Publication:Pastoral Letter, March 2019

Dear Friend in Christ:
I sincerely pray that you are doing well. This month, we want to pick up where we left off at the end of the February Pastoral Letter. Luke 4 tells us that Jesus, when tempted and accused by Satan in the wilderness, declared: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God’” (Luke 4:1-4).

From this, we see that the Word of God gives us life; it is our sustenance, it is our very bread. God’s Word is not just our compass and guide; it is our oxygen, our food, our water. As we feed on the Word, we receive life, health, strength, and joy.

In the story we read from Luke 4, we saw that it was the Word that gave Jesus strength and sustenance in the wilderness, a harsh physical and spiritual place of testing. For Jesus, an emphasis on the Word was not a hindrance to worship, but it was actually foundational for true worship and it prevented misdirected worship.

In that brutal desert environment, Jesus was being tempted by the devil himself. Satan is not omnipresent … he cannot be everywhere at once. He is not omnipotent… the devil is not all powerful, though he is more powerful than any human being can be apart from Jesus. Also, the enemy is not omniscient, or all-seeing, but he is very crafty, flattering, devious—he knows how to appeal to the weaknesses of our flesh.

The enemy tempted Jesus in three different scenarios, the first two of which we covered last month. First, the devil attempted to manipulate Jesus’ physical hunger by tempting Him to do a magic trick that could satisfy His flesh and to stroke whatever ego the devil imagined that Jesus must have: “Turn these stones into bread!” When that effort at temptation failed, the devil created an illusion to tempt Jesus into counterfeit worship by committing idolatry. Jesus replied, “Get behind me! It is written, ‘Worship the Lord Your God and only Him shall you serve!’” (see Deuteronomy 6:13).

COUNTERFEIT POWER
That was “Strike Two” for the devil, but he had another trick up his sleeve: “Then he (the devil) brought Him (Jesus) to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here. For it is written: He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you, and, In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘It has been said, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God’” (Luke 4:9-12).

Just as Satan tried to tempt Jesus with false food and false worship, he also tempted Jesus with false power. He tried to induce Jesus to create a spectacle with the angels. And the devil quoted the Bible to Jesus. The devil knows Bible verses, but he will never use them correctly because he is the enemy of the Author. The devil will try to misuse God’s Word to war against God’s will. To the immature or the non-discerning, it can become a trap.

Likewise, the enemy is an expert at counterfeiting worship and concocting false fires of supernatural activity. If you are simply chasing the supernatural and not following the Holy Spirit, you are going to be easily deceived. If you only want the supernatural to fulfill your selfish desires or to entertain you, then you are going to fall for the enemy’s plan and get the enemy’s result. You’ll find out that the shiny object you were chasing was only fool’s gold.

The enemy tried to pervert God’s beautiful promises of protection for us. Jesus was having none of it and He rebuked the enemy with the powerful Word of God from Deuteronomy 6, quoting: “It has been said, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’”

God will not be played with or manipulated. If we expect Him to protect or bless us when we are perverting His Word, rebelling against His plan, or acting presumptuously, we will find that the fall is long and the landing is hard. Everyone wants to see God do something spectacular, and He often does! God’s acts are mighty, they are powerful, and they bring salvation. The Holy Spirit still does miracles today! But it is God’s ways, given to us in His Word, revealed to us by His Spirit, that give us life day-by-day. I recently heard my Dad say: “God’s acts deliver us, but God’s ways preserve us.”

We need to stay in the Word and learn God’s ways, because the enemy will come back again when we least expect it. We know that the devil tempted Jesus again, because Luke 4:13 says this about the wilderness experience: “Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.”

But Jesus, having been filled with the Spirit, and found faithful in the wilderness, went forth in God’s power and wisdom and began to teach the people. He was ready. He emerged in power, out of weakness. The Word was in Him, the Spirit was on Him, and His path was clear.

ACCORDING TO YOUR WORD
Jesus, the Living Word, was conceived by the Spirit and confirmed by the Eternal Word. When Gabriel announced to Mary in Luke 1 that she would bear the Messiah, her response in faith was, “Be it unto me, according to your word.”

