Where To Find Strength When Times AreTough
Dear Friend in Christ:
This past Father’s Day, our sons and their wives took Carolyn and I to dinner. (Our daughter Charlyn and her husband Enrique are in Costa Rica.) It was enjoyable to be with family. We sat at the table and talked for more than two hours as we ate. The talk turned to their childhood, then my own.
The 1930s and 1940s were tough times, though I hardly realized it because my parents shielded me. We lived part time in the bayou country of southern Louisiana, where my Mom and Dad were missionaries, and part time in New Orleans, until I was six years old. The Great Depression and later WWII tested the will of our nation.
During the Depression years, my Grandfather Schaubhut ran a syrup mill and farmed sugar cane with his wife and 12 children. Mom, Dad, and I lived on a shell road through miles of swamp. When WWII began, some of my uncles went off to war; others hunted and trapped game for food.
During the early part of the war, we moved to New Orleans. Times were tense, resources were scarce, and the war effort dominated our lives. We lived in a small apartment in the basement of the church. Dad drove a ’35 Ford that had to be pushed to start because batteries, tires, and other parts were rationed. There was a large mesh wire bin in the park near our apartment where people put their unnecessary metal pots and pans to be recycled by the government to make munitions and equipment. German submarines were sinking ships off the mouth of the Mississippi River, just to the south of us.
Dad was commuting by bus to a small town in southern Alabama where he preached twice a month. While he was away, Mom and I would gather around the radio as the air raid alarms sounded. All lights were cut off and car lights were half-way blacked out from the top.
When we later moved to Alabama, I remember the prayer meetings for the men who were in the war, and I remember when the news came that one had been killed. The Depression and the war were tough times. But it produced tough people who overcame both. Some have called this the “Greatest Generation.” I don’t know if they were the greatest, given other difficult times in history, but they were indeed great.
This brings me to Ezekiel, whose book I have been reading. Ezekiel also lived in tough times. Ezekiel means “God is strong” or as some suggest, “God will strengthen.” In any case, Ezekiel associates with the strength of God.
The book begins between the Babylonian incursion into Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple (605-586 BC). Ezekiel was a young man, a descendent of priests, and well-educated, but he was carried away captive to live in a concentration camp near the Euphrates River, in present day Iraq.
I have no way to imagine the stress of his life as he saw his family and culture destroyed. No doubt, Ezekiel had been influenced by Isaiah’s warning (chapter 39), and by the prophet Jeremiah. He saw God’s hand somehow in the midst of the starvation, violence, disease, and disillusionment of Judah. Babylon was as brutal then as some of its modern descendants.
Even in those tumultuous times, false prophets were declaring “peace, peace” when there was no peace (Ezekiel 13:10). Isaiah had likened the religious leaders to “dumb dogs who would not bark.” The leaders of Judah had been weak when strength was needed. Weak leaders cannot represent the strong God—nor preserve the heritage they have received from Him.
While Ezekiel was in Babylon, He had a vision of God, and His book proceeds from that vision. He saw the glory of God, even in his horrible situation. He saw the “Living Creatures” that surrounded the throne; he saw the throne and the One who was high above it, who had the appearance of a man, but radiant in glory.
It would be interesting to examine the living creatures who moved straight ahead wherever the Spirit went, the wheels within wheels, and other elements of the vision, but that is not our purpose here. The issue is that he saw the Lord in a manner similar to Isaiah’s vision and the apostle John’s vision. It was out of his vision of God that his mission proceeded.
From the vision, God spoke to him, “Stand up and I will speak to you.” Ezekiel was on his face before God, where one must get before seeing the God of glory in His power. When God spoke, the Spirit entered Ezekiel and he stood up.
God spoke and said, “Son of Man, I am sending you to a rebellious nation—they have transgressed against Me to this very day…they are impudent, stubborn…I am sending you to them and you shall say, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ Do not be afraid of them, their worth or their looks, though they are rebellious. Whether they hear or whether they refuse—yet they will know that a prophet has been among them. You shall speak my words to them.”
