Publication:Pastoral Letter, April 2013
Dear Friend in Christ,
Thank you for giving me the privilege of expressing my heart to you each month. Writing to you helps me examine my own heart, hear the Lord, and try to obey. I do not always expect full agreement for all of the readers, but thanks for “listening”.
This month, we are asking: What is God saying to us in this critical hour of history? What is the true condition of the Church? What is ahead to be endured? What are the rewards if we obey? I will not try to give full answers to these questions; what I’ll do is revisit Jesus’ life and ministry and look at three models: Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.
Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, Who dwelt among us. So He is the model. We should continuously review how the Living Word responded to the Father and addressed His blind and shallow generation. We certainly must take truth from Him, but we must also take application. The synagogue of His day is very much like the Church of our day. He was sighted in a blind culture. He was full of grace and truth, but they could only receive the grace if they faced the truth. For the most part, they chose to avoid the truth and faced deadly consequence. They crucified the innocent Lord of glory. Of course, our sin as well as theirs put Him on the Cross. It is a universal temptation to ignore the truth. Our tendency is not to merely ignore the truth, but to persecute the bearer of it.
When the Word enters the world, it cuts the culture like a sword and cuts hearts (see Hebrews 4:12). Those who hear the truth and repent are given a future of blessed life. Those who reject it are eventually judged by the truth. It is the bearer of truth that I am concerned about here. What if we hear and do not tell it? What if we think people will not hear us or will react against us? What if we are too engaged in being entertained or expect others to tell it-like the pastor, evangelist, or staff? Is the task only for “professionals”? That’s it … the Great Commission was given only to church leaders, right?
What did Jesus mean when He said “Take up YOUR cross and follow me?” (See Matthew 16:24.) Where is my cross? It is usually wherever you tell the truth, as His was. To tell the truth of the Gospel as written in the Gospels, self-denial is required. We understand that as it relates to a communist, Islamic or pagan culture; most of us will not go to those places. But how about here in our increasingly secular culture? Our silence is “cross avoidance”.
Jesus tells us what happens to true prophets, and perhaps that tells us why we hire “professionals” to do it for us. I love the Church but am a little bit angry at it for wanting leaders to do what members will not do. “Somebody ought to say it.” How about all of us
Jesus was mindful of the price prophets paid and told us the price that we pay for not heeding them (see Matthew 23:23-33). His generation quoted the prophets, and kept up their graves, but did not heed their words. Of course, we have our monuments too. I want to take us back to a brief look at three prominent prophets-prominent after they died.
I studied Isaiah in seminary under Dr. Kyle Yates, an expert on ancient languages and a Bible translator. After his lectures, I preached six months on Isaiah. I love the texts that point to Jesus 700 years before His birth. Isaiah’s ministry probably lasted 60 years. Reading his words, we can forget the trauma that attended his ministry as he watched some of his words come to pass and knew that the others would. At his own call, recorded in chapter 6, he was told that the people would not listen. As he watched the northern ten tribes fall to Assyria, it must have been like watching a train wreck that he could not prevent . But he was faithful, even if he could not prevent it, and paid a high price for bringing the Word to the world. Some believe that he was sawed in two during the reign of Manasseh.
As bad as things were, he also saw a remnant who would return to the land and prosper. Strangely, it would be those who were carried away captive (see Isaiah 37:30-32). There is the Word of truth, the bearer, and the hearer. The bearer is often punished if not crucified; the hearer escapes the judgment; the avoiders and rejecters pay in the end. God sends the Word, the messenger brings it at great cost, and the hearer decides his or her future.
The bearer of the Word must decide if he or she is sufficiently devoted to God to obey and tell it regardless of whether people will listen…or not. Jeremiah, like Isaiah makes this clear.
Jeremiah is often called “The weeping prophet,” and with good cause. He saw the fall of Jerusalem as Isaiah had prophesied. The atrocities committed by Babylon are incomprehensible. His ministry lasted over forty years and we are not told when or how he died. But from the very beginning, he was told that he was chosen and ordained to deliver the Word of God into his world. He was told to make no excuses regarding his age, ability, or whether people would listen.
