Posts Tagged ‘missio dei’

A sermon preached at Wethersfield Evangelical Free Church

14 November 2022

Video of the service to which this sermon contributed here.

Psalm 67

What does your life point towards? What’s the horizon you’re walking towards? 

Here’s another way to ask the same question, although it may sound like a completely different question: What do you love?

Pastor Scott has recommended to some of us a book by James K.A. Smith called On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts. Right now I’m reading a different book by the same author. It’s title is Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation.

In this book, Smith presses home the point that we are not thinking creatures first and foremost. We are not even credal or believing creatures, first and foremost. Smith believes we are loving creatures long before we get around to the important work of thinking and believing. It’s only in the process of walking towards—or pursuing—what we love that we come to think and build understanding and even doctrine around it.

Smith is a Christian, so he is sure we are this way because that’s how God made us.

James K.A. Smith believes, with Augustine and many of the greatest voices in Christian history, that we inevitably walk toward what we love. What we love becomes our destination. It shapes us and draws us and pulls us toward it.

In fact, we actually become more and more like the thing we love.

I think Smith is right, which is why I float a twin version of that single question this morning: What is your life pointed at? What do you love?

* * * * *

Let’s hear Psalm 67 again:

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Psalm. A Song.

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah

that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!

The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us.

God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!

Psalm 67 (ESV)

Last Sunday morning, after ten riveting days back in Colombia where Karen and I serve as missionaries, I sat alone in a Medellín airport lounge as I waited to board my flight back to Miami. Although the lounge had not officially opened yet, the attendant offered that it would be OK if I went in and made myself comfortable. She even offered to have breakfast brought to me if I was hungry.

Things like that happen in Colombia….

I sat there alone in that lounge, processing ten intense days with people whom I love in a country my heart has grown to love, up to my armpits in work I love. I knew that two flights later, I’d be landing in another place I love where I live among people I love, beside a wife whom I love, up to my eyeballs in a different kind of work that I love.

I honestly feared I would break down in sobs from the sheer beautiful weight of it all.

When I told Karen about the intensity of those thirty minutes, she asked why it was such an emotional experience for me. I had to think about my answer. I think it’s because, since I was a junior in high school, God has told my own little story in a way that points me at the beautiful horizon that is all peoples, reconciled in Christ and worshiping their Maker as one family. 

Over the years, it’s become what I love.

On the rare occasion that I ask myself if I’m making this all up, I console myself with the reality that it’s the vision the apostle Paul loved also. I figure the dude makes for pretty good company.

It’s why I cannot wait to have some of you meet our church and my students and our seminary community and our adoptive city in Colombia next April.

I’m a missionary. That’s no better or worse than any other calling. It’s just mine and you have yours. But for almost fifty years, it has kept my life pointed at the vision of this sixty-seventh psalm. In the company of Karen and a few people whom God has placed into my life so that we can walk together, I love this future more than anything else I know.

I want to invite you into that same love … into that same directionality … this morning. I want to ask you to point your lives at God’s dream … his vision … his sovereign longing … his project … his mission. His triumph.

I want to be clear that I’m not inviting you to be more like me. That’s not where my heart is and I’m a very broken vessel in any case. But God has in fact fixed my direction on the future that this psalm celebrates. It’s what I love. I hope you will walk towards it and love it, too.


Sometimes here at Wethersfield Evangelical Free Church, we recite together the Apostle’s Creed. I love it when we do that. It typically moistens my eyes and the emotion of it usually keeps me from getting all the words of the creed out to where my lips can speak them.

I think that strong response comes to me because in that moment we are taking up for ourselves in our time and place a declaration that was important to the Lord’s people many centuries ago. It still speaks to us. It still forms us, even though our time and place are so different than those in which the Apostle’s Creed was first spoken.

Something similar happens in this Psalm.

Psalm 67 takes up the great blessing that was entrusted to Aaron and Israel’s priests centuries before this psalm was written, long before any gathered community of Israelites had lifted it in song. This priestly blessing is preserved for us in the sixth chapter of the Book of Numbers. As I read the Aaronic blessing, some of youwill recognize it instantly. All of us will hear in it the lines that now reverberate in Psalm 67:

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.’ 

