GUEST BLOGGER PAM ARLUND ON NUMBERS 1-4: GOD COUNTS!
I've actually been journeying with The Journey for about three years now, and it's been really fun to watch the transformation that this church has gone through. I just want to say being in here this morning, I might cry, it's good. It's good to see what God has been doing with you. So many of you recognize that I was new here and you came up and greeted me, and that is already a sign of a healthy church. I'm actually pretty introverted, but I know when I come into church I just seem to have some hospitality even if I am introverted, so I just want to say thanks for letting me be a little bit of a part of that journey.
I work with All Nations Family, and our vision is to see Jesus worshiped by all the peoples of the Earth. Those of you who are taking Perspectives, you know that this just sounds like Perspectives 101. We're not motivated by duty or obligation. We're motivated because Jesus is just so beautiful. He's just so beautiful and he's so worthy of worship and praise, not only by everybody here, but everybody in all of the world.
The way we do that is we make disciples and train leaders to ignite church planting movements among the neglected peoples of the Earth. Now that's like a whole lot of really long words, but this is what we do. We look around the world and we see where there are no believers and where there are no churches and no missionaries, and then we go to those places. Unfortunately, there are way too many of those places still available on planet Earth today. There are about 7,000 different people groups who have yet to hear of how amazing and wonderful our Jesus is.
I think I need to steward God's story, because if you watch the evening news you're not going to get God's story on the evening news, so I want to give you just a few headlines from just the text messages I've received in the last two days.
Yesterday in Cape Town, South Africa 500,000 people gathered together for a prayer meeting, 500,000 people. They've been in one of the worst droughts in all of South African history, so much that they have had water rationing, and they weren't sure what was going to happen. Guess what happened in the middle of the prayer meeting? It rained. Isn't that amazing? It rained. It's good. They were under their umbrellas and they were happy to be dancing in the mud, right, because they were so happy for the rain.
Then I got another video from Taiwan. Our Taiwanese church is getting ready to send two gals out to work with the Syrian refugees that are in Germany, so people from Taiwan are going to Germany, and that church in Germany is led by a guy from Iran who had been arrested previously because he was an atheist. Did you know that you get persecuted not only for being a Christian in Iran, but you get persecuted also for being an atheist.
But when he went as a refugee to Germany a guy from Montana intercepted him, one of our All Nations missionaries, and he said, "Look, you speak English and I need you to help me understand what this culture and what this language is like," and the guy said, "That's fine, but I want nothing to do with your Jesus," and here we are, two years later, and that guy who didn't want anything to do with that Jesus is the pastor of a church full of people from Afghanistan and Iran and Syria.
God is doing some great things on planet earth, friend, and I get the privilege of seeing it. I feel so honored and privileged, and I want to bring some of that good news to you so that you're not just stuck with what you see on TV. I honestly thought when the pastor asked me to preach basically from Numbers 1-4, I was like really? Gee, thanks. Like Numbers 1-4? Could you make it any harder on me, right?
He actually said I didn't have to do it if I didn't want to, so first I was like I think I'm just going to blow it off, right? I'm just going to talk about whatever I want to talk about. But I thought, no, I should look at Numbers 1-4. The thing is, I started getting excited about it. It's like all the scripture is actually exciting, right? Even Numbers.
I know it may not seem like it right off the bat, but I want you to recognize ... And hopefully you guys have been watching those Bible project videos, right? So those things are amazing, and you'll know that they've been at the foot of Mt. Sinai for a year and they're about to start walking. They're about to start on a very long journey that shouldn't have been a very long journey. That's one of the things that is a sign of the grace of God. Sometimes I think yeah, Lord, I completed this journey of a week in 40 years. Thanks. I finally made it.
So they've got this tent, and this tent is where they're worshiping. I put a picture up here because you may not be able to visualize what that Tabernacle or tent looks like. You'll notice that there's two different sections in it, right? So there's this inner section that only a few people can go into, and this outer section that a few more people can go into, but actually still not very many people.
Then what's interesting in the text is right outside the tent actually even very few people can go there, that God is so holy that very few people can enter into his presence. But isn't it great that here we are at Palm Sunday, and we know what comes next Sunday, that we can walk straight into that presence. But that wasn't available to them at this time period.
I don't want to read all of Numbers to you, but I want to take a look at this section because I thought it was actually pretty cool. This is verses 50 through 53. So I put up there ESV, but you can read along in whatever version you happen to have.
It says, "But appoint the Levites over the Tabernacle of the Testimony and over all its furnishings and over all that belongs to it. They are to carry the Tabernacle and all its furnishings and they shall take care of it and shall camp around the Tabernacle. When the Tabernacle is to set out the Levites shall take it down, and whenever the tabernacle is to be pitched the Levites shall set it up, and if any outsider comes near he shall be put to death.
