“He declares the power of His works to His people;
He gives to them the nations as an inheritance.”
I had the joy of bringing the word this past weekend to Ministerios Betesda, a Hispanic congregation in south Florida. This was our second time together for a conference and I was invited to speak of the topic of finding delight through the Study of the Bible as an essential part of the Christian life. As always, the grace and hospitality of these saints was a great blessing (not to mention their cooking!) and I pray that the seeds planted during my time with them will bear good fruit.
It never ceases to amaze me how God brings people together and how radically similar we are once we get beyond superficial matters like the color of one’s skin or the cultural “personalities” that differ from region to region. At this stage of my life, this country-boy from north-eastern Maryland has been privileged to minister to homeless men on the streets of Jackson, Mississippi, to easter-European pastors in Ukraine and in Russia, to pastors in Kenya, and now to Hispanic Christians in south Florida; plus I have worked to mentor pastors in Rwanda, Uganda, Malawi, and India to name a few other places. My point is not to say, “look at me…” No, just the opposite. My point is to say, “Look at Jesus! And look at Christ’s Church!”
Now, all border and immigration politics aside, what I find wonderful is the nature of Christ’s church. It exists beyond national boundaries and it exists beyond language boundaries. The church may look a little different and sound a little different based on where you are, but Christ is being glorified as men and women, redeemed from the power of sin and death, come together for worship.
I remember the first time that God impressed this great truth upon me. I was in eastern Ukraine with a group of Russian-speaking Christians and we went to church. It was my first real trip out of the United States, so I was feeling pretty overwhelmed by the language barrier, but then, all of a sudden, I recognized the tune to the hymn these Christians were singing. Right there and then I was struck with the reality of the words of praise that these Christians were lifting up in a language not my own. America is not the salvation of the Church; Christ is — I truly understood that wonderful truth there and then.
The Bible talks a lot about this phrase “the inheritance of the nations” or “the nations as an inheritance.” Too often when we see these words, we think only in terms of land and territory and natural resources…yet this not of which the Bible is speaking. It is speaking of people who are being “shaken out” of the nations to fill the church. And, so, if you want to see God actively fulfilling this promise in Christ — spend some time doing cross-cultural ministry.
My concern, at least pastorally, is how often people don’t look outside of their context. In the church where I was raised, I heard about missionaries but I never met one — money was just sent to the denomination and they dispersed it as they saw fit, sending missionaries as they saw fit. The idea of anything cross-culture was seen as a novelty and not emphasized. Also, I have known churches to get so focused on their own challenges and problems that they begin to act as if they are the only thing that matters. Yet, the church is far bigger than one regional location.
In addition, I have found that the bad teachings and heresies that we see here in our American context are often the same bad teachings and heresies that plague the church elsewhere. The “prosperity” and new-age movements abound and attack the church not just here but all over. The errors that come along with the hyper-pentecostalism of people like Benny Hinn and Joyce Meyer are also leading many astray in other cultural contexts. The goal of church leadership is to build the church up to maturity to ensure that it is not swayed to-and-fro by the winds of human cunning and false doctrine. One thing we have in America — that our brothers and sisters elsewhere do not have — is an abundance of resources — not just money, but good theological literature. If we would strengthen Christ’s church we must not limit our work to our own cultural context — but extend the work to the whole of the Christian church so that men and women of every tribe and language would know the greatness of our God as is taught in our Bibles.
“For God is my witness how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.”
What a beautiful line this is as he expresses his desire to be with the Philippian believers. His desire is to be with them and the desire is great. This is more than a man simply being homesick while he sits in chains, wishing to be out of bondage. Were this simply an expression of Paul’s homesickness, we could write this statement off, but such would not be consistent with the character of the Apostle Paul who has discovered (as he will later write) that he has discovered how to be content in all things. Here is a man with a genuine affection for the church of Jesus Christ.
As we reflect on the nature of Paul’s affection for the church, it ought to cause us to ask whether we share the same affection for Christ’s church in our midst. Do we love the people of Christ’s church in the same manner or with the same intensity as Jesus loves them? Would we gladly be willing to suffer for the church? Would we gladly be willing to die for the church? If not, are we ready to repent? For is this not the model to which we are called? And if we are not able to love other believers, with whom we will spend eternity and with whom we are counted as one body, then how will we show the love of Christ toward unbelievers?
Loved ones, my fear is that the church has fallen into the trap of living with a wester-self-centered mindset. My fear is that the church has fallen into the trap of living for itself rather than sacrificing itself for others. My fear is that the church would not be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” And if my fears are true, what of our witness to a watching world? May the world look upon us as a people that seek to serve Christ and not ourselves nor our institutions. And as the world looks at us, and sees the love of Christ in us for one another, may the world desire to partake of that which God has done in us.