Numbers 6:22-27 (ESV)

Can you appreciate that this blessing is spoken by the priests of Israel for the people of Israel? We might say that it is Israel-centric. The priest speaks the blessing over ‘the people of Israel’—the text says exactly that—and the Lord promises that when this blessing is spoken over Israel, ‘I will bless them.’

This is Israel’s blessing … spoken by Israel’s priests … at the conclusion of Israel’s worship … for the sake of Israel’s future.

Yet, brothers and sisters, in the economy of God, the blessing that God’s people experience in any moment is impossible to grasp in closed hands. It always wants to trampoline … to boomerang … to crescendo off of the people into blessing for others. 

There is a centrifugal force at the core of all of God’s blessing. It longs to propel itself outwards beyond its point of first landing. There is a hard-wired generosity in the interaction between God and his people. For those of you who know Scripture well, there is always an Abrahamic energy in God’s particular blessings. They always have ‘many nations’ in view, just as Abraham was promised that the blessing the Lord laid upon his shoulders in Genesis chapter 12 would cause the blessing of many nations.

So we shouldn’t be surprised to find this Aaronic blessing taken up as it has been centuries after the fact in Psalm 67, our text for today.

In a spirit of worship, Psalm 67—centuries later—picks up the words and the cadence of that ancient blessing and sings it out. Now, though, these worshipping voices declare that what Israel has discovered and understood and lived must become the experience of all peoples.

Verses 1-3 capture the gist of the psalm and declare the restlessly expansive nature of God’s blessing to Israel. 

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon usSelah

that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!

Psalm 67:1-3 (ESV)

Make us an example of salvation/grace!

Use us! Allow us, Lord, to receive all that you have done for us and to pay it forward!

This is very far from self-protectiveness, from grubby self-interest, from ‘God is on our side!’ This is on the other side of the world from religious nationalism.

It is the ancient prayer, even the most ancient prayer of Israel. It speaks of an inherited, learned, disciplined seeking of God’s face. But this blessing is not merely for us. God’s blessing lands among us, Israel declares, so that we might become an instrument in God’s hands, so that he could through us fulfill his redeeming plans for all nations.

Now we are not, you and I, we are not ancient Israel. But we are New Israel: old Israel now caught up and re-forged in a New Covenant with the very same Lord of Israel. So it makes sense for us to find ourselves in this ancient prayer of Israel. It makes sense for us to long for God’s smile, as the daughters and sons and fathers and mothers of ancient Israel did every time they heard the priest pronounce these words over them.

It makes sense for us to find our lives pointed towards a future where all the peoples rejoice in our God. It makes sense for us to love that future … as we love almost nothing else.

Can you see that? Is that getting into your heart, or perhaps fanning the flame of something that’s already there?

Now here’s a second point that builds on the first…


Why would the development that is prayed for here be a source of joy for the nations? Why would Israel’s hope land among all peoples as good news

The reason given in Psalm 67 may not be the only reason for all the peoples to praise Israel’s God after they have learned that he is also their God. But the fact that it’s the only reason given in this psalm means that it’s probably the main reason?

What is this reason, what explains the psalmist’s desire to see the nations praise him? In the text, it’s expressed like this: God will judge with equity … and guide the nations upon the earth.

In particular, that first declaration—God will judge with equity—is an expectation that shows its face throughout Scripture. The very same expression occurs multiple times in the Old Testament psalms and prophets, and it’s intended to signal a major change in the reality you and I have experienced. Scripture is often reluctant to tell us how and when or at what velocity this judgement with equity will occur, but it assures us that it’s a key component of the Lord’s project in his world.

What we babbling, anxious nations cannot fix by ourselves, the Lord will one day repair. Our most unsolvable conflicts will in fact become sorted out as he judges … as he restores to order what has become hopelessly twisted. The outcome is that ‘the nations’ will be re-oriented towards peace and filled with joy. They will beat their swords, as one version of this thing has it, into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. The instruments of war will be converted into the tools of planting and harvest.

Now I know that this anticipated future clashes with at least two sets of mind that we bring into worship together this morning. 

On the one hand, we are skeptical and even cynical realists. We know how merciless and unyielding our world’s battles are. This all sounds too good to be true. It sounds too utopian for people like us, who will not be fooled … who will not let our hopes spin out of control.

And it is too good to be true. Unless, that is, it is where the Sovereign Lord intends to take history. Then all our dumbed-down expectations are too miserable to be true.

