Let all who seek Thee rejoice and be glad in Thee; Let those who love Thy salvation say continually, "The LORD be magnified!"
How Do You Magnify the Lord?
What is the main thing that we are Freeing the Future for? One way to say it is that we are freeing the future for another generation of theological astronomy. What I have in mind comes from this text, Psalm 40:16, but the language comes from thinking about the Comet Hyakutake that will be roaring over the North Pole this week. The comet was discovered January 30 by a Japanese astronomer named Hyakutake. On Friday the comet was 30,000,000 miles away from us. At its nearest this week, it will be about 10,000,000 miles away. You will be able to see it with the naked eye all week and it may at times be as big as the moon, but it will be smudgy instead of crisp. One estimate said that Comet Hyakutake may be on a 10,000–20,000 year orbit.
Now what does this have to do with freeing the future of Bethlehem Baptist Church? Well, notice in Psalm 40:16 that those who love the salvation of God have a God-appointed mission: they are to say continually, "The Lord be magnified!" Now "magnify" is an ambiguous word. You can magnify with microscopes and you can magnify with telescopes. If you magnify with microscopes, you try to make something small look large. But if you magnify with a telescope, you try to make something large stop looking small and look more like it really is.
That's why Comet Hyakutake relates to this text. To the naked eye Hyakutake will look somewhat like a fuzzy softball in the sky. But how big is it really? Well, they are not sure yet. You've got to understand that comets are strange things: they are small at the center and huge at the edge. Hyakutake probably has a nucleus of incredibly dense, solid ice and dust about six miles across. Then "subliming" off from that, more and more as it approaches the sun, is the coma, the atmosphere—about 30,000 miles thick, they estimate, for Hyakutake. Then there is the dust tail that may reach 6,000,000 miles long and an ion tail that extends even longer.
Now the point is this. The night sky is full of wonders. Just like God is full of wonders. Look at Psalm 40:5:
Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders which Thou hast done, and Thy thoughts toward us; there is none to compare with Thee; if I would declare and speak of them, they would be too numerous to count.
But the problem is that in the night sky the wonders of the heavens do not appear as they really are. They seem small and not very bright or awesome. So we must magnify them. That's what a telescope is for. Not to make them look bigger than they are. But to help us, in our weakness, to stop thinking of them as small and show us how great they really are.
If you can magnify Hyakutake, and show me that a smudgy softball is really 30,000 miles across (four times the size of the earth), I will be more amazed. Or if you can magnify the tail and show me that a dim cloudy trail of light a few handbreadths in width is really 6,000,000 miles long, then I will feel differently about this amazing thing called a comet.
God Is Like a Comet to Most People
Well, that is what the Bible (Psalm 40:16) says we are to do in response to God. We are to magnify him. For most people God is about as important as Hyakutake's Comet. He is a distant, smudgy softball of light in the sky, barely visible because of all the manmade lights in the city. But that means most people do not respond to God in a way that honors him for who he is. He is not as important, practically speaking, as the television. His book, the Bible, is not as compelling as the news weekly. His company is not as stimulating as an NCAA basketball team. Most people say he exists—the way comets exist. He's out there doing his thing and shows up in our sky every now and then (most often to be criticized for not showing up sooner), but practically he is simply not in the top ten influences of life from day to day.
Now this is tragic and dangerous. It is tragic because all human beings were created to enjoy fellowship with God and be satisfied by his greatness. It is tragic to see a person be more amazed at a street light than a comet because the street light looks brighter and bigger. It is dangerous because the wrath of God rests on everyone who treats him so disrespectfully. The reason we need a Savior is because we have "fallen short of the glory of God." We have offended him so grievously that our only hope is in salvation through his Son, Jesus Christ.
The Church as Observatory
What then is needed? What is needed in a world like ours is a church (many churches!) which does for God what the 200-inch Hale telescope at the Palomar Observatory does for comets and stars. What is needed is a church—a people—which magnifies God like a telescope. A church which causes others to stop thinking of God as small, but to think about him and see him as great as he really is.
