Publication: Pastoral Letter, January 2003
Dear Friend in Christ:
Happy New Year! We are on a journey…like it or not. Time is moving on and the scenery around us is changing rapidly. I pray that our journey is one directed by the Lord and His purpose as we willingly respond to the Holy Spirit.
I have taken more than 1,500 journeys. I was impressed when I recently read that the “Happy Goodman Family,” a gospel-singing group, had given more than 3,000 concerts. Serving the Lord does require going, whether a long geographical journey or simply reaching into nearby areas.
God’s first commission to mankind was, “fill the earth;” Jesus’ last commission to His disciples was, “Go into all the world.” God’s Word to us has always involved a journey.
Eden was built at the head of four rivers. This seems to imply that, from the outset, He intended that humanity should be ready to move out in a flow of life to all the earth. God’s people are sojourners.
Genesis 10:8 introduces us to Nimrod, “a mighty hunter before the Lord.” Nimrod is the founder of Babylon or Babel. Genesis 11 tells us that the people of Babel decided to use their common language and resources to build a tower. One writer suggests that Nimrod actually means “let us rebel.” And he goes on to propose that the tower was for the purpose of studying astronomy. Eventually Babylon worshipped the stars and astrology became their primary religion.
We do know, according to Romans chapter one, that when people rebel against God, they turn to worshipping creation. And we do know also that Nimrod rebelled against the Divine mission to go into the world, in favor of gathering and consolidating people and resources for his own purpose and glory. Nimrod became a dictator in the same manner that future leaders of Babylon did…right up until present-day Iraq.
Genesis 11 also tells us that God did not tolerate Nimrod and Babylon’s quest. He confused and scattered them, and Babel became synonymous with confusion.
From time to time, both Israel and the Church have been subject to the “Nimrod Syndrome.” That is, it seems that sometimes, we have been more concerned with settling and gathering, than with journeying out to fulfill His purpose. The telling verse regarding this syndrome is found in Genesis 11: 2: “And it came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.” Sometimes, sojourners become settlers and lose the blessing of God.
The very next chapter gives us strikingly different example. Genesis 12 opens with God telling Abram (Abraham), “Go forth…and I will bless you.” The blessings and rewards were tied to going. From that time on, Abraham became a seeker, a pilgrim, and a sojourner. As the writer of Hebrews would say nearly 2,000 years later, “we have no continuing city.”
The Lord promised Abraham that he would have seed, children, and heirs who would bless all nations. Galatians 3 carries on this theme by saying that all who believe in God as Abraham did are his heirs and share in the same mission. This means that we who believe and go forth are sojourners – and not settlers. We are moving out into God’s purpose for the earth.
No journey more typifies the Christian life than the Exodus of Israel out of Egypt. Israel’s promises lay in another land, but they were slaves in Egypt. God raised up Moses (whose name means “drawn out”) to lead them out. Later he was sent from the region of Sinai back to Egypt to proclaim the purpose of God. After a great struggle, the Israelites began their journey to the Promised Land by sacrificing a lamb for each family and painting its blood on the door posts of their houses. Then they ate the lamb with bitter herbs (symbolic of repentance) and unleavened bread (symbolizing sincerity of heart), and began the journey.
Israel soon came to the Red Sea, even as the Egyptian army was chasing them. In desperation they cried out to God who instructed Moses to lift his rod out over the waters. Israel passed through the sea on dry land, being covered by the cloud of God’s presence. Later, Paul would say, “they were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (I Corinthians 10:2).
Israel’s journey could have been a few days, but instead it took 40 years because they came to a place of going on, and then drew back. But, after 40 years of wandering, a generation arose that was willing to face danger and move ahead.
JESUS AND HIS FOLLOWERS
Our Lord Jesus was a sojourner. He came to earth from heaven and spent His three-and-a-half years on earth traveling throughout Israel seeking a people who had lost their way. John 4:6 tells us that, “Jesus being weary from the journey,” sat down to rest beside a well in Samaria. Even then He was about the Father’s business. Soon He had reached an entire village through a conversation with a woman who had been married five times and was currently living with yet another man.