The second assumption is going to obligate me to use a little bit of technical language, so bear with me.

All of us who are evangelical Christians—if that’s not you, please be patient while I talk a little inside baseball—have been born and raised during a period of history when a ‘stingy eschatology’ rather than a ‘generous eschatology’ has been the Majority Report. It’s how we’ve understood, how we’ve been taught, eschatology, which is another word for where God is taking his world.

What does that mean? Well, at the risk of caricature, a ‘stingy eschatology’ understands God’s purpose to be to save a few people and maybe a handful of peoples while the rest are lost. 

A ’generous eschatology’—clearly, my language stacks the deck in favor of my own point of view—reads Scripture to promise the redemption of a population that it insistently calls ‘all the peoples’. 

Over years of studying this stuff, I have arrived at some convictions around a ‘generous eschatology’. I think that the fact that we’re a mostly Gentile church, comprised of non-Jewish nations, of ‘all the peoples’, shows that God has been active on this front quite triumphantly for about twenty centuries now. And it looks to me as though he’s just getting started.

You see, as Jesus and the apostle Paul both teach us never to forget, each in his own way, salvation is of the Jews …. And for the nations.

Our Psalm 67 beautifully expresses this conviction. Its writer and those who worship by singing its song consider that this is a gorgeous reality, one worthy of pointing our lives towards … one worthy of loving as we love few other things. I think so, too. I invite you to join the chorus.

Even if you’re not yet singing this song, let me point out that it’s the very thing I’m describing that explains why we at WEFC continue to do this quaint thing of ‘sending missionaries’.

It’s because we believe the Bible. And we love its generous Author.

So we can never keep his blessings for ourselves. Or even want to.


Do you find Fall in New England profoundly satisfying to your soul, perhaps in words you can’t express? The golden leaves … The ‘football weather’, as my late father loved to call it.

Did you bow your head in thanks over breakfast this morning?

Did your car start right up today? Were you able to squeak out the mortgage payment last month? Did your wife call you ‘honey’ again? Were you able to leave the house unlocked while you walked the dog? Did you walk into that school in peace on Tuesday and vote for the candidates of your choice? Do they know your name at church? Has your son’s sobriety reached all the way to six months?

These are fragments of Providence. 

There is more than one way to translate verses 6 and 7. The tense and mood of the Hebrew verbs are tricky. But let’s just take the ESV as it stands, because it’s at least as good a presentation as any of the alternatives:

The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us.

God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!

Psalm 67:6-7 (ESV)

The words look back on a recent harvest that will put bread and milk on the table for some Israelite family:

The earth has yielded its increase.

The locust or a dry spell at the same time could have made it a different kind of winter.

God’s providence builds the pray-er’s confidence that God, our God, will continue to bless us:

God, our God, shall bless us. God shall bless us.

But do you see what happens next. Even in this moment of deep gratitude for what God has done for us, the psalmist looks out at all the rest of humanity and almost wills upon it a relationship with God, a knowledge of God, the salvation of God. No matter how different those people are than me, how different their skin color, how crazy their language, how impenetrable their customs, the Israelite who prays this psalm longs for them to know the LORD:

…let all the ends of the earth fear him!

The psalmist’s life is pointed at something. It is expressing the thing it most loves: the idea that God’s redemption should finally reach the ends of the earth.

This is the promise to Abraham, that ancient father of many nations.

This is the Great Commission.

This is lives pointed to a horizon where all peoples will song God’s praise.

This is, among other things, what we call missions … a core feature of our live together in Christ that we remember this month with particular clarity.

It’s not a technique. It’s a posture. 

It’s not a method. It’s a deep, abiding love.

Last night I sat in a different airport, this time in a departure lounge of O’Hare Airport, putting the final touches on this message. I reviewed Pastor Scott’s design of this Missions Emphasis Month at our beloved church.

THEME: “I (the Lord) Do It . . . We Do It”

  • For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it.” Isaiah 48:11
  • God does missions for his own sake . . . so, should we.

I’m not sure that I know any truer words.

The Lord will have his triumph in history according to his calendar and in his way. History will not end in ashes, but rather in glory. 

Will it become your love? Will it become the thing you walk towards, the horizon to which our lives are pointed?

Our moment will distract us with pathetic little lies like these:

  • As long as you have your health, that’s the most important thing.
  • Family is everything.
  • He who dies with the most toys wins.
  • If it feels this good, it must be right.
  • Everything hinges on the next election.
  • I need to have this.
  • It’s all about you.

