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The Nations as an Inheritance

“He declares the power of His works to His people;

He gives to them the nations as an inheritance.”

(Psalm 111:6)

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.

The Inheritance of God

“He chose our inheritance for us — the splendor of Jacob, whom he loves! Selah!”

(Psalm 47:4 {verse 5 in English Translations})

 

In the immediate sense, the psalmist is clearly thinking about how God is the one who not only brought the people into Canaan, casting out the Canaanites, but also that it is God who set aside the promised land in the first place and that it is God who gave to each tribe of Jacob a portion and an inheritance in the land. The only exception being the Levites, who were scattered as ministers of grace throughout the land and whose inheritance was God himself.

That statement in itself is enough to dig deeply into, but there is more to what is in sight. You see, an inheritance is something that is secured by the Father and then given to the children. Indeed, such is the way that God brought Israel into the land, scattering armies and nations ahead of them by divine might, but that also takes us back to another inheritance that was given — that of the world to Adam and Eve and repeated in a slightly different form in the Great Commission. No longer is Christ’s church bounded by physical and geographic borders, but wherever the Spirit will lead we must go. As the old hymn goes, “In Christ there is no east or west, in him no south or north!”

What is very sad, as you look at ancient Israel, is how far shy of the original boundaries that God set that they came. The original promise given to Abraham included everything bounded by the Nile River in Egypt to the Euphrates River to the East (Genesis 15:18) — yet Israel never realized those borders because of their unfaithfulness to the inheritance they were given. Yet, are we as Christians any less culpable? Truly, in 2000 years of the church age, should we not have been able to spread the Gospel to every corner of the earth? Yet we have not. There are numerous people groups that have neither heard the Gospel nor have access to the scriptures in their native tongue. How sad it is that we too have failed to take the inheritance that our heavenly Father has secured in his Son and given to us.

May the “selah” — the triumphal lifting of ones voices — be a call to us today, here and now, to refocus our hearts and our lives. Let us not remain complacent, but with missionary zeal, may we fill the earth with the Gospel — for this is the inheritance that God has given to us — to we who are true Israel through faith in Jesus Christ — we for whom God has demonstrated his great love by giving us his son Jesus for our salvation.

 

“All the peoples must strike their hand!

Cry aloud with a voice of jubilation!”

(Psalm 47:2 {verse 1 in English Translations})

 

And the psalm of celebration begins! First of all, notice to whom this command is being uttered. It is not just to the people around the throne of God nor is it just uttered to the people of Israel. It is uttered to “all the peoples”! People from every race and language and nation are being called by the psalmists to give God praise and to exalt before him. Throughout the Old Testament there is this reoccurring promise that God will bring peoples from the nations into Israel and into Jerusalem — a promise of the Gospel going to the gentiles — and passages like this anticipate that great and glorious time when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

That being said, with a call to rejoicing comes an implicit warning — it is Yahweh that is to be feared (see the following verses) and those people who do not submit and come worship him will find themselves subdued under the feet of God and his people. Indeed, there will be a day when every knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, but of those God has not called to himself in faith — those that continue to reject the Gospel — they will find themselves kneeling and confessing to their great consternation and humiliation as an utterly defeated foe.

One curious element is the phrase that is typically translated as “clap your hands” in our English Bibles. In Hebrew there are four different verbs used to describe the clapping of one’s hands and these verbs carry with them a variety of connotations. What I found most interesting is that the verb used here is better translated as “strike” or “give a blow” and the word for hand is actually singular, thus producing the translation above: “strike your hand.” Interestingly, in most of the instances where what we would describe as “clapping” are found, the term for hand is found in the singular, yet we translate it into the plural. There seems little explanation for this choice of terms apart from the visual idea of clapping where one hand is held still (as one would hold a small drum) and the other is in motion. Thus, when we envision the clapping being called for, it should not be seen as the thunderous applause that we often call for in our western culture, but a more rhythmic clapping that would produce more or less a drum beat (the stationary hand being the drum). The design, of course, being to draw people into the worship and praise of our God.

I could raise the question about one’s boldness of witness — is your witness one that boldly calls all of the peoples to Christ? Or do you do the very American thing and say that one’s religious preferences are one’s own business? The Bible knows nothing of this latter model. Yet, the question I would rather leave you with is that of the contagiousness of your worship. Does your worship draw others around you into worship? That doesn’t mean we need loud rhythmic clapping and dancing in the aisles, a humble and heart-felt worship that is gentle and quiet can have an even more powerful effect on others than the loud boisterous style. But do the people around you get drawn into the worship of God because of the way you worship in life? When in church, does your worship draw other believers into worship in a positive way — sometimes that guy who has had a bad week really needs the spirit of other believers around him to help draw him into that spirit of worship. Beloved, examine your witness, but also examine your worship. Is it contagious — the worship of these sons of Korah is.

Playing Dominoes in Ukraine

I spent about half an hour the other day playing a game of two-on-two Dominoes with several of my Ukrainian students. The game was the basic game that I had played as a child, though it has been many years since I had played, and it was fairly easy to follow the progression even though neither my opponents nor my partner and I spoke the same language.

Though my gaming partner and I did lose our little tournament, it began to get me thinking about the nature of cross-cultural ministry on two levels. First, how often we go to great lengths to put on an expensive program or elaborate activities to help us bridge the language barriers when often one of the most significant ways we can bridge that gap is by our simple presence in their lives. That which proved meaningful to my three students was not so much that I was able to play a game that they liked or that I could be competitive with them (then again, my partner and I did lose the game, so I am not sure just how well I did at playing) but it was simply that I was willing to spend time interacting with them on a very basic level outside of the classroom.

