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Well, what kind of tree are you? Great thoughts from my good friend, Don.


“Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:1-11).

The Bible is a narrative and must be read and studied that way. The stories of the Old Testament are not isolated but are critical components in Scripture’s redemptive drama. The account of Babel is but one example of how God, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, moved these prophets and writers to share things which, on the surface, seem somewhat trivial. Only by looking forward do we begin to understand why these details are included for our edification.

Yes, the account of Babel is about pride, self-sufficiency, and rebellion. But it is also about how God uses the scattering of languages to bring Himself glory. This isn’t some random event – Scripture unfolds how the dispersion of people groups and the introduction of different languages and dialects would point people to the Gospel and to His greatness. We have to look forward and find, as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story.”

Let’s now go to Pentecost where we first see the church taking shape by the proclamation of the Gospel. You can read about it in Acts 2. Folks from numerous geographies with various languages had assembled for this celebration. With Holy Spirit power the disciples use this platform to announce the good news to the diverse masses. But there is a barrier to communicating to this disparate gathering – they spoke in various “tongues.” That’s because of the Babel incident that seemed insignificant, but now takes on new meaning. God knew what He was doing in Genesis 11 and the same is true in Acts 2. He now “gifts” these new believers with the supernatural ability to communicate God’s truth in these foreign languages, “tongues” that were unknown to them.

This miraculous event sparked the first revival in the church as thousands embraced the truth of Jesus and His Gospel. This also initiated the first missions campaign – these new converts went back home and indigenously shared their experience in their native tongue. Now the church’s trajectory and momentum took it outside of Jerusalem and to other people groups and lands. How supernaturally God had overcome and used the language barrier He Himself had created shows His sovereignty, and gives us a glimpse into His mysterious methods for pointing all of creation to Himself.

But the amazing narrative that started in Shinar continues. If we go further we see how the idea of scattered languages and people is further connected to the Gospel and God’s glory. You see, He dispersed them so that He could unite them in one voice and as one people, worshippers whose minds and hearts (unlike the rebels of Babel) are now, by the grace of the Gospel, focused solely on Him and His glory. Now let’s go to Revelation 5:9-14:

“And they sang a new song, saying, “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, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.”

And now we see the rest of the story. God scattered sinful, rebellious humanity and created the confusion of different languages at Babel. But He did so that He could, through the Gospel, unify His redeemed into one glorious place and give them one majestic language of exultation to trumpet His glory and worship in His presence forever. From Babel to Pentecost and then to the glorious vision of the Heavenly throne, God was working out His plan that He might be glorified.

Do you ever wonder what the voice of God sounds like? Usually it’s depicted as thunderous and reverberating. Or we hear the Hollywood voice of Charlton Heston ring in our ears. No matter what we imagine, we can’t begin to capture the power, purity, and beauty of it. After all, it is the voice that spoke the vast universe with all of its majesty and complexity into being with just the poof of its breath (Psalm 33:6). Amazing!

The voice of God is difficult enough to wrap our minds around. His speaking voice, that is. But what about His singing voice? In spite of what is portrayed in church Christmas and Easter pageants, the Bible never mentions angels singing. God, however, is. And, in a most amazing thought, He is singing to us! We may have a vision of an out-of-this-world angelic choir but this is God doing a solo. Can we imagine? Absolutely not! But it’s true. Check out Zephaniah 3:17 in the ESV (my preferred version): “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Can we possibly imagine God our Creator taking such delight in His creation?! And yet this verse goes so far as to say that His joy in us will make Him sing!

I have heard beautiful singing. Unfortunately, it absolutely did not come from me. Think of the greatest voices you have heard – Sandi Patti, George Beverly Shea are just some examples for us Christians. Consider the greatest opera stars, like Pavarotti, that have ever performed. Or close your eyes and hear a massive choir of top-notch vocalists sing Handel’s Messiah and the thrill of “The Hallelujah Chorus” – and then multiply that to the nth degree. I’m sure we can all identify with the way we were transported when these great talents (whomever you have in mind) began to sing. It seems, at times, as if we are moved to some other place, some other universe as the melodic waves of their vibrato wash over us. But they are not the voice of God. Not even close!