These are all lies, some of them more well-intentioned than others, several more plausible than the others.

But wouldn’t you rather live in this?:

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah

that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!

May it be so.


Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.


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(Genesis 12.1-3)

A sermon preached at the Wethersfield Evangelical Free Church
22 November 2022

We don’t often think of hope as a thing to be endured.

Received, maybe. You can receive hope from the hands of an encourager.

Exercised, yes, I can see that. You can rise up on your hind legs in the midst of difficulty and exercise hope even when circumstances aren’t making much of a contribution to fostering it.

But endured? Is hope really a thing to be endured.

Well, somehow, hope endured has come to be the title of our Missions Emphasis Month here at Wethersfield Evangelical Free Church in this Year of Covid-19. Although it’s the first half of this sermon’s title, I didn’t invent the phrase … hope endured. Pastor Scott tells me he had nothing to do with it either. Frankly, I don’t know where it comes from. Yet hope endured fits what God has laid on my heart for this morning. It fits like a glove.

When I saw it I thought to myself that It’s a Festivus miracle, as some of you old Seinfelders might also be tempted to intone.

And, in fact, I think it is a small but precious miracle. Because, as one of your missionaries and maybe even on behalf of others of us, I want to talk to you about hope that we endure.

I’m not talking about hope that is always happy hope … not mindless optimism. But rather an empowering, resilient hope that brings with it a whole package of pain, brings with it the challenge to endure what our Maker is doing when we might have preferred a different path, hope that unmakes us and then recreates us as we submit to it. Hope endured.

It may or may not surprise you that there are not many missionaries in the story I want us to consider this morning. On a Missions Emphasis month, with a missionary speaker, aren’t there supposed to be lots of missionaries? Well, we’re in this story, but it’s not a story about us.

Yet there is a mission. It’s not our mission. It’s what many today are capturing with the expression the mission of God. Or if you want to dress it up a little, you might call it, as some do, the missio Dei. The mission of God.

Now, to be specific, I want to talk this morning about three things under the umbrella of hope endured:

First of all, I want to talk about our Creator’s end game: God blesses. That might sound like bumper-sticker frothiness, but I have in mind something much more sober and purposeful and redemptive than that.

Second, we’ll see where a human being is for the first time drawn explicitly into the mission of God to bless all nations in spite of the chaos that reigned even in his remote moment in the ancient world. At the beginning of the twelfth chapter of the book of Genesis—the Bible’s very first book—a total nothingburger of a man named Abram is called to initiate humankind’s conscious participation in the mission of God. We know that man as Abraham, and it’s right to think of him as our father. 

Finally, I want to make what might sound to you like the absurd claim that history—even the tiny fragment of it we call ‘2020’—is right on track … that the mission of God is right on track. That’s a case that won’t be easy for me to make.

In all of this, I hope that we’ll end up with a clarified vision of hope endured. And be prepared to lean into that hope, no matter the personal cost it might ask of us.

The Creator’s End Game: God Blesses

Do you understand that God is on a mission to see all the peoples of the earth enjoy the deep blessing that comes from knowing and serving him … from living gratefully under his care? The Bible has a word for that … it calls that blessing shalom. It’s a word that prods at the joy and satisfaction that human beings experience when things are as they should be, when everyone has enough, when people live transparently in life-giving relationship with God and with each other, when hands cannot keep themselves from lifting up in gratitude for all that has been received.

God will have that outcome. He’ll have that shalom for all nations. He’ll never sacrifice that divine purpose.

He has a name, this God. He invites us to call him Yahweh, which means ‘the One who makes himself powerfully present’ or, more informally, ‘the One who keeps showing up’. 

Before we even know his name, we find him in the Bible’s account of beginnings, of first things. 

I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this, but those early chapters of our book of Genesis, where we learn about beginnings … the why and the who and the what for of them in particular… were not written in a vacuum. No, those first pages of our Bible were inked in a time when all peoples had their own stories of beginnings. 

In those stories, the gods create in order to exploit … in order to employ … in order to use … in order to abuse. In a context like that, the Bible’s story of beginnings is a minority report. It is a version of events that is best described in a phrase I’ll borrow from my late father, who would sometimes say: ‘Them’s fightin’ words’.

