Publication:Pastoral Letter, February 2021
Dear Friend in Christ:
Psalm 11 raises an important question: “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3). The verse prior tells us that the righteous are under attack. So, not only are the foundations removed, but those who stand up on those foundations are being attacked. So what will the righteous do? Verse 5 tells us that the Lord tests the righteous and verse 7 tells us that He is watching the righteous: “His eye is now upon us.”
Here in the United States, the last half of the Twentieth Century witnessed the erosion of our cultural and even Church foundations. Rejecting biblical truth, reinterpreting the Constitution, banning prayer and Bible reading in schools, making abortion legal, removing barriers against homosexuality and now transgenderism, are just a few of the changes that many of us have witnessed. And if you still hold to the foundational truths, you have become the target of hostility and even violence. We are entering a new season; what will we do?
Some churches and constituents will “go with the flow” and be evangelized by the secular culture. Some will fight against the culture, often with attitudes that do not reflect Christ. Some will just hide and hope for better days or the next election. Each person will have to decide how to respond.
What is Our Foundation?
I love the old hymns “Christ the Solid Rock” and “Rock of Ages.” These hymns and others remind us of the “Sermon on the Mount” which Jesus concluded with the example of two men; one built his house on the sand, the other built his on the rock. We know the result of each. Both faced a storm, but the house on the rock stood while the other was washed away.
Jesus reminded His hearers and us, that those who heard His words and did not obey them would be like a house on the sand. Those who heard His words and did them would be like the house on the rock. For Israel, the storm came in 70 A.D. and many were destroyed. Is a storm coming to us? If so, what must we do?
I suggest that we study His words in Matthew chapters 5-7. His words were, and ARE THE ROCK. He is the Rock that is speaking to us. I also suggest reading the book of Acts to see how His disciples came to understand and do what He said. The disciples came to understand that their hope was not in politics or religion; it was in Christ and following His guidance (see First Corinthians 3:11).
It is impossible to adequately summarize the Sermon on the Mount, but I’d like to point out some of what Jesus said. Bear in mind, this is how we are to behave in preparation for the storms of life and in the storms.
Matthew 5:1-12 tells us the attitudes, mindsets, and behaviors that He will bless such as humility, grief over the storm, discipline of strength, hunger for righteousness, and enduring persecution with joy. He says that if we keep a pure heart we will see God. Amazing! We urgently need to see the God Who sees us.
Here is some of His other guidance: D’t seek revenge; give more than required; love your neighbor and your enemies; don’t worry about your life; don’t condemn others; keep on asking and knocking on “God’s door.” You will be known by your fruit (what you produce and do), and build on the ROCK. I will add, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). What is the kingdom of God? I will let the Apostle Paul answer that critical question. It is more than a hope for the coming millennium.
The Kingdom Of God
The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 14:17, “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Bear in mind that the Kingdom—with its righteousness, peace and joy—is in the Holy Spirit. Yes, He is the same Holy Spirit that anointed and led Jesus; and, the same Holy Spirit that filled the disciples at Pentecost. In the Holy Spirit is righteousness, peace and joy. It is and will be the Holy Spirit that takes us to the Rock and gets us through the storm with RIGHTEOUSNESS, PEACE, and JOY!
Let me be clear that righteousness comes by faith in Jesus and His righteousness, not our own. That being true, the Holy Spirit within us produces the righteousness of Jesus in our lives. Righteousness is a morally upright life—a right relationship to God and man. It is having the law of God written in our hearts (see Jeremiah 31:33-34; Romans 2:15). Faith in Jesus means that we obey what the Holy Spirit is telling us and what He has told us to do in Holy Scriptures.
I am glad for the historical, Orthodox creeds, but real faith takes doctrine into daily life. Doctrine is more than theory; it is our way of living. The mere reciting of a creed will not prepare us for life’s storms, but obedience will. It is our obedience and way of living that will be tested (see First Corinthians 3:9-17). Hebrews 11 is the great chapter on faith and it records what they did that the writer says “obtained a good report.” James tells us that faith without works is dead (see James 2:14-26). Why? Because lip service to faith will not prepare us for the future. Isaiah warns against drawing near to God with our lips when our heart is far from God (see Isaiah 29:13). Obedience comes from the heart.
