Publication:Pastoral Letter,April 2017
Dear Friend in Christ:
A few days ago I attended a funeral; it was my second one that day. The first one I conducted for an 85-year-old woman that I had known since 1957. She had Alzheimer’s and had been prepared for her passing. The second funeral was very different.
My son Stephen pastors a man whose grandson was killed in a fight involving many young men. Grandfather and grandson were very close. When his grandson was brought to the hospital, this grandfather was there, praying and talking with those who had gathered as his grandson passed away. Grandfather was urging forgiveness and praying that somehow God would bring good out of this awful tragedy.
Stephen and the grandfather both spoke at the memorial service, and the grandfather felt that the Holy Spirit had led him to give an invitation for those in attendance to receive Jesus. Hundreds of youth were packed in the sanctuary. I watched as more than 150 young people rushed forward to receive Christ. It was amazing to see some kneeling around the casket, others standing and praying together to confess sin and ask Jesus to be Lord of their lives. The line extended all the way to the back of the chapel. I thought, “Jesus is here; once more He is attending a funeral.”
WHERE DO YOU LIVE?
Scripture tells us about when John the Baptist baptized Jesus and announced Him as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Immediately, two of John the Baptist’s disciples had left to follow Jesus. Jesus turned to ask, “What are you seeking?” They responded, “Where do you live?” He answered, “Come and see.” He did not have an address; He had a journey. These two young men were about to make their journey with Jesus that would not only change them, but the world.
They became eye-witnesses to healings, exorcisms, miracles, weddings, funerals, boat trips, and Jesus’ teachings from village to village. They saw him break up funerals and debate religious leaders. His disciple John wrote that if books were written of all that He did, the world could not contain them. It was on that journey that they came to know Who Jesus really was.
LIFE MOVES ON
Life is not lived in a box; life is lived from place to place. When the women came to the tomb of Jesus after His resurrection in order to put spices on His body, He asked, “Why look for the living among the dead?” They assumed that His body would remain where it had been placed; it did not, nor does it now. Jesus is still on the move at weddings, funerals, and on boats, debating and seeking those in need.
Too many of us expect that Jesus will be where we last met Him, perhaps at church or some powerful meeting. Maybe or maybe not. He does not live in yesterday. Some of His people are “Waiting beside the pool” for the waters to be troubled again like the paralytic man who waited for an angel to trouble the waters once a year. Jesus visited there and healed that man, but then moved on. He still moves on.
Israel was religious but in a “box”, unaware of Who Jesus really was. They were at the synagogue or temple waiting for Messiah. He was among them, but on the move. It was just prior to the nation’s destruction, but they were stuck in the box, a kind of casket of spiritual death. They did not even know that God had visited them. The revival was happening, not in the box but in the street. It was happening at weddings, funerals, among lepers, the sick, and the sinful. When I attended that recent funeral for the young man, I saw Jesus there.
WHERE FROM HERE?
The truth is, we do not really know where Jesus might be or might be going; that is the exciting part. All we can do is listen to the Holy Spirit. When we do, we will see Jesus there.
Stephen and I discussed what happened at the funeral; we were still amazed. We discussed the grandfather’s courage to obey the Holy Spirit. We discussed how to help those young people move to real discipleship. Some of those were athletes, strong young men who were leaders. They were not religious leaders, but leaders nonetheless. They had deep connections, willing to stand for each other.
I thought of Peter, James, John, and Simon the political zealot. They were rough and not especially religious. They formed connections by their courage and were transformed by following Jesus. They were contagious, drawing others like Phillip and Nathaniel. They did not draw others to a meeting but drew them to Jesus. They learned to follow Him wherever He went: funerals, weddings, in the street or on a boat.
Their journey led to the Cross, His and theirs. Then finally it led them to the Upper Room, covenant unity, and the power of the Holy Spirit. That is when they really showed that they had learned that it was a journey, not an address.
The 12 had become 70, then 120, and then many thousands. It was not the synagogue that transformed the world, though it had maintained much truth and tradition. It was their journey that took them everywhere, to the nations, races, and cultures.
THE SERIOUS QUESTION
In Israel’s prelude to its darkest hour, Jesus had said, “The fields are ripe unto harvest but the laborers are few” (see Luke 10:2). Too many were gathered in the “barn”, unwilling to go into the field. The questions is, will those gathered in the barn eventually go out into the field?
