A message by Jeff Wilhoit, Vice President of Pioneer Bible Translators in Dallas, Texas.
It is a real privilege to share with you again here at Lakeside. We sincerely want to thank you for your 25 years of partnership in our ministry with Pioneer Bible Translators.
This morning I would like to start by sharing with you one of your accomplishments through our ministry. This binder contains a printout of the rough draft of the entire Bible in the Toma language, all 31,077 verses. The Toma people are hungering for God's word and you have played an important role in bringing God's word to life in their heart language.
When we arrived in Guinea to begin working with the Toma people to translate the Bible into their language, the Christians asked us to make sure to translate the Old Testament and they specifically asked us to work on the psalms, saying that the Toma church needed the psalms.
I believe that every church needs to have access to the psalms in their own language. Our main text this morning comes from Psalm 67. Psalm 67:1-7 (NIV) says, "May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations. May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you. May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples justly and guide the nations of the earth. May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the people praise you. Then the land will yield its harvest, and God,our God, will bless us. God will bless us, and all the ends of the earth will fear him."
The church needs to hear this psalm. This psalm reminds us that God wants to bless his people. But God has a purpose for blessing his people.
God has a passion that he be glorified and honored.
God has a passion that he be glorified and honored by all people on earth. He wants to make himself known to all the nations. He wants them to recognize his majesty and sovereignty. God wants the nations to praise him for his very nature as a just and loving God.
God desires that all of his people, that all of us, know him in all aspects of his nature. He wants us to know him as the God of the nations. This morning I'd like to talk about knowing him as the God of the nations.
God's dramatic work in the Wilhoits' lives.
In our lives as missionaries, my wife Laura and I have seen God work in many ways. Probably the most dramatic demonstration of his power was the time we were robbed and shot at. We were on a trip with another missionary family, Ken and Britt Black, and their visiting brother Karl.
During our trip, we made a brief stop at a scenic waterfall. When we returned to our vehicles, a young man with an AK-47 jumped out of the nearby woods and started shouting orders at us. He was obviously high on drugs and was very agitated. He kept giving us contradictory orders like, "Lie down! Go over there! Come here!"
Karl, an ex-Marine, was visiting and he did not understand French. So when the bandit kept giving us orders in French, Karl just stood there. So the bandit walked right up to Karl and fired his gun point-blank at Karl's chest. Karl looked down in amazement, but there was no wound.
Now I don't know about you, but if I had been the bandit, at this point I would have wondered what was going on! But the man didn't react at all, and instead ordered us all to go back down the trail leading to the waterfall, and not to look at him. As we were going down the trail, Britt turned her head to glance back at him, and the bandit fired point-blank at her back. She said later that she felt a puff of air, but that was all. The man then left us and we could hear him looting our vehicle. He and another man who appeared out of the woods grabbed all they could carry, including our computers and a diaper bag and ran down the road on foot.
At this point, we decided that the bandit must have blanks in the gun, so the three of us guys ran back to the vehicle and sped after the two men. The gunman turned in the road and let off three quick shots at the windshield of the car. When there was still no effect, Karl scrambled out of the vehicle going after the gunman who had started running away. Using his military training, he dropped the gunman with a kick, rolling down the side of the hill with him. The second man dropped our belongings and fled. By the time I reached the bottom of the hill, Karl had subdued the gunman. Karl and I collected all our belongings and the gun, and as we brought them back up the hill, we saw the man get up and run away.
Back at the car, we opened up the gun to find real bullets in the ammo clip and a cartridge with a real bullet in the chamber. Still shaking with adrenaline, we drove into the nearby town, presented the gun to the chief of police, and told him our story. He looked at us and said, "No one uses blanks here. We don't even have blanks." And then this Muslim man, the police chief, summed up our experience by proclaiming, "God exists!"
For most Muslims, indeed for many of the peoples of the world, it is not difficult for them to acknowledge that God exists. What they don't know is what kind of God he is.
One of my missionary colleagues in Guinea was teaching a lesson to the small church of Muslim converts where he works. During the lesson, he asked the question, "Should we love God?" And the people answered, "Of course." Then he asked the question, "Does God love us?" After some silence and then a time spent conferring among themselves they answered, "We have no idea."
I have found that in my own life that there are some aspects of God's nature that I had little idea about until I saw up close his concern for the peoples of the world. Let's learn more about the God of the nations.
Before the fall of man, God and man knew each other intimately.
Adam and Eve knew God intimately in the Garden of Eden. But it wasn't long before God was asking, "Adam, where are you?" See Genesis 3:9. Not that God was unknowing, but man had chosen the knowledge of good and evil over knowing God. So God began a plan to restore our relationship with him.