"The people of Israel shall pitch their tents by their companies, each man in his own camp, and each man by his own standard. But the Levites shall camp around the Tabernacle of the Testimony so that there may be no wrath on the congregation of the people of Israel, and the Levites shall keep guard over the Tabernacle of the Testimony."
There's a couple of things that stood out to me. In the passage leading up to this little section that I read they count all the different groups that are there, and they use this Hebrew word mishpachah, clans. Now we don't know, because I don't know Hebrew probably any better than you do, but I live in an electronic era, right? So it makes it super easy for me to research these things. They're counting by their father's clan, is what many of your English translations will say, and that Hebrew word there is mishpachah.
Now you guys are probably pretty familiar with Genesis 12:1-3. Genesis 12 is where God says to Abraham I'm going to bless you so that you can be a blessing and all the mishpachah on earth will be blessed through you. All the mishpachah, clans, all the families, all the people groups on earth will be blessed through you.
So any Jew reading this passage is going to be like, "Ah-ha, Genesis 12." Of course it wasn't numbered back then, right? But they're going to be thinking of that covenant that God made with Abraham and be like yes, God promised that all the peoples, all the families on Earth would be blessed through us, and we're an inheritor of that. So it stands to reason that God will ask us to count the clans and the people groups to see how we're doing, to see how we're doing in that task.
What's interesting to me is I spend a lot of my days counting people groups. I'm the Global Training and Research Leader for my organization. I just was counting people groups this week to see how we're doing, and I was like, "Oh, my gosh, I'm living out the Book of Numbers." I'm living out the Book of Numbers, where we're still counting to see how are we doing. We've all been blessed to be a blessing, and we'll know when we're successful when we count the numbers and every people group on Earth is counted among the brothers and sisters.
So I actually live the Book of Numbers on a day-to-day basis. I didn't even know that myself. So I started to get excited. I started to get excited, thinking I'm not that geeky after all, right? This is like a biblical thing to do. But you know what? The sad part is . . . Of course there's still 7,000 people groups where they're not celebrating Palm Sunday. They're not celebrating the king of all kings.
What I love actually about our identity is that our identity is only secondarily American. Our identity is only secondarily maybe somebody from Oklahoma. Our identity is first and foremost that global body of Jesus Christ, and we have far more in common with the brother or sister in Zambia or Uganda or Zimbabwe than we do actually with our secular neighbors right here in town. We have this global family that we're a part of, and our global family just isn't quite big enough yet. Jesus isn't being worshiped in all the peoples of the earth.
The other thing that got me excited is . . . notice I put the word testimony in red. A lot of your Bible translations will translate this word as covenant. It's true that it is the covenant, but if you look at the root word that's there in the Hebrew, it does mean witness or testimony. This agreement that God has made between himself and humankind is testimony. It's testimony. This is what we were made for. This is what we were designed for.
See the image below in this blog post to help illustrate what's happening here in the Book of Numbers.
As I was reading it I thought gosh, God, are you really that picky? Are you really that picky about how all of the different tribes lay themselves out?
But look, this picture actually explains why God is being picky. Do you see those two people in the upper right-hand corner? Do you see that they're looking down at this peculiar, strange, unusual arrangements of peoples and they're saying, "Those people are weird." Why are they so weird? What's so different about them? Why are they in these little groups like this and what's that fire in the middle?
So yes, God cares because he wants people to come along and say what is different about those people, the same way he wants people to come along to us and say what is different about those people? How is it that they're able to care for one another? How is it that their families have peace within them?
I was working with a Muslim woman in western China. She had been struggling to follow Jesus for a long time, and I just couldn't figure out why she wasn't getting breakthrough in Jesus, you know? I finally actually started talking to her about her family and I got some materials that had been translated into the Chinese language, which she could also read and write, on basically peace within the family.
So she came back to me one day and she said, "This is what I've learned. I've learned that when my husband and I fight and my son and I fight, that when I say, 'I forgive you,' I shouldn't bring it up again next week." I said, "Yeah, that's good. That's good. Yeah." I thought oh, my gosh, I'm really bad at being a missionary. I mean it took me this long to figure out like that was the problem? She didn't understand forgiveness?
But what was much more interesting to me is within the next few weeks her neighbors started coming to her and they said, "We don't hear you screaming through the walls anymore. What's different about you? We see you and your husband and how you have peace with one another. What's different about you?" The reason why he didn't have a witness was because she didn't have this miracle of peace. When she had this miracle of peace she was strange, weird, different, and then the Gospel began to percolate actually through this people group finally, not because of a miraculous healing, although we often see those, and those are wonderful, but because of a miracle that we kind of take for granted, peace within the family, joy within the family, peace and joy in everyday life. So God is setting them up to be different, to be a testimony, to be a witness by the way that they live their lives.
