Publication:Pastoral Letter, December 2012
Dear Friend in Christ:
I believe God has a purpose beyond the obvious and we are called to His purpose, not our own. I have thought a lot about our brothers and sisters in Christ who labor in extremely difficult situations and who often demonstrate a more pure faith than found in Western culture.
I have also thought on the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:1-8. He came to Corinth “not in word only but in the demonstration of the power of God” so that their faith would stand in the power of God.
If words only were enough, our work would already be done. Yet, too often, it seems like “so many words, so little power” (see 2 Timothy 3:5). Our answers may be not so much in the how well we communicate but how powerfully we demonstrate God’s power. We have tremendous challenges and our resource is in the spiritual realm.
I had these same concerns as a pastor in the early 1960s when Marxism was on the march and churches seemed so impotent. That concern drove me to the power of God and we saw miracles. We are there once again. It is time to renew our quest for the power of God.
THE FAILURE OF INTELLECTUALISM
We are witnessing the utter failure of depending upon human wisdom. Our “smartest” people are completely unable to resolve our greatest issues, politically, economically, and most importantly, spiritually. Moral rot is apparent. The last 25 years have revealed our inability to protect, prosper, or project a vision that stirs confidence in the nation. We are “ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of truth” (see 2 Timothy 3:7). And we are deeply divided (see Matthew 12:25).
The apostle Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 2 that the rulers of Jesus’ time relied on their own wisdom, and thereby missed the truth, crucified Jesus, and eventually destroyed Israel. How could such “intelligent” people err so disastrously? History shows us that when people trust their own knowledge and ignore God, bad things happen.
Jesus had not trusted in people (see John 2:24). Early in his life, Paul had trusted his own “education”, but that led him to persecute Christians and become an opposer of truth. It was only when he saw the light brighter than the noon day sun and heard the voice of Jesus that he came to see reality. His faith then stood in the power of God.
Secularism is trusting in ourselves – putting confidence in the flesh. It has reigned in academia for over 100 years and now the fruit has appeared. The Nazis and Communists should have revealed the folly of that path, but unfortunately history means little to humanistic idealists. Without the knowledge and power of God, people go blind. Like the apostle Paul prior to his conversion, the nations need to see the light.
THE SUCCESS OF THE GOSPEL
Paul did not arrive at Corinth preaching his own wisdom, though he was thoroughly educated. He came preaching Jesus Christ crucified and the power of God, and in the demonstration of that power. The Gospel was not in word only. The Gospel prevailed, not because Paul had a better argument or offered better programs, but because he demonstrated God’s power in healing, deliverance, spiritual gifts, and by other means. He intended that their faith should stand not only in what they believed, but what they saw. The results were undeniable. His ministry accomplished what mere knowledge or good preaching could not.
When he preached Christ, he was proclaiming not only Who Christ is but what Christ did on earth. Then he did what Christ did. What were the “odds” against our Lord when He walked the earth? He was born into an obscure nation, a discredited city, and a questionable parental birth; He was baptized by a controversial radical, rejected in His own home town, and scoffed at by the establishment. But He did miracles (see John 3:1-2). The people saw the power of God. Then Jesus told His disciples that they would do what He did, and even greater things (see John 14:12).
The Gospel succeeded everywhere it went because God’s power went with it. It overcame hell, penetrated pagan cultures, changed entire nations, and the course of history. The intellectualism of Greece, the imperialism of Rome and the paganism of Europe could not deny the invasion of God’s Word delivered in God’s power. It was only when the Gospel declined into a form that it fell before Islam and secularism (see 2 Timothy 3:5). That should be a lesson to us. A return to apostolic Christianity is much more than a return to apostolic structure; it must be returned to apostolic power and message (see Acts 2:39-40). We have the same message and power available to us, if we get serious. Recent events should motivate us.
