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For the glory of His Name

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  • Why do we have mission reports, mission conferences, sermons on missions?   Why talk about problems and needs of people we don't know in some strange and remote coutnry, when we have enough problems and needs right here in our own church and in our neighbourhood?
  • Shouldn’t we be talking about the economy or the environment rather than talking about missions? 
  • Why be concerned about people in Morocco, Mongolia or Macedonia when we can serve God right here in my church, my neighbourhood, my family?
  • Don’t those people in those other cultures have their own religion?  Why bother telling them about our God? Shouldn’t we just focus on helping those people who already think like we do, and will at least appreciate our help?
  • Does God really care about missions? I mean, does He seriously expect that we should try to change the thinking and belief system of people who have grown up in another culture with another religion?
  • This is not new thinking.  In fact, the Jews in the Old Testament tended to think like this.   But is this the way God thinks?

Text: Ezek 36:16-23

  • Ezekiel is writing to exiles in Babylon. Those Jews who had been taken to Babylon before the fall of Jerusalem.
    • First half is all about judgment, explaining why God had to allow Jerusalem to be destroyed in view of the tremendous wickedness of the people.
    • The second half from Ezek 33:21 on is given after the news of the fall of Jerusalem had reached the exiles in Babylon. It becomes a message of hope, explaining that God’s glory will once more return to the land of Israel and to the new temple.
    • Just as in the first half, God explains why He will now restore the Jews and bring them back to the Promised Land. He not only says what He will do, but He explains why He will do it.
  • And so we get an extraordinary glimpse into the heart and mind of God - and I warn you, we may not feel completely comfortable with everything we see.

God's name has been profaned among the nations.  

  • The nation of Israel is in bad shape.
    • Jerusalem has fallen.  The temple has been destroyed.   The king and all the people have been taken into exile to Babylon.
    • And what does God talk about when He gives a message to His people through His prophet?
  • “They profaned my holy name”  Repeated 4 times in this passage - Ezek 36:20-23.   9 times in the book of Ezekiel.   This is a big thing to God!
  • Ezekiel is not referring to swearing, to taking the name of the Lord in vain.   Name - not just the word “God” or “Yahweh” but a reference to His character, his reputation.
  • What does it mean to profane God’s name?
    • to defile, make common.
    • by making God common place, by treating Him as if he was inferior and weak, and not holy and unique and superior to all others.
    • by encouraging other people to think poorly of God
    • in other words, acting in ways that embarrasses God
  • The Israelites had profaned God’s name by their wickedness and idolatry - Ezek. 36:17-18
    • They even went so far as to sacrifice their  children to foreign gods and to God Himself
    • How did this profane God’s name?  It gave the impression that God desired or even demanded the sacrifice of children to keep Him happy and on their side!
  • But the Israelites had also profaned God’s name by what the nations said after God’s judgment on them (Ezek 36:19-20)
    • Israel’s disobedience and subsequent judgment reflected very badly on the God whom they were supposed to be serving
    • The nations didn’t understand the reason for the judgment.  All they understood was that the Jews were defeated, crushed, impoverished and exiled, they knew that this people group were identified with Yahweh, the God of Israel, and they drew the apparent, but very wrong conclusion that the God of Israel was not able or unwilling to save His people from destruction.
    • They ridiculed the Jews, and in so doing, ridiculed their God.   God was getting a very bad reputation because of what was happening to the Jews
  • About 10 years ago, Tony Campolo wrote a book entitled "Following Jesus without embarrassing God". I haven't read the book, but the concept is an important one. Is God ever embarrassed by our actions and words?  Do we give God a bad name by the way we live?
    • We profane God’s name by living just as all other people around us, by living as if God does not make a difference, when we respond to circumstances and problems just like non-Christians do.
    • I remember how I struggled when as a young pastor in the Philippines, I learned that one of the men in our church who was under church discipline decided to report us to the town authorities, and the local barangay captain called me and the other church leaders to a meeting to publicly discuss these complaints. I did not want our laundry to be washed in public! This was a great embarrassment to me and to the church. But was I just as concerned about how it might embarrass God?
    • If we attend church, even on an occasional basis, we are identified with God.   We carry His name.   Our behaviour reflects on His reputation!

