Publication: Pastoral Letter, June 2005
Dear Friend in Christ:
Greetings in the Lord! I pray that you are well and having a good summer. This month, I want to share with you something that is very urgent on my heart, concerning God’s mercy and our response to Him.
How did Jesus view the world? How do we view it? How is our world changing? These are very important questions. Our answers will determine our actions.
Luke 17 records the story of Jesus healing ten lepers. Leprosy is contagious and requires isolation_ even today. In Jesus’ day, lepers roamed in groups, eating what they could find and staying to themselves. When other people got near, they were required to call out, “Unclean! Unclean, Unclean,” warning others to stay away.
In this story, the lepers were far off as they cried to Jesus for mercy. But “far off” is a relative term. They were close enough to be seen and heard. Jesus simply told them to go show themselves to the priest so that he could pronounce them clean, and they could be returned to family and friends. As they walked away, they were healed.
One leper, when he saw that he had been healed, returned to Jesus, glorifying God, giving thanks and falling at Jesus’ feet. This leper was a Samaritan. Jesus took note that he was a Samaritan and wondered why the other nine, likely Jewish, did not return and give thanks. We might observe that at the very bottom of the social ladder, Jews and Samaritans were integrated. Yet even then, the Samaritan was more grateful.
The Samaritan issue is prominent in the Gospels. The city of Samaria was formerly the capital of the northern ten tribes of Israel that revolted against King Solomon’s son, Rehoboam in 931 B.C. By Jesus’ day, there had been many centuries of antipathy toward Samaria.
Then, in 722 B.C., Assyria conquered Samaria and the northern tribes, and instituted its policy of dispersion and destruction. Assyria took away many Jews and imported many foreigners, thus diluting the culture away, and further increasing the hatred between Samaritans and Jews. The Samaritans had opposed the restoration of Israel after 535 B.C. The Jews and Samaritans had, and still have, a bitter history.
Every Samaritan might as well have leprosy as far as Jews were concerned. Like the lepers, Samaria was close by_but far off. Jews would travel out of their way to avoid Samaria. Jesus went out of His way to tackle their issues. When asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus gave the story of the “Good Samaritan.” In the story, it was a Samaritan that rescued the Jew who had been beaten and robbed. The lesson: Samaritans were neighbors. There are many other examples of this in the Gospels.
THE FATHER’S WORLD VIEW
Jesus came to reveal the Father’s view of the world. John 3:16 gives us that view. He loved the world_ gave His eternal Son to it, that whoever believed on Him would have eternal life. The Father’s world view included Samaria. John 4 tells us that Jesus went through Samaria and revealed to a Samaritan woman (who had been married five times, and then living with a man who was not her husband) that He was Messiah.
In Acts 1:8, Jesus tells His disciples that they would be witnesses unto Him, not only in Jerusalem and Judea, but also in Samaria. Samaritans would receive the Gospel next, after the Jews. Those close by would not remain far off. The disciples had to lose their personal and cultural bias and change their view of the world. Samaria would be the test of their ability to take the Gospel to the entire world.
OUR VIEW OF THE WORLD
We Christians are similar to the Jews in some ways. We all have those who are close by, yet far off. There are those nearby you who are culturally, generationally, or racially different. Whether it is someone who is poor, or addicted, or imprisoned, or a rebellious youth, or a pagan_for many believers, these are our “Samaritans”. We walk around them and sometimes even fail to see them. And like the Samaritans, they will give us trouble if we fail to give them the Gospel.
Our nation and our churches have lived in isolation too long. We have two great oceans on either side. They protected us from the world for much of our history. Our ancestors came here to get away. But now we are realizing that missiles and terrorists can reach our shores. And so can false ideology.
Jesus did not come to protect us from_or take us out of_the world. Rather, He sent us into the world. The treasure that we hold is for the world. I recently passed by a church whose sign read, “Love not the world.” Yes that phrase is in the Bible, but it refers to the world system and not the world’s people. Failure to understand that has led to an “escapist mentality.” It has caused those who are near to be far off.
