Publication:Pastoral Letter, August 2019
I have been privileged to grow up among Christians and to minister in a wide variety of churches, from house churches to megachurches, in numerous denominations and cultures, in the United States and abroad. I have literally traveled millions of miles. No, I am not an expert in Church life but I am acquainted with it. I carry a burden for the Church. I long to see it stand up in the power of the Holy Spirit! To illustrate my concern, I will turn to the Apostle Peter and his moving from sitting down to standing up.
I love the stories about Peter because a lot of us can identify with him. By his own admission, he was a “sinful man.” He introduced himself to Jesus with that admission, as we all must. Peter was outspoken, used bad language, could sleep in prayer meetings, and at times was violent. Peter also boasted that he would never deny Jesus even if others did. He had argued with Jesus and was rebuked by Jesus; Peter’s faults and sins are all recorded for us to see.
Then there was that night in Gethsemane when Jesus was sweating blood. Peter and others were asleep, but awakened as soldiers came to arrest Jesus. Peter reached for his sword and cut a soldier’s ear off only to be rebuked again by Jesus who then healed the soldier. As Jesus was led away to be tried, Peter followed at a distance in spite of his earlier boast.
Peter witnessed the trial sitting by the fire with the servants, one of who recognized him as a disciple, but Peter lied and denied. This happened not once but three times, and the third time he denied Jesus with an oath! Then Jesus looked at Peter and Peter wept bitterly. Jesus had warned him that he would do just that and now Peter had done so. Jesus had seen through Peter’s bravado, now Peter had seen it himself. We have to see our own sins.
But Jesus had seen more than that; He had seen Peter as a leader. He had seen Peter’s potential when the Holy Spirit would come upon him and that day would come 50 days after Passover and Crucifixion. Jesus can also help us to see our potential.
Acts 2:14 records that when the Holy Spirit came upon the 120 followers of Jesus in the Upper Room, Peter stood with the others to proclaim the Gospel. He stood and raised his voice! The Holy Spirit caused Peter to stand; he went from sitting in his own strength to standing up in the Holy Spirit’s power, and three thousand people received Christ!
Peter spent the rest of his life standing up for Jesus until, as tradition has it, he too was crucified. Peter’s letters to the Christians scattered by persecution warns them and us that there would be trials and tests of faith (see I Peter 1:6; 3:14-18; 4:1-19.) If we follow Jesus, we will be tried as He was. Jesus had said, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (see Matthew 16:24). Jesus could not have been more clear about the cost! Perhaps that explains why so many simply sit.
We can choose to sit or we can pray that the Holy Spirit will raise us up to stand and raise our voices. Sitting is the passive position. We sit for entertainment; we stand for involvement. We sit in theaters, grandstands, for board games, video games, TV, and we sit in church.
I am reminded that the early Greek Orthodox Church stood to hear the Gospel. I am not advocating that we all stand to hear the sermon, but if we fail to stand in life after sitting in church, something is terribly wrong. Has “church” become for some merely inspirational theater? In too many cases, yes. When I was growing up in church, we used to sing a lot of hymns about standing: “Stand up, stand up for Jesus”, “Standing on the Promises”, “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand”, “Lord lift me up and let me stand”, “I Stand Amazed”; then the worship leader would say, “The congregation will please be seated.” Some folks never get up again until the next hymn about standing. Meanwhile, the adversaries are standing and raising their voices, then we merely complain about the culture. Complaining is not standing. Complaining is what people in the grandstand do when their team is losing or when the sermon or worship are not going well. We need to get on the playing field! We need the Holy Spirit’s power to get us on our feet again, and enable us to find our voices.
HOW TO STAND
We cannot learn how to stand from the culture. There are many who stand and shout violent words, personal attacks, and condemnation. This cannot be our stand or voice. We learn how to stand from our Lord. Isaiah 53 gives us a description of how Jesus stood in the face of persecution and death. Matthew Chapters 5-7 tells us how to face our enemies. Ephesians Chapter 6 tells us how to stand, clothed in the full armor of God.
We are told in the scriptures that standing up for truth does not include retaliation. In fact, we are to love our enemies and do good to those who despitefully use us. We are to arm ourselves with truth, righteousness, the Gospel of Peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and praying always in the Holy Spirit. We are to be watchful and persevere.
Standing up and raising our voices is not passive, but active in speaking the truth in love. Boldness is appropriate and necessary as we see demonstrated by our Lord and the apostles (see Matthew 23; Acts 4).
We should not be surprised if our boldness and speaking truth results in a reaction from others, even if we speak out of love. If we walk the walk as we talk the talk, there will be persecution (see 2 Timothy 3:12). However, in our sacrifices, some will see and receive Jesus. That is how our faith grew then and will grow now. Passivity will not grow the true Church. True Church growth does not come from cultural accommodation but from discerning when and how to stand and speak.