God always acts to show the holiness of His name

  • So now what?   If the Jews have disgraced the name of God so badly, is He going to just walk away, disown them as His people and let them suffer their justly deserved punishment?
  • No, the Lord makes it clear through His prophet that He has every intention of restoring this sinful, disobedient and disgraceful people to their land and former prosperity (vs 24 - 38).  Read vs 35-36.
  • First thing God clarifies is why He is going to do what He plans to do
    • Ezek 36:22 - not for your sake, but for the sake of my holy name
    • This is what is driving my actions.
  • I will show the holiness of my great name (vs 23)
    • This is God’s first priority
    • other translations of vs. 23 -  I will magnify my great name, I will sanctify my great name
    • God does not want people to think He can be safely ignored.   He does not want His reputation to be sullied, to have people saying and thinking about Him in ways that are untrue and unworthy of the Creator and Lord of the universe.
    • “then the nations will know that I am the Lord”.   Then they will know that I am the Lord (Ezek 36:38).  53 times this expression is found in Ezekiel.   Do you think this might be important to God?
    • If we malign His reputation, and give people the wrong impression about who He is and what He does, He will act decisively to correct that.
  • How would God act to show His holiness?  How would he stop the ridicule of the God of Israel?
    • by disciplining them - sending them into exile
    • by restoring the Jews to the Promised land of Palestine.
    • by cleansing His people, forgiving their sins and purifying them of their desire to chase after other gods (Ezek 36:25, 29)
    • by giving His people a new heart and a new spirit (Ezek 36:26-27)
  • But so that the Jews would not forget the overriding motive for all that God was doing for them, He repeats in vs 32 - I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake.
  • That is also His motivation today.   His methods may change, but His motivation remains the same.  God always acts the way He does because He is seeking His glory, to show the holiness of His name.
  • That sounds strange to our ears because we unconsciously act and pray as if God exists for us, to do us good, to help us, rather than that we exist for God, to give Him glory.    We so often make ourselves the center of the universe, rather than God.
  • But to understand why God is so concerned about missions, we need to understand that God is deeply and passionately concerned about His Name, his reputation, His glory. 
    • He wants all people to think right thoughts about Him and acknowledge Him for who He is.   This is His passion, His overriding concern, His primary motivation.  It is a huge theme in Scripture.
    • The saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”.   Not true as we have all experienced.
    • And it is not true for God.   God cares what people think about Him.   Amazing!  It makes a difference to Him what his creation say about Him!
  • God’s ultimate desire is to show His glory to His entire creation, to show that He is unique and holy, that He is worthy of our worship. 

God’s dream

  • Now we need to be clear about one thing: God doesn’t have a problem with pride.   He does not have an exaggerated view of Himself.  Everything God declares about Himself is absolutely true, and if said or acted any differently, He would be lying. Furthermore, God knows that our greatest joy will come when we recognize who God truly is and admire Him in all His beauty.   That is what we were created for.
  • In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr gave what is quite possibly the greatest speech in American history in the 20th century. It is called "I have a dream".
    • I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.
    • This dream probably had more to do with why a black man is president of the US than any single speech by Barack Obama.
  • What is God’s dream?   What is the goal toward which He is working? 
    • God will be satisfied with nothing less than that all of creation will recognize His glory and holiness and will worship Him with complete devotion and joy
    • Ezek. 36:23 - but that is only the beginning.
    • Hab 2:14  For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
    • Rev 7:9-10  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."
    • That is what God dreams about.  And this is no unrealistic pipe dream.  It is really is going to happen that way one day!   God’s dreams are a description of the future.
    • Can you imagine that scene and your feelings when we all stand before the throne, praising the Name of Him who has saved us, purified us, blessed us, and now will be with us for all of eternity?   We will be standing side by side with Filipinos, Russians, Ethiopians, Chinese, NA First nations peoples, Filipinos shouting God’s praises, as we are overwhelmed with unbelievable joy and delight.
    • I am a sports fan, and so my imagination compares it to the feelings I have when my team wins.  But this day will be much, much bigger than the Edmonton Oilers winning the Stanley Cup.   It will be far greater, far more exciting, far more exhilarating than the Saskatchewan Roughriders winning the Grey Cup in Regina.   There will be shouts of joy and dancing in the streets the likes of which Detroit or Edmonton have never seen.
  • This dream of God’s is the underlying motivation for missions.  God is committed to proclaiming the worth of His Son to all people, and we are called to join Him in doing so.   This is why He calls us to go to difficult and dangerous places, to preach the Gospel to people who don’t like evangelical Christians, to give generously to missionaries we only see a couple of times every 5 years, to pray for the salvation of people we have never seen and who eat things we would never eat - because God desires that His name be praised and worshipped by all people in all nations.
  • So what is our dream?  What is the desire of your heart?  What is the one thing you want more than anything else?
  • I am afraid that our dreams and goals are often far too small.  We are far too easily satisfied.   We are afraid to dream big.  We think we would be content if God would give us a nice house,  nice kids,  a nice job we enjoy, enough money to pay the bills and buy a few toys, reasonably good health and an occasionally holiday to someplace warm.  God does NOT want you to be content with that - that is far too small a dream!
  • Jesus’ prayer and dream was so much bigger: “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. (Jn 17:24)

How do we get on the same page as God? 

  • How do we make God’s dream our dream?
  • I believe that figuring out the answer to that question is more important than applying to a mission board, going on mission trips, visiting missionaries, supporting missionaries, attending missions conferences.   We need to share God's passion for spreading God’s glory.   We need to want that people will see God in all His beauty, that they would join that great band of worshippers before the throne of God in heaven. 
  • Until we get our motivation right, all our activity can still be very much about ourselves, about accomplishing our goals, about making sure we look good because of all the sacrifices we are making for God.
  • I stand before you as someone who is still very much a novice in this area.
    • A little over 3 years ago, our Int. Dir. instituted a new evaluation process for area directors.   I was the first to be evaluated.   The very first question: - Does he pursue God’s glory?  Does he demonstrate in all he does that God is the great “I am”?
    • Admittedly a very hard thing to judge.  We are talking about motives, and who can fully understand their own motives, much less the motives of someone else?
    • But the men on my executive committee tried to evaluate me on this.   The results - very average on this point.  “The perception of Ken would be that he has more of a focus on tasks and objectives than a singular passion for God's glory.”
    • It deeply disturbed me.   I was supposed to be a leader, a missionary with almost 20 years of experience.   But they were right, and maybe even overly gracious. 
    • But today I am very thankful for that evaluation.  It forced me think about something that I had done very little thinking about up to that point.   How do I demonstrate in practical ways that I am passionate about displaying God’s glory, and this is far more important to me that all the things that keep me busy?
  • Pray fervently that God would change our hearts and our dreams.   This is the work of the Spirit of God.   That is why we need a need heart and a new spirit, as Ezekiel promised.   So we need to pray that God would make His priorities our priorities.
  • Take time to delight in worship of God.   To really appreciate God’s beauty and holiness, it takes time to focus our minds and hearts on Him.  Make worship and just enjoying God a part of your daily devotions, not just something we do on Sunday morning.  How are we going to get excited about proclaiming God’s glory to the nations if we don’t see it ourselves.  If we are not enraptured with God’s greatness and holiness.
  • Define what we do in light of God’s glory.
    • How do we answer the question, "What do you do for a living?"
    • A big difference between saying that I am pounding nails or saying that I am building a cathedral to the glory of God.
    • Can you drive truck or build houses or work on an oil rig to the glory of God? Absolutely. If God isn't big enough to encompass what we do on Monday to Friday, then we have too small a God
    • Our service in the church also needs to be defined in light of God's glory, not just a job we do because we were appointed or elected to do it.
    • Not “I have to be an usher this Sunday” but “My task is to glorify God by welcoming those have come to worship Him and making sure the physical accommodations will not distract them in their worship.
  • Dream and talk about the kingdom of God. 
    • Dream about the kingdom of God - not just personal salvation, but God’s dream to have every people on earth praising His name. 
    • We need to find ways to make this topic more a part of our conversations.   We need to be considering the circumstances of life and global events in light of how this might glorify or profane God’s name. Missions and the growth of the church is growing in Africa or Ukraine needs to become a topic in the coffee shop and not just from the pulpit at missions conference.
  • Put up some visible reminders
    • “For me, passion means whatever a person is willing to suffer for….’Apostolic passion,’ therefore, is a deliberate, intentional choice to live for the worship of Jesus in the nations.  It has to do with being committed to the point of death to spreading His glory.  It’s the quality of those who are on fire for Jesus, who dream of the whole earth being covered with the Glory of the Lord.”– Floyd McClung
    • John Piper - Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church.   Worship is.  Missions exist because worship doesn’t


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