Publication: Pastoral Letter, June 2016
Dear Friend in Christ:
Thank you for praying for our annual CSM Gatlinburg Conference. It was a wonderful time in the Lord focusing on the “Unshakable” reality of Christ’s Kingdom in shaking times. The testimonies we heard were inspiring and instructive.
In this letter, I want to examine how our values determine our direction. We seek what we value, and that is why people hunt for treasures. What they treasure, they search for. Both our daily and lifelong pursuits tell us what we truly prize. Jesus makes it very clear that it is unwise to pursue what is perishable. Perhaps some analysis is due (see Matthew 6:19-21).
What we seek can lift us up or take us down, depending on its real value to our lives. Some relationships can lift us up or take us down. One of my favorite songs is “You Raise Me Up”. It describes a relationship that makes me more than I am now. I especially enjoy the rendition by the young Chinese girl, Celine Tam.
I also love the old hymn, “Higher Ground” which says, “Lord lift me up and let me stand by faith on heaven’s table land.” The hymn was written by Johnson Oatman, Jr., a business man who wrote 3000 hymns. That hymn was sung the day I was baptized in the Holy Spirit. I was lifted up into a higher place. I love the verse that says, “My heart has no desire to stay where doubts arise and fears dismay….” That was my heart that day.
The Lord is the lifter (see Psalm 3:3). He is the One who truly wants to lift us above ourselves into a higher plane of life, and He tells us how He can do that: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). The Kingdom of God is the treasure to be sought. It is not a status but a journey searching for the purpose and ways of God. It is a daily search, rather than a one-time quest. The search will take us higher into the mysteries of God and His eternal purpose.
I have lived as an “Evangelical” believer. Evangelicals like formulas, “Do this, and get that.” There is truth to some formulas, but our formulas don’t solve all the mysteries. Catholics and Anglicans have a greater focus on mysteries that evoke awe of God and the unknown. A mystery is not something meant to remain forever unknown, however, but something hidden that is meant to be revealed by the Holy Spirit.
God’s mysteries, both in creation and in the spiritual realm, are meant to be searched out. In other words, the treasures of the Kingdom are for searchers. Once we stop seeking, we stop finding. If we continue in a state of settling for what we already know, we begin to lose what we formerly heard (see Mark 4:22-25). Nations, churches, and individuals can be like that.
The Kingdom of God is not known casually or passively. One can be a casual church attender but not a casual Kingdom finder. God has reserved His secrets for those who value Him and His ways enough to search for Him with all their hearts (see Deuteronomy 4:29; Jeremiah 29:13). The Lord loves and seeks us so that we will love and seek Him in return. When we focus on Him, the One who is above all will lift us up into heavenly places, heavenly truth, and heavenly ways. We are already legally entitled to all of that—it has been given to us to know and fellowship with Him (see Hosea 6:3; 1 John 1:1-3).
The religious leaders in Israel during the days of Jesus demonstrate the human problem. They thought that they already knew enough about their law and prophets. Jesus warned them to search the Scriptures because they testified to Him (see John 5:39). They memorized but failed to search. They resisted the Holy Spirit, but only the Holy Spirit could reveal the Scriptures and the mysteries contained there (see Acts 7:51).
In order to enter a higher calling and place, one must become dissatisfied with where they are. Those who are comfortable in their current circumstance will not be searching for something else. Without some motivation to go forward, it will not happen. Passivity will produce blindness to what stands right in front of us, in the same way that Israel was blind to Jesus. Adversity can be a motivator.
There is an additional issue, and that is the cost of going forward. Going forward requires leaving where we are and going into the unknown. We are called to sacrifice what we know for something we do not yet know. We can only do that if we are convinced that we have heard the Lord’s call to move forward and trust Him. That does not mean that we toss aside the truth we have learned; it means that there is more to learn of Him that can only be learned in new circumstance (see Hosea 6:3). Every step into the unknown can be an opportunity to know Him more fully—even in the missteps (see Philippians 3:7-14).
One of our greatest hindrances to the search is that we have already made plans that may not anticipate His. Planning can be useful and important, but all our plans must include, “if God wills” (see James 4:15). Sometimes His will is different. Can we lay our plan down in peace, trusting Him and His plan, thus allowing Him to take us down a different path that will lead to knowing Him better? Many still grieve over a plan that they had, but it failed. Grieving over the past blinds us to the future.
Let me mention one final obstacle to the treasure hunt that is by no means of less importance, and that is our carnal nature—our appetites. Our flesh craves satisfaction that can dominate our spiritual need (see Romans 8:5-8; 1 Corinthians 3:3: Colossians 3:1). We may know what the Lord is telling us to do, but there is something else that seems to call louder …our flesh.