The Bible’s account of beginnings gets up in the face of those existing tales of how the world came to be and says to the custodians of all other origins stories, ‘No, that’s just wrong!’ For starters, there is only one God. He made everything noble and good and beautiful, if you want to know more.

And you know what he does as soon as he makes … as soon as he creates

He blesses!

Gen. 1:20   And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” 21 So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.”

Gen. 1:27     So God created man in his own image,

                  in the image of God he created him;

                  male and female he created them.

Gen. 1:28   And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Gen. 2:1   Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

This is the first thing the Bible teaches us about the God it labors to present to us. And this determination to bless lines up with everything else we learn about him in its pages. This is who he is! The other gods, this Genesis story cries out, are not like this God. When they act, they do so for their own selfish and corrupt reasons. When this God creates, he does so in order to bless.

That’s a whole different universe.

Them’s fightin’ words … They’re a way of declaring that the God of Israel, the God of the Bible, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is not like other gods. He is good and generous and purposeful. He blesses. This is the first thing we learn about God in Scripture. It may be the most important thing we can know about him.

Genesis rumbles on, as you know, and soon we learn that …

God is on a mission … so, therefore is Abraham … and, in consequence, so are we.

But as we learn this, we also learn that blessing is never easy. Nor is the hope that believes and insists and proclaims that God is like this. Hope, which in a shattered world leads to eventual blessing, is always something to be endured.

The Lord’s intention to bless eventually drew his gaze to this Abram guy, who would in the most outrageous way imaginable become the father of all who would put their trust in Yahweh, in the God who showed up when Abram had no reason to expect Him.

In those first verses of Genesis 12, Yahweh brings Abraham into his own mission to bless the nations. Yahweh asks Abraham to abandon all that he knew and all that he was and to follow the direction of Yahweh’s invasion of his life into a place and a future and a mission that would only become clear in time:

Gen. 12:1   Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 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. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Do you see how the Lord’s command peels the layers of Abram’s identity as though peeling an onion? ESV: your country … your kindred … your father’s house. These are the three primary loyalties… primal identify markers of a man in the ancient world. You didn’t carry a passport back then. But you knew where you belonged.

It’s an order that some of us who have been called to be missionaries can understand a little bit from the inside.

More importantly, and for all of us, it was for Abraham and it is for all his sons and daughters a blessing to be endured.

Don’t miss the effect that Abraham’s obedience will have on the world as he joins himself to the mission of God:

3. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

Scholars puzzle over that last phrase … and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. They ask themselves, how is that to happen? What is the role of those families who find blessing in Abraham?

The best of them, in my judgment, see in this promise the active and conscious identification of those families of the earth with Abraham and his offspring. That is, these families of the earth opt in to Abraham’s chosenness in some way. They join with Abraham in participating in what Yahweh is doing in his world and so find the Lord’s blessing.

In this first book of the Bible, we begin to glimpse a Creator who is passionately committed to blessing his world. In fact, blessing his world is the God of the Bible’s end game. The Bible begins on this note. If you know the New Testament book of Revelation, you know that it ends on this note as well.

Simply put, it is the Creator’s end game.

And, at the same time, this God who keeps showing up is mysteriously committed to the fact that the spread of such blessing will require sacrifice … trust … a measure of pain … and supernatural endurance. The hope of this blessing is in fact a hope to be endured.

Think about Jesus. 

Jesus is the person in whom we see the face of our Maker most clearly. It is in Jesus that the God of Abraham, intent on blessing all nations, becomes one of us and invites us to come closer than human beings have ever been allowed to approach a Holy God.

Yet Jesus instructs us that ‘in this world you will have lots of tribulation’. He himself dies the most shameful imaginable death before being raised as the one who has overcome death and gives us the sure hope of accomplishing the same.

Jesus invites us to walk with him in the path of a hope endured.

We’re right on track.

Now this is where I’ll lose some of you. Especially because it’s 2020…

That’s understandable. We who have for several generations grown accustomed to a life that is safe and reasonably secure have been yanked in with the rest of humanity to a place where things do not feel safe. Life does not seem secure.

In the shock of it all, we’ve not only been rattled. We’ve become pessimists

We lose our grip on a hope that is to be endured. This is natural, I think, when an historical moment goes a little thin on the reasons for hope that it’s offering up. Natural, perhaps. But not necessary. And not obedient.

