October 3/4, 2015
Tom Steller | Psalms 67:1-7
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
Today’s message is going to be a little bit different. I would love to go verse by verse through this wonderful Psalm. But I will give Pastor Jason that pleasure somewhere down the road. My purpose today is to focus on the impact of God’s word in my own life and in the life of this church. As we prepare for Global Focus (Oct 14–25) I have been asked to tell you a story. It’s the story of God’s surprising work of mobilizing this old church for a fresh missions thrust. The fresh missions thrust began back in 1983 before many of you were born and, to our amazement, it has continued unabated now for more than 30 years.
By God’s grace, Bethlehem has been a missions-minded church from its earliest years. The church was planted 1871, about six years after the Civil War ended. Ulysses S. Grant was president, and the State of Minnesota was about 13 years old. The church was started with 23 Swedish immigrants. First Baptist church on 10th St & Harmon was our mother church and we called ourselves First Swedish Baptist Church. We changed from Swedish to English in 1936. And then we changed our name to Bethlehem Baptist Church in 1945.
When Pastor John and I came to Bethlehem in 1980, the newest part of the building was called the “54 building” because it was built in 1954. Now it’s the oldest part of our current building. When you walked into the old church office on the second floor you passed two rows of pictures. The pictures on one side were all the senior pastors since 1871. (You can now see those pictures in the Heritage Room on the 4th floor behind the receptionist’s desk.) The pictures on the other side were all the missionaries that were sent out from Bethlehem to shine for Christ around the world. It was an inspiring array of pictures. Some missionaries were sent out in the 1880’s. The last image hung was of Steve Anderson, in 1970, to serve with Wycliffe in Cameroon. He is still serving with Wycliffe today!
No pictures were in the hallway after 1970. When Pastor John and I came to Bethlehem in 1980, missions did not seem to be on the front burner of the church and foreign missions wasn’t on our front burner either. We weren’t against missions—how can you love Jesus and be against missions?—but foreign missions wasn’t our passion. But that all began to change halfway through 1983. Bethlehem attendance was growing. Our first Sunday at Bethlehem was June 29, 1980—two Sundays before Pastor John preached his first sermon as the new senior pastor of Bethlehem. When Julie and I walked into the Sanctuary our eyes saw a sea of gray hair, maybe about 300 strong.
Three years later, the sea of gray hair was still there but now there were more than 200 hundred college students and young adults intermingled. Toshavim, the student ministry I was working with, was growing and some of these pesky college kids were passionate about missions. There was one young couple in particular, David & Faith Jaeger, whom God used to provoke us to think more about missions. At the time we were considering adding another full-time pastor at Bethlehem. The Jaegers wrote a letter to us challenging that idea. In their letter they asked the question, “How can you justify adding another full-time Christian worker to a church that already has more than one full-time worker in a city with 1,000 churches? How can you justify this in light of the world situation where there is an overwhelming imbalance when it comes to Christian workers in the reached world and the extreme lack of workers in the unreached part of the world?”
Then they included in the letter what I would call the statistics of missions, which I never had seen before. But even more importantly, in this letter they challenged us to a new, or I should say, a more biblical understanding of the word “nations.” They pointed out that when Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all the nations,” he was not using that term as a synonym for “countries.” The term is often used this way in our everyday speech, so it’s natural that we would hear it that way. For example, when we think of the United Nations we think of the almost 200 member countries. We think of a country as a geopolitical land mass with a boundary around it that may change with the next war or the next treaty.
But David & Faith encouraged us to think of another way that we use the term “nation”: the Cherokee nation, the Ojibwa nation, the Sioux nation, the Dakota nation. The Jaegers themselves were preparing to go to Liberia, a very small country in West Africa, about half the size of Minnesota. They challenged us to consider that when God looks at Liberia he sees not just one country but he sees 40 nations, 40 people groups.
A people group is an ethno-linguistic grouping of people, a people united by a common language and culture. Or take Cameroon, for example, where my family served back in 1990–91. Cameroon is also one country in the United Nations, but it consists of almost 300 people groups, each speaking their own language, each of which needs to hear the gospel in a language they can understand.