Though I am deeply grateful for the grace and mercy of God, and I am personally indebted, there is often too much presumption and relying on “cheap grace.” It seems there is often too much dead, not living, faith. That produces a false righteousness or self-righteousness. True faith obeys. Yes, through faith we are counted righteous and through faith and grace we produce righteous acts. It is both our faith and acts that are being and will be tested in the storm.
We do not want to be like the mythical Rip Van Winkle who slept through the revolution and woke up twenty years later in a world he did not recognize. That is happening to many Christians now. Righteousness is a right relationship to God, family, and neighbor which prepares us for what is ahead (see Exodus 20:1-17). So, the government of God is righteous, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Can we have all of that in the midst of the storm? The answer is yes!
There are many things that help us to have peace, such as focusing on the positive, counting our blessings, mental discipline, and avoiding conflict. But that is not what Kingdom peace is. Kingdom peace is the peace of God or peace that is God’s own peace. Imagine God’s own peace! God’s peace is not worked up, it comes down as we surrender to His reign in our lives. The direct evidence of complete trust and obedience is peace.
My dad used to say that “anxiety is a mild case of atheism.” Anxiety cannot change the future, but it ruins the present. True peace is not circumstantial. It can be received on the mountain top or in the valley, in poverty or wealth (see Philippians 4:11.) It is the peace that supasses our comprehension (see Philippians 4:7). It is divine and divinely given; it is a gift from God. I love the hymn lyric that says, “When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay” (from “Christ the Solid Rock”). And there is another song that I love and used to sing with my friend John Duke,who is now with the Lord, “Peace, peace, wonderful peace, coming down from the Father above.”
Can we have God’s own peace in the midst of this storm? Absolutely, if we will ask, then trust Him with all our hearts, and do not lean on our own understanding (see Proverbs 3:5). When we receive His peace, then we are ready to receive something more and really wonderful!
I love joy and I hope that we all do. But joy is difficult to fake. It is deeper than the brain because it is unexplainable; it is God’s own joy! His joy is our strength (see Nehemiah 8:10; Psalm 28:7). Yes, that is true especially in difficult times. God laughs at what He sees ahead that we don’t see yet (see Psalm 2:4; 37:13). But He gives us a touch of His laughter so we can laugh with Him if we trust Him.
Many years ago, Psalm 126 became my personal Psalm: “Then our mouths were filled with laughter and our tongues with joyful shouting. Then they said among the nations, the Lord has done great things for them. The Lord has done great things for us and we are glad.” The Psalm goes on to say, “Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goes forth weeping, bearing precious seed shall doubtless come again rejoicing bringing his sheaves with him.” What a great promise!
Joy is our strength for the preparation and our reward for the labor. It keeps us steady in the storm and mystifies our enemies. It is contagious to others and encouraging. Horace and Ann Vinson have been my dear friends for 55 years. They have been through a lot as we face age together. When we fellowship, there is a lot of laughter and joy, even as we face our age. Joy helps us get on through life. Real joy is always just below the surface and down in the belly, ready to break out in roaring laughter. I find it difficult to write this for wanting to laugh out loud! Praise God for His joy!
Jesus said that we could have joy, even in persecution (see Luke 6:22-23). Paul and Silas rejoiced after being beaten and put in prison. Their joy brought the jailor to Jesus, and then the jailor rejoiced! Joy is the sign of victory and is most contagious.
The Unshakable Kingdom
Yes, foundations are being tested. We are in a storm, but there is a firm foundation that is vital! His kingdom is unshakable (see Hebrews 12:28). I believe God loves us and as our heavenly Father; He tests us and disciplines us in order to mature us and prepare us for whatever is ahead. “Love” that does not prepare us is not love at all.
I encourage us all to draw near to Him with our hearts and be sensitive to the Holy Spirit. Remember, the kingdom with its righteousness, peace, and joy, is in the Holy Spirit. By God’s grace, wisdom and strength, let’s meet at the Rock!
P.S. Please remember us this month in your prayers and in your giving. These are challenging times for all of us, including many ministries and churches. But amidst the challenges are ever-greater opportunities to extend the kingdom of God through the faithful and bold proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Thank you!