Publication: Pastoral Letter, May 2013
Dear Friend in Christ,
We’ve just concluded our annual CSM Leadership Conference in Gatlinburg, TN, and it was a very encouraging time. I was privileged to minister with Bishop Joseph Garlington around the theme of “Why Do You Do What You Do?” While there, I gave two primary messages: “The Importance of Why” and “Discovering How.” Why and how and two vital questions and I will try to give at least partial answers.
Why we do what we do-our motivation-is vital to remember. If we forget why, if our motivation becomes mere duty, or just responding to life’s situations, we will make huge mistakes. “Why” is a question that young children learn to ask early and often; it is the beginning of real education and motivation.
In Exodus 13:3-10 the Lord reminded Israel to remember the day of deliverance from Egypt. Their entire calendar was designed for them to remember why they existed. Our calendar with Christmas, Resurrection Sunday, Pentecost, and Thanksgiving is designed for us to remember why we exist. The enemy’s chief goal is to cause us to forget why we exist. When we lose our “why”, we lose our way. It is easy to forget; all we have to do is fail to remember. Do you remember when you met the Lord? Life can present us with so much activity and pressure that our “why” can be lost; then we get off-track and life becomes vain.
Our past, our salvation, is not just the past; it is prophetic. It tells us that the present and the future belong to God. When Israel forgot their past, religion became a mere duty and even “detestable” (see Malachi 1). The same thing happened to their families; they lost their “why,” and they lost their way.
REMEMBER THE WORDS
Jesus reminded His disciples to remember what He said (see John 16:1-4). Paul reminded Timothy to remember what he had taught, the inspired Word of God, and the prophecies that had been given. Peter said that as long as he lived, it was right to remind them to make their calling and election sure (see 2 Peter 1:10-15).
The Bible itself is a gift from God to remind us of what He has said and done. Forgetting can be fatal. I remember an evening when I was about to preach in a very discouraging season. The church had lost many members and the crowd would be small. My face was in the floor as I reminded God that preaching had not been my idea. As I was pouring out my heart I heard the Holy Spirit speak from Romans 8:31, “If God is for you, who could be against you.” His Word, remembered, stood me on my feet and brought me joy and strength.
REMEMBER THOSE WHO BRING THE WORD
Hebrews 13 reminds us to remember our pastors and leaders who bring the living Word of God to us. Failing to honor pastors and leaders is a failure to honor God. Jesus said that people would not see Him again until they would say “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matthew 23:39).
Most African-American churches hold their leaders in high regard, but many other churches do not. The ministry in our overall society is not held in high esteem, hence there is cultural decline. Whatever we honor, we get more of. Our society honors celebrities who are often less worthy of honor, and our youth often crave celebrity and pleasure over virtue.
Honor is an encouragement that strengthens a leader’s effectiveness. When honor is deserved, but denied, it takes the heart out of a leader.
REMEMBER THE LOST
Jesus came “to seek and to save the lost” (see Luke 19:10). His mission was to find the lost sheep. We can get so busy maintaining the existing church that we fail to remember that if we seek the lost, Jesus will build the church. We must not allow maintenance to rob us of mission.
One way to remember the lost is to have a list of friends or loved ones who do not know the Lord and keep them in our prayers. I have been amazed at the number of believers who neglect the lost and only focus on their Christian friends when our Lord was so focused on the lost.
REMEMBER LOT’S WIFE
Lot’s wife looked back at burning Sodom and turned to a pillar of salt. Jesus said, “Remember Lot’s wife” (see Luke 17:32). Jesus endured the Cross because He focused on the joy set before Him (see Hebrews 12:2). Looking back is easy, especially as we get older, but is dangerous at any age. It is not wise to say, “The former days were better than these” (see Ecclesiastes 7:10). The end is better than the beginning, if we stay focused on the future.
Lot’s wife was sad that the past was on fire, but looking back caused terrible consequences to the future (see Genesis 19). She forgot the Word of the Lord, lost her future, and damaged her family’s future. Our faith to go on comes, not from circumstance, but from remembering the Word of God.
So “why” is a vital issue. But when we decide to remember our calling and then go forward, the other question arises: How?
