Publication: Pastoral Letter, November 2009
Dear Friend in Christ:
The Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared.” As a Scout, I was taught to be prepared for situations that might occur- I should have stayed in Scouting much longer! I was taught to be physically, mentally, and morally straight, and strong. How little did I realize the vital importance of preparedness. The world has dramatically changed since my Scouting days, and so many of the changes have caught us unprepared.
The dramatic events of the last one hundred years should have taught us more than they did. My grandfather had to declare bankruptcy as a result of the 1929 and subsequent economic crashes. Dad had to drop out of college and go to work. Hitler caught the Western nations unprepared. Pearl Harbor caught the U.S. unprepared. On September 11, 2001,we were unprepared again, as we were in the financial crash of 2008.Unexpected crises often leave devastation and disillusionment. “Too little, too late,” is a sad phrase indeed.
We still naively depend on the experts to keep us prepared, and often, they have not. President Reagan made famous the phrase, “Trust but verify.” Like the motto, “Be prepared”, it is good advice. Assumptions and wishful thinking are setups for trouble.
The world is still changing; in fact, change is accelerating. I do not like to say that because we would all enjoy a long season of stability, peace, and quiet. However, we are not in control. In the last election, people voted for “change”. I wonder if they really understood and are prepared for the changes ahead: international realignments, changes in currency, interest rates, cultural morality, political instability, religious decline, and most of all-the unforeseen.
One of the more concerning and underlying challenges is that popular psychology has grossly underestimated the human potential for evil and has ignored the Divine Cure. “Utopianism” and secular humanism continue to deceive many as to our need for salvation from ourselves-all of us. Optimism is only as good as the place where one has placed their trust. Misplaced trust is a recipe for crisis.
Secularism promises us a “righteousness, peace, and joy” apart from the Holy Spirit. But, in fact, apart from the Holy Spirit, we are naked, poor, deaf, and blind. The Lord admonished the Laodicean church, “You say I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing-and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (see Revelation 3:17-18). The phrase that bothers me is “and do not know.” Crisis comes from what we do not know.
Pearl Harbor and 9/11 came from what we did not know. The Pearl Harbor crisis awakened our nation, but 9/11 did not. My question is, can we be awakened or is our moral slumber and dependence upon “experts” too deep to allow an awakening? I pray not. Like Jesus, who warned a perishing generation, we cannot depend on political and religious leaders for that awakening. It is a personal issue.
The natural answers to preparedness lie in education, jobs, savings, insurance, armaments, and more. While these maybe useful, they do not meet biblical standards. Nor have they saved us from past crises. Human wisdom fails us. We must rid ourselves of false confidence in human knowledge and ability while also avoiding cynicism. Germany has historically led the world in academic standards of science and technology, producing some of the world’s highest quality products. They led the world in rocket technology. In addition, Germany has given the world some of its most noted theologians. That knowledge failed to prevent two major wars, the Hitler deception, and economic collapse.
Natural thinking does not prevent spiritual calamity. The apostle Paul said, “though we walk in the flesh, we do not war in the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal (of the flesh), but mighty through God for pulling down strongholds” (see Ephesians 6). In other words, we do not depend upon our own abilities for victory, but we depend upon the Holy Spirit and His means. If we humble ourselves and listen, He will prepare us. He seeks to prepare us even now.
One of God’s means to prepare us is through prophetic voices. Biblical prophets carried the message of preparation. A prime example is Isaiah. In chapters 37-39, he warned that Babylon was coming to devastate Judah, but nevertheless, Babylon’s king was treated as a friend and shown Israel’s treasures. The future caught them unprepared.
In Isaiah chapter 40, he declares: “Prepare you the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” In other words, “Repent; God is coming.” If we repent, the coming of the Lord is good news. If not, it will be bad.
Read Malachi chapter 3. The Lord is coming suddenly, but as a refiner to purify His people. Joel warned that the “Day of the Lord” was at hand. But it would not be a happy day. Joel called for fasting, weeping, and awakening to the coming reality.
False prophets also come, but they accommodate evil (see Jeremiah 23:17). They do not preach repentance but put the “evil day” far away. They appeal to the natural desire for comfort and pleasure. False prophets of misplaced optimism may be popular but not preparers of the way of the Lord. On the other hand, true prophets call for a godly sorrow over conditions and the holy fear of God (Ezekiel 9; 2 Corinthians 7:9-10; Hebrews 12:28-29). True prophets are not flatterers, they are preparers.