Now if you look at these numbers, there are over 600,000 people mentioned, and they're actually just counting the warriors, so there's probably even more people than that. But I notice that they had 8,000 Levites, and I'm rounding off the numbers, okay, because I don't think you care particularly, but you can look them up in your Bible.
So they've got 600,000 people, and 8,000 Levites are camped around to care for the Tabernacle. We need to have people who care and tend the glory of the Lord. It's good that we have professions, and that's good and right, but we do need to have people that are set aside just to care for the Tabernacle of the Lord and are freed from some of those other responsibilities. And you know what? Our missionaries are some of those folks that get freed from some of those other responsibilities.
It's actually probably true that I could get a really good, high paying job, given the level of skill and expertise that I have. But I asked my friends and family to free me up from working in the marketplace so that I could be full-time involved in sharing the Gospel cross-culturally. You know what's amazing about that? Is that when my people group, the one I worked with in China, walk into heaven on that day, on that coming of the Lord day, my friends who have been engineers and worked as engineers, they're going to get every bit as much credit for that people group as I am, because if they hadn't been working as engineers and custodians and teachers and providing a way for me to be freed up to do that, it would have never happened.
So I am convinced that every bit of the glory of the Lord among that people group belongs to those people who sent me as much as it belongs to me, just like all of those people camped around, not just the Levites who are on the inside, but all of those people are a witness working together for the glory of the Lord here in the Book of Numbers.
I was also asked to look at the Book of Romans. If you look here at the Book of Romans, it says in Romans 1:5 ... Paul is talking now, right? You guys know that this is Paul talking in the Book of Romans. Paul says, "Through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations." This is the word "ethne" here, so we get our word ethnicity, right? We usually have ethnic festivals in America.
You have your Irish festival or your Greek festival or something like that, so once again we're talking about all the people groups. But if you also look at the New Living, which is the same verse again here in the New Living, it says, "Through Christ, God has given us the privilege and authority as apostles to the gentiles everywhere," privilege and authority. Being a follower of Jesus is a privilege. That grace that we receive, it's good to think of it as privilege, because that's what it is.
If you look here at verse 8, it says, "I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you because your faith is proclaimed in all the world." It actually is in all the cosmos, the entire world, their faith is being proclaimed because they're different. They're different than the rest of the people around them.
Look finally, it says, "I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and to the foolish." This word non-Greeks is the word barbarian. The Barbars are the people who basically spoke a language that was so weird that the Romans didn't what to do with it. It sounded like blah, blah, blah, blah to them, so the Romans called them barbarians, because their languages were so weird to them.
Now as a linguist of course I'm like that's not really very nice, but you know what? To the Romans, when they're looking out, they're saying those people aren't nice, and Paul was saying we're obligated to those people to share the Gospel with them. We're obligated to those here in our neighborhoods and in our workplaces, but we're also obligate to the people who aren't nice.
A lot of times when we get ready to send out missionaries, people ask us is that safe, and we say no. No, it's not safe. It's not safe. That's not a good reason to not do it. We don't hide from the danger. We don't hide, because we've already died to Christ, right? The cool thing about us is that we know we're going to live eternally, so Jesus can look at us and he can watch our body die on earth and still look at us and say, "You're okay," because he sees our eternal existence in heaven in a way that we don't.
So when he sees our physical body wasting away and when he sees us dying for his namesake he can still say, "You're okay. You're still okay, because I see who you really are. I see the eternal you in heaven and I know that this body is a temporary thing." So we don't shrink back from danger. We don't shrink back from those difficult people. We go to those people who are the barbarians to us, the people who are uncouth and not nice, and we go there anyway.
When I was asking the Lord about this whole missions thing many years ago, I said, "Jesus, I think you've actually kind of messed it up." Now when I say that I know I'm wrong, okay, so just hang in there. I said, "This system that you've created, Jesus, is inefficient. Jesus, if you're here and you want that guy over there to know about you, why don't you just like appear in bodily form? That's an available option for you.
"Or why don't you just like strike him with lightning or do whatever you need to do to grab his attention, but why would you put me in the middle and tell me to go and make disciples when you know what I'm like, Jesus? You know I'm going to mess it up. You know I'm going to shrink back in fear. You know I'm going to struggle to do it well and you know that you could do it so much better. This is a terrible, inefficient system."
He said to me what he often says to me. He could say, "You're stupid," but instead he says, "My daughter, you don't understand." It's just like one of those things he says to me a lot, right? "My daughter, you don't understand." He's just so gentle, right, when he talks to us and he corrects these things in our lives.
He said, "This mission thing isn't an obligation, it's not a duty, it's not that I need you to do it, because I'm not a God who is served by human hands." That's what the scriptures say. He says, "I can do this whole thing without you if I want to and if I need to." He says, "I involve you because I've given you the privilege and apostleship," just those words that were in Romans 1, and he gave me this analogy.
