Publication:Pastoral Letter, February 2020
Dear Friend in Christ:
We pray all is well with you and yours thus far in 2020. In this letter, I want to give some insights about how we can be bright lights in a dark world. Some may see our circumstances as daunting, but in the Holy Spirit, we can see them as an opportunity.
Chuck Norris is a world-renowned actor and tough guy. One joke says that Chuck Norris is so tough that when he’s in Rome, the Romans do as he does! Here’s a serious question: what do we do when we’re “in Rome”? Do we “do as the Romans do” or are we influencers on the culture around us? There has never been anyone stronger than Jesus Christ, and no one has ever had more of an eternal impact on the world. Jesus told His disciples this:
“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16).
Jesus calls everyone who would follow Him to be “salt and light”. Salt is an influencer, a preservative, an element of flavor, a cohesive binding agent. Salt was so valued in the ancient world that it was often used as currency. Salt that loses its saltiness is worthless.
Light always overcomes darkness; it is meant to be shown, not hidden. And, the higher it is lifted, the greater the illumination. Jesus gave us these two excellent examples about our testimony and influence in the world. He is not merely calling us to go to heaven when we die. He is calling us to pray and work TODAY for the kingdom of God to come, and the will of God to be done, on earth, as it is in heaven (see Matthew 5-7).
“When in Rome”, the Apostle Paul brought a message that changed the city, history, and the world. The power of God’s Word and God’s Holy Spirit brought transformation in lives that no army or governmental agency could hope to achieve. Even before he personally traveled to Rome, Paul wrote a letter to the Christians living there to encourage them:
“Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now), that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles. I am a debtor both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to wise and to unwise. So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:13-17).
Today, Rome is a beautiful, romantic city, filled with churches, music, food, fountains, and tourists. In Paul’s day, Rome was an imperial military power, the capital of the Western world, dominated by a succession of tyrannical, corrupt, and brutal dictators who demanded and received absolute worship. Rome claimed, “Caesar is Lord.” Paul declared, “Jesus is Lord!”
Rome was the epicenter of hatred against Jews and against followers of Jesus Christ; it was a supremely dangerous place for those who loved the Lord. Technological and military superiority do not necessarily mean moral superiority; not then, not now.
Paul was a Roman citizen by birth, and it was his claim of citizenship that eventually brought him to Rome, approximately three years after his letter to the Roman Christians. Against the might of Caesar, Paul boldly declared and demonstrated the Gospel of Christ’s Kingdom among the people. Those who received the Gospel themselves became salt and light, and they turned the world upside down, even long after Paul was put to death for his faith.
In Scripture, Rome is given to us as a symbol of the world system. We are called to be in the world, but not of the world. That is, we live here and we are called to be ambassadors of Jesus to the world, but our citizenship is in heaven (see John 17; Philippians 3). Our hearts and minds are rooted in the King and His Kingdom. This transforms the way we live, because our affections and aims are set upon Him. Our joy comes from bringing Him joy. This is the journey that we are on from the moment we receive Jesus as Lord and accept our salvation in Him. What we have freely received from Him is now what we freely give to others.
Paul communicated significantly with the Roman Christians before he traveled to Rome, and then spent at least two years there among them before he was martyred. It would be worth reading the entire book of Romans, plus accounts from Acts, to see what Paul would say about how to live “when in Rome”. Let me briefly focus on just four areas:
REMEMBER WHO GOD IS
In Romans 1:18-32, Paul traces the tragic, inevitable, terrible downward spiral that happens whenever people forget God and neglect to thank Him. Verses 21-22 say: “…although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools….”
Proverbs 4:23 reminds us to keep our hearts with all diligence, for out of our hearts flow the issues of life. If we hope for the Holy Spirit to move among us, we need to repent and get washed and be renewed in our reverence and appreciation for Who God is.
Let authentic worship arise again from the people of God! May we be restored and say from our hearts, along with King David: “Yours, O LORD, is the greatness, the power and the glory, the victory and the majesty; for all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours, and Yours is the kingdom, O LORD. You are exalted as head over all” (1 Chronicles 29:11).
REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE
In Romans 8, Paul reminds us that we are freed from condemnation through Jesus Christ, and we have victory over fear and even death. We are no longer slaves to self and sin. We are no longer separated from our Heavenly Father, but brought near and adopted as His sons and daughters.
In Luke 15, Jesus told the story about the wayward and foolish son who squandered his father’s inheritance and wound up eating from a pig’s trough. But then he came to himself and remembered his father’s goodness, returned home, and was welcomed and restored to sonship by his Dad. This is a picture of our Father’s love for us and our place with Him. As sons and daughters, we have a great inheritance in Him, and there is no condemnation.
Because of Who He is, Who we are, and what he has done in our lives, Paul tells us in Romans 12:1-2 that we should: “…present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” We are not called to be conformed to Rome but to be transformed by the Word and the Power of the living God, moving and breathing in our hearts and minds.
SEEK FIRST THE KINGDOM OF GOD
Another step to take “when in Rome” is to seek first the kingdom of God. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:33 that above all else, we should seek the King and His Kingdom. In Romans 14:17, Paul tells us that the Kingdom of God is not a matter of satisfying the flesh, but it is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” However, Proverbs 12:28 tells us the good news: “In the way of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death.” King David understood this well, and it’s why he said in Psalm 27 that the one thing he desired above all, and sought after, was to continually dwell in God’s presence and to seek His wisdom. God’s Kingdom is everlasting and we can access and extend it wherever we are in the world … even when in Rome!
BOLDLY DECLARE THE KINGDOM
Paul started his letter to the Romans by saying that he is not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God. Those who have truly received salvation’s seed will bear the fruit of multiplied lives won for Jesus. It is incongruous to think that the Lord would stir the hearts of saints and martyrs to preserve and pass on His Word down through the centuries only to have us receive it, hide it, and hoard it.
The Spirit of God is urging us to be renewed in praying for the lost and in sharing our faith. All of us should have at least one specific person for whom we are praying every day, by name, to receive faith in Jesus Christ. We should be studying and equipping ourselves to more effectively proclaim and demonstrate the Gospel to the people around us.
If our hearts are set on the Father and His Kingdom, we may lose the things of this earth. But we will gain everlasting, abundant, and transcendent life, and we will also win life for others. The Kingdom is for the bold … those who will become mighty in battle, who know their God, display strength, and do exploits in the name of Jesus!
THE BEST IS YET TO COME
Rome wasn’t won in a day. In fact, in the days of the Early Church, things seemed to get worse in Rome before they got better. Christians were slaughtered by the thousands because of their bold and unrelenting witness for Jesus and their refusal to worship Caesar. But the more they were persecuted, the more bold and effective they became. And eventually, the Gospel spread across the Roman Empire.
What will succeeding generations say about our generation and our witness today? More importantly, what will the Father say? Will He say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” when we stand before Him? We were born for such a time as this … may we be found faithful in our time, and in the age to come.
We are preparing for our upcoming CSM Gatlinburg Leadership Conference, May 12-14, 2020. Our theme is, “The Best is Yet to Come”, and you are invited! Our speakers will be Larry Grainger, Alex Lincoln, Gerard Montenegro, Charles Simpson, and yours truly. We want to equip you with hope and tools to be lights in a dark world; to believe that the move of God in our generation is not finished! Please visit csmpublishing.org for more information.
Also, please continue to remember us in your prayers and in your giving this February. The opportunities for ministry continue to expand, but so does the opposition. Our trust is in the Lord. We’re so grateful for your faithfulness to us through the years.
Scriptures Referenced: Matthew 5:13-16; Matthew 5-7; Romans 1:13-17; John 17; Philippians 3; Romans 1:18-32; Proverbs 4:23;1 Chronicles 29:11; Romans 8; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 6:33; Romans 14:17; Proverbs 14:12; Proverbs 12:28