Publication: Pastoral Letter, August 2015
Dear Friend In Christ,
I have long believed that I have attention deficit disorder, A.D.D. (among other issues). I am easily distracted. A.D.D. is a common problem that likely carries over into our spiritual lives. And I think that also is an epidemic in our culture. Generally, we are very busy, under a lot of pressure and distracted. Entertainment is a relief from the stress of life—a welcomed relief.
There is an old saying, “Keep your eyes on the ball.” If you don’t see it, you won’t hit or catch it. Too many miss the ball because they take their eyes off of it. They may be thinking of what they want to do with it before they actually get it. That statement has spiritual application as we consider our walk with the Lord. Though we need to plan ahead, we can lose our focus if we miss the moment.
I am sure that you already know that Jesus was focused on the Father and the Father’s will (see Psalm 40:7-8; John 5:17, John 8:29; Luke 22:42; Hebrews 10:7). That was never more true than when facing the Cross. Jesus said, “Nevertheless, not My will but Thine be done.” “Nevertheless” means that there was a choice and He chose to focus on the Father’s will rather than self-preservation.
There is always a choice: Self-sacrifice or self-preservation. There are times when the Lord’s will means sacrifice and we have our “Nevertheless Moment”. Our focus will determine our choice. God may have a plan that will not serve our immediate desire but will serve His long-term purpose; a purpose that might be obscured to our eyes. If we take our eyes off Jesus in those times, we will “drop the ball.”
For many of us who love the Lord, and for our nation, this is a “Nevertheless Moment” as we face the future. We are making serious choices.
Prior to his conversion, Paul’s focus was on defending his religious tradition; then, he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. Jesus became his focus through persecution and suffering, even unto death (see Philippians 3:13-15; Colossians 3:1-4; 2 Timothy 2:1-4).
The same could be said of all the apostles and heroes of the faith. Meeting Jesus changed their focus and brought them through all manner of trials, and even martyrdom. The prophets survived great trials in order to deliver the Word of God to a rebellious people once they saw and heard the Lord (see Isaiah 6). When Isaiah met the Lord, he had a “Nevertheless Moment”. Their choice and ours is between self-serving or self-sacrifice in serving the Lord’s purpose. Is it about me or Him?
We have all heard how Mary sat at Jesus’ feet while Martha was worried about many things. Martha had “spiritual A.D.D.” and the Lord called her to refocus (see Luke 10:41). I understand Martha and most leaders do; she was distracted. I have never seen a “St. Martha’s Church”, though, in some cases that would be an appropriate name. It can be a distraction just to keep up with an ever-changing culture. The question we all face is how to address a “Martha Culture” with a “Mary Message.” To answer that question, we must spend a lot of time at Jesus’ feet.
When our minds are racing with thoughts and responsibilities, it is difficult to get “in the Spirit”; to fellowship with the timeless One. Our people are saying, “Be brief; I have other things to do.” “Martha Churches” are used to a program-interrupting commercial every 8 minutes. “Be still and know that I am God,” is not our favorite text (see Psalm 46:10). But until we become still, we cannot really know God or His will.
Then there comes times when events do not go as we planned and our clock stops. That is when we come to know that God’s time and ours are not the same. The time will come when we will have a lot of time, if we are fortunate, to consider the timelessness of God.
Vision is a much-abused word. I have had “visions” of what I wanted to do or what I expected to happen that never occurred. I do not discount the importance of a vision; without it we perish (see Proverbs 29:18). However, how does the Bible use the word, “Vision”? Predominantly, it refers to seeing the Lord or something that He reveals. Most of the time our vision is for results; real vision is seeing the source–the Lord. Matthew 6:33 records, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these (other) things shall be added unto you.” The Lord is the vision and He gives the results that may be different from “our vision.”
There is an old hymn, “Be Thou My Vision”. It is a prayer to see the Lord in all circumstances of life. Is our vision for success, growth, fame, or something else, or is it the Lord and His will? When I compare our “gospels” of health and wealth to the Gospel that carried the apostles and carries current martyrs in Africa, the Middle East, and China, I find it difficult. Yet I know that God does make promises regarding health and wealth. The question is, where are we looking? To God or results?
I could give examples of what I believe misses the mark in church life, but it is not my desire to merely criticize. I am saying that Western Christianity is having a “Nevertheless Moment” as to what we see: self-serving words or self-sacrifice to serve His will. “Death to self” never has been an appealing message. Self-preservation is at the heart of human nature. Yet, dying to self and taking up our cross is at the heart of Jesus’ message (see Matthew 16:25). Too often, the message is merely “How to save and improve your life.” And that message can be very artfully done and extremely alluring.
