Publication: Pastoral Letter, September 2007
Dear Friend in Christ:
I pray that you and yours had a blessed summertime; this has been a momentous time for our family and this ministry, and I will be sharing more about that later in this letter. Also, I want to share something with you that the Lord has put on my heart this month about the importance of clarity and how we can achieve it.
Errors in communication can sometimes be humorous, such as these found in church bulletins: “Please pray for all who are sick of our church.” Or, “This will be our pastor’s final message; following, the choir will sing, Break Forth into Joy.”
All of us have to deal with miscommunication. “But I thought you said…” or, “Please return this; it is not what I ordered.” I recently called a number seeking to repair an appliance. I was connected with a man in another country; after some confusion, he referred me to a person in Texas. Then there is everyone’s favorite: “If you want ____ , press one; if you want _____, press two.”
Some miscommunication can be funny, some frustrating, but some can be fatal. Clarity is a sign that says, “Danger,” or one that says, “STOP.” Clarity is when someone shouts, “Fire!” There can be no doubt as to the situation or danger involved. O that the Church could be so clear in its message!
Jesus communicated clearly as to who He was and what His purpose was_and is. He also wanted his disciples to be clear. So He asked, “Who do men say that I am?” They replied, “Some say you are John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or some other prophet.” People were confused. Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter spoke up, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
Jesus responded, “You are blessed, Peter: you did not get that from people; my Father in Heaven revealed that to you. And I also say that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it” (see Matthew 16:13-18).
To understand any passage of Scripture, one should compare it to all Scripture, because there is no contradiction (see 2 Peter 1:20). Let us therefore look at Matthew chapters 5-7. This is often referred to as the “Sermon on the Mount.” Many refer to it as the “Constitution of the Kingdom.” In these chapters Jesus describes who will receive His Kingdom, how they will live, forgive, think, pray, be treated, give, love, serve, trust, discern, and obey.
Jesus closes this discourse with a comparison of two men who built houses: one upon the sand, the other upon a rock. The one who built upon a rock endured the storms of life, the other did not. Jesus clearly states that the rock was what he said in Matthew 5-7: His Word is about His Kingdom.
Jesus is the Living Word (John 1:1-14). He is the foundation for personal life, the Church, and all endurance against Hell’s efforts to destroy. His word to us is that He is the anointed King and God-ordained ruler of all (Psalm 2, Psalm 110). The Church is built upon the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is not the Church, it is the Rock upon which the Church is built. Confusion on this issue has caused great harm. The Church holds no franchise on the Kingdom_it only holds the message. If it forsakes the Kingdom message, it holds nothing and will not stand.
Jesus declared, “This Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world and then the end shall come” (see Matthew 24:14). “Thy Kingdom come” is the heart of our prayer to the Father. References to His Kingdom in both testaments number in the thousands. The Bible begins and ends with that theme, and all of history struggles with that word.
The apostles understood and proclaimed the kingdom of God, and Jesus Christ as the anointed King. They faithfully delivered that message without attempting to modify it (see Jude 3). In Acts 2, the apostle Peter proclaimed Christ as King, and that day 3000 people received Him as King. They were born and baptized into the Kingdom (see John 3:1-5; Colossians 1:13).
The apostle Paul preached the Kingdom at Ephesus, and many received Christ (see Acts 19). In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul writes about the Resurrection and return of Jesus Christ, and His ultimate return of the Kingdom to the Father. Hebrews 12 speaks of the unshakeable Kingdom. Revelation 19 describes Jesus as the King of kings.
The apostolic message leaves no doubt as to who Jesus is and why He came. But somewhere between then and now, the Church has confused the message. It has taken the benefits of Kingdom life and tried to make them available without the King. Sometimes the Church has proclaimed itself, social issues that belonged to Kingdom life, or some notion of relevance such as style or gender issues. And the world wonders what exactly we are attempting to say.
The early Church understood the message: “Jesus is Lord!” Yes, He is Lord indeed! And, they were willing to die for it. The world understood what they were saying; it was clear.
The Church desperately needs a “second touch” that will bring clarity to its message. The primary issue is not our methods, it is our message. One may promote cell groups, discipleship, user-friendly approaches, postmodern jargon, or something else. But the question remains: What are we saying to the world?
