Publication: Pastoral Letter, February 2008
Dear Friend in Christ:
The year is still young and many wonderful possibilities remain for us in our lives. The focus of this letter is the possibilities you may achieve, and how to get on that path. I hope you will not wait to “luck out” or be out of luck. Be foundational and intentional. Launch your rocket from the right platform.
Jesus told the disciples, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (see Mark 10:27). Like everything Jesus said, this statement is loaded with implications. In our humanity we are limited, but with God there are no limits. The difference in possibilities is God. Remember, Jesus said, “…with God.”
I believe in positive thinking and a positive attitude and a certain degree of pragmatic thinking. But without God’s involvement, our best thinking and attitudes will be limited. God is Sovereign and eternal; He alone can lift us up to the possibilities beyond our sin and mortality. The issue of possibilities and God’s involvement has become personal to me and my family.
Most of you know that my dear wife, Carolyn, is enduring a critical degree of ovarian cancer. The “C word” brings a major assault on body and spirit. It attacks all hope and faith. We have wrestled in this warfare day-in and day-out over the last three years. And that struggle has brought us into the arena where ultimate issues clash like gladiators – the arena of mortal struggle.
Just before Christmas, our friend Myra Sink went home to be with the Lord, devastated by cancer in her body, but strong in her spirit. She died in faith and devotion to her Lord Jesus Christ. Myra was the wife of Pastor Jim Sink in Raleigh, North Carolina, whom we love and for whom we continue to pray. We have lost other friends to this terrible disease.
During our process, we have heard the questions and answers as to why and how one might overcome. We have left no stone unturned. And we have also heard the question, “If one does not overcome, why not?” Our confession is that our trust is in the Lord, not in answers.
Mortality is a fact stated in Scripture; it is simply a question of how and when. Perhaps the greatest chapter on faith is Hebrews 11. Verse 13 is particularly interesting: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them a far off were assured of them….”
The issue for us is not that we receive all of our desires or even realize all of the promises of God, but that we see them even though far off, and be assured of them. Having said that, should the Lord offer a path to receive a promise- while yet in this mortal body-faith compels us to take that path.
Carolyn and I have taken those paths and have received such promises along our journey. That is why she is still with us despite being given up by the doctors, more than once. I could be more specific as to how prayer has offered promises and hope received, but the issue here is the phrase that Jesus spoke, “with God.”
DESIRES VERSUS FAITH
To approach God with our desires is a legitimate and biblical approach. He says to ask and keep on asking. If we do not ask, we miss those possibilities. But faith to receive is another matter. Faith is based upon what God says or is saying (see Romans 10:17). Biblical faith is a substance placed in our hearts by hearing and receiving the Word of God-the Word that created all substance (see Hebrews 11:1-3). We all desire certain things, but it is the Sovereign One Who speaks Who determines our faith and outcome. We propose; He disposes. His glory remains in His hands.
Each evening, Carolyn and I tell the Lord our desires and wait for words that we can receive. Then we move on to the next day for “daily bread.” That is called “living by faith.” One day, she and I will pass on to eternity like the Hebrews 11 believers, and like our friend Myra, we will do so in faith. Until then, there are wonderful possibilities…and after? Even more possibilities than we can imagine!
The greatest possibility is that I might-through faith-accomplish something for the kingdom of God. The Hebrews account records that believers finally died in faith, but before they did so, they subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of the lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight alien armies, received their dead to life again, obtained a good testimony and provided something better for us.
What I take from Hebrews 11 is that the greatest possibility is that I might through faith is to accomplish something for the kingdom of God. Personal faith for personal issues is certainly valid, but faith for the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom is a higher faith and greater motive; “a better resurrection” the writer of Hebrews calls it. The Hebrews 11 people saw the Kingdom “afar off” but nevertheless lived and died for it in the most difficult circumstances. They saw the ultimate possibility and marched toward it in faith-though it was afar off.
The questions for me therefore are this: What do I see? What have I heard? And what will I live and die for?
Dinesh D’Souza has written a terrific best seller, What’s So Great About Christianity? I recommend the book wholeheartedly and urge you to read and give copies to your friends. D’Souza not only gives a convincing case for Christianity, but discusses its spread across the world. He specifically points to South America, Africa,and Asia. He also says, “What distinguishes those Christians is that they immerse themselves in the world of the Bible to a degree that even devout Western Christians do not.”
