Publication:Pastoral Letter, December 2019
Dear Friend in Christ:
Let me begin this special pastoral letter with a true story about a man named Henry. In the mid nineteenth century, he lived with his wife, Frances, and their five children, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Tragedy struck this family in 1861, when an accidental fire killed Frances and severely wounded Henry. He had been an acclaimed professor, writer, and poet, but suddenly, in his great despair, found himself unable to write.
Tragedy visited Henry once more in 1863, when his teenaged son, Charles, enlisted in the Union Army, without Henry’s permission. The American Civil War was at its height, and in November, Charles was critically wounded in the Battle of New Hope, Virginia. The bitter Winter cold was settling into Cambridge as Henry prepared to observe a joyless Christmas. What was there for him to celebrate?
On Christmas Day, Henry sought to express his anguish the best way that he knew how: by sitting down to write his thoughts on paper. What spilled out of him was raw and painful, and yet, in these moments of pain, he had some kind of encounter with God. The Holy Spirit gave Him revelation and hope, against all of the circumstantial evidence. As Henry wrote, his words became something of a modern Psalm, moving from grief to joy and peace in the Lord.
Henry’s thoughts were later published as a poem, and later, set to music. Over time, this song became a deeply moving standard that is still sung today. Most of you will recognize it…
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1863
More than 150 years later, there are many people in our day who wonder, “Where is God? Where is peace? Where is hope?” Those looking only at circumstances may see that “hate is strong and mocks the song.” Christmas celebrations can seem bitter to those who have suffered disappointment, loss, or tragedy. And yet, we are reminded: “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep.”
God is at work in the middle of our darkness to reveal His marvelous light. The story of our lives and times hasn’t been written yet. The full glory of God’s purpose and restoration for you and me is still over the horizon, like the sun waiting to rise on a new day. “The wrong shall fail, the right prevail”, or as my Grandpa Vernon Simpson always said, “The best is yet to come!”
More than 700 years before the very first Christmas, the Word of the Lord came to the prophet Isaiah. As it was in the days of the American Civil War, times were very difficult in Isaiah’s day in Israel. Circumstances were turbulent; society was broken; the outlook for restoration was bleak. Rebellion against God and His ways had brought terrible oppression from earthly enemies. Violence and lawlessness were the norm. Peace and joy seemed elusive, if not impossible.
God had given Isaiah a challenging assignment: to prophesy both judgment and restoration to Israel. The centerpiece of God’s plan, and therefore, of Isaiah’s message, was the promise of the Messiah to come; a Savior Who would redeem Israel and bring salvation to the world.
This assignment that God gave to Isaiah was a bit like Noah trying to explain why he was building a giant boat in his yard, because flooding rain was coming. Yet, no one had ever seen rains or floods. Noah saw something by the Spirit and was obedient to tell everyone what he saw, though no one else could see it. Have you ever seen or heard something from God that no one else had seen or heard yet?
Noah was faithful to tell what He had heard, and to obey it. Isaiah was faithful as well. The Holy Spirit showed Jesus to Isaiah and allowed Isaiah to see more clearly in some ways than Jesus’ own disciples saw when they were actually walking with Him! Concerning the birth and life mission of Jesus, this is what Isaiah said:
“For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
A SON IS GIVEN
Jesus wasn’t simply a child, but He was born as the Son of His Father God, ready to receive and walk in His Sonship. He came to reveal His Father, He delighted to do the will of His Father, and He did only those things that pleased the Father (see John 14; Hebrews 10; John 8). He was also born as the King; He was born to rule.
Jesus came as a baby, but He didn’t stay in the manger. God’s anointing and authority were upon Jesus, and He grew up into His calling. Even as a young man, Jesus submitted Himself to the care and authority of His earthly parents. In so doing, He grew in favor with God and with the people around Him.
Isaiah prophesied that the rulership of King Jesus would produce peace and justice. To this day, wherever His Kingdom is received, righteousness, peace, and joy flourish in the Holy Spirit. And, His Kingdom is ever-increasing! Wherever darkness remains, His light is on the way, and will surely dawn like the sun.
O HOLY NIGHT
When Jesus was born, the world was in bondage, or as the song says, “in sin and error pining,” longing for the Deliverer. Tyranny and wickedness were the norm among the nations. There were other forces ruling among the people. There are still forces in the world today that resist the Kingdom Rule of Jesus. But the day will come when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (see Philippians 2). “And in His Name, all oppression shall cease.”
There are seasons of life when justice and peace may seem far away. Sometimes events happen that make us question if this promise will ever come true. Yes, Christmas can seem painful to those of us who are grieving or weary, but it is in this very season when we can have our hearts healed and our hope renewed, if we will make room for Him to be born in our lives; if we will receive our King with faith and gladness. “Oh come to us, abide in us, our Lord Immanuel!”
Our mission as followers of Jesus is to proclaim, in word and in deed, that He has come, that He lives, and that He still seeks and saves the lost. I heard Pastor Curtis Forman say that “Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where the bread is.” We have Good News, and we are called to faithfully deliver it to the emerging generations.
THE BEST IS YET TO COME!
Recently, I was having lunch with Alex Lincoln, a great friend and brother who not only achieved great things on the football field, but has been instrumental in assisting injured athletes and wounded military warriors in rehabilitation, training, and healing. We were discussing adversity and God’s faithfulness in the midst of it. Alex has walked through some serious fire and found the Son of God walking in the fire with him.
As we talked, we sensed the Holy Spirit leading our conversation about the need for authentic hope in this time of history. In the midst of great generational divides roiling the United States, it struck us that one desperate need that transcends all generations right now is the need for God-breathed hope.
Out of that conversation came the theme for our 2020 CSM Gatlinburg Conference: “The Best is Yet to Come!” The Lord is telling us that our best days as His people are not behind us. Alex will be one of our featured speakers, along with Pastor Larry Grainger and Pastor Gerard Montenegro. Mark your calendar now for May 12-14; more details coming in the New Year!
As CSM focuses on reaching the next generation, would you prayerfully consider a special year-end gift to support us in ministry? Would you be willing to sow into a message and mission that is designed to reach beyond where we are? Your prayer and financial support play a key part in empowering us to continue onward, to see God’s faithfulness extend to our children and grandchildren (see Psalm 119:89-90).
We are seeing something in the Lord that is yet to come to pass; something that maybe everyone cannot see in this moment of time. Pray that God will give us grace and boldness to say it with clarity and to deliver it to the people He wants us to reach. Thank you for being a part of this mission.
We pray that you and yours will have a very Merry Christmas and a most blessed and Happy New Year!
scriptures referenced: Isaiah 9:6-7; John 14; Hebrews 10; John 8; Philippians 2; Psalm 119:89-90