The Jaegers’ letter challenged us to consider that when Jesus commanded the Church to make disciples of all the nations, he was thinking peoples, not countries. The roots of the Great Commission are found in God’s promise to Abraham, that in his seed all the nations will be blessed. When John pulls back the curtain and gives us a glimpse into heaven, he tells us in Revelation 7:9 that there will be “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands” worshipping. In Revelation 5:9 he tells us why: “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.”
In Psalm 67 we can see the parallel between nations and peoples in verses 3–4:
v. 3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!
v. 4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.
More could be said here, but the point is that God used this challenging letter from David & Faith to help us to think differently about missions. At that time we had been thinking countries. We could look around the world and see that the Church was planted in virtually every country, so let’s focus here on Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota and all the problems here in our backyard.
So I was troubled, but not yet won over to World Christianity at the heart level. That happened during a song! The information traveled 18 inches from my brain down to my heart and exploded. This took place in late October of that same year, 1983. I couldn’t sleep one night so I got up and put in an 8-track tape of John Michael Talbot. He wrote songs that were filled with Scripture and God used these songs to draw me into worship. He sang a song, probably taken from Psalm 86:9.
All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.
As I was listening to the song something very profound happened to me. I call it the Great Connection. For the first time I saw the connection between worship and missions. Ever since my conversion as a 16-year-old I had a passion for worship. This passion was fueled in a major way in the Bible classes I took at Bethel College from this rookie Bible professor, Dr. Piper! But what came home to me in the wee hours of the late October sleepless night was that missions was at its core the pursuit of the worshipers Jesus purchased from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.
Because of the Jaeger letter and the subsequent study of “nations” in the Scripture, I saw the world differently and I saw the Scripture more accurately. Instead of seeing the world as a map of countries, I began to see it as a mosaic of peoples. And I began to understand that there were many peoples in the world that had not yet heard the gospel in their own language. It hit me during that song that if I love the Glory of God in the face of Jesus, then I will want to see the praise of his glory extend to every tribe and tongue and people and nation. The Connection between worship and missions landed! I entered into the cry of the Psalmist: “Let the peoples praise you, O God. Let all the peoples, praise you.” Somehow, more than ever before, I had an overwhelming passion that my life would be poured out for God’s purpose of winning worshipers from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.
This brought me to tears. While I was weeping, I stepped out of myself as it were and asked, What is happening to me? The question rose in my mind. Is God calling me into missions? If he was, I knew my Bible well enough to respond, “Here am I send me.” But then I wondered, where would I serve? I thought, Well, I love the Bible, I love the biblical languages. There are lots of people groups in Papua New Guinea who have no Bible in their mother tongue. Maybe God is calling me to be a Bible translator there.
The sun is now rising. Julie wakes up. And I encourage her to sit down to hear what happened to me during the night. I told her that I think God might be calling us to leave Bethlehem and translate the Bible in Papua New Guinea. This, of course, came out of the blue for her. But I will never forget her response. She said with earnestness, “Tom, if this is what God wants us to do, then that’s what we will do.” Oh how I love this woman God gave me. What a perfect response. Not too far from her mind, I’m sure, was that she knew me well and that I was prone to dream big dreams. So part of her may have been saying, “This, too, will pass!” Nevertheless, her partnership in the gospel with me for all these years is a treasure beyond words.
This happened in October of 1983. Meanwhile, Pastor John was going through his own revolution. That fall was the season in which he was preaching his series which became Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. He, too, was wrestling with the contents of the Jaeger letter and was actually part of a study group testing the idea that nations in the Bible equals peoples and not countries. But it was when he preached the last sermon in the series that the fire fell.
The sermon was called, “Missions: The Battle Cry of Christian Hedonism.” It was like a match falling on kindling. You see, God was doing something at Bethlehem, not just in my life or in Pastor John’s life but in the lives of many in the church. In the months to come we heard enough of a missions buzz in the people of the church that we decided to find out more what God is doing. On a Sunday morning in March, Pastor John invited any in the congregation who were seriously considering missions to come to his and Noël’s home on Friday night for what we called, “Missions at the Manse.”
