Publication:Pastoral Letter, February 2018
Dear Friend in Christ:
I began the New Year reading the book of Genesis, the book of “beginnings.” The principles that played out in Genesis run through the entire Bible. Among those principles is God’s purpose for the entire world. One aspect of His purpose is the word “disperse,” to scatter in different directions. Another aspect is how we see the immediate and fail to see the long-range purpose of events. The immediate events often obscure our ability to see God’s long-range purpose. His purpose is stated in Genesis chapter one, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Allow me to give an example of how our current circumstances can serve God’s overarching purpose.
In the early 1930s, during the “Great Depression”, my father was a student at Howard College (now Samford University) in Birmingham, Alabama. His father, like many others during the Depression, had to declare bankruptcy and my father had to leave college, a seeming disaster. My Dad moved to New Orleans for a job driving trucks. He became involved with a local church that had a mission to reach the French-speaking people who were settled along the bayous of southern Louisiana; a very different culture from my father’s culture.
Soon, Dad became a “faith missionary” (no salary) to those people in south Louisiana. In the course of ministry, Dad led a young woman named Genoa Schaubhut to Christ, baptized her, and soon after, married her. They began their adventure together leading people to Christ and starting churches. Both of my parents had been “dispersed” from their cultures. What began as a disappointing event in leaving college eventually served God’s long-range purpose for their lives. And so, as I read Genesis to start 2018, I began to see this same redemptive pattern in Scripture.
Genesis 11 tells the story of the Tower of Babel. The people of that time and place all spoke the same language and shared a common culture. They decided to build a tower that would reach the sky. A high vision is a good thing, but motive matters.
They had two motives: make a name for themselves and avoid dispersement (being scattered). Theirs was a vision of human glory and they lost sight of God’s original commission (see Genesis 1:28). So they made bricks of clay, typical of our human condition, and began to build up their vision. (We should note that God builds upon stone.) Eventually, the Lord came to inspect their work and their motives; then He confused their language and dispersed them. The tower was left unfinished as human visions usually are. However, in spite of human failure, humanity was returned to God’s ultimate
purpose: fill the earth.
Another example in Genesis is that of Joseph, son of Jacob. Joseph was Jacob’s favorite and unwisely flaunted his status and dreams before his brothers. They eventually sold him into slavery but they told his father that Joseph had been killed by wild animals; Jacob was devastated by the seeming tragedy. Meanwhile, Joseph was in Egypt serving an influential man named Potiphar. Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, but he rejected her advances. In anger, she lied about Joseph and got him thrown into prison, again a seeming tragedy.
But Joseph kept his redemptive attitude and faith, in spite of this second bad turn of events. In the end, Joseph’s dreams came to pass, he became Prime Minister of Egypt, and was used by God to save his brothers from starvation. The long view not only saved him, but also his father’s family. He said to his brothers, “You meant it for evil but God meant it for good.”
Immediate reaction is usually wrong and takes us off the path of God’s purpose. One could point to Esau as an example of that. He became bitter and his bitterness has affected centuries of history. But our bitterness does not deter God from His original purpose, it only deters us.
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were sojourners. While they made mistakes, they believed God and were willing to go into the unknown. God’s word to them was that through them, He would bless ALL NATIONS (Genesis 12:1-3). God made and confirmed His Covenant with them several times to do exactly that. He has kept His Word and has never deviated from Genesis 1:28. But often we do. Like the people at the tower, we build upon clay to reach the sky rather than be a light in the world.
Israel carried Abraham’s mission to serve the world as priests, to intercede for nations (see Exodus 19:6). The prophets often rebuked Israel for losing sight of the long-range purpose (see Isaiah 43:10-11). They were not chosen for their superiority, they were chosen to be a light to the nations just like the Patriarchs (see Isaiah 49:6; Acts 13:47). In their failure to see God’s long-range purpose, they were scattered, dispersed…not once but twice (see Ezekiel 11:17). Those scattered Jews are called the “Diaspora,” the dispersed.
We could call that dispersion “a judgment” and often a tragedy. Nevertheless, they were dispersed to God’s original intent to bless all nations, and in many ways, they have. Jews have led the way in science, humanities, medicine, commerce, and technology. Now as the prophets said, they are being regathered a second time. Perhaps the greatest testimony to God is the fulfillment of His prophetic Word and purpose. When we forget that, we are headed for trouble.
