demonstrate this point exactly. Speaking to His anointed, he says:
“This is what the true God, the Lord, says –
the one who created the sky and stretched it out,
the one who fashioned the earth and everything that lives on it,
the one who gives breath to the people on it,
and life to those who live on it:
‘I, the Lord, officially commission you;
I take hold of your hand.
I protect you and make you a covenant mediator for people,
and a light to the nations,
to open blind eyes,
to release prisoners from dungeons,
those who live in darkness from prisons.’“ (Isaiah 42:5-7)
“He says, ‘Is it too insignificant a task for you to be my servant,
to reestablish the tribes of Jacob,
and restore the remnant of Israel?
I will make you a light to the nations,
so you can bring my deliverance to the remote regions of the earth.’” (Isaiah 49:6)
The Messiah would come to bring restoration to the broken nation of Israel, but he would be so much more than that. He would be a light to the nations, one by whom God’s salvation would reach the ends of the earth. And just like we saw in Revelation earlier, the prophet Daniel saw a glimpse of the Messiah in his future kingdom, a time when the worldwide mission is complete and the throne of the king is surrounded by men and women of all peoples, nations, and languages.
“I was watching in the night visions,
‘And with the clouds of the sky
one like a son of man was approaching.
He went up to the Ancient of Days
and was escorted before him.
To him was given ruling authority, honor, and sovereignty.
All peoples, nations, and language groups were serving him.
His authority is eternal and will not pass away.
His kingdom will not be destroyed.’” (Daniel 7:13-14)
Continue on to the final post in the series, Part 4.
The following text was originally intended as a short booklet with which we could communicate to our friends and partnering churches the basic Biblical context for missions that has helped to motivate us to take part in cross-cultural ministry. This is the second of a four part series.
In Part 1 I made the claim that the root of missions is not derived from a few New Testament verses, but is effectively revealed throughout the whole of Scripture, especially in the themes of God’s glory as His motivation and humanity’s combination blessing and purpose. This post picks up with the second theme: God’s combined blessing and purpose for humanity.
God’s Blessing and Purpose
We have seen how God chose at times to interact with the nation of Israel and the world at large in ways that displayed His power and spread His fame among the nations. This was the theme of God’s glory. Now we will look at a parallel theme seen in God’s declared blessing and purpose for His people. I have chosen to treat these as a single theme because the blessing and the purpose are so closely intertwined in the pages of scripture that to consider one apart from the other would be inadequate. Our egocentric cultural tendency is to focus on the blessing without ever seeing the purpose; the goal of this section is to reconnect the purpose with the blessing, and to show how foundational this intertwined concept is to understanding the Bible.
We can start right at the beginning, on day 6 of creation. God made Adam and Eve in His image, then,
“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground’” (Genesis 1:28, NET).
Notice that God’s pronounced blessing over his newly created couple also revealed the end result of their existence – not only would God presently have perfect fellowship with Adam and Eve in the garden, through their fruitfulness and propensity to multiply He would eventually have an entire globe full of men and women living with and relating to Him in perfect fellowship. The blessing was not so much a gift or promise of prosperity as Western cultures typically think of blessing, this was something more like the Hebrew usage: a familial blessing linked to the conferral of a name and a responsibility to the family as well as the provision of benefits passed from father to son. Adam and Eve were blessed because God was going to complete his purpose in creating the world through them; they would be fruitful and multiply because His blessing was to that end. Their purpose was revealed in the blessing. Our purpose, as descendants of Adam and Eve, is the same.
But then the fall happened. Adam and Eve sinned and death entered the world. Incredibly, the combination of blessing and purpose for humanity was not affected by the fall. So much changed when our ancestors ate that fruit, even the very relationship between man and God – curses were pronounced and life became exponentially more difficult. Mankind embarked down a path of corruption so completely that God eventually judged the world with a flood. But God’s first words to Noah fresh off the ark reiterated the very same blessing and purpose:
“God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1, NET).
The purpose and blessing never changed. The culmination of time will see this globe full of men and women worshiping God and enjoying Him fully. His glory will be known worldwide, even if the path to this conclusion has become a little less straight.
The flood in Noah’s day was a judgment of world-wide sin (Genesis 6-9). Years later, after a quick run through the families descended from Noah (Genesis 10), more sin lead to God’s judgment against those descendants at Babel and the effectual spread of mankind throughout the earth (Genesis 11). But in Genesis 12:1-3 God initiated something new; He called out Abram to be the father of a nation called Israel, a people whose entire existence was rooted in the blessing and purpose of old:
“Now the LORD said to Abram,
‘Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
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;
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.’” (NASB)
Just like with Adam and Noah before him, Abram’s blessing was directly connected to his purpose. God would make him into a great nation, he would be blessed, his name would be made great, and even those he interacted with would be blessed or cursed according to how they treated him. But all of this was so that he would himself be a blessing, that through him and his descendants all the families of the earth would receive God’s blessing. The mere propagation of humanity was no longer sufficient; the redemption of the lost families was added to the purpose. Israel was to be God’s special people, but the world remained in view.