So what will be necessary for our success? No, I don’t mean our professional, academic, or vocational success. I mean our accomplishing the purpose of God in our generation as the apostles did. While we should do our best on every level in every way demonstrating excellence, that will not be enough. Success in our mission is totally reliant on the power of God. The world and our communities need to seek God’s power in ways that defy human thinking, as it was in the days of Jesus and the apostles.
Psalm 42 records David’s yearning for God: “As the deer pants for water brooks, so pants my soul for you O God.” In verse three, David declares that people continually said, “Where is your God?” I believe that is the question being asked to us. If God is real, where is He? We can give them words and be able to rebut arguments; however, more is needed … the power of God.
Paul wrote, “For the kingdom of God is not in Word, but in power” (1 Corinthians 4:20). Jesus said, “If I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” What is the kingdom of God? It is His authority over all powers and authorities to produce righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (see Romans 14:17; Ephesians 1:15-23). We can say it; we can sing it; we can preach it, but we must demonstrate it if the world is to see it.
Jesus said that the light could not be hid. The world would see our good works and glorify the Father (see Matthew 5:13-16). What are the good works that He is talking about? Is it merely charity? Charity is good, but non-Christians do charity too. I believe He is speaking of works the world cannot do, but He can do through us.
There are many small churches across the land that are struggling to survive, and pastors that are discouraged. Analyzers may suggest a variety of reasons for this, including the loss of youth, aging constituencies, a lack of leadership, or other issues. I believe that there is one primary issue: a lack of power to demonstrate the message. The lack of power can often be traced to reliance upon human wisdom and talents. Disunity and insensitivity to the Spirit are also reasons for our weakness.
Does that mean that large churches have found the answers that smaller churches should emulate? No. Some larger churches may seem successful because of a personality in the pulpit, great programs, or fine facilities; yet still fail to demonstrate God’s power and have little impact upon their geographical area. There are some churches that are demonstrating growth by demonstrating God’s power. We should emulate those by seeking God; He is the same everywhere.
WHAT TO DO
- I would encourage every believer to have a prayer list that includes non-Christians and others who need to see God’s power. I have such a list that includes Muslims and one atheist. Pray specific prayers and expect specific answers.
- Ask the Lord to help you to learn how to be more sensitive to the Holy Spirit. On occasion, I have tried to witness to someone before I had given the Holy Spirit opportunity to prepare their heart. It doesn’t work, even if we are persuasive. Let the Lord guide.
- Expect an answer. Faithless prayers are worthless prayers. I do not always understand how prayer works, but I do note that what I believe as I am praying matters.
- When answers come, give the testimony; testimonies glorify God and strengthen the faith of others. Many people have experienced God’s power because they were inspired to believe upon hearing someone else’s testimony.
These are four simple steps toward seeing the power of God. You may not see immediate results nor will everyone respond to God. But as Joel Osteen’s father, John, once told me, “Do not allow the one who isn’t healed to prevent you from praying for someone who will be healed.” That is good advice regarding all of our praying. Most of us who are Christians are so because someone kept on praying for us.
Remember, we have not been given the spirit of timidity but the spirit of power, love and a sound mind (see 2 Timothy 1:7). If we obey the Holy Spirit, these are times of great opportunity. Let’s bring history_the history of the overcoming Gospel_up-to-date! These times need a demonstration of God’s awesome power!
A quick word about CSM: This month is a very critical one for us financially and also regarding key decisions for 2013. Would you prayerfully consider a very special year-end, tax-deductible gift to support the work of this ministry? And please pray that God would grant us His wisdom and strength for the momentous year ahead.
As we celebrate Christmas and the incarnation of Jesus, born into the world, may we once again be living examples of His faithfulness and power in this generation. I pray you and your family will have a blessed and joyful season!
P.S. For special audio Bible teaching resources visit us online at www.csmpublishing.org for more news and information!
Scripture Reference: 1 Corinthians 2:1-8; 2 Timothy 3:5, 7; Matthew 12:25, John 2:24; John 3:1-2; John 14:12; Acts 2:39-40; Psalm 42; Romans, Ephesians; 1 Corinthians 4:20