To become a pessimist about God’s purpose with his world is one way of abandoning the faith. It’s the most common way that self-defined ‘practical people’ say ‘I’m done.’

I think our problem is one of timing. The mission of God rolls along its path on a different schedule than the one we follow in our short, little, fragile lives. A thousand years for us is for the mission of God a mere moment. Its stately pace feels to us like a total stall. Or a failed project. Or a pious dream that once animated us, but now not so much.

You see, no single generation, no lifetime, no portion of our customary timetable lasts long enough for us to gain accurate perspective on what is really happening.

Let me put it a different way: if our Maker had not disclosed to us orientation … instruction that flows from a different time frame, we’d have no idea of what is actually going on. We’d see little evidence of God’s determination to bless. We’d hunker down. We’d act as if this moment is the most important moment, the only moment, the determinative moment. We’d take our clues exclusively from right now. We’d conclude that the sky is falling. In our despair, we’d turn against each other over matters that are important, but not of first importance. We’d divide.

We’d be like a family on a long camping trip that pitches one of those big, sturdy, family tents to spend the night. In the middle of that night, a windstorm come ups and buffets that tent with what feels like unendurable violence.

In the panic of the moment, some would yell ‘Lean right!’ while others would scream ‘No, lean left!’. Some would order, ‘Everybody out of the tent!’, Others would say ‘Every stay right where you are!’, while others would run around in circles crying ‘We’re all gonna’ die!’

We’d have no perspective and very little way of knowing who was right and who was wrong and what is happening to us.

You see, we’re stuck in a dilemma: Without orientation, without instruction, no generation, no lifetime lasts long enough to get us up to a vantage point where we can see the whole story … the entire woods beyond the trees … the big picture.

So may I ask you for a special favor this morning?

Will you lower your defenses this morning and allow me to speak to you from the heart as a missionary whose particular calling has been to spend most of his growed-up years (again, as my Dad would have put it) in places where life has not been safe and not been secure…

May I?

May I not talk about missionaries today, opting instead to speak to you as one of your missionaries?

This is where we are. We’re stuck in that tent in this windstorm that has come upon us. And, you know what? This particular storm may give way to a beautiful, bright, calm, life-giving dawn. Or it may end very, very badly.

I don’t know.

But, like you, I have access to orientation from outside this moment … from outside this disturbing bubble in which we find ourselves. That orientation … that instruction … tells me that hope is to be endured. It informs me that the God who made this world and loves it more than we do is on a mission. It assures me that he will bring that mission to its conclusion in the blessing of all nations … all the families of the earth.

And, as one of your missionaries, I have a map inside my head. It spread itself out in there many years ago and it won’t go away. I see that map nearly every day. I can’t help myself.

It’s one of those maps that walks you through history in a visual way.

I see Abraham under his little tree, unpromising as any man or woman who ever lived (‘Our father worshiped idols beyond the river…’[Joshua 24.2]). I see Israel on its little sliver of land, promised … then occupied … then lost … then restored … then lost…

I see a little knot of Jesus-followers, mostly confined to an otherwise unimportant city called Jerusalem. They are meaningless, almost too few to count.

But I also see the spreading boundaries of their hope as it invades and eventually conquers the empire in which their hope was born. Because I am a child of the Western world, I see the blessing of the gospel they carry—their apostles carry it, their merchants bear it, their refugees encourage each other with the truth of it as they go—I see that blessing spread up through pagan Europe and into the British Isles.

As it goes—and, to be candid, it goes very slowly—it not only brings people into joyous relationship with their Maker. It also undermines and then reconstructs pagan societies into nations where the widow, the orphan, the slave, the poor, the sick have some hope of rescue and restoration. Places where there are hospitals and schools, places where infanticide becomes frowned on, places where the aged are not sent out into the cold to die alone, places where human beings are considered to manifest the very image and likeness of God and so not   be expendable when they’re no longer economic producers. 

My map keeps speaking to me. It shows me this blessing spreading across the Atlantic to this land that has given many of us birth and which all of us love. It is not an unmixed blessing. In the process, Native Americans lose their land and cotton fields become filled with African-born slaves. 

But somehow hope endures, and even those slaves sing of Zion. They give us their negro spirituals and teach us that hope endures longer than the slaveowner’s whip.

My map won’t stop.

