Publication: Pastoral Letter, January 2007
Dear Friend in Christ:
On behalf of our whole CSM Team, I want to tell you Happy New Year! I pray that you and your loved ones had a most blessed Christmas season.
We live in very significant times. It is imperative that we discern the voice of God from all of the other voices that we are hearing, and that we regard the One who calls us. While storm clouds are on the horizon, many leaders seem impervious to the warnings of God, and many Christians are asleep. I urge you to read this letter and consider your own call from God and how you can respond to His purpose. What does He want you to do to demonstrate His goodness and mercy to someone else? What is He calling you to do?
The book of 1 Samuel gives us the story of God’s call to Samuel (see chapter 3). Samuel was born as a result of God’s purpose in Israel, and also the prayers of his mother Hannah, who was a godly woman. But Hannah had been deeply sorrowful because she had no children. She prayed like a woman intoxicated with grief, yet in faith. The Lord answered. As she had promised, she gave her son to the Lord and Samuel became a servant to Eli the priest.
In chapter 3, we read the account of God’s call to Samuel; three times God called, but young Samuel_not yet recognizing the Lord’s voice_thought that Eli was calling him. Finally Eli, realizing that God was calling the boy, told him to respond by saying, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.” And so Samuel did as instructed. Then the Lord called again and revealed to Samuel the judgment that was to come upon Eli’s house, because Eli had not restrained his sons from their vile activity. Samuel, though just a child, reluctantly told Eli what was coming. Samuel heard and obeyed.
It was not long before Israel came to know that Samuel was a prophet. He served faithfully for many years, anointing Saul to be king, then later telling Saul that he too had been rejected, and finally anointing David to be king. Samuel was a proven prophet.
There are many lessons to be drawn from Samuel that apply to us: The importance of hearing and responding to God’s voice, the importance of delivering the message respectfully but accurately, the importance of not being swayed by circumstance or position, and numerous other lessons. But the focus of this letter is that we, too, are being called, and can make a difference as this child did.
Even as I write this letter, I am getting numerous reports of people who are stepping out in faith to demonstrate that they are hearing God and touching lives. Praise God!
There are many voices, most of them demanding immediate response. Expediency hovers over us and often is our master. However, we who believe in God say that there is One who has preeminence over all other voices. If that is the case, then we must know the difference between the call of God and the call of others. God’s call not only comes from preeminence, but to pre-empt the coming perilous events. Hearing is essential to preparedness. “Too late” are among the saddest words.
If we do not hear and respond, “too late” will be the epitaph of many nations, many churches, many families and many individuals whose lives will be lost. Appeasement and apathy will not placate the inevitable. God, who loves us, is not silent in the face of crisis; He is calling. He called before September 11, 2001, and He still calls.
God has always called out to man. His word goes forth in power, containing His love and purpose. He called Adam who was hiding, Abraham who was old, Moses who was old, Samuel who was young, David who was young, Isaiah who was unworthy, Jeremiah who was yet unborn, Ezekiel to whom no one would listen, John the Baptist yet unborn, Paul on the road to Damascus to persecute, and on and on I could go. (Because they responded, history was changed.) God calls, and He is calling today.
He doesn’t just call some people. He calls to us all, but all do not hear. The Bible begins with a call and ends with a call to “whosoever wills.” The apostle Paul reminds the church at Corinth that not only was he called, but they all were (see 1 Corinthians 1:1-9). And, he exhorts them to walk worthy of it.
In Romans 8, he reminds the Roman believers that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose. God helps those who respond to His call. He will hear our call if we respond to His call.
Called to Cause
When David was challenged by His older brother Eliab, who was afraid of the giant, David’s response was, “Is there not a cause?” David was called for a cause. When Jesus called His disciples, He called them to a cause, which is given to all of us in Matthew 28:18-20. The apostle Paul was called to a cause that he clearly understood and articulated in Acts 26:16-18.
God does not call in vain or to just to hear the sound of His own voice. By His Word He formed the galaxies and created all that is. The same voice that calls us now, called all things into existence. By His call to us, it is His intent to create a new reality through us. God’s purpose in history is our cause. It is to proclaim God’s reign in the affairs of men. If we ignore His call, then others will affect our history and the history of our children.
