Publication:Pastoral Letter, June 2018
Dear Friend in Christ:
Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ! The Apostle Paul so often began his letters with that same greeting. As I see it, this was Paul’s declaration that everything that was to follow in his epistle was for the purpose of extending God’s grace and peace to all who would read and hear. It is my prayer that this Pastoral Letter will do the same for you.
As I write this, we have just celebrated the Day of Pentecost, when the promised Holy Spirit fell upon the followers of Jesus who had gathered together, in one place—not only geographically, but spiritually—to seek Him. There were 120 of them that day. Today, those calling themselves “Christian” number approximately 2.3 billion.
The explosive growth of Christianity happened because of this outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised His disciples that He would send the “Comforter” Who would guide them into all truth, and empower them to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth (see John 14-16; Acts 1). Jesus told His disciples to go to Jerusalem, wait, and pray. Waiting is hard! I’m sure some may have wondered exactly for Whom or what it was that they were waiting. It took time!
But, despite not fully knowing what would happen, they were obedient to the instructions of Jesus. And, they were hungry! They were desperate for the presence and power of God. They lived in a dangerous place and time. Because they were Jesus’ followers, they were facing sure persecution; even death. They desperately needed the Holy Spirit!
Approximately 1,000 years earlier, King David had written, “One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: 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. For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; in the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock” (Psalm 27:4-5).
David’s “one thing”—his top priority, his deepest longing—was to be in God’s presence. The Lord said that David was “a man after My own heart” (see 1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). What was on God’s heart was on David’s heart. What mattered to God, mattered to David. The reality of God and the nearness of His presence were precious to David.
When the mighty Philistine giant Goliath was blaspheming the Lord, the army of Israel was terrified, but young David was incensed! He said, “Who does this big galoot think he is?” I believe right there, God turned to His angels and said, “Get ready, y’all, we’re going to help this kid out today!” Perhaps the angels said, “Hey, that’s the kid that we helped with the lion and the bear. Time to saddle up!” The Lord worked through David to win a great victory that day.
Now, David had many faults and sins. Later in life, after committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband killed to cover up his crime, David was confronted by the prophet Nathan. There was nothing in Nathan that sought to curry favor with the King, or to gain some reward. He was not there to tickle David’s ears. He wasn’t there to sweep David’s sin under the rug. Nathan spoke in the wisdom and righteous anger of the Lord Himself, and his anointed words hit David right in the heart with the searing, ugly truth. David was broken before God. The awful horror of what he had done came crashing down on David in unbearable waves of sorrow, humiliation, and terror.
In Psalm 51, David records his deepest, most heartfelt statement of confession and repentance before God. But once again, what mattered most to David was not escaping the consequences of his sin (and there were many grave consequences); rather, what was tearing up David’s heart and mind was this: “Father, please … please … do not take your Holy Spirit away from me! Restore to me the joy of Your salvation!” David could say, “Father, do whatever to me that You will but, please, don’t let me go. Don’t leave me.”
Just writing this convicts my heart and brings tears to my eyes. How often do we apologize only so that we can escape the consequence or pain or inconvenience of our sin? Seeking forgiveness can seem a necessary annoyance to us. This wasn’t the case for David. His biggest concern was that ONE THING: “that I may dwell in the House of the Lord … to behold His beauty!” It’s all about being the presence of God, in the Holy Spirit.
BACK TO JERUSALEM (SEE ACTS 1-2)
I wonder if anyone gathered in that Upper Room in Jerusalem seeking God reflected on David’s story from that earlier time. As they waited on God and cried out to Him, there was a longing for God that was even too deep for words. Has that ever happened to you? Could it happen again?
And then, after weeks of waiting, there was a sound! It was like a mighty rushing wind! The presence of God … His glory, His goodness, His mercy, His power … burst into the room with the fire of a thousand suns. It was as if tongues of fire rested upon the heads of all assembled. Praise and adoration to God began to erupt from deep within their hearts. Rivers of living water were flowing out of their innermost being. They were being transformed, never to be the same again.
Soon, thousands of people in Jerusalem, including foreign visitors, heard the Gospel preached to them in their own language, as the followers of Jesus, baptized in the Holy Spirit, began to speak in tongues. Then Peter, the formerly disgraced disciple, stood and gave an anointed message calling everyone to repentance. The Holy Spirit convicted the hearts of the listeners and 3,000 people repented, cried out to God, and were saved in the name of Jesus.