We know that we are commanded to sing. We are told to sing encouragement to each other (Ephesians 5:19) and we are told to sing praise to God (Colossians 3:16).* And that is beautiful, a truly meaningful part of corporate worship. In corporate praise, nothing stirs me more than when the worship leader and the instruments go silent and, with an a cappella unison, God’s children edify each other and exalt our Lord simultaneously by ringing out our songs of adoration. Glorious, right? But this is still not the voice of God singing. Not even close!

Back to Zephaniah 3:17. What is even more amazing than the yet unknown tone of God’s vocals is what He has in mind as He literally “sings over us.” Clearly, He does all things for His own glory and the byproduct of His self-centered (Yes, you read that correctly. You might want to read chapter 6 of David Platt’s new book Radical Together. That chapter is entitled, The God Who Exalts God: We are Selfless Followers of a Self-Centered God.) pursuit of that glory is our eternal good and our unspeakable joy. Not to dive too deeply into the concept that God pursuing His own glory is the most loving thing He can do for us, His children, let’s see what Zephaniah says His singing to us involves.

According to this verse God sings to us:

  • because He is a saving God that dwells with (in) His people.
  • to acknowledge that glorifying Himself by saving us brings Him great joy.
  • to show His compassion towards us brings us peace. A peace with Him and a peace within that defies worldly understanding (Philippians 4:17).
  • because He is glorified in what He has done for us. Therefore He exults (to show or feel a lively or triumphant joy or delight – see Psalm 16:3) over uswith loud (I love that) singing.

This is the love of God for His own. A people that He has chosen, redeemed, and secured for Himself in Christ. His children that He sings over with a voice we can’t begin to fathom, with a divine melody that defies description. It is an infinitely loving lullaby that, I believe, will have Jesus central in the lyrics. This chorus of His passion for us has already begun even though, in the present, we tend to hear Him in that still, small whisper (1 Kings 19:9-13). But one day God’s amplified voice will resonate and echo throughout His entire creation as He sings to us this supernatural love song. From the very mouth of God a thunderous anthem of His indescribable gladness in us will rise with an ever-increasing, infinite crescendo of cosmic delight. It may be as faint as a whisper now but it is so very real. And one day every corner of the universe will hear the heavenly notes of this joyous, agape-saturated serenade trumpeting His love for us.

*This is dedicated to my friend Shaun Ljunggren – may you forever sing God’s praises!

“My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5). 

Recently a traditional, evangelical, non-charismatic mega-church got positive attention over some Sunday services where a large number of folks “came forward” to be obedient to our Lord’s call to believer’s baptism.* As the pastor exclaimed, “If I live to be 100 years old I don’t think I will ever forget what we experienced at the church yesterday…We baptized a deacon. We baptized a deacons wife. We baptized Sunday School teachers. We baptized choir members. We baptized people that have known the Lord longer than I have been alive. It was just amazing!” Wow!  And how did this happen? I’ll let him explain.

 “I had wanted to have a service and call people to spontaneously respond to obedience in baptism but I was always fearful with the “what if” questions. What if no one comes? Won’t that be embarrassing. But, I really felt led to do it. The staff was supportive and on board with it and we decided to give it a shot.” 

“Here is the thing that strikes me. I do not think I have the ability to manipulate anyone into doing that if they did not want to do it. The fact that so many people responded so easily and readily just reinforces to me how important this is, to begin with; and how much it has been on people’s minds for a long time. I did not do anything but take away the excuses and offer people an opportunity to be obedient to the Lord in this area of life.” 

“I would be amiss if I did not say thank-you to some people for their help. Of course, the church staff all played a part in making it happen. The baptismal committee was working like bees behind the scenes. Our counselors were making sure that everyone who needed to talk with someone about understanding what it meant to trust Jesus as Lord and Savior had an opportunity to do that. Our deacons joined our staff in being in the hallways and directing people to the baptistery area. Everyone did a great job. I must also thank several ministry assistants who worked all week to get things ready, [they] went above and beyond to get it done. I don’t know how many trips they all made to local stores to buy underwear, sports bras, shorts, swimsuits and all the things we needed to make it happen. They organized it and got it done!”

That’s it! They had a plan, they organized a program, and they presented the call to be baptized. And it “worked!” Why? Because of “…how important this is, to begin with; and how much it has been on people’s minds for a long time.” And because they all rallied around the plan, “did a great job,” and “got it done.” Can we imagine the church we see in Acts operating this way?

