Publication: Pastoral Letter, May 2014
Dear Friend in Christ,
It is no newsflash to say that in our world and in our churches, we are in a difficult time in history. Therefore, it is essential that we encourage ourselves and one another in the Lord as David did (see 1 Samuel 30). That passage references a time in David’s life when just about everything that could go wrong was going wrong, and David and those with him were bitterly discouraged. But David encouraged in the Lord! To “encourage” means to “give heart”, which brings fresh strength and hope that transcends circumstance. In fact, in Psalm 30, which is traditionally attributed to David, we read this:
“I will extol You, O Lord, for You have lifted me up, and have not let my foes rejoice over me. O Lord my God, I cried out to You, and You healed me. O Lord, You brought my soul up from the grave; You have kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit. Sing praise to the Lord, you saints of His, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name. For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:1-5).
When confronted with hardship and loss, our natural response is weeping. Yet, even in the darkest night, we can receive faith that allows us to look forward to the dawn, when the joy of the Lord will break over us like the rays of the sun.
As we are preparing for our May 14-16 CSM Gatlinburg Conference on “Discipling the Next Generation”, I was thinking about a true story I heard. A young boy was walking down a city street with his mother, when they came to a spot to sit down. She told her son to sit and wait for her; she said she would be back soon. He sat and waited . . . for three days. She never returned. Finally, a Christian gentleman noticed the boy alone, and abandoned. Not only did the man help the young boy, but this man led this boy into a life-long relationship with Jesus.
As the boy grew up, he had a strong and compassionate heart for others who were abandoned,impoverished, and lost. He dedicated his life to helping hurting children. That little boy was Bill Wilson, and today, Pastor Bill is known worldwide for his wonderful work through Metro World Child, a ministry based in New York. His life is a powerful example of redemption; that God is truly able to cause all things, even the hard things, to work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (see Romans 8:28).
Pastor Bill is one of our featured speakers this year in Gatlinburg, and I cannot wait to hear him open his heart to us about the needs and opportunities that exist to bring hope to this emerging generation. We are at a truly critical juncture in history. Can this generation be saved? Can God bring healing and hope out of brokenness and weeping?
Thanks to my Dad’s encouragement, many of us have been reading two books, The Insanity of God The Insanity of Obedience, both by Nik Ripken. I have to say, these books are challenging and stretching me. Nik shares story after story of Christians all over the world who are living their faith in seemingly impossibly difficult circumstances. They are extending the kingdom of God in countries that are considered “closed” or impervious to the Gospel message. And, many of them have suffered unimaginable persecution.
However, the hardship and persecution suffered by these faithful believers are only unimaginable to us in the Western Church. To believers who live in much of the rest of the world, however, not only is it “imaginable” but it is expected; it is the norm. Nik Ripken says that we should not wonder why so many Christians in so many places in the world are persecuted, but we should wonder why we here in the West are not.
Has the Church in the West become so committed to our own comfort and safety that we have forgotten the clear call of God and the urgent need of people to hear His Gospel? Will we refuse to speak the truth in love, or go where the Lord is leading us to go, because it might be troublesome to us? And, it’s not just getting on a plane and going far away . . . are we willing to go across the street to our neighbors?
Any faith that does not compel us to joyfully share it with others is not an authentic faith. This joy transcends circumstance or “ease”. It is not tied to our convenience or our moods. It is a direct output of relationship with Jesus and His great love for those who do not yet know Him. To relate to Jesus is to have His heart concerning those who are still lost.
Has our fear of unpopularity or rejection caused us to mute prophetic words and actions? Do we crave “church growth” so much that we are willing to re-define the mission or identity of the Church in order to accommodate popular attitudes? I believe the Western Church is at a very significant fork in the road, and the path we choose will have massive consequences for our society for generations to come.
In North America and Europe, we continue to see dramatic declines in commitment to church communities, and a significant rise in the number of people who categorize themselves as having “no identifiable faith”. The fall-off is particularly acute among the younger generations. This shift, from Judeo-Christian foundations to secular humanism, is having an undeniable affect on all aspects of our culture today. I have often heard my father say that “theology determines culture”. What a group of people believes or does not believe about God will determine how they relate with one another and how they express themselves in every area of life.
However, the response of many Western Churches has not been to press into apostolic faith, but rather to seek further compromise and accommodation with the secular culture. Please understand, I am all about reaching out and finding ways to build bridges of love and relationship with individuals in every station of life. But Jesus could be with adulterers, gluttons, drunkards, prostitutes, zealots, and tax collectors without ever losing sight of Who He is and what His Father had called Him to do.
