I have three aims, one of which is predominant. One aim is to set the direction of your little boat, the boat of your life toward the completion of world evangelization or missions and to help you build a mast on the top of the boat of great purpose and to stretch out the sails and let them drop and see them filled with the wind of the Spirit. The second aim is I would like to put ballast in your boat. A ballast makes the boat heavier. It draws more water. And it is, therefore, harder to tip over. And the last thing I would like to do is be a means of that Holy Spirit wind filling those sails and that is God’s work. In fact, it is all God’s work. I can’t do any of those three without him.
The Ballast of Christian Endurance
So I want to put ballast in your boat. I would like that not to happen. I would like you to race across the water towards the goal of God in your life. I would like there to be wide sails filled with the wind, not just of enthusiasm, but with the Holy Spirit. And I would like you not to tip over when the first cross wind comes. I want you to finish well.
I am 63 years old and I want desperately to finish well. I don’t want to coast. I don’t want to dawdle. I don’t want to putz around in the garage for the last decade or two of my life. I don’t want to retire in any meaningless way. I want to say with the apostle Paul, “I do not count my life of any value nor as precious to myself. If only I might finish my course and complete the ministry that he has given me to preach the gospel of the grace of Christ.” That is what I want.
I don’t want to quit and I don’t want you to quit. You might have a year to live or you might have 60. You have in front of you something absolutely amazing. And I don’t want you to come to your first job and tip over because you are fallen in love with money all of the sudden. I don’t want you to come to 41.5 years old and have the statistical midlife crisis and buy a sail boat and leave your spouse. And I don’t want you to come to 63 and get on a glide path. I don’t want that to happen to you. I would like you to go out of this place with enough ballast in your boat so that, yes, it is drawing more water — can’t be as fancy in its moves as if there were no keel and no ballast, but you are not easy to knock over. Lots of winds can cross you and they will cross you, especially if you pour yourself out like you did this afternoon. They will cross you and it will make this thing lean so far you will wonder how you are not tipping over. And you won’t, because there has been enough ballast in your boat.
So what is the ballast? The ballast is God’s passion for his glory. He is committed to upholding his glory. He is jealous that he be the supreme treasure in your life above everything else, the dearest things that you have or know. I read this in Malachi 1:14 this morning, “‘I am a great King,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘and my name will be feared among the nations. If you will not listen, if you will not take to heart to give honor to my name,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings.’”
Now that is incredible. Who can get away with talking like that? Who can talk like that and expect anybody to like him? This is so outrageously self-exalting. This is the ballast I want to put in your boat. And I have found over the thirty or forty years I have been saying this one thing is all I ever say anywhere I go is that it lands on a lot of people as bad news. A God who is passionately committed to exalting himself doesn’t feel like the God they got to know in Sunday school. And it is a crisis for them. And I so want it to move through crisis for you into a deeply, joyfully embraced ballast in your boat so that even though it is weighty, even though it is heavy, even though it is not the light, simple thing we usually toss around, it is there for your survival, for your good, for your usefulness as you are sailing to the unreached peoples of the world and doing the hard things in this country.
So that is where I am going. That is what I saw again and felt like a real confirmation from the Lord this morning in my own devotional Bible reading. God is calling you to see his passion for his glory and to share it, to be caught up into it, to feel it, to own it, to do it with him. If he is passionate for his glory and jealous for his supremacy then we ought to just be swept up into that same passion and that same jealousy.
The Global Church Today
Now before I stack some of that ballast from the Bible in your boat, I want to orient you on where we are in the Christian world today. Perhaps statistics that you know, maybe not.
Philip Jenkins, professor of history of religious studies at Penn State has clarified this situation more than anybody in the last ten years or so. He has introduced, along with others, the phrase: The global south in regard to the spread of Christianity. And what the global south refers to is the astonishing growth of the Christian Church in Africa, Latin America and Asia while the formerly dominant Christian lands like Europe are fading in their significance it seems. And I say this with great hesitation. I just got back from Germany and Russia and I saw such hopeful signs. I don’t think God is done with the old Christian lands and I pray that some of you will be a part of that renewal.