D’Souza points out that emerging-world Christians, who often live in a hostile environment, are more likely to live and die for their faith than their Western counterparts. They see faith in more real terms, and their primary purpose is Kingdom possibilities rather than personal comfort.
We may either choose personal possibilities or hear from the Sovereign God for the possibilities that He has chosen for us. With God, possibilities go to an infinitely higher level and endure for eternity. For the Hebrews 11 people, it was about the Eternal Kingdom, whatever the cost.
The Mobile Press-Register, our local paper, has recently run a series on a man named Tommy Tarrants. Tommy was convicted of attempting to bomb a Jewish home in Meridian, Mississippi, in 1968. He was a member of the KKK and a self-styled racial terrorist. His was a long and sordid story of racial violence.
Tommy Tarrants went to prison and there he began to read the Bible and other serious books. He came to faith in Jesus Christ and repented of his sin. Out of prison, he earned a Masters Degree and a doctorate and become a minister. He is now President of the C.S.Lewis Institute in the Metro Washington, DC, area, and he also mentors young men. Tarrants recently returned to Mobile, Alabama, where he had grown up, and reconciled with those he had persecuted.
This story is like many others about those who have discovered by faith the possibilities that God offers. While most of us have not terrorized others, we have nevertheless sinned and come short of His glory. The Word of God offers us the possibilities of faith and a new life of higher achievement. “With God,” we can be better.
A major point of interest in the Tarrants story is that when he was actually at his worst, he was convinced that he was doing God’s work. He thought he was right to persecute Blacks, Jews, Catholics (“Papists”). He was convinced in his own mind that wrong was right. There are many other people, though not terrorists, think that they are right to destroy others. They are bound by self-justification abetted by the enemy of our souls (see 1 Peter 5:8).
FAITH IS NOT PASSIVE
Self-justification is by no means the only entrance of evil into our lives. Other doors can be anger that turns to bitterness, desire turns to disillusion, or a circumstantial faith. All of these conditions can be serious barriers to God’s possibilities for us and for His kingdom. Then, there are other possibilities, even probabilities that are bad-very bad.
Evil is not passive, it is malignant constantly seeking more territory in our lives and relationships. It is never satisfied to stay at home. But faith is not passive either. It is constantly moving forward in the purpose of God, seeking to save rather than destroy. Faith motivates in life and carries us through death, finding its ultimate home in eternity from which it came.
Evil-and the fear it brings-is the polar opposite of faith and peace it brings. The fact that evil hates faith is not only a biblical truth, it should be evident to any observer. The inexorable march of truth and the counter-attack of evil is the cosmic clash of history. But those who believe the Word of God and are on the path to the ultimate possibility-the manifest kingdom of God-have this confidence: “The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness could not put it out” (see John 1:5).
Christianity has been under assault from those claiming to be atheists. My opinion is that most “atheists”, especially those that continually attack the idea of God, are not really atheists. Why attack what you do not believe exists? It is not that they do not believe, as much as it is that life has left them angry at the One who-if He existed-could have “done better” in their minds. Anger at God has taken them and others, off the path.
THE KEY TO LIFE
Faith is far more than a debate about the existence of God. It is the key to life on earth and the key to eternity. It is more than a tool to be used for personal gain, though it just might bless you personally also. It is the foundation for pleasing God, the result of hearing God, and the path to accomplishing the will of God.
Our task at CSM is to continue to equip and encourage you in faith. Because of God’s faithfulness through those who support us in prayer and finances, we have been able to sow truth around the world in more than 70 nations…and now, with our website, in even more places. We would love to see you online at www.csmpublishing.org where you can receive frequent news updates and fresh ministry materials, read extensive archives (including New Wine Magazine), download audio messages, visit our shop, and even participate in our lively and relevant new online Discussion Forum. Visit the site today, and let us know what you think!
Please continue to keep us in your prayers and in your giving. Your support, no matter the amount, is vital to us as we seek to move forward in our mission of “Extending the kingdom of God…one person at a time.” If this letter has blessed you, please help us send it to others.
My prayer for this year is for renewed faith and the obedience of faith. I pray that I might bring the gifts that He gives to the expansion of His Kingdom and the glory of His name. And I pray that nothing that presents itself will knock you off the path or send you down some secondary road, but that you will pursue the fulfillment of His purpose with all your heart. I urge a fresh study of chapters like Romans 4 and Romans 10. And, review those listed in Hebrews 11 and ask the Lord to be included in that number.
Scripture Reference: Mark, Hebrews, Romans, 1 Peter, John