Publication:Pastoral Letter, January 2012
Dear Friend in Christ:
I pray that you will have a blessed 2012! It will be a critical year and we need to be alert to the Holy Spirit who calls us to be more than conquerors through the One who loves us. It shouldn’t be necessary to convince believers in Jesus that Western Culture is collapsing; the issue is what to do so that we do not collapse with it, but thrive and not just survive.
As I have written before, economy is only a symptom of deeper issues_primarily what a culture believes and how it behaves or misbehaves. Our current economy is the result of false beliefs and immoral behavior on the part of the government, Wall Street, and various institutions supported by the public. We all have had a part in it. Now public trust is low and about 75% of United States citizens believe we are on the wrong track. Europe’s economy, which affects our own, is in shambles. The optimism of the 1950s is long gone and few believe that our children will enjoy a better future.
In all of this, we need to bear in mind that the Church has triumphed in difficult times since the days of Jesus and the apostles, and will again if we return to those foundations. The Psalmist said, “If the foundations be removed, what shall the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3). The foundations of faith that once built Western culture have been removed, so what shall we do?
A friend to many of us, Paul Bryant, recently sent me two quotes from George Orwell, one from 1945 and another from 1946: “Political language is designed to…give the appearance of solidarity to pure wind”; and “Sooner or later false belief will bump up against solid reality, usually on some battlefield.” Both quotes are prophetic.
Jesus warned against building on sand; Paul warned against building on wood, hay, or stubble. So, what are these bad foundations? They are false belief systems such as secularism, multiculturalism, or thinking that different theologies have no consequential difference. Jesus said that a house built on sand would have a “great fall”. Paul said, “The day will declare it.” The storm of reality will always destroy the house of fantasy.
The idea that we can borrow and spend to prosperity is a fantasy. The idea that we can cheapen our currency and pay today’s debt with cheaper dollars later is a fantasy. Our currency has lost 20% of its value in recent years. The metal in a silver dime minted in the 1950s is worth over 20 times its face value today. The metal in nickels and pennies is worth more than their face value. But this is not about money; it as about cultural devaluation and deflation.
Revelation 14:8 says, “Babylon the great is fallen.” Babylon – confusion – was built upon an importation of incompatible ideas from all over the world: astrology, idolatry, and syncretism. Babylon was built on incompatible fantasies and military might. It extended its reach to that area of the world. It seemed great, but it was the fall that was great. The same could be said of successive “super powers” (see Daniel 7).
Are we like Babylon? We are becoming that way as the US is re-segregating into incompatible enclaves. Our motto, “Out of many, one,” is becoming, “Out of one, many.” A house divided, a lack of adherence in the foundation built on sand, is fatal. Sand will not hold together.
Is there hope? How can we thrive in this environment? Our hope is not in ourselves, our government, or other institutions. It is in the Lord and obedience to Him. We cannot “go with the flow” and expect a different end.
THE PROMISE OF GOD
I love the old hymn, “How Firm a Foundation.” It was the favorite of the early Founders of America, and was often sung at state funerals. I cannot quote it all here, but I will write down some lines: “How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord/ is laid for your faith in His excellent word.” The second verse says, “In every condition….” The third verse begins, “Fear not, I am with thee…” The fourth verse begins, “When through deep waters I call thee to go…” This hymn was written by one who had been there.
In 2 Timothy 2:19, the apostle Paul tells Timothy, “The foundation of the Lord stands sure.” Ephesians 2:19-22 speaks of “The foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone.” Hebrews 12 speaks of the unshakable Kingdom. Psalm 37 tells us not to fret when evildoers seem to prosper. They will wither like the grass, but the righteous will have an everlasting inheritance.
Another of my favorite hymns, “The Solid Rock”, says, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” The promise of God is security amid insecurity, and stability amidst instability.
Those who listened to Jesus’ warnings escaped the Holocaust of 70 AD. Those who heard Paul thrived in the worst of times and brought the fall of pagan Rome. Their successors changed pagan Europe and their descendants brought the foundations to our shores. Difficult times are designed to purify our faith and cause us to triumph over the gates of Hell.