And the Lord continued: “But you, son of man, do not be rebellious like the rebellious people, open your mouth and eat what I give you.” Ezekiel was given a scroll, he ate it. It was sweet in his mouth, but later it was bitter in his belly.
“Son of Man, I have made your forehead like flint, do not be afraid; do not be afraid of them, nor be dismayed at their looks.” The Lord went on to hold him accountable for the words that he had received.
Ezekiel paid a high price to be a true prophet. Besides his unpopularity at home and abroad, his wife died, and he was told not to weep (see Ezekiel 24:15-18.) Ezekiel’s suffering is not unique. Hebrews catalogues the sufferings of many of God’s servants. It would take many libraries to tell of the sufferings since his day, and even in our own times (see James 5: 10; 1Peter 1:11).
Jude reminds us that “the faith” was once and for all delivered to the saints and exhorts us to contend for it. He also reminds us that some will distort and depart from it. This dynamic has always set up a conflict. It takes strength after conflict to face and conquer conflict.
Psalm 78 reminds us that fathers are called to be faithful to their spiritual fathers. Our task is to pass on the rich heritage we have received, often purchased by sweat, tears, and blood. The Bible story from Genesis to Revelation deals with this conflict of good and evil and reminds us that God will show Himself strong when our hearts are toward Him (see 2 Chronicles 16:9; Ezekiel 22:30). History confirms the conflict.
It seems to me as a minister who has been spared the sufferings of Ezekiel, that my task is much as his: to be strong in vision and mission, to produce sons and daughters who are not afraid of their peers or their enemies, who know our rich history, and who will be faithful stewards of the Word of God.
Yes, I do carry a great concern that contemporary “prophets” may be seduced by the desire of the people, by short-term success, or by personal gain. I am concerned for myself in these regards. Nevertheless, Ezekiel reminds me that God is strong and I can be strong in Him.
THE WESTERN CRISIS
The United States and other Western nations are in crisis. Evangelicals are made out to be “the adversary” by secular media and other “elites,” and we are tempted to cave in. Many have caved in to various secular agendas. Some have become theological therapists, and blind watchmen in the face of those who only want to be stroked from the pulpit and entertained by “smooth sayings.” But the Word of God is a sword that cuts into the human heart, bringing repentance and obedience.
As fathers and mothers, we can recall the great issues of victories of history. Indeed, we are commanded to. So, what are your stories? And what stories do you know of the great victories of yesterday, when God showed Himself strong? Are you telling them? I pray that you are. Tomorrow will be shaped by those who know that God is strong, know the truth, stand up in the spirit and who are not afraid.
In the midst of this crisis is an opportunity: to inform, inspire, equip, and encourage the emerging generation. Here at CSM, the Lord has given us tools and resources to reach out here in the United States, and into more than 70 nations worldwide, with the message of Christ’s Kingdom, which brings hope and transformation.
Every day, we get letters, e-mails, and personal testimonies of people who are being strengthened by the material they receive from this ministry. Our work is not simply to curate a museum of past revivals, but to provide the living, active, prophetic, equipping Word of God to influencers who will in turn take it to the multitudes.
As you read this, we are in the process of completely revamping our website, making it much more interactive, user-friendly, and accessible. Such changes will, we believe, empower us to reach a whole new generation with the Kingdom message. We are also continuing to support ministries worldwide that are reaching into prisons, ministering among widows and orphans, and even having significant effect on Muslim-dominated countries.
We need your prayer this month, and always. Please put us on your prayer list, and ask your church to do the same. If the Lord leads you, we also ask for your financial support, which plays a vital role in our ability to move forward in the mission. These are critical days. Thank you for standing with us.
Charles Simpson Bio
Pastoral Letter From Charles Simpson
Contributing Ministries Program