Manse is simply a fancy name for the pastor’s house. Friday night came and we thought there might be 20 or maybe even 30 folks coming for this time of prayer and worship and discussion. I will never forget how astonished we were at 7:00 at how many people started streaming into their house. We ended up taking the furniture out of the living room and dining room, and when all was said and done, 90 people squeezed into their living room for a dynamic time of prayer and worship. Then we asked everyone to briefly say why they came. That was our wake up call that God was doing something unusual. John and I realized we were definitely not the cause of this, but were ourselves “victims” of God’s invasion with fresh mission vision and purpose into Bethlehem Baptist Church. Christian hedonists that we were, we longed for ourselves and our people the joy of being aligned with God’s great purpose to win worshipers from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.
So, now what? In April, at the church business meeting, the church agreed to change my job description from Pastor for Students and Adult Education, to a new title, Pastor for Students and Missions. Have you ever had the joy of having your job description so closely match the passions of your heart? That’s how I felt—at least for a couple weeks. Then panic set in. Missions and student mobilization was my passion, but neither my training nor my experience matched the missions side of the job description. For my seminary program back in 1979 I was required to take one course in missions and I remember feeling quite pleased at the time that I found a way around that requirement and never took the class. And as for experience, I had never been to the mission field. What’s a rookie Missions pastor to do?
I was desperate for some training. Someone told me about a course called Perspectives on the World Christian Movement that was being offered out in Pasadena, California, in the summer. So Julie and I went out there with over 20 others from Bethlehem and a couple other churches. We spent five weeks taking this course on the campus of the U.S. Center for World Missions founded by Ralph Winter, who also was the mover and shaker behind the Perspective Course.
In this course we were introduced to the biblical, historical, cultural, and strategic perspectives on the World Christian movement. We were so blown away and helped by this course that we brought it back to Bethlehem. We offered it in Fall 1984 to the 120 people showed up to take this 15-week course with this massive textbook that could earn college or graduate credit. This course has been offered every year since, either at Bethlehem or at some church or school in the Twin Cities.
This January, four Perspectives courses will be offered including one at Hope Community Church, our daughter church three blocks from the Downtown Campus. Another will be offered in Duluth coordinated by Cole Grace, who took Perspectives at Bethlehem in the last millennium. If you haven’t taken this course, I would encourage you to prayerfully consider it.
The goal of the course and this sermon is not to make everyone a missionary, but to implant and nurture in everyone a World Christian mindset—a heartfelt commitment to serve God’s global purpose with the gifts he has given us wherever He plants us, whether it’s across the street or across the ocean.
With 120 people infected through the Perspectives course with a deepened understanding of missions and increased passion for God’s global glory from a Christian Hedonist perspective, things really got out of control—out of our control. We felt led to establish a prayer goal we called 90 x 90. The number 90 lodged into our brains because that’s how many showed up in the Piper living room. We began praying and preparing for God to send out 90 of our people into long term or significant short-term missionary service by 1990.
We established the Nurture Program for Missionary Candidates, trying to supply like-minded mission agencies with well-prepared men and women to serve wherever God would lead them around the world. At this same time, an Apprenticeship Program for Ministerial Candidates was also forming at Bethlehem. We wanted to invest in men preparing for the pastorate and to equip them to do passionate Bible teaching and preaching from a radically God-centered Christian hedonistic World Christian mindset.
The courses we were offering to these missionary and ministerial candidates on Perspectives, Bible Study Methods, and Unity of the Bible were so core to who we were as a church that we sensed God’s leading to establish what we called the Bethlehem Institute and Training Center. BITC was established in 1989. These training efforts developed into The Bethlehem Institute, which began in 1998, which in turn developed into Bethlehem College & Seminary, which was founded in 2008 and was fully accredited just last year.
But I’m getting ahead in the story. By the end of 1990 God exceeded our 90 x 90 prayer goal (90 missionaries by 1990) by sending out from us 134 Bethlehem people for the sake of missions.
At a pastors retreat in January 1990, we were giving thanks for God’s amazing work of grace in exceedingly answering our prayers for 90 x 90. We started asking, what may God be leading us to seek him for in the next decade as we were racing toward the next millennium? At first it was a bit of light-hearted humor, how about 2000 by 2000? But Pastor John is not one given to frivolity so all of a sudden the conversation and the prayers turned more serious.