Many Christian leaders have tried to find ways to “re-arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic” by making their wardrobes, hairstyles, messages, music, decor, and lingo as hip and inoffensive as possible. A lot of time and energy has been put into these endeavors, and the chief aim seems to be about satisfying consumers rather than making disciples. The market-driven church will sell its soul in order to put backsides into pews. The Spirit-filled church, on the other hand, will challenge and call its people out of the pews and into the streets with the Gospel.
The mission must not be about the meeting; rather, the meeting must be about the mission. Making the saints feel comfortable is not part of the apostolic job description. It’s good to celebrate heroes in the Bible. But it’s even better to emulate them. They had fire, courage, conviction, and willingness to do whatever it cost to fulfill Father’s will. Popularity was not their aim; obedience was.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians while he was in jail. Yet, this is known as Paul’s “rejoicing letter” because it is so filled with joy: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). He called the people there his “joy and crown”. Keep in mind that the church in Philippi itself was born in jail. Therefore, jail was no barrier to joy.
Circumstances cannot cancel our joy, nor should they obstruct our obedience. Instead, we can rejoice, even in our hardship, knowing that the Sovereign Lord is at work and He can use all things in the fulfillment of His purpose. This time we live in is not my master and this world is not my home. Whatever happens here is mere preparation for greater glory in an eternity of residence with Jesus.
The answer to a lost, confused, desperate, and dying world is not to hide our Gospel light in the hopes that some folks will like us better. It is to be salt and light, regardless of personal cost, in order that some might be saved. We cannot give the Cross an “extreme makeover” and make it pretty for everyone. The Cross will only be attractive to those who understand that it is the doorway into abundant and eternal life.
It’s not that the message of biblical Christianity and discipleship is irrelevant to our times. It is that some leaders today are more willing to cater to the cult of self that threatens to devour Western society. As G.K. Chesterton said, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”
When we attract people based on comfort, we get the kind of people who are attracted by comfort. Don’t get me wrong, I love comfort and to be comfortable. I do not like pain. But, when comfort becomes an idol and pain becomes something to avoid by all means, we move away from the Cross and toward something that is a perversion of the Gospel message.
In January, 1577, a young Anabaptist from the Netherlands named Hans Bret was burned at the stake for his faith in Jesus. It should be noted that he was martyred by religious folk. Before he was executed, a clamp was cruelly screwed into his tongue to prevent him from preaching the Gospel as he was burning. Stories are also told of people who had their tongues clamped to keep them from singing praise to God while in the fire. Of course, we hear modern day stories of people who are being killed and tortured daily for their faith and devotion to Jesus.
What is the faith that we have received, that we carry, and that we will pass on? Are the people that God loves worth our suffering? These are questions worth considering. Please continue to pray for us at CSM as we go and equip others to go. We deeply appreciate, and greatly need your encouragement, prayers, and financial gifts as we move ahead in our mission. Please visit us online at csmpublishing.orgfor ways to give and also to receive useful ministry resources.
I am now traveling in ministry more frequently, and if I can serve your church in any way, please let me know. My Dad, as well, continues to minister extensively, and is also available . . . he is a tremendous resource to churches and ministries worldwide.
We are so very thankful for everyone who stands with us. We would love to see all of you with us in Gatlinburg, May 14-16. For more information on how you can be a part of this gathering, please visit us online. There is still time to register, though we need to hear from you now if you, your friends, or your pastor want to come. We are especially hopeful that those who work with children and youth will be with us.
The joy of the Lord is our strength (see Nehemiah 8:10). It is that power which comes, sometimes unexpectedly, transcending circumstance, to fill and raise our spirits and remind us of the nearness of God. A mountain peak may not be visible at night, but it suddenly blazes into light with the dawn. But even in the night, it is still there. There may be times when we cannot see God or understand His plan, but He is still there, watching and working. Take heart in His goodness and receive His joy today.
Scripture Reference: 1 Samuel, Psalms, Philippians,
STEPHEN SIMPSON is the Editor of One-to-One Magazine and the Director of CSM Publishing. In addition to publishing ministry, Stephen has served in leadership for churches and ministries in Costa Rica, Florida, Mississippi, Texas, and Michigan, as well as being the Senior Pastor of Covenant Church of Mobile (2004-2013). He continues to travel in ministry across North America and in other nations.