Jesus’ disciples were “followers.” That is, Jesus sojourned and they sojourned with Him. They learned as they went – just like we do. In order to be trained by Jesus, they had to follow to be with Him. Jesus is still traveling and we must travel with Him.
Time and space do not permit a discussion of the disciples’ journey after Jesus ascended back to the Father. We can say that they journeyed to many places in obedience to Jesus’ Great Commission, “Go into all the world.”
The book of Acts picks up the story of Paul, who met Jesus while on a journey and who took several journeys around the Mediterranean area. He had the Spirit of Jesus and Abraham, not the motive of Nimrod.
I am blessed to work with some great men and women. They are sojourners. They work from North America to South America, from the Philippines to Siberia, and from Siberia to Africa. Our motive is to extend the Kingdom message and power to all the earth.
TO GO OR NOT TO GO
When I was in my teens, I lived in a small town that eventually got a pharmacy and soda fountain. There was an old and feeble man who would sit at the fountain and sometimes look out into space and say “Ah Lawd, a lot see but a few know – a lot start, but a few go.” I thought it was strange, but now I understand it much better.
Why do people not go across the street, across town, or across the ocean? Why have we become a nation of spectators living vicariously in virtual reality? It’s uncomfortable to go into the unknown. There are dangers many are unwilling to face. My great concern is that we will become more the children of Nimrod than Abraham.
But many do go and help others to go. Like the four lepers at the gate of Samaria, they have said, “Why sit here ‘til we die?” These people have come to understand that the Church is the “Ecclesia”, the called out ones. For them, life is a river that flows outward to the world. Community is a support for mission, not a substitute for it.
Approximately 40 years ago, I received a letter from New Zealand inviting me to speak at a conference. I turned down the request. It was too far and I was too busy. It also meant being away from my family at Christmas. Then I received another letter from my friend Costa Deir, who is now with the Lord. Costa had taken many journeys. At the bottom of the letter he added a Scripture reference, Numbers 32:6. “Will you sit here while your brothers go to war?” A second letter came from New Zealand; I accepted the invitation.
Nearly thirty years later, our daughter, Charlyn, took a trip to Guatemala and into the mountains to work with children. There she came to understand the Great Commission. She has since been in Costa Rica ministering to children with her husband, Enrique.
WHERE WILL YOU GO?
It is obvious that the Lord doesn’t intend that we all quit our jobs and become international missionaries. But we all can travel; indeed we will. The question is, to where?
We can just go around in circles like Israel in the wilderness, or we can hear God’s call to a specific purpose. We can find it at our local church as we reach a neighborhood. We can become part of a team that is “going somewhere.” We can go into the inner city or suburbs, or take a short-term mission trip. If you do not know how or where, I can help you. Write us, call us, or e-mail us…we have contacts worldwide. Visit our website at www.csmpublishing.org for more information.
Some of us are called to go the distance to a foreign land and enter a new frontier. I have several friends who have done that. Others are called to a vocation where excellence will glorify God.
Recently I made a phone call to a pastor in Missouri. I had baptized him 45 years ago; it was my first baptism. We talked and prayed together about his service to Christ and His mission. His wife had passed away leaving behind two teenage sons. But his heart was still for missions and reaching the unconverted. My own heart was filled as I meditated on my “first fruits” and his continuing the ministry. He was still a sojourner.
Nimrod was a mighty hunter who built a name and a tower, but eventually he left only confusion. The modern day nation of Iraq is his legacy. Abraham went out not knowing where, but knowing that he was seeking God. Nimrod became a murderous dictator; Abraham became the father of a multitude who has blessed nations. Sojourners have something to give and do so; in return they receive something wonderful and full of life – the blessings of God. God bless you in the year ahead!
Charles V. Simpson
Scripture References: Genesis 10:8; Genesis 11:2; Genesis 12; Galatians 3; 1 Corinthians 10:2; John 4:6; Numbers 32:6