She had questions, but she did not have doubt. She asked, “How can this be?” She knew it was true; she didn’t understand how it was true. But she believed the Word. She knew the Lord had spoken and that He would cause it to happen. What was impossible with people was made possible by the Word of God.

God spoke His Word and the universe was created. Receiving His Word into our hearts and minds will transform us, sustain us, and work through us to do what is impossible with men.

CLEANSING THE HEART
In Psalm 119, we see that the Word has the power to wash us and to keep our hearts pure. When we meditate upon it, God’s Word will keep us on target and keep our feet moving in the right direction:

“How can a young man cleanse his way, by taking heed according to Your word. With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments! Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You. Blessed are You, O LORD! Teach me Your statutes. With my lips I have declared all the judgments of Your mouth. I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches. I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways. I will delight myself in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word” (Psalm 119:9-16).

It’s important to note that the Psalmist doesn’t tell us to just look at the Word, or just listen to it for 30 minutes on a Sunday; he says it works on us as we “take heed”, which means:

  • Reverencing and respecting it instead of taking it for granted or ignoring it
  • Not treating it flippantly or casually
  • Paying careful attention to it
  • Loving and taking delight in it
  • Willingness to do what it says; obedience is one of the ways we tell God we love Him

Psalm 119:105 says the Word is a lamp to our feet and light to our path. Now, stay with me here! This verse implies movement; we are going somewhere with God, in His direction, grace, and power. In verse 10, the Psalmist says he seeks the Lord’s Word “with my whole heart”. This is the key to receiving the Word of God. We can’t approach His Word half-heartedly and expect to get the fullness of His provision for us.

Some people may glance at this letter or hear the sound of my voice reading Scripture via preaching. But only those who truly love the Lord, who hunger for His Word and His presence, will receive His revelation. Some hear the sound of the Lord’s voice and think it’s merely thunder. But those whose hearts follow hard after the Lord, who thirst for His Spirit, will know His voice, listen to it, understand it, and respond.

A desire to avoid sin is not just a plot to become a shiny religious paragon, but it is relational; to be able to walk with God in perfect fellowship and not be separated; to walk in the ways that lead to life instead of death. The Word is not only directional, but it gives us faith and power. Faith comes by hearing the Word.

The Word of God is more than just the Law of God. The Word of God is the Law, the Prophets, and the grace of God in Christ which fulfills the Law and the Prophets. Jesus is the Word made flesh.

THE WORD OF CHRIST
Beware of any preacher or pundit who seeks to set the Old and New Testaments against one another. Beware of anyone who seeks to denigrate or lessen the importance of The Holy Bible as an essential foundation for our faith. Beware of anyone who seeks to divorce the settled Word of God from the activity of the Holy Spirit. Beware of anyone who seeks to divorce the teachings of Paul from the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus did not come to abolish the Old Covenant but to fulfill it, and He offers us grace and power in the Holy Spirit to move in God’s perfect plan for our lives. Jesus Himself frequently quoted from the Old Testament as did His followers. Jesus and His followers understand that He is both the fulfillment and the embodiment of God’s Word. If you want to know what the Father thinks, listen to what Jesus says and watch what the Spirit is doing!

Proverbs 4:23 gives us this timely reminder: “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Are you heart healthy? Do you have a heart for the Word? Ask Him today to fill and keep your heart. .

Also, please visit us here for information and to register for our 2019 CSM Gatlinburg Leadership Conference, happening SOON, May 14-16. Our theme is “Spirit & Truth” and we have an exceptional line-up of speakers including Charles Simpson, Brad Sullivan, Chris Hyatt, Jamie Johnson, and Curtis Forman.

Thank you for praying for CSM as we continue to publish, travel, and serve God’s people around the world. Would you prayerfully consider a special financial gift to support the work of this ministry in March? And, we do ask you to lift us up in prayer as we move forward in our mission. God bless you and yours this month and always!

In Jesus,
Stephen Simpson
President

Scripture references: Luke 4:1-13; Deuteronomy 6:13; Luke 1; Pslam 119; Proverbs 4:23