The Pilgrims who sailed to America are aptly named because they resumed the Abrahamic faith and journey. They left conformity and tyranny to practice their faith. Upon landing, they resorted to a “collective” economic approach and socialism; that failed and led to starvation. When they changed to personal responsibility and an entrepreneurial economy, they flourished in abundance.
The American Founders understood the essentiality of personal freedom and responsibility; they established a system to divide the power of government and guarantee personal “liberty and justice for all.” While neither they nor their system were perfect, millions of people have and continue to migrate at great cost in order to reap the benefits of liberty. The flow of humanity to those shores is unprecedented.
Our human tendency is to a human-centered vision, human glory, and to avoid personal mission that is outward. Collective responsibility, glory, and accomplishment are attractive to those who do not want to go out in faith. We love “towers” as Babel did or as Nebuchadnezzar did in building a great statue to his own glory.
As our culture got away from God and His Word after World War II, we have increasingly moved toward a “let the government do it” or “let the church do it” attitude. Government, church, and other institutions can do a lot but they can never replace personal faith and personal mission. The government or church “institutional mentality” is built on bricks of clay, just as communism, Nazism or other “isms” have been. The motive may be better, but the loss of personal responsibility is dangerous.
Who knows what will bring back a “dispersion” from central responsibility to personal responsibility? I would hope that it would be a return to Jesus and His Spirit. When that happens, the corporate culture is Jesus-centered and not human-centered.
Jesus is the seed of Abraham (see Galatians 3:16). Being the Son of God, He understood His mission and moved about doing it. His followers moved with Him and still do. He never settled in one place and built something for His own glory. It was about what He was and what He did that brought glory and ultimately, the Cross and humiliation. But He rose again and sent His disciples into all the world (see Matthew 28:18-20). His commission is the spiritual application of Genesis 1:28.
Jesus was rejected much more severely than Joseph, and that was a tragedy for Israel. However, that tragedy led to the salvation of the world. That is the long view. Jesus and His disciples had, and still have, a long view; a great mission that includes all people (see Luke 2:9-11).
Hebrews 13:12-14 tells us that as Jesus suffered outside the gate, we should go out with Him. We are called to be seekers of the kingdom of God and to seek the city whose builder and maker is God, because we have here no enduring city (see Matthew 6:33; Hebrews 13:14). We are seekers, not settlers. When we stop seeking and start settling, we have lost the Spirit that motivated the patriarchs, prophets, our Lord, the apostles, and pilgrims.
We are not conformed to this world, prostituting ourselves to be politically correct or bowing to some tall human statue or tower. We must stand at all cost, like our Lord and the apostles. Adversity prepares us for what He has prepared for us.
- God’s purpose was stated in the beginning and has not changed.
- His purpose was re-iterated through the Patriarchs and Prophets.
- Jesus embodied the purpose of God to reach all nations with the Gospel (see Matthew 24:14).
- The Great Commission clearly states an outward, long-term mission (see Matthew 28:18-20).
- The history of the Church reflects our debt to those who lived beyond themselves.
- Placing our personal mission upon some corporate group does not work or build character.
- A collective mentality has historically produced misery at the personal level.
- We should not allow a negative event or circumstance to obscure our long range vision and confidence in God’s original purpose.
We may not all be called to travel far, but we are all called to be a light, to bless wherever we do go. The long view is an attitude that takes us beyond the immediate situation because we believe what God has said and what He will do. We therefore will transcend and overcome what seems negative realizing it can only serve the long range vision.
We are not called to react to adversity but to act in faith. If so, we will not become bogged down in some swamp but walk on through to the high ground of God’s ultimate will for our lives. And I pray that will be your story this year and the years ahead!
P.S. Would you prayerfully consider a special financial gift to support the mission of CSM during the month of February? Visit csmpublishing.org. Also, mark your calendar for our annual CSM Leadership Conference, May 8-10, 2018, Gatlinburg, TN. Our theme: “Celebrating the Goodness of God!” So many wonderful testimonies will be shared and we will pray, worship, and minister together.
Scripture references: GENESIS 11; GENESIS 1:28; GENESIS 12:1-3; EZEKIEL 11:17; EXODUS 19:6; ISAIAH 49:6; ACTS 13:47; ISAIAH 43:10,11; LUKE 2:9-11; GALATIANS 3:16; MATTHEW 28:18-20; HEBREWS 13:12-14; MATTHEW 6:33; HEBREWS 13:14; MATTHEW 24:14