Publication: Pastoral Letter, June 2010
Dear Friend in Christ:
If you do not have to struggle with it, it probably isn’t the truth. The truth is a friend who will both confront and conquer us, if we love it more than ourselves. Pontius Pilate asked “What is Truth?” as Jesus was on trial. But Jesus wasn’t really on trial; truth never is. Pilate was actually the one on trial, and he lost his own struggle because he couldn’t deal with truth. Dealing with the truth can be nasty business and the consequences are serious.
Pilate wanted a philosophical answer: God provided a living example. Jesus was truth made flesh. But we know now how many people deal with the truth; they crucify it. But truth always rises up to face us again.
Truth is a sword that cuts away at bad motives and bad living; when we run from it, bad things get worse. When we embrace the truth, it testifies against our sin. If we love it more than self, it brings repentance and deliverance. Truth sets us free from our selves and brings us to the source of all truth and reality – our Lord. The truth will “cross” us.
Death to self is not an end, it is the means to a higher end – the will of God. The will of God is that we be ambassadors of King Jesus whose love has conquered us (see 2 Corinthians 5:20). In other words, we represent ourselves no longer, but Him who died to Himself for our deliverance. We represent the truth to a deceived world, and that can be dangerous to us.
Jeremiah is called the “weeping prophet”. He served from approximately 626 B.C. until at least 586 B.C. His tenure began about the time of good King Josiah and until the fall of Jerusalem. In addition to the book that bears his name, he gave us the book of Lamentations. Neither book is “user friendly”.
Jeremiah’s message centered on the coming fall of Jerusalem and its plunder by Babylon, which was the rising world power. He not only warned but told the people to submit to it. It was a terrible message to deliver. In return for his faithfulness to what history proves to be true, he received horrible treatment and eventually death.
His vile treatment came at the hands of rulers, priests, and false prophets against whom he prophesied. No one would want such a task, and neither did he. But it was God’s choice, not his (see chapter 1:4-10). When the Lord told Jeremiah that he had already been chosen before birth, God instructed Jeremiah, “Do not be afraid of their faces.” That was a clue.
In Jeremiah 5:14, the Lord said, “Behold I will make my words in your mouth fire, and the people wood.” That was another clue. In Chapter 23, the Lord tells Jeremiah to prophesy against the false prophets who were misleading the people with lies in order to give false comfort and false hope. The Lord said that His word would be like fire and like a hammer.
The truth comes from one who stands in the presence of God, listens, and speaks with “flint-like” courage (see Isaiah 50:7 and 23:9). It does not come from one whose primary aim is to make people feel good. In that case, the truth gets moved aside in order to cater to people and enrich the “prophet.”
When we go to a doctor, I hope that we go to find out the truth so that we can deal with reality. “Doctor Shoppers” are really running from the truth and will eventually discover it too late. “Preacher Shoppers” suffer the same fate. Jeremiah was the “doctor” whose diagnosis Jerusalem abhorred, so they sought out “doctors” who said, “You’re going to be just fine.” They were tragically wrong.
Jeremiah lived in a time of great historical shifts. He stood at the door between yesterday’s revival and tomorrow’s destruction. We live in such serious days. The notion that we can go on as we are, with just a little self improvement, is not only wrong, it is deadly.
I remember in 1964 while searching the heart of God, He spoke to me, “I have called you to be fishers of men.” I understood Him to mean not simply “mankind” but that my personal call was to reach men for Christ. He said, “If you reach men, you’ll reach women who want to be with godly men. If you reach men and women, you’ll reach young people who will follow their fathers and mothers. And if you reach men, you will not lack finances.”
I realized that the best thing that I could do for women and children was to turn the hearts of fathers (see Malachi 4:5-6). But many women thought that I was “against woman” and fought me. Then in the late 1960s, I understood further that the word from God was His great commission to “Go make disciples.” So I committed to reach men and disciple them. “All hell” broke loose then in terms of criticism and opposition. No doubt in our humanity, many mistakes were made during this process, but the truth was there in the Gospels. While most focused on church growth, we focused on personal growth. While most churches relied upon a staff, we sought “Sons.” Now the church suffers for lack of true sons(see 1 Timothy 1:2).
In 1964, I was in my office deep in prayer. I had a vision of Times Square in New York City and the news in flashing lights was moving across a huge billboard on top of a building. The hand of God reached down and took what appeared to be a cylinder from off the billboard and poured sand out of it and said, “I will take your words and pour the sand out of them, then replace the sand with fire.” I had no idea how serious that was, or its future effect upon me.
We live in a culture obsessed with positive and soothing words. “Negative” or warning words are politically incorrect and burn like iodine on an open wound. Our conditioning makes receiving the truth most difficult, even when it is meant to save us from ourselves (see 2 Timothy 3).
No one in his or her right mind wants to carry words of fire. To begin with, the fire burns the bearer first. Secondly, it makes the hearer irate and they often strike back. But the Sovereign God chooses who will deliver His word. The objections of Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and others made no difference.