Remember, we are not fighting flesh and blood but “spiritual wickedness.” Wickedness has a spiritual root and that is where the problem is. If we fail to discern, we only fight the symptom and not the cause. Our Lord and the apostles understood that.
Discernment is essential for our success and we can obtain discernment two ways: Through experience (Hebrews 5:14) or as a spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:10). One of the problems with passivity is that it gains no experience. Being active guarantees that we will make some mistakes but we can grow up and learn from them. Another problem with passivity is that it does not SEEK. Seeking God, seeking the power of the Holy Spirit, and seeking the more excellent way is an active pursuit.
We need discernment because we are dealing with an adversary that is both spiritual and wily (see Luke 16:8). The enemy operates best in the dark; true children of light shine the truth on dark forces and therefore they are hated and attacked. But darkness cannot overcome the light—if we shine. The Church is not where the shine is needed most; it is in the world (see John 1:1-5). If we fail to have discernment and see the roots of lawlessness, we will simply “beat the air” (see 1 Corinthians 9:26). If we stand up and raise our voices with discernment, we will overcome the enemy and even in persecution reveal Christ. We must seek the Lord for ability to see the spiritual issues clearly and attack them in the Holy Spirit and in prayer.
It is not my purpose to pursue evil spirits, though they are legion. My purpose is to declare the Gospel and the truth at every opportunity. But when I am confronted by an evil spirit or spirits, I believe that I have the authority to dispel it, or them.
Many years ago, I had a close friend whom I believed to be “chasing demons.” He brought a man to our prayer meeting who had numerous evil spirits. As he attempted to cast them out, the man became violent and snarling. The group scattered. I am embarrassed to say that I was at a loss to know what to do. I went aside and knelt to pray, and I believe that the Lord spoke to me, “If a mailman is confronted by a bad dog, he can use a stick to drive it away. But if he takes that stick and goes looking for bad dogs, he will not be delivering the mail and he will get into trouble.” I have never forgotten that my task is to “deliver the mail”, not chase dogs.
It should be apparent to us that we are dealing with hidden forces that plot against righteousness. One of my daily prayers is for righteous government and the uncovering of wicked plots. And yes, there are problems in churches where there is hidden wickedness that must be exposed and dealt with. Perhaps that explains “Christian passivity.” But the field is the world (see Matthew 13:38). Whatever the Church is or is not doing, we have a mission in the world to stand up and raise our voices.
There are numerous issues that require us to stand, remembering that we stand for truth and do so in the Spirit of Christ: We are to pray for our leaders in government and all who are in authority. That should include our pastors. We are to pray for our fellow believers, persecuted believers, those who do not know Jesus, missionaries, those who stand for life and peace, and more. Also, we must pray in faith, believing that the Lord hears us.
I have two friends who attend a church that has been “sitting down”, so these friends started a home prayer group. They have been discouraged at times by the seeming lack of results, but nevertheless, they have continued. Recently, the pastor of the church announced that he also was starting a prayer meeting in the church; my friends were greatly encouraged! They took a stand there that has influenced others. That is how revivals begin. These friends are quiet and discerning, but not passive. What would happen if millions of believers who are now sitting as Peter did, became filled with the Holy Spirit, stood up, and raised their voices as Peter later did?
The hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers” describes the Church as an army. It is a great hymn but we are nowhere near that right now. The third verse declares, “Like a mighty army, moves the Church of God; Brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod.” One minister wrote a parody: “Like a mighty tortoise moves the Church of God; Brothers, we are treading where we’ve always trod.” No, we are not an army now, but we can be if we understand our common faith in Jesus, our promise of the Holy Spirit’s power, and our common enemy; if we stand up together and raise our voices. We are many more today than those who “turned the world upside down” (see Acts 17:6).
While we live, let’s do so standing and raising our voices with boldness. Yes, it will probably cause trouble for some but salvation for others. In any case, we will have walked where the saints did trod and it was those who got us here!
P.S. If this letter blesses you, would you pass it on? And would you please remember CSM in your prayers and in your giving this month as we sow the Gospel seed around the world? We face significant opportunities and opposition. Thanks for standing with us!
Scriptures Referenced: Acts 2:14; 1Peter 1:6; 1 Peter 3:14-18; 1 Peter 4:1-9; Matthew 16:24; Matthew Chapters 5-7; Ephesians 6; Matthew 23; Acts 4; 2 Timothy 3:12; Hebrews 5:14; 1 Corinthians 12:10; Luke 16:8; John 1:1-5; 1 Corinthians 9:26; Matthew 13:38; Acts 17:6