I entered a Zoom teleconference the Thursday before last, one in which I’d been asked to speak about the mission of God in and from the Old Testament. As I obediently logged on as I’d been instructed a quarter of an hour before our start time, my screen filled with fifteen faces of my Colombian students whose lives the blessing of God has joined to my own. They represent the leadership of something called the Medellín Ministerial Institute, a service of our Seminary to Christian leaders across our South American city of four million souls. Then, as the top of the hour approached, dozens and dozens of Latin American participants—all of them agents of God’s blessing in a country that has known unending political violence—clicked on to spend the evening savoring the wisdom of the God of Israel, known to us in Jesus Christ.

I thought to myself, that map still in my head, still speaking…

  • This is a scene of blessing endured.
  • This is a scene about which Israel’s prophets could only dream and Israel’s worshippers could only sing in hope.

This is the evidence that God remains on mission, determined to bless all nations and to bring history to its climax not in ashes but in glory.

None of this is easy. My beloved Colombian friends will likely not in their lifetimes see the end of the widow’s cry or the murder of the innocent by power-hungry men and women. Yet they will endure. They will be participants in the mission of God. The Lord’s blessing, through them, will triumph. Andrés Bedoya, one of my favorite students, was five years old when the paramilitaries who ruled his neighborhood murdered his father in front of the Seminary and threw his body against its gates to demonstrate what happens when uppity pastors instruct their people to follow God’s ways rather than man’s. Now Andrés is one of those pastors.

 My map won’t stop speaking.

I see you this morning, bringing your fears and your grief and your troubled spirits and your hope into this place to learn, as the ancient prophets said that we non-Jews would, from the word of Israel’s God. This is all impossible unless God has done it, you see. There is no other explanation for why a little tribe of Hebrews and their crucified messiah should still command our attention today, still capture our hearts, still welcome us—like grafted-in branches—into their life under God.

This is insurmountable evidence that God has been here … still is here … abides with us and we with him.

It is evidence of hope endured. 

It’s also testimony to another reality, one that I think is impossible to deny: The mission of God is right on track, his determination to bless undiminished, his presence among us as powerful and life-giving as ever, even in this awful year when we struggle to see beyond our fears of what is happening to us with COVID and with political differences that shout that they are more basic, more fundamental, more defining than our shared identity in Christ.

I hope that you can see that I’m not making some mindless, utopian claim here that things cannot lurch in horrible directions in any given historical moment. Indeed, they can. And they may.

Rather, as a missionary sent to Colombia from this church and a handful of others like it, I want to speak to you, our sending church, in Jesus’ name and by the authority of his gospel:

Take courage. Be at peace. Dare to find your primal identity in Christ. Taste and see that the Lord is good. No matter what happens to us in this unsettling moment of time in which it is our calling to live, find his grace to be sufficient.

Then love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and strength … and your neighbor as yourself.

Endure in hope.

May it be so. Amen.

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When peering through the window of a train car at a fascinating, fast-changing, complex landscape, you can’t make the train slow down for a bit of gawking. The best you can ask for is a window with minimal smudges.

That’s what you get when contemplating the velocity of change in China today through the lens of ChinaSource, now a decade old in its present form. Published quarterly by the organization that bears the same name, ChinaSource is intended—as its tag line declares—for those who serve China. This is a centrist, Christian, English-language publication written principally for those outside China with missional interests in that great country. (more…)

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The incomparable Colombian novelist Gabriel García-Márquez is a master of the evocative book title. From Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude) to El coronel no tiene quien le escriba (The Coronel Has No One Who Writes to Him) to Crónica de una muerte anunciada (Chronicle of a Death Foretold) to El amor en tiempos de cólera (Love in the Time of Cholera) García-Márquez tells stories whose titles dare you to read them.

The last of these is clearly my inspiration this evening: Love in the Time of Cholera. As its literary signature, that genre of fiction writing that has become known as ‘magical realism’ juxtaposes an ordinary concept to the fantastical, odd, magical, or extraordinary. So for García-Márquez does love—that most ordinary, common, everyday virtue of human coexistence—jostle awkwardly and suggestively against the time of cholera. The once-in-a-century affliction of cholera, in all its epidemic phantagasmoria, reframes love almost entirely. It renders it poignant, out-of-time, compelling. It makes it something different that it is ordinarily understood to be. (more…)

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