Here is what another man writing in a similar vein said, “At the beginning of the 20th century Europeans dominated the world church with approximately 70.6 percent of the world’s Christian population. [So 70 percent of the Christians in the world a century ago were in Europe.] Yet by the end of the 20th century the European percentage of world Christianity had shrunk to 28 percent, [70 to 28 percent] Latin American and Africa combined to provide 43 percent of the world’s Christians.
This quote comes from Jenkins, “In 1900 Africa had ten million Christians representing about ten percent of the population, by 2000, one hundred years later, this figure had grown to 360 million (from ten), representing about half the population. Quantitatively, this may be the largest shift in religious affiliation that had ever occurred anywhere.”
Mark Knoll, historian at Notre Dame has written a book just published this year called The New Shape of World Christianity. Here are some bullets from his book:
- The number of practicing Christians in China may be approaching the number in the United States.
- Live bodies in church are far more numerous in Kenya than in Canada.
- More believers worship together in church Sunday by Sunday in Nagaland than in Norway.
- More Christian workers from Brazil are active in cross cultural ministry outside their homelands than from Britain or from Canada.
- Last Sunday more Christian believers attended church in China than in all of so called Christian Europe. This past Sunday more Anglicans attended church in each of Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda than did Anglicans in Britain, Canada and Episcopalians in the United States combined.
- Last Sunday more Presbyterians were in church in Ghana than in Scotland.
- This past week in Great Britain at least 1500 Christian foreign missionaries were hard at work evangelizing the locals. Most of these missionaries are from Africa and Asia.
Now concluding quotation from Mark Knoll. “In a word, the Christian Church has experienced a larger geographical redistribution in the last fifty years than in any comparable period in its history with the exception of the very earliest years of church history.”
Are Western Missions Still Relevant?
Now that is all a cause for rejoicing in our great global sovereign God. However, how many believers around the world, especially in the West, are drawing mistaken inferences from that truth. They are concluding that the day of western missions — so you leaving here to go there — is over. And it not only is over, it should be over. You begin to pick this up and you listen around the world that we don’t need America. We don’t need Canada. We don’t need Europe because every group is touched and it is better for the locals to do the evangelizing anyway, because it is cheaper and culturally more effective. And, besides, the West is fading.
Just yesterday I read a review of a new book by Robert Wuthnow of Princeton called Boundless Faith: The Global Outreach of American Churches and his aim is to correct some of these mistakes. Here is what the reviewer of the book said,
The United States is sending out more missionaries than it ever has before. And this does not take into account the explosion of American short term mission volunteers whose number may approach two million per year. But worse than the mistake that the day of missions from the West is over, is the mistake that it should be, that there is some new development that because of the incredible global presence of Christians that going a long way, like five or ten or fifteen thousand miles and having to spend 70, 80, 100,000 dollars to get you and your family there than learn a different language and learn a culture is somehow over. It is based on a misapprehension of the dynamic of the situation. When you talk about unreached peoples being evangelized by the locals, there aren’t any locals. That is the meaning of unreached. There are cultural, linguistic, historic identities to this people group and those who live 50 or 100 miles away don’t share those languages. They don’t share those cultures and, in fact, there may be historic animosities between these two local people that would make it way better in Africa for a Filipino to come or a Canadian or an American or a Scot to come than for somebody 50 miles away. It isn’t that simple.
So don’t you make that mistake. Don’t you listen to these statistics and say Oh, it is real expensive to send somebody. They could do it for 25 dollars a month. No, they can’t, not necessarily.
Now I am not ruling out that we should partner all over the world with every evangelical effort to reach the unreached peoples of the world. And if somebody can do it more inexpensively from a local and more effectively, then let’s help them. But it is a huge mistake to think that what is left to be done in the world doesn’t need you. That is a huge mistake. And if you just do a little research you will see that that is the case.
The Joshua Projectis the place to go to get the statistics on the unreached people’s of the world. As I speak to you, consulting that website yesterday afternoon, there are 6,647 unreached people groups out of a total of 16,349 ethno-linguistic peoples. And you can read there what the definition of unreached is.
Of those 6,647 unreached peoples, usually meaning fewer than two percent evangelical, in other words, 1,662 of these are listed as unengaged. Unengaged is different from unreached. Unreached may mean there are missionaries and they have been working there maybe 10, 15, 20, 30, 40, 50 year and there is hardly any church yet that can carry the day. The unengaged means nobody is there. Nobody is telling them the gospel.