He said, "Missions is like this." By the way, being a missionary is not a matter of location. It's a matter of frame of mind, so you should be a missionary to your workplaces, your schools, your neighborhoods. It's not a matter of being 12 time zones away or over there. Being a missionary is a frame of mind.
He said, "Being a missionary is like a mom who is getting ready to do the Christmas baking." Now back in '70s, when we were still allowed to eat sugar, right, Christmas baking was like a really big deal. So my mom would get everything out on the counter. Our kitchen wasn't that big, but the entire kitchen counter was covered with flour and eggs and chocolate chips, and it was the one time of year that we actually even had a little rum in the house, because she was going to make some rum balls, right? So it was kind of exciting.
I would walk in ... I'm the little girl, right, mom's only little girl, as a matter of fact, and I walked in and I see mom getting ready to do Christmas baking. So what does the little girl say? "Can I help? Can I help?" Mom looks at the little girl and she's like, "Little girl, you're going to make it so much harder. There's going to be flour everywhere. There'll be eggshells in the cookies that we're going to make and the cookies will be like all lopsided and weirdly decorated."
Mom looks at the little girl and she says, "Yes, you can help." I think that mom says yes to the little girl for two reasons, and one of them isn't because the little girl is about to make it more efficient. She's about to make it far less efficient, but she says yes for two reasons. One, she likes the little girl. She just likes to be with her, and we have a heavenly father who just likes to be with us.
The second reason is because she wants the little girl to grow up to make her own cookies and do her own Christmas baking and her own rum balls some day, so she wants to begin to train her, and we have a heavenly father who wants us to be just like him, to have his character and his nature. Our heavenly father doesn't make cookies, he makes disciples, and so he lets us participate in the things that he makes so that we can become just like him.
Now moms that are really smart, they're looking at the little girl and they're like, "Oh, no, I'm going to have to give the dog a bath and there's going to be flour on the ceiling. I'm going to have to rub down the whole house when we're done." So mom takes control of the situation and she takes the easiest tasks, right, the absolute easiest tasks, and she gives them to the little girl to do. Mom is like, "Let me crack all the eggs first."
She puts her hands around the little girl and she pours those eggs in and she cuts open the chocolate chip bag and puts her hands around, and the little girl is really not making it more efficient, but the mom is giving her some easy tasks to do. And when they finish and dad comes home at the end of the day mom says to the dad, "Do you see the cookies our daughter made?" She lets the little girl be a glory stealer for work that she didn't really do.
That's what our heavenly father is like. He gives us the easiest, simplest tasks to do and he knows we're going to mess them up anyway, and he lets us participate. Then he lets us be glory stealers. I get to come in here and tell you the wonderful things I've done or the wonderful things that All Nations has done, and we've done really next to nothing compared to what Jesus has done, but he lets us participate because he loves us too much to leave us out of the equation.
It's a privilege to get to share this good news with others. It's a privilege, and we're going to keep counting until we finally get to those last people groups, because we're not there. The statistical box below shows the number of unreached peoples that are in the world today, and I'm going to tell you, friends, that I could come back here in a year and every single one of those could be zero. This is the completable task in our lifetime.
There's enough believers on earth, there's enough money among the believers on earth, there's enough skill among the believers on earth, and I'm not just talking about the believers from Oklahoma. I'm talking about the believers from South America. One of our best, most fruitful missionaries in India is a guy that Peggy found, and he's from Guatemala, and he's working in India.
Some of our best and most fruitful workers in Northern Africa are people from Southern Africa. Some of our best and most fruitful workers in the Middle East are Chinese people that have been sent out. We're part of a global family of Jesus that's bigger than ever, and we are privileged to live in this time period, where we can see that the glory of Jesus really could be in every single people group by the end of our lifetime.
So could I just close this blog in prayer and ask that this would be so? I want to be part of that generation that sees all of those numbers go down to zero, that the next time we write the Book of Numbers in our modern time period every single people group will be a part of God's kingdom. So let me just close in prayer and pray for that.
Lord Jesus, we thank you that you count, that you count all the families and clans on planet Earth, and you haven't lost a single one of them. You haven't lost our families here. You haven't lost any family there, and that you have a plan for each and every one of them. Now we ask you could we please be the generation ... Could we please be the generation that writes then new Book of Numbers and sees those numbers go down to zero, that there are no people groups left anywhere that haven't heard about Jesus.
We thank you Lord for the privilege of co-laboring with you and we say we love you and we love working with you. We love making disciples with you. Help us to be good at it Lord. Show us the way we pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Pam Arlund is with All Nations Family. We first met Pam because she is a Perspectives speaker. Pam has a wealth of experience working as a linguist/translator and as a church planter in Central Asia. For ten years she planted simple churches among three people groups. She now trains others to live the Great Commission. She earned an MA and a PhD in linguistics from UT Arlington.