The Biblical view of humanity without Christ is that it is lost. “It is without direction and hope, subject to self-interest and to the dominion of darkness, which uses our own appetite against us Romans 7, Ephesians 2:1-3, Colossians 1:13). The goal of Jesus’ message was to deliver us from our wayward selves into His benevolent government of love and truth – from self-will to His will (see Matthew 6:10).
One need not look far to see that indeed humanity is lost without Jesus. The reign of self has brought oppression, death, and destruction to billions of people. Self-gratification is the door entered by drugs, ambition, wars, disease, and poverty. Selfishness is the underlying cause of family destruction, abortion, and murder – not to mention a host of crimes. And no other message or “educational” procedure has successfully addressed our “lost-ness”.
Jesus came to address our condition, to give us a new birth into his Kingdom, a new life, and a new hope. He came to seek and save the lost – those without a compass (see Luke 19:10). He did not come to condemn us; we had that already (see John 3:17-18). He came to release us from condemnation and to give us His Spirit, Who brings righteousness, peace, and joy (see Romans 14:17).
The goal is not to give us something, but to give us Himself – it’s all in Him. His purpose is beyond our personal experience; it is to bring glory and honor to Himself through its work in us – so that the world can see it and glorify God (see Matthew 5:14-16).
To those who receive Him, He gives the right to become the sons of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, and abundant life that makes us life-givers (see John 1:12).
We get what we preach. Mixed messages get mixed results. The Church is preaching a multitude of messages and we have reaped a mixed-up multitude. Paul preached “Dead to self and alive to Christ” (see Romans 6:1-14). Paul and the apostles reaped a more committed Church.
Many contemporary “members” are still very much alive to self. They get their feelings hurt and in return, hurt others. Because they haven’t truly given their lives to Jesus, the church leadership cannot govern them either. These may be “church people” but not Kingdom people.
A major issue is the large percentage of Church people who do not even attend. Another is those who continue to change churches in search for a more suitable message. My father joked about a man who taught his pigs to come to the trough by beating a stick against a tree. It worked until a woodpecker came along and ran the pigs to death. Too many Church people are running after “woodpeckers.”
Our problems in the area of results go directly back to the message that we preach. Kingdom messages produce Kingdom people, dead to itself, alive to Christ, unshakable in faith.
We do not want to stand before God and say, “But I thought you said….” This message and its purpose are too important. Neither we nor our hearers can afford a mixed message with mixed results. The ravages of reality are destroyers of too many “houses,” and a lot of those houses belong to church members.
In order to communicate, we may have to first listen to or serve our hearers. We may have to build credibility and wait for opportunity, but finally our message is that salvation lies in His Lordship over us and over all.
The message goes beyond self-improvement, methods, or styles of worship. It goes to the heart of our struggle: Who will govern our lives? What are we building our lives upon, His Word or our will?
When the message gets clear, so will a lot of other issues such as how we live, who we serve, and what our goals are. “Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven,” is both our prayer and our message. Let’s be clear.
DECLARING THE MESSAGE
I am so grateful for your continued prayer and support, and I have some wonderful news. With your help, we have been able to finally pay for the Hidden Treasures property in Costa Rica! Praise God! Now, our hope is to raise the funds to begin construction on facilities there in early 2008. Many children and families have already been strengthened_lives have literally been saved_through this ministry, and we believe these facilities will greatly expand and enhance our ability to assist so many more.
We have also done a major overhaul of our CSM website (www.csmpublishing.org), adding numerous features and options, including downloadable audio messages, the new “Time Out with Coach: Season One” series, and an interactive Discussion Forum. There is also great information about the Hidden Treasures ministry and many new features, resources, and updates are being added regularly. Check in daily and let us know what you think!
On a personal note, I want to thank you for your prayers for my wife, Carolyn. The Lord has been gracious to give her strength and her spirits are very strong. Please continue to keep her, and all of us, in your prayers, and remember CSM in your budget this month.
In all that we say and do, we want to honor the Lord Jesus, to declare His Kingdom, and to serve His people. May all of the blessings of Christ’s Kingdom be yours in days ahead and always.
Scripture Reference: Matthew, 2 Peter, John, Psalms, Acts, Jude, 1 Corinthians, Revelation, Ephesians, Colossians, Luke, John, Romans