Publication:Pastoral Letter, January 2020
Dear Friend in Christ:
I pray that you have a peaceful and joyful 2020! But please remember that peace and joy are in the Holy Spirit, not in circumstance (see Romans 14:17).
This year, like others, will present battles and challenges that will test our resolve. It is vital that we hold fast to our trust in Jesus and whatever He calls us to do. We are here and enjoying God’s faithful mercy because many who have gone before us would not sell out, even at the cost of their lives. In this letter, I want to focus on one such story found in the Bible.
In 1 Kings 21, we read about King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, two of the most notorious and wicked figures in history. They were idolaters and murderers who themselves were later killed. As King and Queen of Israel, they had immense power and misused their power continually. They instituted the worship of Baal and Asherah across Israel, and murdered many prophets of God.
Next to their palace was a vineyard owned by a man named Naboth, but Ahab wanted that vineyard for himself. Ahab offered to buy it from Naboth, but Naboth refused to sell it. The reason that he would not sell to Ahab was that the vineyard had been willed to him; it was his heritage. Heritage was very important to Naboth.
Ahab pouted over Naboth’s refusal, but Jezebel came up with a plan to get the vineyard. She proposed that they prepare a great banquet to honor Naboth and set him at the head of the table. While they were “honoring” Naboth, two false witnesses, “scoundrels”, would come in and accuse Naboth of “blaspheming God and the King.”
Weak Ahab and wicked Jezebel carried out the plan. As they dined in false honor, two worthless men, false witnesses, rushed in and declared that Naboth had “blasphemed God and the King.” Naboth was taken out immediately and stoned to death just because of that false accusation! What was Naboth’s “sin”? He loved his heritage; it was not for sale.
(Dr. R.G. Lee preached a masterful message on this story, entitled “Payday Someday.” It can still be viewed on YouTube. Dr. Lee covered far more than I can here.)
A major point that I want to stress is what the Apostle Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:12, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” Jesus said much the same in John 15:18, “If the world hates you, know that it hated me.” And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.” It is worth noting that Jesus and Paul were killed for doing the will of God. Thank God, Jesus rose again! And the words of Paul continue to live on, bringing wisdom, comfort, and strength to more than two billion Christians worldwide.
While we should be “Wise as serpents and harmless as doves,” we must not sell out our mission to the threat of persecution (see Matthew 10).
A second point is that a righteous heritage is worth dying for—that is how we received it. If persecution, martyrdom, or accusations could have destroyed our heritage before we received it, then we would not have it. Countless lives have been given to purchase our heritage—our treasured gifts and liberties. Those who are unwilling to sacrifice are unworthy to receive what was purchased by sacrifice.
A third point to remember is that the enemy’s primary tool is accusation, and it is used against us all. Satan is rightly called “The Accuser of the Brethren” in Revelation 12:10. That verse says that he “accuses us before God day and night” as he did Job. His accusations certainly extend out into the culture, as he accused even Jesus of blasphemy and accused Paul of sedition and causing riots.
The next verse, Revelation 12:11, says that they overcame the accuser by the blood of the Lamb (God’s Covenant), the Word of their testimony, and loving not their own lives even unto death. So there is a way to defeat the accuser by the blood of Jesus, giving our testimony, and a willingness to sacrifice.
Film actor and director Clint Eastwood has recently released a movie called “Richard Jewell” about the man who was accused of being the bomber in Atlanta’s Olympic Park in 1996. One person was killed, one died of a heart attack, and others were injured.
The actual truth that finally emerged was that Richard Jewell was a hero because he discovered the bomb and was warning people to get away before it went off. Yet some law enforcement initially surmised that he had actually placed the bomb. There were profilers who looked at his personality, agents who accused him, and news media who spread the accusation. He was guilty in the eyes of the general public until months later when he was exonerated. However, Richard never got over the embarrassment, shame, and accusations. He died, aged 44, in 2007.
Clint Eastwood ironically, in an effort to eulogize Richard Jewell, has been accused and castigated by some for how he told the story. I doubt if Eastwood is intimidated. But I wonder how many decent people are intimidated into passivity by the threat of accusations, questioning motives, and enraged social media mobs?