Remembering why is fairly straightforward: Jesus saved us and called us to His mission (see Matthew 28:18-20). But discovering how to go forward can be daunting and requires prayer, study, and usually some counsel. There is no formula. “How” will be varied as people are, unique to each of us, and unique to each church. But whatever the “how” or the way, God is calling us out. We will probably make mistakes when we go out, but the greater mistake is failing to go.
Our God is the One who sends us out. Reaching out to us is His nature and when His nature is planted within us, we go out. In almost every case recorded in Scripture, when someone met the Lord, He sent them on a mission. We could examine Scriptures like Genesis 12:1-4; Exodus 3; Isaiah 6; John 1:6-7; John 8:28-29, John 20:21, and others to substantiate this truth. I find it amazing that so many “followers of Jesus” have no sense of mission, though they “meet with God” Sunday after Sunday. But even if we know our mission, we still must discover how.
First Chronicles 14:8-17 records the story of David’s battles with the Philistines. The strategy was different each time. The “how” is not formula-driven, it comes from a sensitivity to the creative and unpredictable Holy Spirit. So our “how” begins with seeking and hearing from God. I am amazed at the many different strategies that God used as recorded in the Bible. When our approaches are habitual, the enemy recognizes that and we lose our effectiveness. (Could you name or discuss some of the diverse creative strategies recorded in Scripture?)
We have entered the “digital age” which is rapidly changing how business enterprise and church life is being done. In the past we relied upon “analog” or a mechanized system where each person or department played one role in a larger program or machine. Now, the character, purpose, and mission is moving to the individual or the most basic unit. I strongly recommend a book, The Starfish and The Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom. It is not a religious book but has vast implications to all of our structures, businesses, and religions.
The starfish has no head. The life and purpose are digital, spread throughout the body. Cut off a leg and it becomes another starfish even as the original starfish grows a new leg. This is a model of the early Church and the Church today in persecuted areas. The reproductive life is not in a central location (head), it is in every cell. Starfish grow and multiply in adversity. If you cut off a spider’s head, it is dead. Too often the Church or government depends upon some earthly head while the body cannot reproduce-and does not. The Church must return to its apostolic origins-living cells that reproduce.
Life and reproduction have gone together since Genesis 1, since Jesus and the apostles. The question is not simply, “Does our church have life,” the question is, “Do I have life? Life finds a way, from the tiniest cell, to the largest body. It is not how many can we add or attract, but how many can each member reproduce.
The Church is the body of Christ and the Church is Christ in us. The Church is wherever we are. That is not just one location. If Christ is in us and with us, He will do through us what He did when He was on earth. He covered the territory from synagogue to street, village to village. We can do that if we discover our “how” on a personal level.
I am blessed to pastor a number of different men and women. Some are pastors, missionaries, business people, media people, and teachers. But they are not stereotypical. They are all creative; at least that is our goal. God in us (incarnational) is not bound to a formula, but as Christ was led by the Spirit and employed many different methods, so will we. We must stay flexible and not be like Lot’s wife, a pillar of salt, forever looking back.
None of us can individually do everything, but we can focus on one thing-like a laser. Focus is essential to success. I urge you to know your mission, seek the Lord for your “how”, and focus on it.
WHAT IS IN YOUR HEART?
So what has God placed in your heart? What is it that brings joy to you as you serve the Lord? What is your focus and where can you sense Kingdom success? You are not someone else; you are uniquely gifted to do something special that will help someone else come to know Jesus through you. Should the millions of believers find out what that something is, if they could find that “how”, the world would become a different and better place. A change of heart regarding personal mission among God’s people can change the world. I urge you to become part of the spiritual “digital revolution” … become a living mission!
P.S. Please continue to remember us in your prayers and in your giving this month as we move forward together in our mission. If you would like more information on the Gatlinburg Conference audio messages or other ministry resources, visit us online at www.csmpublishing.org. Thank you!
Scripture Reference: Exodus, Malachi, John, 2 Peter, Romans, Hebrews, Luke, Ecclesiastes, Genesis, Matthew, Isaiah, 1 Chronicles,