All of these issues and others can rob us of the treasure hunt that will yield life eternal, righteousness, peace, and joy all in the Holy Spirit (see Romans 14:17). There is no revelation apart from seeking God and apart from the Holy Spirit. In His light we see light; in His presence there is joy; in His presence there is righteousness; in His presence there is peace; in His presence there in cleansing (see Psalm 36:9; Psalm 16:11; Isaiah 6:5-7).
I love the old chorus, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full into His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”
There is another important thing that comes in His presence: guidance. More than once, I have felt bewildered, confused, and unable to decide what to do. I found my only recourse was to seek the Lord and cry out to Him (see Jeremiah 33:3). He answered and lit the path, even though it sometimes took awhile.
If we are born of the Spirit, then He is within us, and He is there to guide us into all truth (see John 16:13). That means that He is with us to help us with the directions that will take us to the treasure. The treasure may lie buried in some unattractive or even ugly field. But He knows where the truth is buried; the prize is more than worth the price of the field (see Matthew 13:44).
Some of the greatest hymns were written in the most difficult circumstances. “Nearer My God to Thee”, “Whispering Hope”, and others are testimonies to those who pursued the Lord and found the treasure in an unwanted field. The field is temporal; the treasure is eternal!
You may ask, “So what does this mean to me?” That depends upon where you are. If you are comfortable in your spiritual state, it may mean nothing. However, if you are in a tough place, keep seeking the Lord, and He will show you the treasure and why you have come to that place. He will make your journey worth the price even if He did not put you there. If you have been treated unrighteously, you can say with Joseph, “You meant it for evil but God meant it for good.” (see Genesis 50:20). It took a while for him to see that, but eventually he did.
Whatever our uncomfortable situation happens to be, God can make sense of it and bring some good from it (see Romans 8:28). He is the Redeemer of lost hopes and lost causes, if we turn to seek Him. The proud and arrogant will have to wait for another day. Humility before God, recognizing our need for Him, is the place to begin our search.
My prayer list grows longer, and it should. Part of my daily prayers is for righteous government and for our nation. My belief is that our beloved country is in great need. I am deeply concerned with our moral climate, knowing that a moral people is essential to moral government.
It is not only that our political climate is polarized, but polarization has “trickled down” to the most basic level of family, friends, and churches … a house divided. Personal and political agendas born of personal and political ambition are having a divisive effect.
SEEKING GOD TOGETHER
Another part of my prayer is for pastors. Many are discouraged and I pray that God will give them courage. I rejoice with those that are prospering in the truth, but I know that judgment begins in the house of the Lord (see 1 Peter 4:17). If it begins there, what will the end be in the culture at large?
And what is the purpose of that judgment? It could b e that the Lord is motivating us to seek Him as we face the issues before us: economic, political, terrorism, gender issues, and others. The gap between the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of God grows more wide each day. Should that surprise us? Should we be caught up in the anxieties caused by that? The answer is “no.” Jesus saw it coming in His day and ours. Nevertheless, He saves some and has compassion (see Luke 19:10; Jude 22).
Our mission is not to react to the enemy but to seek Christ’s kingdom and His righteousness, be established in our faith, and reach those who are open to the Good News in the face of so much bad news. Keep searching and don’t look back whatever it cost.
Gather a few of your closest friends and seek the Lord together; find other “treasures hunters”. Don’t talk so much about the evil times but about the Lord, the One who changes times and seasons. Allow Him to reveal Himself, bring His peace, and reveal His way (see Malachi 3:16-18). Yes, I pray daily for righteous government, but I do know that I already have THE RIGHTEOUS GOVERNOR. To Him be all honor and glory!
When you pray, please remember to pray for those who are sorely persecuted and martyred for Jesus’ sake (see Hebrews 13:3), and for all of us at CSM as we work to declare the Gospel among the nations at such a strategic time. Please remember us also in your giving this month. We thank God for your friendship, prayer, and support!
SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:Matthew 6:19-21, Psalm 3:3, Matthew 6:33, Mark 4:22-25, Hosea 6:3, 1 John 1:1-3, Acts 7:51, Philippians 3:7-14, John 5:39, Deuteronomy 4:29; Jeremiah 29:13, James 4:15,Romans 8:5-8; 1 Corinthians 3:3: Colossians 3:1, Romans 14:17, Psalm 36:9; Psalm 16:11; Isaiah 6:5-7, Jeremiah 33:3, John 16:13, Matthew 13:44, Genesis 50:20,Romans 8:28,1 Peter 4:17, Luke 19:10; Jude 22, Malachi 3:16-18, Hebrews 13:3