Four thousand years ago, God chose a man named Abraham, a man from a family of idol worshipers. God told Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 (NIV), "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all people on earth will be blessed through you."
God blesses his people so that all the peoples will be blessed.
Five hundred years later, God saved his people from slavery in Egypt and brought them to Mount Sinai. In Exodus 19:4-6 (NIV) God says, "You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation."
God instructed Moses on Mount Sinai how Israel should live as a holy nation in order to make him known to the other nations.
But the people of Israel saw the thunder and smoke on the mountain and were afraid of God and pleaded with Moses to be their intermediary. For forty years, the people knew God mainly as a pillar of smoke and fire.
Five hundred years after the exodus from Egypt, God chose a man after his own heart to become king of Israel.
God saved Israel and David so that all the world would know God.
The shepherd boy David proclaimed God's plan to Goliath by saying in 1 Samuel 17:46 (NIV), "This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I'll strike you down and cut off your head, ......and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel."
David's son Solomon built a temple in Jerusalem, "...so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you." See 1 Kings 8:43 (NIV).
The temple was supposed to be a, "House of Prayer for all nations." See Isaiah 56:7 (NIV). Israel's worship was supposed to draw all nations to God. Instead, Israel allowed herself to be drawn to the gods of other nations. So God allowed Israel to be dispersed among the nations.
Five hundred years after David, God saved Daniel from the lions' den. King Darius wrote to his whole empire from western India over all of Persia and down into North Africa in Daniel 6:25-26 (NIV), "...to all the peoples, nations and men of every language throughout the land: 'May you prosper greatly! I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. For he is the living God...' "
God then spoke through his Son, Jesus Christ.
Five hundred years after Daniel, God could wait no more. No more thundering from mountain tops or speaking through intermediaries. The word of God became a person and lived among us. We know the God of the nations because God's Son Jesus showed us what God is like. His Son showed us his compassion for the weak and his love for the lost. Jesus taught us to pray that his Father's kingdom would come and that his Father's will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.
We know that God is the God of the nations because his Son commanded us in Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV), "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
When Jesus left the earth he said in Acts 1:8 (NIV), "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
We know the God of the nations.
We know the God of the nations because his Holy Spirit lives in us. This is same Spirit that enabled the first sermon to be preached on the day of Pentecost and be heard by peoples in their own languages.
One day, when we know God completely, when we are in his presence, we will be part of a multitude of nations. The apostle John wrote in Revelation 7:9-10 (NIV), "After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: 'Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.' "
God intends for us to complete his plan to make himself known to all the nations in the same way his Holy Spirit started it, with each one hearing the wonders of God in his own language.
Current status of Bible translation throughout the world.
There are about 6900 languages in the world, and right now 2250 of those languages have no scripture whatsoever. What is encouraging is that more projects are being worked on now than have every been completed before.
Even more encouraging is that the number of languages without scripture is decreasing rapidly. Pioneer Bible Translators and our Bible translation agency partners project that withing the next 50 years, every viable language in the world will have at least a New Testament. The generation of children that just entered school this year could see that day!
At Pioneer Bible Translators, we have several plans for finishing the task, but really only one primary strategy. Prayer is our primary strategy.
We've learned that God honors persistent and specific prayer that is prayed in faith and unity in accordance with his will. We have also learned how God works to answer our prayers.
God answers prayers through direct intervention, inter-vention.
Sometimes God works through intervention, like parting the Red Sea, or by healing someone miraculously. He can even intervene to make himself known to a people for the first time.
In 1985, the Darchi people were completely Muslim. One night a Darchi man named Roshan had a dream in which he met a red-bearded man who was carrying a book. Roshan was convinced that whatever this book contained had to be learned and followed. As a Muslim, Roshan had been taught that dreams had significance, but he had never experienced a dream like this before.
One day, Roshan was in the park when he saw a large man with a bushy red beard walking past. Roshan ran over to the man and tried to ask him for the book he had seen in his dream. Bewildered, the Scottish tourist explained in English that he didn't understand.
Roshan quickly sent for his daughter to interpret for him. When she arrived, she was able to explain to the Scotsman about her father's dream, and interpreted for the Scotsman as he pulled his Bible out of his backpack and gave it to Roshan to keep.
Roshan's life and that of his family were forever changed as he learned who Jesus was and began to follow him. To this day, Roshan is still a faithful follower of Jesus. Both of his daughters have gone on to full time work to translate the scriptures into Darchi.
God can and does intervene in human history to make himself known to the nations.
More often, God works through interaction, inter-action.
For example, God can miraculously heal the sick, but he often works through modern medicine and doctors to provide healing. God also often works through his people to make himself known to the nations.