ARE WE FOR SALE?
Now, I am sure that most Christians would reject Ahab’s offer to buy their heritage. We love our heritage. But what if we knew the rest of the story? Maybe we would “work something out” with Ahab. There are other issues more daunting than our need for money. How about destroying our reputation? What about prison? How about the threat to our family? And of course the threat to our professional or vocational lives is serious.
I wonder how many good people will never serve in American government because they do not want for themselves and family to endure the often awful process of campaigns and confirmations where “guilt by accusation” now seems to be the norm? How many young people never want to be in ministry today because of the increasingly anti-clergy culture? (I am not criticizing those who can live more prosperously and peacefully by not serving in government, being in law enforcement, or ministry.) But are we selling out because of accusations or intimidation?
I understand this in a personal way. My late teen years were rough for me because I was running from God’s call to ministry. My Dad was a minister, a wonderful husband and father, and a deeply honorable man. But I saw him too often mistreated by people calling themselves Christians. Though I knew God was calling me into ministry, I wanted no part of it. I even endangered my life to “prove” that I was not “clergy material”. I hated intimidation of any kind, and believed that accusations had to be backed up by facts.
However, in 1955, at age 18, I said “yes” to the call of God. Now looking back on almost 65 years of ministry, I was right to struggle with that call, but also right to say yes. I was controversial in Seminary over biblical issues, controversial in my denomination over the work of the Holy Spirit, controversial among Charismatics over teaching discipleship to Jesus; I was falsely called a “cult leader” back in the days of Jim Jones (1978), and had crosses burned in front of my house.
My children were attacked at school; our church was investigated by the IRS for three-and-a half years because of false accusations from other Christians, yet we were fully exonerated, which
ultimately led to the Church Audit and Procedures (CAP) Act being passed by Congress and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. I am sure, as I live, there will be more battles ahead because we have taken a stand for righteousness.
Was I always right? Of course not! But by the grace of God, I live in His peace and joy. I am sure that Naboth was not always right, Jacob certainly was not, nor was King David, or many others. But, they were not for sale to accusation and intimidation.
What will happen to us if we become fearful of intimidation? We will sell our precious vineyard and our heritage. “The devil’s peace” is not a good trade for our herit age. In the end, it is not peace at all—no peace. We don’t have to be perfect, but we do have to be courageous!
God is Sovereign. He has all power and could completely control our lives if He chose; to make us mere actors to a script that He has already written. Some people seem to believe that. But while God has all power, wisdom, and foreknowledge, He also allows us to make choices—even bad ones. God does not force us to follow Him.
He does not force us to take unpopular positions or go into the battle between Good and Evil. He does call us, and sometimes His call is intense, but we can flee away if we choose. But He loves us, and He wants to walk with us as He did with Adam. He wants to bless us with righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. All of that is still available, even in times of hardship or spiritual war. We can have peace and even joy in the battle.
I even wonder if God and His grace are not more available when we have to face some kind of threat, accusation, or danger. The friends of Daniel seemed to have a greater measure of grace and God’s presence when they took a stand, would not bow, and were thrown in the furnace. They walked with One who appeared as the Son of God. Could it be that God does not control us so that our stand—“not for sale”— comes from within us and not imposed upon us? Could it b e that courage and boldness are so innate to God’s own nature that He loves to see it in us so much that He moves closer when we choose to stand?
Did Gideon’s 300, who risked all to fight the Midianites, have something more, even more joy, than those who only came to the battle after it was won? I think so. When you stand—“Having done all to stand”—you become part of a brotherhood or sisterhood with those who braved false charges, vehement threats, and yes, violence. In a sense, “Jesus’ cup” that He challenged the apostles to drink is still ours. Can we still drink that communion in the “not for sale” community? I pray so. And, I pray that “Happy New Year” will be more than mere nice circumstances. I pray that we can drink with Him in His Kingdom, whatever comes in 2020! We love you, pray for you, and thank God for you!
P.S. Would you prayerfully consider a special financial gift to support the work of the ministry in January? See the card enclosed for more information or visit us at csmpublishing.org. Most of all, please keep us in your prayers, for God’s wisdom, provision, and boldness.