He was mocked and derided, cast into pits, imprisoned, and told to shut up. He wanted to quit, or keep silent, but could not because the Word was like fire shut up in his bones (see Jeremiah 20:9). It got so bad that he wished that he had been killed in his mother’s womb (see chapter 20). In spite of it all, the Lord told him to buy his uncle’s field, there would be a future (see Jeremiah 32). We enjoy reading Jeremiah 29:11 about God’s good plans for us, but overlook verses 10 and 12, “After seventy years….” The number ten represents tribulation; the number seven represents completion. Seventy is complete tribulation, then good things. There is a future-a good one, after we get enough tribulation to accept the truth.
During the oil crisis of 1974, and the subsequent real estate collapse, the Lord brought me to Jeremiah 32 and told me to invest in better times and to buy a new car and house. I did and made a profit, but I had to believe God and not the doomsday voices. Yes, there is tribulation but it works patience in us (see Romans 5:3; Luke 21:19).
Jeremiah again shows us several truths: God chooses, we hear, we deliver the Word regardless of cost, and those who hear get a future … either before or after death. Whether they hear or not is their responsibility. I am moved by Jeremiah’s compassion for his people expressed in Lamentations 1:12, “Is it nothing to you all you who pass by?” I wonder what it is to us as we pass by? Personally, I am convicted to have more compassion. Ezekiel speaks of a future for those who have compassion.
Ezekiel was successor to Jeremiah, though his ministry overlapped with Jeremiah. He not only saw the destruction of Jerusalem but was carried away to Babylon in captivity. Captivity was their salvation. He had to dwell among disheartened Jews who also witnessed the atrocities and had lost all. But he had a vision of God that not only elevated him above it, but gave him a view of Jerusalem more clear than those blinded souls who lived there. He also received the Word of God and delivered it in the face of Jerusalem’s rebellion (see Ezekiel 2). He was told sobering words; he would be held accountable to speak even if they refused to hear. If he did not, their blood would be on his hands.
In chapter 9, he watched as angels were sent into Jerusalem to put a mark on those who “sighed and cried” over abominations. Those who did would have a future; the others would not. God takes intercession seriously and favors intercessors. Like Isaiah who saw a remnant and a hope, and like Jeremiah who in his sadness invested in the future, Ezekiel saw hope. He was instructed to prophesy to the valley of dry bones until it became a mighty standing army.
In the great catastrophes and tragedies of the years 605-586 BC, Ezekiel’s wife died, he was carried captive, and Jerusalem was destroyed. Yet, he prophesied to the future. We must do that regardless. As God told Jeremiah that he was to tear down and destroy, yet plant and build, so it is with true prophetic people. Those who only tear down are not true prophets nor are those who only want to build up without removing false foundations.
All true prophets had the courage to speak both truths, judgment upon the rebellious, and mercy to the penitent. Jesus is the prime example.
Acts 3:19-21 sums it up so well: “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.”
So what is the Word of the Lord for our critical times? What are the true conditions of the Church and our culture? Can we address the culture in compassion with the Word of God? And can we do it regardless of cost? These are questions that no one can answer for you; not the pastor, staff, or some evangelist. The Lord commanded us to make disciples, even as He did, and to do so even in the worst of times. Can we truly be followers of Jesus in our times and not do that?
I often consider our brothers and sisters in Christ who faithfully deliver the Word of God to their cultures in the most difficult areas of the world, like China, Middle East and North Africa. We should pray for them. But should we talk to some of them, they would say that they are praying for us? Why? They pray for the Western churches to see what they have already seen-the consequence of silence in the face of danger.
I urge us to consider our Lord, the apostles and prophets as an example (see 1 Peter 2:21; James 5:10). They would tell us that faithfulness is more than a duty, it is a result of a visit from God that will send us to the world and bring a future.
One of the ways we are addressing some of these issues is our upcoming annual CSM Leadership Conference in Gatlinburg, TN, which will focus on motivation: “Why Do You Do What You Do?” Our special guest speaker will be Bishop Joseph Garlington. We would love to see you there, April 17-19! For more information, please visit www.csmpublishing.org or call 251.633.7900.
Please continue to keep us in your prayers and in your budget this month. With your support, CSM is able to reach around the world with the prophetic word of the Lord for this generation. (For more information, please see card enclosed.) These are perilous times … but we were born for such a time as this! Thank you, and may God bless and encourage you in these days.
Scripture Reference: Hebrews, Matthew, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Romans, Luke, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Acts, 1 Peter, James