Publication: Pastoral Letter, December 2003
Dear Friend in Christ:
This season reminds us of the wonderful event that happened when God revealed Himself as a person – one of us, yet without sin. John the apostle puts it this way, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). God became someone that we could see and touch in Jesus Christ.
Before Jesus came, men could see His handiwork, could hear His voice, could feel His presence, and could see His miracles. But when Jesus came, men and women could touch Him. God dwelt among us in person.
Our God is more than religion, rules, and rituals; He is personally involved with creation and with us. He is not aloof, remote, and removed from our human situation. He did not simply “wind up the creation clock” and step back to watch. He walked in the garden with Adam; He spoke through the prophets, and He actually came among us in Christ. He even – and most especially – became involved with sinners.
Jesus was and is not only the Savior of the world but He is our personal Savior. In fact, salvation has to be personal in order to become effective in a life. John 3:16 tells us that God loved the world, but that love became personal; He came to the earth Himself. And it became personal through His many encounters with individuals.
Luke 6 gives us a vivid illustration of Jesus’ personal ministry. He had entered a synagogue and was teaching. There was a man present who had a withered hand. The Pharisees were watching Jesus to see if He would heal on the Sabbath. They wanted to find a reason to accuse Jesus of breaking the laws of labor pertaining to the Sabbath
Jesus understood their thinking. He said to the man who had the withered hand, “Rise and come forward.” Then He asked this question. “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath, to save a life?” Then after looking around at the Pharisees, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” The man was healed. The Pharisees were enraged.
There are many examples of such conflict between the love of God for an individual, and the attitudes of those who simply loved rules, but cared very little for individual needs.
Luke 19 gives the illustration of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus, who was a tax collector and a crook. But Jesus saw him and singled him out, then went to his house for dinner. This also upset the “good people” in town. But it reveals God’s love for individuals who need grace. Verse 10 of that chapter records that Jesus said, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” In this instance, “the lost” was one person: Zacchaeus.
This example reveals that Jesus’ seeking and saving was a mission aimed – not at the world in general – but at individuals in particular. God’s mission in Jesus’ birth was to reveal Himself as a person reaching out, person-to-person.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee and ruler among the Jews. He became interested in Jesus and had an open mind. He visited Jesus one night and acknowledged that God was with Jesus (Nicodemus could see the obvious miracles). But Jesus told him that unless he had a spiritual birth, he could not see or enter the kingdom of God. Again, God must become personal through receiving Jesus as our Lord, in order for us to truly know God and His Kingdom.
Repentance, or turning away from sin with a godly sorrow, is the beginning of knowing God. Repentance, like sin, is personal. I cannot repent for someone else’s sin – only my own. Then, faith in Jesus is the next essential step to knowing God. Putting our trust in Him to forgive and change our lives is also personal. No one can do that for us.
Religion can be very impersonal, a group activity of recitations and traditions. People can hide in a crowd, yet claim to be authentic because the recitations and traditions are good in themselves. But when group activity makes no personal impact, it is impersonal. Virtually all churches struggle with this problem.
Religion can become a matter of rules. Jesus charged the Pharisees with laying heavy burdens on people without so much as lifting a finger to help them. Do people who know the right words and obey the rules, but fail to become personally involved with other peoples’ needs, really know the heart of God? Jesus got personally involved.
Can we become so busy trying to “save the church” that we fail to save people? When Jesus came, there was a lot of impersonal religion that had become built around the Synagogue (Jewish Church). But Jesus built His Church upon a personal expression of faith, not institutional membership. And those who had a personal faith demonstrated it by reaching others (see John 15; 2 Timothy 2:2).
I recently watched a professional football game on television. The home team was ahead by 21 points with 5 minutes left in the game. The celebrations were already on the minds of the players who were winning. No team had ever come back from such a deficit in so short a time. I turned off the television and went to bed, only to read the next morning that the home team lost the game.
How did they lose after having such a lead? Individual players lost their focus. Yes, the team lost as a whole, but they also lost it individually. Somehow the game became impersonal.
An impersonal religion that thinks, “The other players will do it,” will not succeed. We have inherited great advantages that will be lost if we fail to accept personal responsibility to bring others into a personal faith.
We have received so much from God. We are blessed beyond calculation. And, unto whom much is given…much is required.
Matthew 25 tells us that all of us will stand before the Lord. Each one will be examined. There will be two groups. One group will have expressed the mercy of God, and the other will not have done so. Jesus gives the divine basis for His judgement. “Inasmuch as you did it to the least one of these, my brethren, you did it unto Me.”
I do not believe that we are saved by works. No, we are saved by grace; the grace that He has personally given to each of us who receive Him (see Ephesians 2:8-10). The same passage that makes salvation by grace so clear goes on to tell us that we are saved for good works. In other words, our call is to give to others what He has given to us.
Romans 14:12 reminds us again that we will all stand before God to give an account for our opportunities to do good.
Jesus did not come to simply make us accountable; we were already. He came to give us the opportunity to know God, and to know God’s will and power. And through Christ we have unlimited opportunity.
Jesus Himself was constantly aware of His own accountability to the Father (see John 8:29). But in His awareness, He also saw the unlimited opportunity to save, to deliver, to heal, and to teach. In fact, He saw the opportunity to change the world by changing people (see Matthew 24:14; Luke 13:29).
Some people fear accountability; others rejoice over opportunity (see Matthew. 25:14-29.) Those who fear accountability have the most to fear from it. Those who relish opportunity reap the joys of success.
God is the God of the possible. All things are possible to those that believe. Jesus defines the possible for us. It is possible that a baby born in a manger could bring light to the entire world. It is possible that One anointed of God could heal thousands. It is possible that One who was crucified by wicked hands could rise again, and give righteousness to the unrighteous.
Libraries are filled with remarkable stories of how one person made a difference in the life of another. Before we can effectively change the world, we must be changed and then share the grace that changed us with someone else. The love of God and His power are, above all else, personal. And that makes it possible for us to make Him a personal reality to someone else.
I believe that this is the Lord’s word to me personally. I have received His goodness and mercy, and I can help someone else to see that God wants to “get personal with them.”
The name of our magazine reflects this mission. We desire to see the kingdom of God extended…one person at a time. We have dedicated ourselves to equipping and encouraging you to share faith and life with someone else. This message has gone out into more than 70 nations worldwide, thanks to God’s faithfulness through our friends and supporters.
During this season of celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus, please continue to remember CSM in your prayers and in your giving. Right at this moment, we are making significant investments in growth and in transition. In the coming months, you will be hearing more about the future direction of this ministry. But I’ll give you a preview: it is to take the broad, wide Gospel message and bring it down to the level of personal life, faith, and action for everyone who receives our material.
This upcoming year will be a very significant one in history. We believe the Lord has given us a message for this hour. Opportunities in publishing, book translations, international outreach, resource development, website development, youth equipping, and other key areas are opening up. I sincerely ask you to prayerfully consider supporting us, even this month, as we move forward in these areas.
And, the staff of CSM joins me in praying God’s blessings for you and yours during this Christmas season.
Scripture References: John 1:14; John 3:16; Luke 6, 19; John 15:2; 2 Timothy 2:2; Matthew 25; Ephesians 2:8-10; John 8:29; Matthew 24:14; Luke 13:29; Matthew 25:14-29