Pioneer Bible Translators is working among a nomadic people in Siberia. These people live in yurts, the Siberian version of a teepee, following the reindeer herds as they migrate in search of pasture. One woman from this group, named Olga, was separated from her family at the age of seven when she was required by Russian law to go away to boarding school. She never lived int the family yurt again.
Later in life, Olga lost one of her sons and turned to Christianity. Her relationship with Christ deepened and she was retiring from work just as PBT missionaries arrived in Siberia to begin translating the Bible into her language. Olga is now helping to check the Bible translation in the language of her people. God, interacting with Olga, is making himself known to her people.
God had a plan for Olga to be removed from her people as a child and then to return one day as one of the few Christians. But Olga had to make herself available to follow God's leading.
Recently Olga visited her family, who are not believers. They were in a boat on a long seasonal fishing trip when a storm came up and they were forced to take shelter for a full day,. In a manner reminiscent of Jonah, Olga suggested that the storm had come because one of them in the boat was a sinner. After everyone else in the family proclaimed their innocence, she announced, "I'm the sinner! I'm supposed to be translating a book of children's Bible stories into our language, and I haven't done it!"
Her family members immediately started falling over each other to help her translate the children's stories. They translated every day for the rest of their fishing trip, and finished a first draft of the entire book of children's Bible stories. But besides the completion of the stories, the very process of translating them introduced her non-believing family to God's word, many of whom had never heard it before.
We have seen this process over and over again in other languages. As a people group involved in the translation of God's word, they grapple with ideas like mercy and grace, they argue about the best way to explain the gospel, and they become followers of Jesus. Then a church is planted.
God can make himself known to the nations through inner-vention.
God can make himself known to the nations through intervention, miraculously revealing himself. He more often works through interaction, working through his people who make themselves available. As we make ourselves available to God, he ofter performs an inner-vention, changing us from the inside-out to be the people he wants us to be.
When we care for the sick, we know more about the God who cares for the sick. When we visit those in prIson, we know more about the God who cares for prisoners and wants to set them free from the bondage of sin. When we cry out against injustice, we are caring about things that God cares about.
In Matthew 10:42 (NIV) Jesus says, "And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward."
When we help bring the gospel message to the peoples of the earth, we appreciate more fully the nature of the God who loves all peoples, the God who is sovereign over all nations.
Over the last 13 years in Guinea, I have seen Jesus come to my door many times. When you are one of the few people who have any refrigeration, it is hard to turn down someone who literally ask for a cup of cold water. I have thought many times about Jesus' words when I have given someone not only a cup of cold water, but a piece of bread, a cup of rice, or a pair of shoes. And when I gave these things to the least of these, you here at Lakeside were giving to them too.
We are blessed to be a blessing.
During the years we have visited Lakeside, we have seen that God has blessed this church. Part of the reason that you have been blessed is because of your involvement in the local community and your involvement in missions.
You have been involved in the community through countless hours of service and compassion and evangelism, and through years of consistent Christian witness. Your have mourned with those who were mourning and rejoiced with those who were rejoicing.
God changes the nations one church at a time. Churches like Lakeside, who are using scripture to disciple and transform people, can change their cities, their societies, their nations, and the world.
You have been involved in missions, not only by sending money, but by sending your members on short term trips, by encouraging missionaries in their ministries, and through faithful prayer petitioning to the God of the nations to expand his kingdom.
As a church, you have been blessed just as Psalm 67:1-2 (NIV) says, "May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, that your ways may be know on earth, your salvation among all nations."
I like the way John Piper says this. He says that, "When we move toward the (nations), we are not earning God's blessings, we are leaping into the river of blessings that is already flowing to the nations."
As I look back on the robbery that we experienced, I know that God didn't save me from death because I deserved it. He didn't save me because I was more righteous than the famous missionary martyrs. I feel that the amazing protection that God offered me was because he wasn't finished with me. I had more to learn about him. I had more blessings to receive from him. And I had more opportunities still before me to bless others.
Just the fact that each of us is here today means that God is not finished with us. What is God hoping that you will learn about him? What blessing is God preparing for you? What blessing is God preparing you to be for someone else?
This morning, we want to give you an invitation to know the God of the nations more fully. God has provided a way to save each of us from a death worse than being short by bandits. God was willing to pay the highest price to save you. He sent his Son to die on the cross for your sins. If you have not accepted his Son Jesus as your personal savior, then we invite you to do so now.
If you would like to join his Church in serving the God of the nations, know that every individual makes a difference, and you will have a great impact here at Lakeside and around the world.
Remember Olga and her Jonah story? She acknowledged that she had been less than faithful to her commitment to serving God. Make this a time to renew your commitment to serving a God who cares for all peoples of the earth, either by serving here locally, or by serving internationally.