Filled with the Spirit, these new followers of Jesus went out among the nations—at great risk and great cost—because they were full of the fire of the Holy Spirit, love for Jesus, and a desire to see people everywhere coming into the kingdom of God. They could not and would not be deterred. Their encounter with the Holy Spirit, and His ongoing presence in their lives, compelled them to do great exploits for the glory of God. The fact that we are here today is a testament to their faithfulness (see Hebrews 10-12). Could such a thing happen again?
There are some today who claim that the gifts and ministries of the Holy Spirit—signs, wonders, miracles, prophecy, speaking in tongues, deliverance from demonic spirits—ceased to happen following the time of the Apostles in the New Testament. But many others throughout the past 2,000 years, right up until today, have witnessed and experienced the continuation of the Holy Spirit’s move across the earth.
TIMES OF REFRESHING
In, 1995 I attended a gathering in Los Angeles that was focused on prayer and fasting. It wasn’t primarily a time of talking about prayer and fasting; we prayed and fasted for two days! The vast majority of attendees were what I would call traditional denominational Evangelicals. It was not what you would necessarily call a “conclave of Charismatics”, though there were some of us there. I met Pastor Adrian Rogers and so many other of my spiritual heroes there. In one particularly powerful moment, I saw Dr. Bill Bright raise his hands and cry out to God, “Lord, please fill me with your Holy Spirit.”
Soon, 5,000 of us were kneeling and on our faces before God in prayer. Many were weeping in repentance and humility before God. A mighty wind of the Holy Spirit was moving among us. Repentance was breaking out. Some people were going across the room to ask friends for forgiveness. It was a glimpse of the kingdom of God. We were many different races, men and women, varying denominations, all gathered at the foot of the Cross. It was a holy time!
I humbly suggest that this kind of humility and repentance before God is the only way forward for anyone that wants to reach the next generation with the Gospel. What was it that Apostle Peter said to the crowds gathered at Pentecost?
“Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).
Much of the Christian Church in the West is divided today. The message has become muddled and the fellowship has been ruptured between believers with one another and with the Holy Spirit. If we are not healed and refreshed in God’s presence together, we will surely fall apart.
Jesus said that our unity with one another would testify of two vital truths: that we are His disciples and that the Father sent Him (see John 13:35; John 17:21). I’ve heard it said that “a broken and divided Church offers no hope to a broken and divided world.” Is there any hope?
What we need, if I may be so bold, is a true transformative revival in God’s presence; not another squabble over doctrine, personality, politics, or carpet color. We will never have unity by seeking unity. We will only have it by seeking God together at the foot of the Cross. We will only have it by God’s grace in the Holy Spirit.
WE ARE ONE IN THE SPIRIT
Last month, I heard Dr. Russell Moore say, “Evangelicalism may not ultimately survive, but the kingdom of God will.” Our hope and our future is the Kingdom, not our labels. The Apostle Paul told the Christians in Rome, “The kingdom of God is … righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (see Romans 14:17). Ern Baxter summarized, “The kingdom is in the Spirit.”
Recently, my Dad and I were visiting our dear longtime friend, Gerritt Gustafson. As we were preparing to leave, Gerritt sat down at his piano and said, “Hey, do y’all remember this song?” He began to play and sing, “Hallelujah, oh Hallelujah!” It was a simple praise chorus that I had not sung in years. But Dad and I joined in with Gerritt and a spirit of worship filled the room. The Holy Spirit was so richly present! It was another holy moment. God, please grant us many more times together in Your presence!
Things happen in the Spirit that cannot and will not happen any other way. What if the answer to our brokenness is not more striving or conniving, but rather repentance so that times of refreshing may come? What could happen if we enter into His presence together by the blood of the Lamb and behold His beauty?
A few days ago, in the mountains of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, we had our annual CSM Leadership Conference, “Celebrating the Goodness of God!” The testimonies were so amazing and moving. God is still at work! (We will gather again in Gatlinburg, May 14-16, 2019, so mark your calendar.)
Please continue to remember CSM in your prayers and in your giving this month. Summer is a busy time—it’s easy to forget, sometimes. But, the work of the ministry continues; the opportunities are great, and so is the opposition. Thank you for standing with us. We love you and thank God for you!
Stephen Simpson, President