Publication: Pastoral Letter, December 2005
Dear Friend in Christ:
Thank you for taking time out from your schedule to read this letter. I hope that it will help you understand our times and strengthen you during these days.
I noted in an earlier letter that the Lord spoke to me one year ago, saying that 2005 would be a year of testing. Carolyn and I went forward to the altar in our local church at the beginning of 2005, to rededicate ourselves to the Lord’s will. It was indeed prophetic.
Let me share for a moment about how to respond to the Lord in the midst of tests and transitions. In the early 1990s, I began teaching on the dangers and opportunities of transitions. I looked at Joseph and Daniel as examples. Transition is a narrow place between the past and the future, much like an inlet between a smaller body of water and a larger one. As the tide rushes through the inlet and empties into the ocean, tides, currents, and winds can create dangerous conditions. A good rudder and strong power are needed to defy the forces that would capsize a boat.
Yesterday is emptying into tomorrow. A smaller world view is pouring rapidly into an expanded one. We are passing from one era to another through a narrow place beset by spiritual forces, natural disasters, and secular opposition. But the purpose is to get out into deeper waters that offer greater opportunities. The Lord’s purpose is to move us out into the world_out of our small sectarian bays, lakes, and tributaries.
I have been through many seasons of transitions. For example, 1970 was a transitional year for me. I was working with other translocal teachers, and moving into a broader calling. I will not catalogue all of the tests, but there were many. I had just given up my salary from the local church, when I faced storms of opposition. I encountered a “prophet” who sought to put a curse on me, “You won’t die a natural death,” he said in anger, after I confronted him.
Then two “con artists” tried to attach themselves to my ministry. One was arrested, the other escaped. I barely escaped a newspaper investigation. Then, I had a shortage of funds as I left for extensive ministry travels in New Zealand_Carolyn had meager funds to operate her budget for our family.
It was during this time that the Lord gave me Psalm 27. So many phrases stood out:
- “The Lord is my Light and my Salvation, whom shall I fear?” (verse 1).
- “One thing have I desired and that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the House of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple” (verse 4).
- “In the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion…” (verse 5).
- “When You said, ‘Seek My face,’ my heart said to You, ‘Your face Lord I will seek’” (verse 8).
- “When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me” (verse 10).
- “Teach me your ways, O Lord…” (verse 11).
- “I would have fainted unless I believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (verse 13).
- “Wait on the Lord and be of good courage, and He will strengthen your heart…” (verse 14).
I recommend this Psalm for times of testing. And, I might add, the Lord delivered me through it all during that season and every one since.
OPPOSITION AND OPEN DOORS
The Lord has not changed since those days. This year, 2005, has been another season of both opposition and open doors. The ministry has taken me to Siberia, Holland, England, and Belgium. In addition, it has taken me from New York to California, and from the Gulf Coast to Wisconsin. While God’s grace was evident everywhere, we have dealt with difficulty.
My wife, Carolyn, was diagnosed with cancer in February and has undergone chemotherapy, surgery, and faces the possibility of radiation. My brother, Riley, an attorney in Texas, has dealt with cancer, and our sister, Carolyn Rodman, has dealt with strokes. Then there was Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which killed more than 1,200 and destroyed several hundred thousand homes here on the central Gulf Coast. My staff and I have been heavily involved in the relief effort.
We have raised and distributed more than $170,000 so far to help support churches and families that were so devastated. Of course, the hurricane not only devastated a large area, but has had a profound effect on the regular financial receipts of Christian ministries, as so much money was needed to help our friends on the coast. Like other ministries, CSM has faced a serious financial shortfall. Our daughter and son-in-law, who are missionaries in Costa Rica, have also experienced income loss.
Our nation itself is in a struggle: inflation, fuel costs, the war, terror threats, natural disasters here and abroad, stock market losses, and other issues have taxed our national economy. Meanwhile, the national division of political forces prevents the ability to work together to solve problems. Our President has battles on many fronts. We are all indeed in a narrow place.
The hurricanes seem to symbolize our spiritual and economic predicament. They “churn up” our world and leave rubble and death.
WHAT TO DO
I have read and heard numerous assessments of why all of this is happening, from global warming to God’s judgment. Many people blame the President. Blame has become a big word in this season. I have read the words of some who are angry at God and blame Him. Blame is not what to do. I have no doubt that whatever the cause, the Lord is speaking to those who will seek His face and listen. And that is the primary thing to do. It is vital that we stay vertical_“Looking unto Jesus.”
When we seek the Lord, rather than running to and fro or leaning on human strength, He will speak to us. He wants to speak even more than we want to listen. Once we have heard, then obedience is “paramount.” It is life and death. Remember what Mary said concerning Jesus: “Whatever He says to you, do it” (see John 2:5).
Another response to these difficulties is to look for opportunities. The citizens of the Kingdom can hope for no better opportunity to serve than in times of stress (see Mark 9:35). If we reach out to those in distress, the Lord will not forget, even when people do.
Soon we will celebrate the Incarnation of the Son of God, the night when angels sang. Christmas is a joyful time even in tough times. Jesus did not choose an easy season in which to be born. Roman rule and religious hypocrisy combined to make life tough. The journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem to pay Roman taxes illustrates the entire situation. Yet, it was the greatest night in history. A star in the night of history represents our Savior and the hope of the world.
As always, the future is a mystery. It is the unexpected that usually defines it. Likely, the same stresses and hopes will continue through the next year. I don’t see political tension or terrorism declining, but I do see the Kingdom expanding in visible ways.
I would offer this counsel: be a reconciler. When Jesus came, He came to reconcile (see 2 Corinthians 5:14-21). He did not count our trespasses, nor should we (see 2 Corinthians 5:19). Counting leads to separation.
Since reconciliation was and is Jesus’ motive, it ought to be ours. In addition, it makes good sense. Division wastes resources on strife. Reconciliation incorporates resources for purpose, and adds the multiplying blessing of God. Look for ways to prevent discord and for ways to heal it.
In that regard, our Annual Leadership Conference at Gatlinburg, TN, will be April 26-28, 2006, and it will focus on “Reconciliation”. Our guest speakers will be our friends Bob Mumford, well- known Bible teacher and pioneer, and Terry Virgo of England, leader of Europe’s largest network of churches. This will be an historic gathering and you are invited.
The more the church unifies around Jesus Christ and the Gospel, the more powerful it will become in spreading the Gospel of the Kingdom. Therefore let unity be our immediate task.
The purpose of this monthly letter is to share from my heart to yours what I am seeing and hearing and hope it strengthens you. Remember those who suffer for the name of Jesus and those who serve in difficult places.
Scripture Reference: Psalms, John, Mark, 2 Corinthians