How did Paul and the Gospel that he preached survive the turmoil of his day? He had been a “Pharisee of Pharisees” trusting in his own ability to keep the law. He was a violent defender of a dying culture, attacking the disciples of Jesus vociferously. He was part of the mob that stoned Stephen and was on his way to Damascus to persecute disciples there when he saw a blinding light and heard Jesus’ voice: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, Lord?” he asked. “I am Jesus,” was the answer.
Paul was instructed to go to Damascus where he would be filled with the Holy Spirit, healed, and commissioned. After spending time with the disciples that he had come to persecute, he immediately began to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to his own people. Though they tried to kill him, he knew personally that Jesus was both alive and the Lord!
This event could be called “the beginning of Western civilization” because it was Paul who brought the Gospel to Europe. Western civilization was once based on the Gospel, not Greece. Unfortunately, most of our “educators” have looked to pagan Greece rather than the Gospel for a model and foundation. Take a look at Greece now.
Paul’s conversion was not an intellectual event, though he was intellectual. His conversion to Christ was a power encounter with the Living God (see 1 Corinthians 2; 2 Peter 1:16-19)! What he went forth to preach was not his own wisdom. Our best hope to affect a collapsing culture is a return to the power of God to reveal Himself to human beings who are on the wrong road. The nation is on the wrong road but God can still reveal Himself.
Paul went from a bad foundation to a firm foundation and to lay foundations for future generations (see Acts 20; 1 Corinthians 3:10-11). His mission meant more than life itself . Like His Lord, he made himself of no reputation. In humility, he declared Jesus Christ and loved not his life unto death (see Revelation 12:11). His faith rested on the eternal truth not temporal circumstance.
THE STATE OF THE CHURCH
I was recently asked to talk to a group of influential leaders on the state of the Church. I find that difficult, due to my own limited perspective and the variety of conditions among churches. There are some bright spots: I have recently been involved with Foothills Christian Church in El Cajon, CA. Something is happening there that is encouraging. Also, I have heard a good report from my friend, Paul Petrie, who conducts European prayer breakfasts. Many leaders of nations seem hungry for God. I am encouraged and humbled by Christians in Egypt, China, and Northern Nigeria who are giving their lives for the Gospel.
However, I am deeply concerned about the general climate in the American Church. It has been affected by the culture, become complacent, and often very motivated to succeed in size rather than in mission. While there are certainly many strong churches, we are in danger of catering and pandering to culture rather than changing it. “Church shopping” is rampant, and many churches are offering “blue light specials” and menus to “cafeterians”. Sadly, we are losing our youth and our future. Too much emphasis is put upon staff responsibility instead of personal responsibility to spread the Gospel. And, too many ministries and people in the pews are simply weary of it all.
What must we do? Here are some thoughts:
- Get out of maintenance and into mission. “Worship” must be more than singing. True worship is when it becomes just “you, God, and now”.
- Get back to our foundations of apostolic faith. We need to ask ourselves as we read the New Testament, “Is that what is happening here?” That question changed my life as a Southern Baptist pastor. I had been taught to believe the Bible, but the wide gap between faith and practice challenged me to change and still does.
- We need to acknowledge that we have sinned and come short of the glory of God. I have confessed that to God, and do to you as well. The Church needs to make that confession.
- We need to move away from the secular psychology (“We are gods”), and back to the truth that we desperately need God and His power. He alone can save us.
- We need to weep over our children, many of whom have left the faith and the Church.
- We must become re-sensitized to the voice of the Holy Spirit, Who will guide us through troubled waters.
The list of other necessary steps would be too long for this letter; they would include more serious prayer, Bible study, putting God first in finances, relating to lost people, and so much more. But I believe if we hear God, He will address all of these issues. If all of this does not begin with us, then who? If not now, when? If not where you are, then where? Is it too late? Too hard? No, it is reality, and the sooner we deal with it together, the better our 2012 will be. Remember, it will be a critical year.
P.S. Please continue to keep us in your prayers and in your giving, especially this month. January is often a great challenge, and we need your continued special support as we move forward in our common mission. Also, mark your calendar for the upcoming CSM Gatlinburg Leadership Conference, May 16-18, focusing on the power of the prophetic word. Visit our website at csmpublishing.org for much more information, news, dialogue, and resources!
Scripture Reference: Psalms, Revelations, 1 Corinthians, 2 Peter, Acts