Publication: Pastoral Letter, October 2008
Dear Friend in Christ:
In these days, disciples of Jesus Christ face some vitally important questions, and I want to address some of these in this letter; where should we be going in order to be true followers of Jesus? How vital is it that we heed His prophetic call, and what will happen if we do not?
We read in Luke 4 about when Jesus attended His home village synagogue. He was asked to read from the scroll. He read Isaiah 61:1-3,a Messianic prophecy that described the Messiah’s mission: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, set at liberty those who are oppressed_downtrodden_and proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord – the year of new beginnings”(paraphrase, emphasis added).
Jesus’ reading was well-received until He noted two issues: a prophet is not honored in his own country; and, both Elijah and Elisha ministered miracles to foreign individuals from “enemy areas”. Upon these statements, the anticipation of His listeners turned to anger, and they wanted to kill Him. But the Scriptures say, “He went on His way.”Following His announcement, He did exactly what He said He would do. This is a clear portrait of our challenge.
The religious people ultimately crucified Jesus, but He arose. Just forty years later, much of Israel was decimated, illustrating what happens when true prophets are ignored. Isaiah(who was quoted by Jesus)and Jesus Himself were true prophets. Whatever we may think of either, they saw the future correctly and advocated a correct response in the present. Those who were mesmerized by mere religious repetition did not understand the very words that they had memorized, and they paid the price.
SEASON OF EVALUATION
I do not want to be one of those who are so absorbed in my schedule that I fail to hear the prophetic call. We all have such a call – we are called to follow the consummate Eternal One who desires to lead us into His purpose for the future; we fulfill that call by hearing and obeying in the present. We must heed His interrupting voice and get moving. Following will require action.
The passing of my dear wife, Carolyn, has been an arresting experience for both me and my family. I have been hesitant to minister until I could get my heart focused on what God is saying. No, it has not been about my faith in Him; it has been about His purpose for me.
In that light, I have taken some trips and done some reading to open my mind to what He might say. In July, I went to Costa Rica to minister with my longtime friend Hugo Zelaya and to spend time with my daughter, son-in-law, and their children; they are building an orphanage. In both cases I was blessed as I ministered to the spiritually hungry and needy.
In August, I made a three-week trip through the Midwest all the way to Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and many states in between them and Alabama. Driving and fellowshipping gave me a fresh perspective. I was able to sit with and talk with a very diverse group of people – some wealthy, some intellectual, and some seemingly at the very bottom of society. Some were pastors, some were business people, and some were struggling with various desperate needs.
I also read several books: Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom; Always by My Side by Jim Nantz; Letters from Dad by Greg Vaughn; In His Steps by Charles Sheldon; and Prophetic Untimeliness by Os Guinness. In addition, I have read and re-read Isaiah 58-61, Luke 4, and the Book of James. I am more convinced than ever that Arminians need to read the book of Romans and Calvinists need to read the book of James.
I wish that I could give a synopsis of each book and my travel experience, but I cannot do that here. However, I came away with two deep desires: first, to minister to those who understand that they need help – the spiritually hungry. Second, to pass on Truth to the next generation. Here are some conclusions that I want to honestly share with you:
- I am not where I want to be spiritually; I must regain focus.
- I cannot do everything that I want to do, but I can do something if I can focus.
- I cannot ignore the needs that Jesus addressed and still be a follower of Him.
- Doing religion as usual is futile.
- If the world is to glorify God, we must go “out there”(see Matthew 5:13-16).
- The world is in significant transition; it is time for serious prayer and action.
- If I am to be prophetic, I must see and address the future correctly and act accordingly. I need the anointing of His Spirit to do that.
- I must be willing to bear the pain of seeing what I cannot personally change.
These are personal issues that continue to be at work, right now, in me.
THE PROPHETIC CALL
Years ago, I was called to an area of ministry that I did not and still do not fully understand. I resisted that call because I misunderstood it. I thought it was to traditional ministry, but time has shown me it was not. In fact, my ultimate call was not to be modeled on where I was at that time. The leading of the Lord and my own failures have shown me that while I didn’t fit the norm, His strength has been revealed in my weakness, and through it all, I have found my ultimate calling.
My call has been personal, covenantal pastoral care rather than institutional care; personal discipling versus academic discipling; and to proclaim His Kingdom instead of focusing on building churches. Many of those who initially bought into those callings were scandalized by mistakes and controversy. But for me, those issues have only clarified and continued.
Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because..” Charismatics have gotten the first part right, but generally are still struggling with the “because”, as is most of the church. And we must get the “because” right or pay the price. Jesus and Isaiah both addressed the failure of religion to get beyond itself and into the lives of the poor, hungry, oppressed, and those who did not know that there could be a second chance. Jesus gave them that opportunity.
True prophets do not “catch a wave”; they make waves. They do not “get along and go along. ”They are as welcomed as a heretic at a revival meeting or a skunk at a fragrance store. The only praised prophets are false prophets or dead ones. To be truly prophetic one must obey God at all costs and the costs can be great. I remember when people did that, and thank God, some still do.
The more the church tries to be “relevant,” the more irrelevant it seems to become. What is relevant is the Word and obedience to our Lord. It is far too late for me to try to learn “hip-hop” or “break dancing” to become relevant to today’s irrelevant culture. But I can be most relevant to someone who needs help and doesn’t find it among uncommitted friends or a life of consumption.
As Guinness stated, “new is not always true, and true is never new. ”Catching the latest wave is not prophetic. Prophetic is doing what our Lord is calling us to do – get out into the hurting harvest with Good News; that is what He did. The harvest is not sitting in church; it is languishing in the field.
THE CALL IS PERSONAL
This is the mission that Jesus had and that He continues to share with us, if we are walking with him. The mission must come down to the personal level regardless of what others do, if it is to be effective. Slogans are not missions. We have a mission, a great co-mission. It is the one that Jesus had and has with us if we are with Him: go into all the world, preach the Good News, make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to do what He did.
Making it personal frees me from generalizations that have lost their force. He said, “I am with you” to those who would actually do those things and fulfill the prophetic mission. He did not promise to be with those who chose some other path.
Guinness points out the prophetic qualities that are required of us. I will state them in my own words:
- Prophetic people must discern the times. The religious people of Isaiah’s day and Jesus’ day could discern weather signs but not spiritual signs.
- Prophetic people must have the courage to confront those in power with the truth.
- Prophetic people must persevere in the face of daunting odds.
- Prophetic people must have a note of authority born of their transcendent source.
- Prophetic people must have seasoned wisdom born of a sense of history.
- Prophetic people must have the willingness to bear the pain of seeing what they cannot always change.
Guinness gives us a real picture of what it means to follow Jesus Christ and be light in a dark culture. Each point deserves thorough discussion.
FAITHFUL TO THE CALL
All that I have experienced of late has reinforced my desire to be faithful to the call. For some of us, the call to be prophetic must be regained, as we have strayed from the path. But the path is still there Like Samson, “our hair must grow again.” Many Christians have succumbed to the tyranny of time, tools, and cultural pressures, only giving God an hour each Sunday.
The Lord instructed us to pray for laborers to do so will convict us of our own need to labor and that it will take real work to build and cross the cultural bridges to those who are desperate. Building bridges is the future. I urge you to ask God to show you one such person, and then give that person two things: real friendship and the Good News that Jesus offers another chance at life. Give them what someone gave you. This activity will not only save someone’s life, it will help save “the Church” from itself. The Synagogues didn’t get it. But we still have that opportunity.
Joy is something that we all appreciate. There is no greater joy than bringing in the harvest(see Psalm 126:5-6). Reaching out will take your mind off your own problems, but beyond that, it will bring joy to the One who called us.
I have decided that I cannot change Hollywood, the media, or the universities and make them what I’d like them to be. But, I can focus on God’s call, reach out to some poor, hungry, or oppressed person and tell them that there is a new beginning in Jesus. We can, as someone said, “light a candle or curse the darkness. ”The Lord called us to be light.
Let me ask you to remember us in your prayers as we continue to sow this message; in fact, would you sow with us by sowing into CSM financially during this month? As you do, you will equip us to equip many for the proclamation of the Gospel worldwide. Thanks for standing with us!
Charles V. Simpson
P.S. We are already getting ready for CSM’s annual Gatlinburg Conference, April 22-24, 2009.Our theme is timely, focusing on, “A Call to Arms: Prayer and Action!” Make room in your life and calendar for this prophetic event, and tell your friends they are invited as well. Also please see the enclosed card for information about how you can receive a NEW 3-CD series I am releasing this month entitled “The Next Revival.” More information on this series and on the Conference – as well us up-to-date news – is at: www.csmpublishing.org.
Scripture Reference: Isaiah, Matthew,