From Abraham the blessing and purpose was passed to Isaac (Genesis 26:3-4), and from Isaac to Jacob (Genesis 28:14), with God confirming to each that He would fulfill His part just as He had promised their fathers before them. From Jacob’s twelve sons grew the twelve tribes of Israel, and Israel, having grown into a nation during a 400 year bondage in Egypt, witnessed God’s power as He miraculously extracted them from slavery and lead them into the wilderness toward the land He had promised Abraham.
In the wilderness at Mount Sinai just before God delivered the ten commandments, the Lord said to Moses:
“Thus you will tell the house of Jacob, and declare to the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt and how I lifted you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. And now, if you will diligently listen to me and keep my covenant, then you will be my special possession out of all the nations, for all the earth is mine, and you will be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you will speak to the Israelites” (Exodus 19:3-6 NET).
God was promising to Israel a special, privileged place among the nations, but it was at the same time a responsibility to the nations. Israel was to be a “kingdom of priests.” The significance of this is clearly seen when viewed in light of the role of the Levitical priesthood of Israel. At Sinai, God had ordained that the tribe of Levi would not be like the other eleven tribes. They would be the ones that served the nation as priests by performing the ceremonial sacrifices and working in the tabernacle. Instead of receiving their own tract of the Promised Land like the other eleven tribes, they would receive their portion of the inheritance through the tithes and offerings made by the rest of Israel. They would be sanctified, or set apart and consecrated by God, for this role as mediators between the nation and God. It is important to note that only the priesthood were qualified to make the various sacrifices and offerings on behalf of the people (The book of Leviticus goes into great detail about the specifics of each ordinance). And all Israel, even the priests, were were only allowed to complete the sacrifices according to God’s design. Anyone attempting to do it their own way would be rejected, and could even face death. This was serious; apart from the ministry of the priesthood, no Israelite could make a sacrifice for his sins. All Israel would remain at enmity with God. The priests were set apart by God for a specific function – to serve the nation as intermediaries between the Holy God and sinful man. It is not that they were more holy or more spiritually qualified (they needed the sacrifices for their own sins as well), but they were chosen to serve.
It is in this capacity of service that Israel was called to be a kingdom of priests. They were set apart from the other nations of the world as God’s special possession, but that was not the end of it. The nations had rejected God and were at enmity with him. Israel’s position as the special possession of God designated them as servants to those who did not know Him as God. Their obligation was to reveal who God was and what he required. They were to proclaim his glory among the nations. They were blessed to be a blessing to a world with no access to God.
Even looking past the Pentateuch (the five books written by Moses), the remaining books of the Bible are likewise full of scripture that support our thesis: Israel has been blessed with the ultimate goal of that blessing going through them to all the nations of the world. A sufficient example is Psalm 67 below (though David’s song in 1 Chronicles 16:7-36 and Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 8:22-43 are also excellent examples).
1“May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
2that your way may be known on earth,
your saving power among all nations.
3Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
4Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth.
5Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
6The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, shall bless us.
7God shall bless us;
let all the ends of the earth fear him!” (ESV)
These seven verses reveal an understanding of both the blessing and the purpose. The psalm begins and ends with blessing – both a request for it and an expectation of it. For Israel the blessing was evident – God had personally fought their enemies on more than one occasion, and at one time in their history they had been blessed with so much wealth that silver was almost worthless to them. Solomon’s kingdom is purported to be the wealthiest the world has ever known. But there is more: sandwiched between the statements of blessing is a clear statement of purpose. The psalmist knew that Israel was blessed so that the earth would know God’s ways, all nations would know His power, He would be glorified by all peoples, and the nations would know the joy of worshiping the true God. They were blessed to be a blessing.
Functionally speaking, the purpose – from Adam to Israel – is the same. The only difference is the implementation. While God’s glory was revealed through His supernatural interactions among various people at various times, Israel was to engage the world in a parallel vein – as a kingdom of priests, a constant and vocal promoter of the Most High God whom they served. They were blessed, and that blessing would be extended through them into the whole world. These are two parts of one redemptive story.
Hudson has a habit of singing stream of consciousness songs at random times. I managed to sneak up behind him while he was making up this song for his little brother.