Excuse me, but where is God in all of this? He is not mentioned as the initiator of this effort. He is not given credit for convicting those who responded to the call to be baptized. He is not even thanked (everyone else seems to be) as the source of the power and work that transpired during these services. To me, God didn’t seem to get very much of the glory here. This whole process reminded me of a strategic sales campaign from some Fortune 500 company (I work for one so I can say that -:). Lest we forget, growing God’s church is not about man-generated “results.” “Results” can often happen without God being the impetus behind them. The wise Solomon said, “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1).

Yes, I may be perceived as hyper-critical here (I often pray that God keep me from a critical spirit but nurture a discerning one). But I am not questioning the sincerity of those who came forward. And I’m not suggesting that this church or pastor did not, in their hearts, believe God was the one at work here and not just some church growth methodology coupled with some dedicated workers. But, if they did – and I really do believe (pray) that they did – he never said it. The pastor’s entire account focused on a plan, a program, a presentation, and the people that pulled it off.

Just to check myself, I identified 3 friends and forwarded the pastor’s unabridged description of this event and asked for their opinion. I chose very perceptive students of God’s Word. All 3 responded separately but in concert, “But where’s God in all of this?” Don’t get me wrong, I praise God for those who follow Jesus in baptism, for those who passionately pursue Him and our calling to be His disciple. But I pray that His church realizes just that: it is HIS church. And HE is the one (and only one) who is building it (Matthew 16:18)!

So, since I have a right to be wrong, what do you think about all of this? More importantly, what do you think God thinks?

*Although this post is about one particular situation, it is not meant to be singularly critical of this pastor or church. In reality, this is more a commentary on the contemporary church at large and it’s tendency to be a man-centererd organization than a Christ-led organism.

*****This is from the December 5th reading from the new book Voices From the Past: Puritan Devotional Readings from Banner of Truth. I would urge all pursuers of Christ to read the Puritans and better understand their thinking on the glory of God, divine providence, fellowship with God, holiness of life, mortification of sin, prayer, zeal, redeeming the time, and trust in the Lord during times of affliction – things we all need to embrace in this present day.  

I encountered the devotional below soon after I was informed that my current job function was about to change. My first reaction to the company’s “realignment” was one of severe disappointment and more than a bit of hurt. But, upon pondering God’s loving providence that has led me throughout my life, I began to get excited! He promised to never leave nor forsake me, to be with me even to the ends of the earth. What marvelous thing is God doing that He hasn’t shared with me yet? To me, in the here and now, it doesn’t look very positive. But God is working all things together for my eternal good and His worthy glory (Romans 8:28-31). It may not be what I “want” but it will be His best for me. So let’s consider John Flavel’s words while trusting that God is at work in our work even when it seems as if “the economy,” unions, management, or companies rule our destiny.

“The ways of God’s providence direct us into the calling and employment that is ordered for us in this world.  To have an honest, lawful employment in which you do not dishonour God is no small mercy.  If it is suited also to your genius and strength, this is a double mercy.  If you have less toil than others and more time for heavenly exercises, ascribe this benefit to the special care of providence for you.  How strangely are things wheeled about by providence!  David followed the sheep and likely never raised his thoughts to higher things, but God made him the royal shepherd.  Some have work, but not enough strength.  Others have strength, but no employment.  If God blesses your labour and gives you and yours necessary support and comfort in the world, it is a choice providence and should be acknowledged with all thankfulness.  If you find yourself scarcely able to provide for the necessities of life, consider: though you have a small portion of the world, if you are godly, he has promised never to forsake you (Heb. 13:5).  Providence has ordered the condition that is really best for your eternal good.  If you had more of the world you might not be able to manage it to your advantage.  We are directed to be content with food and clothing, and the little that the righteous has is better than the riches of many wicked (Psa. 37:16).  If providence has so disposed you that you cannot only eat your own bread but have enough for works of mercy upon others, and all this is brought to pass in a way you did not expect, let God be honoured in this providence.  Remember that the success of your callings and earthly employments is by divine blessing and not human diligence alone.  Be well satisfied in the station and employment where you have been placed.  God is wise and seeks your eternal good”. 

John Flavel, Works, IV:387-391


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