There are numerous fields: geographic, racial, cultural, and demographic. As I looked at the youth at the funeral, I was reminded that this is perhaps our most critical field. Over 80% of our young people are not at church, they won’t be reached there, not even with our best efforts. So many are dealing with and dying with drugs. They are untouched by their parents’ traditions but deeply affected by their peers, movies, secular education, and cynical about so much. They want authenticity, but do not believe that they will find it at church.
I remember the 1960s that in many ways were like these days. Then Jesus showed up and hundreds of thousands came to Him. They saw Him, and not merely religion. Can we show Jesus to this generation? If we can, it will happen in the field. Yes, some will meet Him at church, but most will not. Hopefully, after they meet Him, they will go to church, but also, hopefully, they will not leave Him there as some do.
The funeral that I have described occurred in the afternoon. But in the morning, I had conducted a funeral for an elderly lady. She and her husband had enjoyed fishing. He had built a large boat which he named for his daughter who had died from a brain tumor. He and his wife would take numerous trips with guests to fish the islands off the Alabama and Mississippi coasts.
Many of those guests were at the funeral. Now these friends were well up in years, some in their 70s, 80s, and even 90s. I spent some time recalling my years of friendship with the family since 1957. I spoke of the three most important issues in life: faith, family, and true friends. Some came to me afterward and expressed appreciation and gratitude. I saw no visible response to my message, but I sowed the seed. I was in quite a different field but realized that many had gathered because of fishing.
Most of the disciples of Jesus understood fishing and when Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men,” they got it. Jesus took them on “fishing trips.” They learned how to fish for people. Fishing is an art, it is not just luck. One has to know where fish are, how to get there, what tackle and bait to use, and how to bring them in. Fish do not swim up to one’s house; we have to find them. Jesus was the best fisherman of all. We have learned too much from the synagogue and not enough from fishermen. We need some lessons. I think that I am still learning. In the “old days” fish came to church. Not so much anymore, I have to go fishing.
Too many of our church leaders are merely “officials”, team leaders, or board members; not enough are good fishermen. Jesus knew how to fish, and so did the apostles. The fisherman is the person with the fish, not just the one with the license, boat, or tackle.
SO, WHERE IS JESUS?
I ask myself this question, “Where are you today, Lord?” He said, “Why call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not what I say?” Is He still fishing? I understand pastoring, at least to some extent. It means shepherding His flock, feeding, leading, and protecting His people. But He said, “Other sheep I have who are not of this fold” (see John 10:16). That means that I must extend my care beyond those I now tend. I must confess that I am so conscious of those that I have, that I am often unaware of those “other sheep”.
I am trying to learn, to see those that I contact as one of His. When I do see a person who is responsive, Jesus is there. Jesus said, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, you have done it unto me” (see Matthew 25:40). Does Jesus have brothers and sisters among the group that He describes in Matthew 25; the thirsty, the hungry, the stranger, the poor, the sick and those in prison? Yes, He does.
Notice that those commended by Him visited them, and were not visited by them. They went out of their way. That is what fishermen do; they take a fishing trip. The Good Samaritan was on a trip and went out of his way to rescue a man who had been beaten. The Samaritan was an outcast who helped a man who may have been prejudiced against him, but Jesus commended the Samaritan.
So, where is Jesus today? One never knows where or when He will show up. If we obey the Holy Spirit, He will be there.
Please keep CSM in your prayers as we sow this message among the nations. Sometimes, we sow through words, and sometimes, in our service and physical presence. We are trusting in the Lord of the harvest, and we are praying for more laborers in His harvest field. Would you also prayerfully consider a special financial gift to support this ministry during April? Your friendship and generosity have meant so much to us and to those who receive our ministry worldwide. Thank you so much!
P.S. To register now for the May 9-11 CSM Gatlinburg Leadership Conference visit here. Our theme this year is “Living Cells” and our featured speakers include Larry Krieder and Dr. Michael Peters. You can also call (888) 811-2CSM. We hope to see you there!
Scripture references: LUKE 10:2; JOHN 10:16; MATTHEW 25:40; MATTHEW 25