I am going to share one of those testimonies tomorrow evening, Lord willing, about somebody sent me an email a few days ago about where he is and what he sees and his attitude towards this whole western phenomenon.
Into this situation Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth is mine; go make disciples of all the nations.” That has never been rescinded and it stands now. His authority is as great now as it has ever been and the need is as great now as it has ever been. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus.
So the mast of your boat begins to be erected with a purpose, a zeal so that, yes, I get a direction from my boat. I see I am going to be a passionate, sacrificial goer or I am going to be a passionate, sacrificial sender. I don’t entertain any third possibility that is worth talking about. I am going to let my sails drop. I am going to pray that God fill it with the wind of the Spirit. And I am going to put some ballast in my boat so that when the cross winds blow, I won’t tip over, not till I am 43 or 63 or 83. Till I drop I am not going to quit. I am going to keep sailing toward this goal that God, I pray, will make clear now in this conference for many of you.
The Biblical Ballast
So I want to put ballast in your boat. So here we go. Some biblical ballast in the bottom of your boat. And the main thing I want to put there — it is obviously not the only thing, just this — God is utterly passionate, infinitely passionate, invincibly jealous for the glory of his name and that it be known and treasured above all things in the heart of humanity. The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea, God promises in Habakkuk 2:14. The earth will be filled with the knowledge. And I think he means embracing awareness of, understanding and love of it. He even takes an oath on himself to that effect in Numbers 14:21, “Truly as I live and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of God.”
And then he commands, “Sing to the Lord a new song. Sing to the Lord all the earth. Sing to the Lord and bless his name. Declare his glory among the nations.”
So there is the command: “Declare his glory among the nations.” So I want you to make it. I want you to get in your boat and put up the mast of purpose. Stretch out the sails of faith. Pray down the wind of the Holy Spirit and have enough ballast in your boat that for the next 60 years or so you will keep your course toward the nations or for the nations.
That is not good news to a lot of people that God is going to be the ballast in their boat with his commitment to his own self-exaltation. And one of the reasons it doesn’t feel like good news is because we don’t want our supremacy on our boat to be taken by anybody else. We sort of like the blasphemous poem of Henley called “Invictus.” It matters now how straight the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll. I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.
You are not. God is the captain of your soul. And he gave you a soul. He gave you an everlasting soul with the capacity to see and savor and share in his passion for his glory. That is what it is there for. And I pray earnestly, even as I am speaking, I am praying. May God take every resistance away from your heart to God’s God-centeredness. May God’s passion for his glory, may God’s ever present total self-exaltation come to sound, before I am done, like the best news in all the world.
So I want to stack a few verses, actually just two points biblically to make the case. Number one, God is the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega. From beginning to end God makes clear that he is passionate for his glory, that his glory is the supreme treasure of the universe, that the purpose of humanity is to know this glory and treasure this glory above all things and reflect this glory in the universe. Let’s talk about beginning and let’s talk about ending.
Before Creation (Ephesians 1:4–6)
Ephesians 1:4–6 talks about the beginning before creation. God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ according to the purpose of his will to the praise of the glory of his grace.
Do you see where it ends? Do you see what the goal of his choosing us is, his predestining us for adoption is, his redeeming us through Jesus Christ is? Election, predestination, adoption — to the praise of the glory of his grace. He is doing all that so that his glorious grace would be praised. So from the very beginning his mind was: I will be praised. That was his mind. Nobody else could talk like this. That is the reason it sounds so strange to us. From before eternity God’s mind was: I will do a story of redemption and the goal of the story will be the praise of the glory of my grace.
Now here we start to get a hint of why this is good news. The apex of the glory of God which he means to be praised is grace. This is verse 6 of Ephesians 1. Unto the praise of the glory, not just any glory. He didn’t say the glory of his wrath is the main thing to be praised. It will be praised. But it is the penultimate thing. And the ultimate thing is grace, unto the praise of the glory of his grace. So the reason that God’s self-exaltation can come to us sinners as good news is that it is secures grace. Grace is the thing he wants to be praised most. So he is going to devote this history in a way that grace will be predominant.