Such was the case even when I was teaching students in America where no (or almost no!) language barrier was present. It was not the things that I normally did in the classroom that endeared my students to me and it was not my lectures that they will remember for years to come (as much as I would like that to be the case!). Instead, it was the time that I spent with my students outside of the classroom, living life together, sitting down to arm-wrestle, or working together on a project. It wasn’t even always about the quality of the interaction, but it was the willingness to interact that made the impact.

The second thing that I got to thinking about was in terms of the nature of what “cross-cultural” means. Typically we think of cross-cultural as going somewhere else in the world and bridging a language-barrier. Such activities are essential in working out the Great Commission and I have enjoyed the privilege of being able to do so in a small way myself here in eastern-Europe. Yet one need not travel 5,000 miles away from home to find a cross-cultural context. In seminary, I spent several years doing inner-city homeless ministry — a culture that was very different than the rural middle-class context in which I was raised. Sometimes cross-cultural simply even means sitting down with your grand-kids and listening to their favorite music or sharing a favorite movie of your own with them. You may find out that cross-cultural contexts are as close as your neighbor’s back yard or even your own home.

In putting this all together, I am reminded both of Jonah and of Jesus’ ministry to the Samaritans and others outside of the Jewish context. The Syrophoenician woman, for example, came to Jesus shortly after he had spent time in her non-Jewish town. Jonah, of course, did not want to go proclaim the Gospel to the Ninevites, but God sent him the hard way. The sermon that Jonah finally preached was terse at best and he fled the city hoping to see a mighty display of fireworks. Yet God moved even through Jonah’s half-hearted message. The very fact that God had sent them his prophet must have (at least initially) made an impact on the people and caused them to take notice. Jesus’ response to the Syrophoenician woman was that it was not yet time for the pet dogs to receive their meal; hardly a cordial greeting, but his mere presence in her community told her that he would be willing to help and the desperation she felt for her daughter’s need drove her to be undaunted by this initial rebuke. Even in Samaria, Jesus’ interactions are warm, but brief, yet the impact is profound.

Ukraine may be a long way to come simply to play a game of Dominoes, but no distance is too far to go for the opportunity to share the Gospel and to help develop disciples. Even so, you likely do not need to travel very far to cross a cultural barrier. My encouragement is to look for those opportunities, find a chance to simply be present in the life of your neighbor (even in the Good Samaritan sense) and build a relationship with him or her, for it is out of that relationship that you will have a chance to share the Gospel. Who knows, were Jesus to have come for the first time in this world today — a world of running water in homes and water-fountains in public places — I wonder how he might have engaged the Samaritan woman at the Well…it might have even been through a game of Dominoes.

In These Last Days… : Hebrews 1:1-4 (part 4)

“in these last days…”

 

It seems like every time there is a natural disaster or some sort of terrible event, that religious groups begin crawling out of the woodwork proclaiming that the end times are here.  Over the years, people have also tried to read the events that are listed in the book of Revelation in such a way as to discern when Jesus will return—and have always been wrong.  We may chuckle at some of these folks, thinking of them as radicals, but there is a sense in which they are correct.  We are in the last days—yet, according to scripture, we have been in the last days since the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ!

Notice how the writer of Hebrews writes, “in these last days.”  The great problem with the popular way of interpreting the book of Revelation as things that will take place in the future “last days” is that we are in the last days right now and we have been in those days for nearly 2000 years.  Thus, when scripture speaks of the end times, know that we are in them and what we are waiting for is not the inauguration of the end times but the consummation of the end times, which will take place at the return of Christ and in his final judgment upon the sinful world and redemption of the elect.

This helps to explain the language of anticipation that is found within the book of Revelation.  Jesus says, “indeed, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20).  There is no question as to the fact that many in the early church expected to see Christ’s return within their own lifetimes, but they were counting soon-ness as man counts soon-ness, not as God counts soon-ness.  Does this mean that God is slow to act?  Certainly not!  Peter reminds us that God’s patience means redemption for all of the elect (2 Peter 3:9).  At the same time, our lives need to be characterized by a hopeful anticipation of the nearness of Christ’s return. 

So how then should we live out our lives in anticipation of Christ’s return?  First, we must live in repentance, not holding on to sins, but asking forgiveness in Christ so that we might come into God’s presence with a clear conscience.  Second, we should live modeling the Gospel for those around us.  How many people do we know that do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?  Have you shared the Gospel with them or are you still looking for “that right moment?”  The problem is, if you are living as if Christ may return any moment, every moment is the right moment to share the Gospel.  Thirdly, take risks for the Gospel with your time and with your money.  God will provide for your needs, use your resources to help spread the Gospel beyond your sphere of influence—or even better, go on the mission field yourself!   It does not need to be a 5 year commitment in the jungles of the Amazon, but it could simply be a two week trip to serve alongside a missionary that is working somewhere other than where you could normally reach.  I promise that it will be a wonderfully rewarding time.  Friends, in these last days God is calling us to be workers in the field; some fields are close to home and some are far away—but regardless of the distance, there is a harvest that needs to be brought in and the time is coming soon when the day of harvesting will be over.  The storms are coming, dear friends, and there is still a harvest that needs bringing into the barn; let us work with a renewed sense of determination to bring in the harvest, no matter how far the fields are from our homes.