First of all, we all agreed that the danger of something like this is that we might become numbers-conscious and even prideful. But we had such a sense that God was at work and we wanted to learn from William Carey who said, “Expect great from God; attempt great things for God.” So we formally established 2000 by 2000 as a prayer goal and set our hands to grow in being a sending church. The goal included sending long-term and short-term missionaries, pastors into churches, and people into church plants. At the turn of the millennium God chose to answer our prayer goal with 1436 sendings. Though we didn’t reach the goal of 2000, we experienced God strengthening the foundation of being a sending church. There are people on the field today who were sent out under 90 x 90 and 2000 by 2000.
We might be tempted to look back with nostalgia and say those were the glory days. But the amazing thing is that the missions passion that has been a part of this church since it’s founding in 1871, which was re-kindled in 1983 and was fueled into a movement during the 90’s, has not subsided, but in my estimation is only maturing and escalating.
Let me illustrate this with summaries of the last seven years …
Let’s start with our short-term ministry. Brad Nelson, Pastor for Short-Term Mobilization, is probably the most sent pastor in the history of Bethlehem. He was one of those who went to the Perspectives Course in Pasadena in 1984. He became youth pastor at Bethlehem in 1987 and drew many of our youth into World Christian Hedonism, taking them around the world. In 2007, he became our Pastor for Short-Term Mobilization. In the last eight years, under his leadership, Bethlehem has sent out 164 short-term teams—including 1,635 of you—all over the world. Another 250 of you have been sent out as short-termers individually. Our short-term ministry is field-directed, which means that our teams are sent out IF our long-term missionaries request them to come and meet a particular need.
Bethlehem has spawned two mission agencies that also are deploying our people and folks from other churches to meet specific needs:
Club 4th, founded and directed by Bethlehem member Corrie Ayers, sends teams to minister to the children of our missionaries when they are on spiritual retreat. Club 4th sends out an average of 20 teams a year with an average of 10 persons per team. The impact they have on these kids and on their parents is very significant.
Training Leaders International, founded and directed by Bethlehem member Darren Carlson, sends teams of pastors, professors and graduate theological students around the world to do theological famine relief, providing training for pastors, many of whom have never had the benefit of formal theological training. TLI began in 2009 with one staff member, sending out three teams in their first year of operation. Now with a staff of 26, there are plans to send out 51 teams in 2016. They have helped to start theological schools in Brazil and Serbia, and now have 10 missionaries serving in long-term theological training.
Pastor Chuck Steddom and I and some of our seminary students have traveled with TLI twice to Myanmar since January. Andy Naselli and a team are planning to go in a few months. Many of you remember the Kachin story and how Bethlehem sent Ola & Minnie Hanson to them in 1890 to commit their language to writing for the first time and to translate the Scriptures into their language. The Kachin appreciation for Bethlehem is deeper and their invitation for us to partner with them is more extensive than it’s ever been.
Concerning long-term missions mobilization, Erik Hyatt replaced me as missions pastor in 2002 to free me to lead The Bethlehem Institute. After 10 years of faithful service strengthening many of the weaknesses I left behind, Bethlehem sent him to plant and pastor New City of Nations Church in St. Paul.
In 2012, Todd Rasmuson became Bethlehem’s Pastor for Global Outreach. Todd & Tamara were among our earliest graduates of Bethlehem’s Nurture Program for Missionary Candidates. They served in Tanzania for eight years pouring their lives out in Christ-Centered Community Development; Todd then served as president of Mission: Moving Mountains, then as U.S. Director of Daystar University. Now he is serving the Global Outreach thrust of Bethlehem. This is no small task. He has pastoral oversight of 119 Global Partner units—singles and families serving the missionary effort long-term. This represents 416 Bethlehem folks (216 adults with their 230 children) who have been launched from Bethlehem to the nations in church planting, community development. In addition to overseeing the Global Outreach thrust, Todd & Tamara are frequently visiting and serving our missionaries on their own turf, providing face-to-face pastoral care and encouragement.
Todd told me about three recent conversations:
● Jacob B: The Z [Zargawa] people of Chad have gone from “no known believers” to more than 30! Jacob discipled a Z man who has become a wonderful evangelist.
● Steve Cable: An increased number of Buddhists have been coming to the Santisuk English school which he and Nopaluck started, more are plugging into the Peace Fellowship of Bangkok church that they started. And God has used a magazine article and Steve being interviewed on a popular television show in Bangkok!
