Publication:Pastoral Letter, December 2020
Dear Friend in Christ:
Grace and peace to you in the Name of the Lord! We are nearing the end of one of the most tumultuous and challenging years in recent history. Recently, I was thinking about 2020, and I said to myself, “This has been a really bad year.” I sensed the Holy Spirit gently rebuking me: “No, son, this has not been a bad year. It has been difficult. There has been sadness and frustration. But I have been at work every day bringing about my redemptive purpose. A new day will come. Do not grow weary in doing good, for you shall reap in due season if you do not faint” (see Galatians 6:9).
Then the Lord reminded me of David, who cried out to God and found hope and salvation: “I waited patiently for the LORD; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth—Praise to our God; many will see it and fear, and will trust in the LORD” (Psalm 40:1-3).
There are songs we sing from the pit, and songs we sing from the rock. The songs come from two completely different perspectives, express two different messages, and serve two different purposes. When we are lost and without hope, our primary focus is our own situation and need for salvation. However, when we receive revelation from the Lord and see His deliverance, our perspective changes: We have new footing; we change our altitude and our attitude.
The song we now sing not only reflects what He has done for us, but it testifies about the greatness of Who He is, and it draws others to Him. In Psalm 96, we are instructed to sing this way: “Oh, sing to the LORD a new song! Sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless His name; proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples.” (Psalm 96:1-3).
This is a revolutionary concept! God’s glory and God’s salvation are for all people, in all nations. Scripture tells us to pray without ceasing, but we are also instructed to praise without ceasing. Not long after I answered God’s call into ministry, nearly 40 years ago, author and evangelist Terry Law visited our church. He ministered on the power of praise and worship, and told us that choosing to give thanks to God is an act of the will, not of emotion or circumstance (see Psalm 34). Brother Terry urged us to commit to singing praise to the Lord every day. I was so moved that I made that pledge, and it changed my life.
I would love to tell you that I have perfectly kept that pledge; I have not, sad to say. However, it was a stake that I drove into the ground, and it has always called me back to faithfulness whenever I have strayed into waywardness. Sing to the Lord! You don’t have to have a beautiful singing voice—just make a joyful noise!
The book of Isaiah is one of the most intense, insightful, visionary, revelatory, challenging, thrilling, exasperating, and comforting books I have ever read. This prophet was called to faithfully declare the word of God to a people who didn’t want to hear it. He was called to warn people, knowing that most of them would reject both him and his message. What he had to say would not win anyone a popularity contest. Then again, I’ve heard my father say, “The only popular prophets are either dead or false.” Selah.
Isaiah rebuked Israel for their corruption and waywardness. He told them that their sin was going to result in strong judgment from God. But he also promised them a Redeemer who would deliver them out of the pit, cleanse them, and cause them to be a light to the nations once more. And though most did reject his prophetic word, a remnant remembered.
Isaiah saw and heard by the Spirit of God, far beyond what his natural eyes and ears could see and hear. In the midst of great hardship, he saw something new coming that released praise in His heart to the Lord: “Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them. Praise to the LORD. Sing to the LORD a new song, and His praise from the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 42:9-10).
As Isaiah was himself in a posture of worship before God, he was lifted beyond his own circumstance, perspective, and wisdom. He stepped into the eternal realm, by the Spirit, and began to see and hear eternal truth. True worship before the Lord will prepare us and bring us to that place where we can hear the voice of the Lord and see His purpose more clearly.
The heart of a true worshipper is waiting expectantly to hear God’s voice and to do God’s will. Any worship experience that does not open us up to the word of the Lord is incomplete. Worship that does not result in obedience to God’s will is not authentic worship. We see this in Isaiah’s call from God, recorded in chapter 6:
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.
And one cried to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!’ And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said: ‘Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.’
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged. Also, I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I! Send me.’ And He said, ‘Go, and tell this people…’” (Isaiah 6:1-9).
What God then told Isaiah to tell the people was a hard word, but to Isaiah, the issue wasn’t the difficulty of the Word but the worthiness of the Lord and the Lord’s mission. Isaiah’s worship before the Lord, as we read in Isaiah 6, resulted in: Revelation of position and condition; Repentance from sin; Cleansing from unrighteousness; Hearing God’s voice; Responding to God’s will; Commissioning into God’s mission.
It seemed like a “mission impossible” because the hearts of the people were hard and dull. Yet God spoke through Isaiah in chapter 43 and said: “Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19).
For the God Who spoke the universe into existence, is anything impossible? Even the sin of man could not dim the glory of God, nor could it stop the inexorable and inevitable expansion of God’s glory from covering the earth like the waters cover the sea. When Isaiah was in the Spirit, he could see beyond the hardness and dryness of the current circumstances and into God’s glorious redemptive plan. And, by the Spirit, so can we.
By the Spirit, Isaiah saw a new day and a Messiah who would make a New Covenant that would bring refreshing among the nations; a Savior Who would make a Way where none had existed before;
a river springing up in the desert that would flow to the ends of the earth!
And Isaiah saw the birth of Christ, 700 years before Jesus was born: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
The same God who made man, and saw man fall away, already also had a perfect redemptive plan. He not only made us, but He made a way for us to be restored; to be made new and whole again. This means that we cannot judge ourselves or our brothers and sisters by what we were in the fall, but by who we are and are becoming in the Spirit. Look at what the apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth: “Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:16-17).
Do we still have to contend with “the flesh”? Yes, until the day that we finally die, or until Jesus returns, we still have to “crucify the flesh” daily. But the Good News is that when we identify with Him in His death on the Cross, we receive Resurrection into new life with Him. This is not only for our place in Heaven when we die, but even now, we can have that abundant life. We are no longer slaves to sin and death! Not only are we forgiven, but we are empowered. Pastor John Piper said, “Grace is the enabling gift of God not to sin. Grace is power, not just pardon.”
Why should we who have been reconciled to God—restored to right relationship and fellowship with Him by receiving His nature—still crave those things which brought us separation from Him? He has made us new creatures and given us a new song to sing! Why should we seek to live in the old ways of death? Why sing the songs from the pit when He has set our feet on the Rock and put a new song in our mouths?
We have been ransomed out of a culture of corruption into the culture of the Kingdom, which is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. We are freed from the fruit of anarchy to taste of the goodness of God’s government.
ALL THINGS NEW
John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, was in the Spirit and saw a revelation of Heaven, which provoked him to worship: “And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’ Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’” (Revelation 21:3-6).
Are you thirsty? We have a precious promise. We have been given a new song for a new day; we need to sing it. The prisoners in Philippi heard Paul and Silas singing in the midnight hour. Don’t stop singing! “Weeping endures for the night, but joy comes in the morning (see Psalm 30:5). May your Christmas be merry and your New Year be filled with joy and peace!
Stephen Simpson, President