Jesus’s Prayer for the Future (John 17:24)
Now what about the end? IF that is the way the beginning was, before creation, the mind of God said, “I will be known. I will be loved. I will be praised. I will be treasured above all things. That is why I make the world.” If that is the way it all began. Where is it all going? John chapter 17 is one of my favorite places and verse 24 is my favorite verse in John 17. And you remember what John 17 is? John 17 is Jesus’s longest prayer for you. And I say for you very carefully, because he is praying for his disciples and then he says, “And I pray for those who will believe in me through their word.” That is you. This is awesome. I mean think about it. There you sit and Jesus prayed this for you. The capstone of the prayer is verse 24 and it goes like this.
“Father, I desire that they also whom you have given me may be with me where I am to see my glory that you have given me because you love me before the foundation of the world.”
What is the best thing that Jesus could pray for you? He prayed lots of things. The best thing is this. The most ultimate thing is this. The eternal thing is this. Father, I ask for those whom you have given me that they would be with me and why? So that they could see me. Because I am the most glorious reality in the universe. And if they are not allowed to see me, they will be denied their highest joy. And I don’t want them to be denied their highest joy. Their souls were made to be satisfied by beholding infinite glory and beauty and I am it, Jesus said.
So Jesus is saying: Father, my love is overflowing to my people right now. And I am exalting myself supremely right now and those two goals of mine are one. Do you hear this? I love my people. I am the most glorious being. I will be lifted up. And I am asking that they will see me.
Right now you see him through a glass darkly, pretty poorly. That is why you sin so much. If you could see him more clearly you would follow him more nearly, love him more dearly. We wouldn’t sin so much if we didn’t have such obscure sights. He doesn’t excite you very much lots of time and pornography does or money does or friends do or job does or whatever is competing for glory.
You are not ready to see him, but the Bible says that when we see him we will be like him, because we will see him as he is and what that means is that we will be granted a transformation, both physically with new bodies and spiritually with new capacities so that when we look upon his infinite glory, we won’t be incinerated. We will reach the destiny for which we were made. We were made for almost infinite joy, joy that will increase forever and ever because it can’t be infinite because we are not God. And yet it can grow forever because we are going to see God in Christ.
So from beginning: predestination, election, plans for adoption, redemption all worked out before creation unto the praise of the glory of his grace and now the end. God wants his people to be with him so that they might see his glory. That is why he keeps lifting up his glory. That is why he keeps exalting himself. It is their life. It is their hope. It is their joy. It is the satisfaction of their souls. If God were not self-exalting, he would not be loving.
The Center of History and the Bible (Romans 3:23–26)
One more text, namely, Romans 3:23–26. And the reason I choose this is because between the beginning and the ending there is a center of history and it is the cross. It is Christ crucified in the place of sinners and rising triumphantly over the devil and hell and sin and death. So let’s examine Romans 3:23–26 and ask, Is God self-exalting in his giving Christ for me? The provocative way I like to ask this is: Did Jesus die for us or for God? You answer.
Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified by his grace as a gift.” It is a gift. Set right, declared righteous. It is a gift. You don’t make this happen. You don’t buy this. You don’t earn this. Being right with God, justified, is a gift. Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. So Jesus did something so that I could be declared right with God, but I am not right. This is the best news in the world for sinners. Right?
Verse 25: “Whom [referring to Christ] God put forward as a propitiation.” That means a sacrifice that removes wrath. So the wrath of God is absorbed by Christ when he dies in our place. So propitiation is the removal of the wrath of God off of us though we deserve it. Whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood — so his death — to be received by faith. That is how you receive a gift. Faith is a receiving. It is not a doing.
“This was to show God’s righteousness because in his divine forbearance, patience, he has passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
A Propitiation by his Blood
I don’t think there is a more important paragraph in the Bible. I mean there might be some competing. That is just about as close to the center as you can get. Take it apart for just a few minutes with me. God put Christ foreword as a propitiation by his blood.
Romans 8:3: “What the law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin he condemned sin in the flesh.” Whose sin? Tell me. Mine. Whose flesh? Christ’s. You have got it. That is an amazing statement. Condemnation happened at the cross. Whose? Mine. In whose flesh? Not mine. This is propitiation. Propitiation is the drawing away of condemnation from me. How can this be? How can it go there? It belongs here.
Or Galatians 3:13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law having become a curse for us.” Whose curse? God’s curse. He is the one that backs up the law. The law is his Word. If there is a curse in the law on me, it is coming from God. And Jesus becomes my curse. So all that to say yes to propitiation. No translated “propitiation” some other way. Don’t use expiation which simply means removal of guilt. Don’t translate it merely living sacrifice or sacrificial offering. It is the removal of God almighty’s just, holy condemnation and wrath, which belongs to me.