There is no question that one can take principles from Jesus’ teaching and improve life—if one can die to self first. A true vision of Jesus and His government will cause us to forsake ourselves.
Those who oppose us have a vision also; it is to destroy us. They want a world without us and they are willing to blow up themselves and us in order to achieve their vision. When I observe our visions and commitment in comparison to these enemies, I am left with a deep concern. Is the Church of Western culture ready to deal with that reality? I think not.
There are many models for church life; also, we think of the mosque as very similar to a church. That is, in fact, wrong. Many churches share a vision specific to their growth; mosques are more strategically focused on world conquest. They are producing far more children with that in mind while we are doing “family planning.” They are working to change laws while we are not so engaged. They are politically involved while many of us eschew political involvement. They are often laying down their lives while we focus on improving ours.
No, politics are not our ultimate answer to this menace, but a more clear focus on Jesus and His will is our ultimate answer. My message is that focus and dedication will make a huge difference in how we deal with the world in which we live, and it will matter to our children. Here is a strange fact: The Church grows most where dedicated followers of Jesus are persecuted and martyred. The church is in general decline where the goal is comfort and success.
What To Do
I am not suggesting that we go out and try to create persecution or become politically radical; you will not need to do that. Just take a righteous stand and opposition will come. I am not suggesting that we turn back to some past culture or isolate ourselves from the current culture. That is a formula for failure. We are called INTO the world. I am not suggesting that we become more hip or cool. The fraud would be detected in any case. I am not suggesting that we pursue political answers to cultural problems, though I believe we should make our voices heard at the ballot box and in funding.
So what am I suggesting? I am saying that we must get our eyes refocused on Jesus and allow Him to direct our steps. We need to renew our vision of Jesus and allow Him to guide us into an unpredictable future. We need to evaluate our commitment to His will for our lives on an apostolic level. We need to revisit the foundations of our faith. It is not so much about our methods but our message that is sent both by word and deed. This is a “Nevertheless Moment.”
I like sweets and have Type II diabetes. I hate to confess that, but it runs in my family history. I also enjoyed “simple carbs” such as potatoes and rice. Key lime pie was also a favorite. Then I got the bad news, “You are not healthy and your arteries are blocked!” Open heart surgery opened my eyes.
Is the church eating too much sugar? Are we too unhealthy to “run the race before us?” In many cases, yes! Did you ever see the videos of terrorists training? Did that impress you? The Lord is calling us, maybe in a loud voice, to change our diet, and to get in shape. Adversity awaits to engrave character in our lives. He will use whatever tools to get our attention. If we focus on Him and make Him our vision, He will show us personally what to do. “He is good to those who quietly wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (see Lamentations 3:25-26). Let “Dr. Jesus” prescribe your spiritual diet and activity; direction and health will flow from that.
The Power of the Holy Spirit
I have had and will have “Nevertheless moments.” One such moment came when I was at the point of quitting the ministry because I did not measure up. The church that I pastored seemed to be going well, but as I studied the Scriptures, I knew that much of what I was doing was not what the apostles had done. As I studied the Acts of the Apostles, I knew that my answer lay in the power of the Spirit. My very close friend, also a pastor, had been fired from his job because he had experienced a Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Following his example could get me fired too. I had a “Nevertheless Moment.” I know that the Lord was speaking to me.
Fortunately, after “sweating some blood,” I obeyed and the Lord blessed me. I cannot imagine my life had I taken a different direction. No, I am not proud that I made that choice; I am instead humbled by God’s amazing grace.
I do not know the crossroads that you face nor have I any guarantees that “if you do this” you will “get that.” I do urge you to trust Jesus, wherever you are, with your life. The disciples could never have imagined what was going to happen when Jesus said, “Follow Me.” Nor can we, and that is exciting! We are on a journey that will take us to the eternal purpose of God; that is my testimony. But one word of caution: don’t try to save yourself from difficulty and don’t take your eyes off of Him. If you follow those cautions, you will see miracles of grace and provision!
P.S. Would you please continue to remember us in your prayers and in your giving this August? Opportunities for ministry are great, but so is the opposition. Please visit our store for details and for ministry resources. Thanks!
Scripture references: Psalm 40:7-8; John 5:17, John 8:29; Luke 22:42; Hebrews 10:7;Philippians 3:13-15; Colossians 3:1-4; 2 Timothy 2:1-4;Psalm 46:10;Isaiah 6; Luke 10:41; Proverbs 29:18; Matthew 6:33; Lamentations 3:25-26; Matthew 16:25