● Mark Potma: He and his wife, Gretchen, and their team have just planted their 4th church in Prague, Czech Republic.
I have just scratched the surface of the Bethlehem Missions Story. It really is God’s Story. I haven’t even mentioned the impact of the ministry of the Word that has sounded forth from this pulpit since 1980. The Desiring God website is accessed regularly by people in every country of the world. In the last year alone, we’ve seen some 45 million visits to the site; individual resource pages have been viewed more than 80 million times. This represents more than 20 million unique users around the world. On average, the site sees about 150,000 visits each day.
My earnest prayer is that God uses this to inspire you. My aim is not to exalt Bethlehem, but to exalt the glory of God in the face of Christ who has put the glory of the gospel and his global purpose so deeply into our hearts. Neither is it my aim to guilt anyone into becoming a missionary or to make those who don’t go feel like second-class citizens. In 3 John 8 the old apostle John says very clearly that go-ers and senders are fellow-workers with the truth. The go-ers go out for the sake of the Name, the senders send in a manner worthy of God.
And as a church being increasingly filled with World Christians, you realize you don’t need to cross salt-water to be a cross-cultural missionary. You just need to cross the street to the Somalis, or go over to Philips neighborhood where 100+ languages are spoken.
But many of you will be sent out on short-term mission trips; some into long-term missionary service. Some will be sent out from Bethlehem as World Christian pastors and World Christian church-planters. Most of you will be called to stay and hold the ropes for those who are sent out, serving on our Barnabas teams and being salt and light in the inner city and in the suburbs, in the countryside, and in your school or workplace as you reach out to the thousands of international students, immigrants, and refugees that God has brought to our metropolitan area.
Let me close with a word about the budget. Our financial folks haven’t asked me to do this. But I want to challenge each of us to be ecstatic about our church budget and what it represents and the privilege to be regular proportional givers. Out of every dollar you give, 30 cents of that dollar goes to outreach beyond the doors of this church. And the rest of the money supports the launching pad, the healing of the wounded, the equipping of our people from the cradle to the grave and the World Christian discipleship that is taking place here day in and day out in our children’s and youth work, our women’s Bible studies and men’s groups, our small group ministry, our church planting, our college and seminary.
As we draw to a close, let me say a word about our church budget. Our financial folks haven’t asked me to do this. But I want to challenge each of us to be ecstatic about our church budget and what it represents and the privilege each of us has to be regular, proportional givers. Out of every dollar you give, about 30 cents goes to outreach beyond the doors of this church, most to supporting our long-term global partners. The remaining 70 cents you give supports the launching pad, the healing of the wounded, the equipping of our people from the cradle to the grave, and the World Christian discipleship that is taking place here day in and day out in our children’s and youth work, our women’s Bible studies and men’s groups, our small group ministry, our church planting, our college and seminary.
About 10 new missionary units who are just graduating from our Nurture Program are hoping to be launched in 2016. Please help us meet our budget this year and commit to regular proportional giving if you haven’t done so yet. The apostle Paul said to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:35 …
In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
One last word: It’s a sobering thing to be a World Christian. It is costly. It is dangerous. There will be martyrs. One of our missionary candidates years ago was preparing to serve in the Philippines but decided to move into the Powderhorn Neighborhood to do cross-cultural ministry right here in Minneapolis. He was murdered and his body thrown into the pond.
One of the things God has historically used to bolster our faith and our courage is missionary biographies. One of our favorite missionary biographies is the story of Jim & Elizabeth Elliot who served the Waorani Indians in Ecuador back in the 1950’s. Jim and his four missionary friends were speared to death. He lived to the point of death his conviction that “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep in order to gain what He cannot lose.” Shortly before they flew into the Waorani village to their martyrdom, they sang the song we are going to close with. As we sing, may Jesus himself increase the connection in our hearts between Worship and Missions, as we rest on him who is our shield and our defender, and as we join the Psalmist in his cry, “Let the peoples praise You, O God; let all the peoples praise You.”
Sermon Discussion Questions
Main Point: God has mercifully invaded Bethlehem and given us a passion for his great missionary purpose.
Pray Psalm 67:1–5, line by line.