I blush when I read their faithfulness to a difficult message in comparison to whatever difficulties I may face. In the same way, I am embarrassed when I read Hebrews 11 about heroes who endured such suffering and death to pass on the words of fire. And I fear for our generation. History proves the authenticity of their message and their undying commitment to it. Babylon did destroy Jerusalem. In Noah’s day, the world was destroyed by flood. It all came to pass. The “peace” offered by false prophets was “fools gold.” The messengers that “bucked the tide” and saved lives had to struggle; and so must we, or else succumb to the “deceiver of the whole world” (see Revelation 12:9).
Jeremiah 20 captures some of the prophetic struggle. Here are some of the things that Jeremiah said to God in the midst of his conflict:
- “The Lord enticed me.” Jeremiah was chosen before birth, but he has to be persuaded to speak what God said (see Jeremiah 1:5 and 20:7)
- “I am a daily laughing stock.” Jeremiah was mocked, as was our Lord and every faithful messenger.
- “I decided to keep silent.” This is the preference of one who sees evil responses.
- “The word of the Lord is like fire shut up in my bones.” No matter how much he desired silence, he had an inner compassion to speak the truth.
- “The Lord is with me as a mighty awesome One.” When we speak, we sense God’s affirmation and that is a satisfaction that outweighs the consequence.
- “My enemies are in everlasting confusion.” The truth clears things up; to reject it is to fall into confusion where the enemy dwells.
- “The Lord tests the righteous” (see Psalm 105:19). The word of God tests both the messenger and those who have a heart to hear it.
- Verses 13 and 14 show the mood swings of a prophet. “Praise the Lord!….Cursed be the day in which I was born.” True prophets have highs and lows.
Have you sought God for His word to you? Has He spoken? Are you wrestling with what He said? If so, good; let the truth conquer you and do what He said. If you are too busy to seek God, then you should know that apart from truth, the life we live becomes a lie.
THE NARROW PATH
We walk a narrow and straight path, and must not turn to the right or left. We need a revival, but must not succumb to emotionalism. There are some strange fires out there! The prophets of Baal were emotional. They leaped upon the altar and cut themselves. But their prayers went unanswered.(see 2 Kings 18:28).
Many of God’s people do not know the difference between emotionalism and truth, or soul and spirit. Sincerity and passion are important, but without truth and principle, they burn up in the fire like chaff. We need truth, but intellectual truth can become a “knowledge trip” that lacks the cry for action. Truth is beyond academic. Jesus is truth, but on earth He demonstrated living truth in action and love. Stationary truth will not conquer a “lie on wheels.”
We must arm ourselves with both truth and a passion for our world. We are called to be doers of the Word. Seldom has history called so loudly for a response to truth. We must set our faces to know the truth_and do it! (Ezekiel 33:31-33)
At our recent Gatlinburg Leadership Conference, Dwayne Higgason, who pastors Grace Temple in Hattiesburg, MS, told of how he and one elder were reaching out to prime athletes in the region. In one of their sessions, an entire squad, except for two young men, gave their hearts to Jesus. “Then,” Dwayne said, “We had to send them back home.” They went back to the same environment without mentors, and in many cases, without fathers. I thought of our Lord’s words, “The harvest is ripe, but the laborers are few.”
While many church people are passive, things are changing dramatically. I now have a Muslim neighbor. We live in a very nice neighborhood and soon another Middle Easterner will move in. I welcome them as an opportunity. Muslims have reached men. We have not. The number of men in church is getting less, and they are getting older. Mere emotionalism will not reach the young men, though they have strong emotions; they are ready for action. We must present the prophetic word.
America is asleep spiritually. The Church is singing lullabies when it needs marching music. At a personal level, many “believers” are not followers of the commission. The world is in grave danger and too many “dogs won’t bark” (see Isaiah 56:10).
Iran is a serious threat and immediate threat to Israel and the world. Militant Islam is on the march, unafraid of the West. In addition, the United States owes its wealth to China, and more and more people here become dependent on someone else to be responsible. The Canadian dollar is now worth more than our own. I could go on and on about the signs of trouble. But the greatest is the complacency of God’s people in the face of a militant secularism that is stealing our children and our future. “Smooth sayings” will not turn the tide (see Isaiah 30:10).
I pray that we have at least a small window of time to humble ourselves, seek God, and repent. This is a critical year to deal with the truth and let it deal with us. Ask God for discernment and wisdom as to how we can respond to our season.
I urge you to remember me in your prayers that God will give me strength to declare His Word. Also, please continue to keep us in your giving this month. We have been in a very narrow place financially, and the needs are great. Thank you for your faithfulness to our Lord and His Word.
Scripture Reference: Jeremiah, 2 Corinthians, Isaiah, Malachi, 1 Timothy, Revelation, Psalms, 2 Kings, Ezekiel,