JOHN THE BAPTIST
John the Baptist was among the greatest prophets (see Matthew 11:11). His message was “Prepare you the way of the Lord-repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” John preached in the twilight of Israel’s existence. The Son of God was paying them a visit; He would be rejected and crucified. But He would conquer death, Hell, and the grave. Then within a generation, Israel would be destroyed by Rome.
False prophets, along with religious and political leaders, pacified the people; John the Baptist was beheaded and Jesus’ warnings came to pass because they knew not “their day of visitation” (see Matthew 23:37-39; Luke 19:41-44). In retrospect, John the Baptist and Jesus were right; political and religious leaders were DEAD wrong. They were unprepared and caused Israel to be unprepared.
Many in Israel “heard” John and Jesus. Great multitudes came out to the Jordan River to be baptized by John, and at times, multitudes followed Jesus to see His mighty works. Yet, they were unprepared for future events. Do baptism and “religious observance” alone prepare us for crises? No. By themselves, they are only half-measures.
A classic example of half-measures is the example of King Saul. He was sent to completely destroy the Amalekites, but spared the king and the best of the livestock. The Amalekites had committed atrocities against Israel during the Exodus. They were an ongoing danger. Samuel was sent by God to rebuke Saul for half-measures, and Samuel completed the task. Ironically, it was an Amalekite that finally killed Saul .Half-obedience was disobedience.
Many people think that church attendance, tithing, or other activities are all God requires, but apart from obedience to the Holy Spirit, these are only half-measures. They are good, but insufficient to prepare us for the day of crisis.
So what does the Lord call us to do in this unstable season when crisis lurks around the corner? How can we be ready for the unexpected? Let me first assure you that God is never surprised. He sees the future, and He alone does. Our obedience and sensitivity must be to Him.
The Lord counseled the church at Laodicia to buy gold tried in the fire, white garments, and anointing for their eyes, and to zealously repent. There are four issues here that we would also do well to heed.
Buy Gold Tried in the Fire. This is a reference to truth that has been tested and proven reliable (see Proverbs 23:23). Only the truth will prepare us for crisis. And often it will prevent crisis. The unexpected is usually the result of a failure to know the truth. If we prefer a lie because it offers temporary comfort, there will always be a lie available. Of course, Jesus is the truth and continually offers Himself and His word if we are willing to receive Him.
Purchase White Garments. This is a reference to righteousness that has been purchased for us if we receive it from Him. A refusal to walk in His ways opens us to immorality that will leave us naked and exposed in shame. Holiness has been a neglected topic in our preaching. But a church caught in popular and permissive culture will suffer the culture’s judgment.
Purchase Eye Salve. The Holy Spirit has been given to us to open our eyes to the condition of our lives and the world around us. The Holy Spirit enables us to see as God sees, not as we assume things to be, or wish that they were. He removes the naivete that allows us to become ensnared.
Zealously Repent. Repentance is the gift of God that comes to those who humble themselves before Him. It allows us to see, become sorrowful with God’s own sorrow, and return to Him. It enables us to see reality before it destroys us (see 2 Corinthians 7:10; 2 Timothy 2:25). God is not hard on us; we are hard on ourselves. God grieves over our self-destruction and stands ready to save us from it if we are ready to turn to Him.
Obedience. The result of truth, righteousness, and the Holy Spirit’s “eye salve” is our obedience. When one comes face-to-face with the devastating possibilities and receives God’s salvation, they are ready to obey and not merely be a passive spectator. They are ready to go beyond half-measures. That process produces real revival.
LEARNING FROM HISTORY
History should teach us the value of preparedness. Some have called it “peace through strength”. It is unfortunate that so many know so little about history. If we do not learn from it, we will become one more lesson for future generations.
If we do learn and listen to the Holy Spirit, we could be on the verge of another Great Awakening. Many are discouraged, disillusioned, and dissatisfied. That is fertile soil for the Holy Spirit to sow truth. Past revivals have come in those conditions.
Should God send another true revival we must prepare for that as well. Pray that the “Lord of the Harvest” will send laborers. Remember, the first Pentecost occurred in times not unlike these and brought in a great harvest that was gathered by laborers who had been trained and sent by Jesus. Get in the Word, get on your knees, and get ready to see what the Lord will do!
P.S. Would you prayerfully consider a special gift to support the ministry of CSM this month? God has called us to be a prophetic voice in these times. We depend upon His provision through friends like you in order to continue in our work. While our visible resources are very low at this time, we are trusting in the Lord to carry us forward. Also, mark your calendar for the upcoming CSM Gatlinburg Conference, happening April 14-16, 2010! We’d love to see you there.
Scripture Reference: Matthew, Luke, Proverbs, 2 Corinthians, 2 Timothy