CHANGING OUR VIEW
Our test is to understand, who are our Samaritans and how do we relate to them? Is it right to send others to Africa, the Middle East, or Latin America to do what we will not do here_nearby? It is often easier to go abroad than to go across town or next door.
Jesus chose apostles (“sent forth ones”) who initially had a very narrow world view. On one occasion, He sent them to a Samaritan village to see if the people would receive Him. They would not. The apostles returned and requested that Jesus allow them to call down fire as Elijah had, and burn up that village. Jesus rebuked them. He understood that today’s enemies are tomorrow’s harvest. Eventually, Jesus had a profound effect upon the disciples. As they listened, walked with Him, and watched Him, they changed. They walked with Him through Samaria. They saw villages respond and they saw Samaritans healed. And they too became healed, in their thinking and in their hearts. And later, of course, Pentecost had a profound impact upon them as well.
I, too, have taken my walk through Samaria. When the Holy Spirit came upon our church in 1964, people from a variety of backgrounds came to us who would never have done so before. At the same time, I was being investigated and questioned by my denomination for our “Pentecostal practices.” One of the investigating committee members asked “How did you integrate your church?” I responded, “I didn’t_the Holy Spirit did…the same Holy Spirit who caused your investigation of us.” The Spirit of the Lord was helping us to get to know our Samaritans.
The book of Acts takes special note of cultural breakthroughs. Acts chapters 2, 6, 8, 10, 19, and other chapters all record cultural barriers being broken. This reveals the priority of the Holy Spirit. The Gospel is for everyone, but we must change in order to accomplish our task.
CONTACT WITHOUT IMPACT
Many Christians, and especially ministers, are discouraged. They suffer from what I call “Contact without impact.” That is, they spend a lot of time and energy on people who show little or no interest. They are trapped in a non-productive life. Their activity produces little achievement. When that happened to Jews and the Apostles, they moved on to the harvest. But too often, current church leaders are fettered by fear, economics, or some other reasons, and never see the joys of harvest. This is a slow death.
We are called to the hungry and needy_to the humble. These are often people that are near by, but far off. They are Samaritans. The Samaritan leper was grateful. Gratitude is a sure sign that we are in the right field. I’d rather be a part-time preacher to the grateful than a full-time preacher to the “fed up.”
FAITH, NOT A FRANCHISE
Ministry to the grateful is encouraging. I have witnessed my own rejuvenation when given the privilege to share the Gospel with the humble, the hungry, and the desperate. Such opportunity to share faith and mercy has rejuvenated many others and it will rejuvenate you, too. Amazingly, sharing has the power to bless the person doing the sharing as much or more as it blesses the person receiving the sharing!
No one group has a lock on faith. No denomination, nation, or race can lay claim to an exclusive place with God. The Bible and history should teach us that; yet we always seem to be surprised to find where faith dwells. The Samaritan had faith. Jesus said, “Your faith has made you well” (see Luke 17:19).
There are many examples of surprising faith recorded in the Bible: the prostitute, the Samaritan, the fishermen, the tax collector, and so many others. And there are also surprising examples of those who did not have faith: the Priest, the Levite, the Scribes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees. We cannot afford a “Come to us, we’ve got it” mentality. We must get to know our Samaritans where they are.
GOING TO THEM
As you read this letter, I will be ministering in Siberia_God willing. Years ago, I would never have believed this trip would be possible. After that, I hope to be in Europe, ministering to a gathering of many former Muslims. What a day to be a servant of God! Please keep me in your prayers, that God will give me strength and resources to do all He calls on me to do.
Also, please continue to pray for my wife, Carolyn. Her faith is strong and her spirit is high. Thus far, her cancer cell count has dropped from over 1600 down to 58. Praise God! We are praying for complete healing.
I also ask your prayers for CSM. This spring was very, very lean for CSM’s finances. At the same time, we are proceeding with the Covenant Institute recording and distribution, revamping our website, producing One-to-One Magazine, and other significant projects. Your continued support makes a great difference.
Please introduce a friend to CSM_especially a young friend. It could change their lives. And again, thank you for your faithful prayers and financial giving.
Scripture Reference: Luke, John, Acts