Why did he need to do it that way? Why did Christ need to die in order to placate God’s wrath? The middle of verse 25, “This was to show God’s righteousness.” So Christ died. God put him forward to die. This was to show God’s righteousness. Why did he need to show his righteousness? That is a pretty high price for a demonstration of righteousness. Why did he need to show his righteousness? End of verse 25: “Because in his divine forbearance he passed over former sins.” Well, why does passing over sin make it necessary to demonstrate righteousness?
Now we are ready to see verse 23 and the nature of sin. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. I don’t know if you have ever felt like I want you to feel the connection between sin and the glory of God. All have sinned and fall short. Fall short is an old fashioned translation. The literal meaning is they lack. They are without. In what way without? In chapter one of Romans verse 23 it says that we have exchanged the glory of God for the glory of created things. So we had it. It was our treasure when Adam and Eve were created. It was our treasure. We loved God. We cherish God. We esteemed God. We respected God. We were in awe of God and worshipped God and praised God and glorified God.
And then we traded God. And you have all done it. You do it every day. And we embrace other values, other treasures, other desires that are so much stronger in our hearts than God is. We have traded him and so we lack God’s glory. It is not our treasure. We have just thrown it away. And sin is anything you do in that process. Anything that reflects that God is not your treasure is sin. So all have sinned and lack, throw away, exchange, demean, belittle, trample, the infinite value of the glory of God.
Now why does that call the righteousness of God into question when he passes over such sin? Because when God as he does for all of his people passes over, does not condemn sinners who have trampled his glory and demean his glory every single day of our lives, it looks as though he thinks that is no big deal.
To trample the glory of God is no big deal. It would be like a judge sitting at a bench who has got a murderer and a rapist in front of him. He says, “We will just let it go. We will just pass over the murder and the rape this time. We will just pass over it.” And everybody in the courtroom would say, “No way! You can’t do that and sit on that bench and be a just judge and say you are just going to pass over this thing.”
And so God knows that he would be unrighteous. He would be wrong, unjust if he treated his glory as though it were so worthless as to just pass over the trampling of his glory in his people. And so he doesn’t just pass over it. He sends his Son into the world to demonstrate his righteousness.
What happened at the cross was the loudest statement imaginable. If you understand Romans 3:23–26, the loudest statement from heaven imaginable. It is a statement that God loves his glory. And in that very moment of upholding his glory, God made it possible to save sinners as the just and the justifier of him who has faith in Jesus.
So from beginning to ending Ephesians 1:6: “To the praise of the glory of his grace.” John 17:24: “I want them to see me. I want them to see me risen, triumphant, glorious, all satisfying in my glory so that my glory will continue to be exalted forever and their joy would be full.” And at the center, the cross, making that possible for sinners as God says: “I put my Son forward to demonstrate my righteousness. My righteousness is my unwavering commitment always and everywhere to uphold the infinite worth of my glory. And if I am bent on saving sinners who have trampled my glory, which I most certainly am, I will not do it in any way that calls my love for my glory into question. I will do the absolutely unthinkable. I will put my Son on the gibbet and he will be tortured and he will bear my wrath to make plain I don’t sweep God belittling sins under the rug of the universe when I save sinners.”
This is the best news in all the world. It is ballast. I promise you I have walked through some significant deep waters. I think the deeper ones are yet to come. These are not for some of you easy things to hear. You are wired in a way to be unhelped by this. And I care about you. I want you to know that when this ballast is in your boat and it is drawing water up to an inch and the wind is blowing, Christ is there. Christ is there. And what a friend he is. Oh, yes, a self-exalting friend because you will never be happy until you are happy in his glory, but a friend nonetheless who will care deeply for you. So now your boat is fixed towards the nations and so many of them are unreached, no light, no witness. The mast of purpose is lifted high in your boat. The sails of faith are unfurling at this conference. I am praying and others are that the Holy Spirit will begin to blow and fill those sails and you will begin to move across the sea of life towards God’s purposes in you. And there will be, oh God let there be, enough ballast in your boat so that you will not tip over at your first job, at 41 or at 63 or 83.