That is what we are freeing the future for. Our mission at Bethlehem is to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples. Spreading a passion for the supremacy of God is what David is talking about in the last half of verse 16: "Let those who love Thy salvation say continually, 'The Lord be magnified!'" If you say continually, "The Lord be magnified," or, "The Lord is great," then you are spreading a passion for the supremacy of God.
The reason I have poured myself with joy into this campaign called Freeing the Future—the reason I would like to see us eliminate the entire debt on this building this year—is because I dream of Bethlehem thriving and growing as a collective telescope for the greatness of God—making God look as great as he really is, and helping people wake up to what he is really like. Our mission is theological astronomy—seeing into the vast glories of God in Christ and magnifying them for our city and for the joy of all peoples.
Bethlehem as a Christian Kitt Peak Observatory
I see Bethlehem as a kind of Christian Kitt Peak National Observatory. Kitt Peak is located 50 miles southwest of Tucson and is a major astronomical observation center—in solar, planetary, stellar, galactic, and extragalactic astronomy. It has 15 major telescopes including a 36-foot diameter radio telescope. Perhaps more than in any other place on earth, Kitt Peak astronomers magnify the heavens to show the greatness that they really have, and to spread that truth all around the world.
Now that's what I think we are freeing the future for at Bethlehem—to be a Christian Kitt Peak Observatory. To see into the glories of God with the telescope of his Word, and to handle this high-powered revelation with the voltage of the Holy Spirit, and to do what David says we should in Psalm 40:16: "Let those who love Thy salvation say continually, 'The Lord be magnified!'"
God has given us a focused and clear and simple mission. If we hold fast to it, the impact of our church as a Christian Kitt Peak Observatory magnifying the glory God will be more than anyone can imagine. A clear and simple vision is a powerful thing. We exist to say continually—to live continually, to show continually—"The Lord be magnified." David says, "Continually"! Say it "continually." Make it the theme of your life, Bethlehem. Make it the melody of your songs. Make it the banner over all your activity. Make it the rallying cry of your gatherings. Make it the meaning of your homes, the aim of your parenting, the design of your marriage, and the goal of your vocation. Make it the mission of your Church. Say continually, "The Lord be magnified." "Great is the Lord!"
Be a church where the city lights of this world are giving way to the stunning night-skylights of the glory of God. Be a church where God is not "twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder where you are," but rather God is the is one whose first baby step in striding across the universe is from here to the limit of our scope, 20 million parsecs away (each of which is equal to 19 trillion miles). Bethlehem, free your future for this: to be a Christian Kitt Peak Observatory in the middle of Minneapolis and to magnify the Lord continually. To say continually to the church and the city and the nations: "The Lord be magnified!" See that the Lord is not small like a dot in the sky. He is great—the one who made billions of galaxies by the word of his power, and holds them all in being and guides every electron in every molecule in every substance in the universe unfailingly for his sovereign purposes.
"Let All Who Seek Thee Rejoice"
But that is not yet the heart of our distinctive calling as a church. Because that is not yet the heart of Psalm 40:16. The heart of our calling and our mission is to demonstrate the truth that God is most magnified in us when we are most satisfied in him. Which means simply that joy in God is a powerful mirror in the observatory of God's glories. Joy in God—especially joy in the midst of suffering and loss—reveals the magnitude of God's greatness and love.
This is why Psalm 40:16 says, "Let all who seek Thee rejoice and be glad in Thee," just before it says, "Let those who love Thy salvation say continually, 'The Lord be magnified!'" Let's look at this carefully. This is right at the heart of why I am making my pledge this morning to Freeing the Future. I believe with all my heart that we stand for something of infinite value and that God has called us to say it and live it in a distinctive way at Bethlehem.
David says, "Let all who seek Thee rejoice and be glad in Thee." What this means is that if you seek the Lord, you should rejoice and be glad in the Lord. The Lord is like a treasure. You seek treasure. If you find it, you rejoice and are glad. If you are not, you show that the treasure is a disappointment. It is not what you'd hoped. If you rejoice and are glad, you reveal more of the worth of the treasure. So if your mission is to "Magnify the Lord"—to show that he not a smudgy softball in the sky but a magnificent power and glory—then you rejoice in him. He is magnified in you when you are satisfied in him. That's our message. That's our life.