How do we know that we have responded to His call? God often uses a need or someone’s hunger to call us. The apostle Paul thought about going east but God gave him a vision in the night: A man from Macedonia stood pleading and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Paul heard God’s call, and the Gospel moved west.
The Need is the Call
We cannot meet every need, but some needs call us. Many years ago, I heard Dr. W.A. Criswell say, “The need is the call.” When I spoke that to another minister, he objected, “Only God calls,” he said. True, but God uses need to call us. He uses hunger, sickness, and imprisonment to call us. If a child is drowning we do not need to hear from heaven to rescue the child. Given that showing mercy means that we received mercy, perhaps responding to someone else’s need will mean our own salvation down the road.
When Paul and Silas responded to the Macedonian call, they were put in prison, but the jailor met Christ and a church was born. Responding to a call or need can prove difficult; however, God will meet us there.
Every believer is called to ministry. The great error of typical church thinking is that only Christian leaders are called. But over and over again, the Scriptures remind us that we are all called to His purpose in the earth. His love for all mankind sends us to those in need, beyond the walls of the church and beyond all walls.
The apostle Peter reminds us to make our calling sure. He discusses faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. He says that if we have these things, we will be fruitful. Fruitfulness is the evidence that we are called (see John 15). If we lack these things, he calls us blind and forgetful that we have been cleansed of our sins. A lack of personal fruit should cause us to re-examine our call.
In other words, true followers of Christ_those who have responded to His call_are those who reach others with the goodness and mercy of God. So, we need to look at the evidence of our calling; are we sure that He has called and that we have answered?
The voice of God is distinct from every other voice. It is authoritative, powerful, persistent, specific, and full of love. His voice is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. It not only calls us to move ahead, but it prepares the way ahead. It goes with us as we go. His voice is not only sure, it gives us the assurance and the confidence to obey.
It is the voice of God that called the patriarchs, the prophets, the apostles, and those who blazed the trail that we call history. It led Pilgrims to America, and sent ministries from America to all the world. Today, Americans enjoy an unparalleled inheritance. If we are to be good stewards and secure the future of our children, we must hear and respond to that same persuasive voice. We cannot afford to procrastinate, or believe that the evil day is far away.
The voice that calls us is neither a passive voice nor a passionless voice: His voice is like a fire that burns chaff, and as Jeremiah said, “Like a fire in our bones.” The adversaries that we face, such as secularism and Islamic extremism_are enraged and ready to fight, and many will fight until death. Like our predecessors, we are called to battle. This is no time for an uncertain sound.
We need courage to respond to the call like those who went before us were courageous. To keep what has been committed to us will require that same courage. We cannot afford to be intimidated by scowls of scorners nor the threats of the violent. It may cost us dearly, but to ignore the One who speaks to us will cost those who come after us, and they will curse us for losing the blessings of God (see Hebrews 12:1-6). We may withdraw from the conflict, but it will not withdraw from us. Satan’s hatred for righteousness, peace, and joy is violent and aggressive.
A Personal Word
This is one of the more strident and intense letters that I have written. My intention is to awaken. I am not writing out of frustration or personal need; rather I believe that this is the word of the Lord to us and to the Church.
Yes, like you, I find myself in battles. I am deeply concerned about our nation, about the Church in general, our own calling, and of course the health of my dear wife, Carolyn, who is fighting cancer. In addition, I am assisting our daughter and son-in-law to build an orphanage, attempting to train leaders, and complete various projects.
I cannot adequately express my appreciation to you for your prayers and support in all that we do. God’s grace has been abundant. We are a blessed family and ministry. And you have blessed us. I would ask you to continue your prayer and support so that I can give voice to God’s purpose. I would ask you to pray for Myra Sink, wife of Jim Sink, pastor of Covenant International Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. She, too, is fighting cancer. And join me to pray for those valiant leaders who are out there doing their best to proclaim Christ to a world of need. And remember to pray for our troops abroad.
These are many battlefields: The Sudan and Darfur remain a killing field. Africa will lose scores of millions to AIDS. Some villages have few survivors. And of course, the Middle East has not yet seen the worst of the conflict. God is calling us to stand in the gap. Pray that men and women will stand up clothed in the power of God to deliver the Good News, “Jesus Christ is Lord!” He alone can bring righteousness, peace, and joy to a world at war.
Scripture Reference: 1 Samuel, 1 Corinthians, Romans, John