"All Who Seek the Lord"
David says, "All who seek the Lord . . . " Seeking the Lord is what we do at Bethlehem. We put our eyes to the telescope again and again. What are we looking for? David tells us in Psalm 27:4, "One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to meditate in His temple."
We seek to behold his beauty, to be with him, to meditate on him. This is our central business in the church—to see the beauty of God. To get our heads into the heavens. To know him for who he is. He is the main reality—not buildings, not Christians, not missions, not heaven. God himself is what we seek. And David says, when you do seek him, "rejoice and be glad in him."
Do not dishonor this beauty by saying, "Ho hum." Do not dishonor this galaxy by saying, "Big deal." No. This is your mission: rejoice and be glad in him. He is supreme and his supremacy is your passion. That is what you are freeing the future for—that this message and this life go on for generations to come.
Look at the word "love" in the second half of Psalm 40:16: "Let those who love thy salvation say continually, 'The Lord be magnified!'" This is passion and gladness. This is our mission at Bethlehem. We are called to say to the church and the world: Love salvation! Love it. Love it. That is, be passionate about it. Cherish it. Treasure it. Embrace it. Don't be casual or cavalier about your salvation. Don't treat it like old fire extinguisher forgotten in the garage. Love it! Love your salvation!
Love Our Salvation or Love God?
But wait a minute. Is this consistent with what we have seen about magnifying God and rejoicing in God? Are we to love our salvation or love God? And what about the nations and the city dwellers who don't know God? The key to both these questions is found in the first three verses of the Psalm 40.
I waited patiently for the Lord; And he inclined to me, and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay; And he set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. And he put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; Many will see and fear, And will trust in the Lord.
Here is salvation. If you are a Christian, God rescued you from the quicksand of sin by the death of his Son and through faith in him. And he has rescued you again and again from various threats to your faith. He has saved you, he is saving you now, and he will go on saving you forever.
But notice what happens when God saves a desperate sinner (verse 12) from the miry clay. Verse 3: "He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God." God saves so that you will sing a song of praise to God. God puts in your mouth a song to God. The effect of salvation from miry clay is not to make you forget God and love firm ground. It is to fill you with a song to God. God is the center of salvation. You are rescued for God.
So when it says in verse 16 that we "love salvation," it means that we love it when this happens to us. We love it when we are rescued from the miry clay for God's sake. We love it when he puts a new song of praise in our hearts—to God! So we are not idolizing our salvation. Salvation does not take the place of God. It has brought us home to God.
This is why in verse 16b it does not say, "Let those who love thy salvation say continually, 'Salvation be magnified,'" but says, "Let those who love thy salvation say continually, 'The Lord be magnified.'" We love our salvation because it shows us the love and power and wisdom of God and brings us home to him.
Our Song Is Our Evangelism
And finally, what about the secular city, the nations, the people who do not rejoice in God and do not know his salvation through Christ? Does our mission free the future for them? The answer is found in verse 3: "He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many will see and fear, and will trust in the Lord." There they are. Our joy, our gladness in God is the great mirror in the telescope for the nations and for the neighbors.
God saves me from the miry clay. He makes me secure. He puts a new song in my mouth. He makes himself the feast of my joy. And what happens: "Many will see and fear, and will trust in the Lord." Our song is our evangelism. Our passion for God is our persuasion for the nations. When we are satisfied in God, he will be magnified in others. That's exactly what David says. We will sing and many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.
So our joy in God is both our worship and our evangelism. Our mission is to be a Christian Kitt Peak Observatory at the center of the city. We are called to seek God—to see him in the telescope of his Word. And we are called to rejoice and be glad in what we see—to have a new song of praise to our God—that's worship. And out of that worship flow missions and evangelism as we show the power and love and wisdom of God, and welcome the nations and the neighbors to join us in our joy.
This is why I am excited about Freeing the Future. I believe in this mission with all my heart (and my money)—that we exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples.