Publication:Pastoral Letter,March 2017
Dear Friend in Christ:
I hope this letter finds you well. It’s an honor for me to share with you this month some thoughts regarding vision; that is, to see spiritually, “beyond the obvious”. This is a vital need, especially in these times.
The Lord has given diverse gifts to the Church in order to bring us to maturity (see Ephesians 4:11-16). From my experience, the prophetic gift (and prophecy itself) is the most interesting and mystical. Back in the early 1960s, I preached one year from the book of Revelation, then from Daniel and Ezekiel. Though I did that on Sunday nights, the house was usually full. People want to know the future.
In retrospect, much of what I thought then has changed over the years, but still now, the prophetic realm amazes me. Sadly, there have been times when the prophetic gift or teaching about it has been misleading or even abused; nevertheless, it remains a significant and amazing gift to us.
Of course the Bible itself is prophetic, with amazing accuracy. Many words and promises were given long before their actual fulfillment. Scripture is still being fulfilled today and that will continue. What I surmise is this: the spiritual mind can invade our natural mind but our natural mind cannot penetrate the spiritual world – “eternal thinking” (see 1 Corinthians 2:14). In the same way, natural sight is not spiritual sight; spiritual sight sees way beyond the obvious.
Jesus is the ultimate prophet, God incarnate, Who brought and continues to bring the mind of God to us, albeit in extremely small measures. I have been impressed so often about the difference in how religious leaders understood and how Jesus perceived. For instance, in John 2:19, Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews thought of the physical temple; He was speaking of His body—a different kind of temple. One would soon be destroyed and not raised up, the other would be eternal. Prophets see beyond the obvious and we need to as well.
John the Baptist
John the Baptist is one of the most outstanding individuals in human history, the forerunner of the Messiah. Recently, I was meditating on John chapter one and saw once again that John the Baptist did not recognize Jesus with natural eyes. “I did not know him,” John says. “But He who sent me said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit’” (see John 1:31-34). When the Spirit descended and remained upon Jesus, John saw Jesus with spiritual eyes.
Most of Israel saw Jesus through natural eyes. They saw where He came from, and who He called and associated with. Though Israel was religious, they could not see with spiritual eyes. Spiritual eyes see beyond natural appearance, beyond the obvious. They see something that God allows them to see. It could be called “revelation” or “vision”. John the Baptist, as well as those recorded in the Old Testament had that, and we need it now, because things and people are not as they appear. Religious rules and norms have their place but do not give us spiritual eyes.
Jesus continually confounded the leaders of His day because He was from above. He spoke and acted in the Holy Spirit (see John 5:17-39; John 8:12-29). We read in John 3 that Nicodemus, an important religious leader, came to Jesus one night because he was impressed by Jesus’ spiritual power. He acknowledged that Jesus came from God because he saw the spiritual invade the natural. But the spiritual eyes of Nicodemus had not yet been opened. Jesus told him that in order to see spiritually, to see the Kingdom of God, he had to be born from above. Nicodemus needed a spiritual birth (birth by the Holy Spirit) in order to see spiritual things. Nicodemus’ concept of God’s Kingdom was only natural and political. The government of God is by and in the Holy Spirit. I believe that later on, Nicodemus was born from above.
Does being born from above mean that we always see spiritually? Obviously not. Often, though we have the capacity to see spiritually, we still view things and people through natural eyes. That brings trouble, error, division, and sometimes disaster.
James warns us about judging people based upon appearance. I suppose that all of us have done that. He rebukes those who give the good seats to those who appear wealthy and come among us while giving the lesser seats to those who appear poor and needy. The obvious problem is showing partiality. But there is an even greater problem: it is viewing people through natural eyes. James tells us that God does not do that. His mercy triumphs over judgment (see James 2:13). Jesus was not hindered in evangelizing by natural appearances whether it was a prostitute, a leper, or some other individual. He saw people through spiritual eyes.
Could it be the reason that so many Christians do not evangelize is because they see with their natural eyes and miss the opportunity? Perhaps we are too often critical instead of merciful? Or perhaps we are put off or intimidated by appearance? To know anyone by appearance is not to really know them.
The Apostle Paul had been a Pharisee; he was rule-and-religious oriented. He apparently had known Jesus, but only in a natural way. And that is how he knew people. But on the road to Damascus, he met Jesus in a new way. He saw the light and came to know Jesus through spiritual eyes.
Not only did he come to know Jesus through spiritual eyes, he came to see other people the same way. “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh” (see 2 Corinthians 5:11-21). Seeing Jesus through spiritual eyes would change how we see all people. If we do see as God sees, that opens up a whole new avenue for relationships and potential (study John 9, especially verse 39).
Paul’s newfound view allowed him to go to the Gentiles and nations that he never could have reached had his spiritual eyes not been opened. Religion did not open his spiritual eyes; you could say that it closed them. Jesus opened his eyes, not only to see Jesus, but to see mankind in a spiritual way.
Paul was not only an apostle and evangelist, he was a prophet. He saw future things and he saw the future in people. With spiritual eyes, he saw the Cross, the necessity of suffering, the Resurrection, the power of faith, and the return of Christ. He saw the Great Commission as a mandate and moved out in faith to change the world by making disciples and establishing churches. He could say, “I once was blind but now I see.”
Walk in the Spirit
Paul had learned the difference between natural and spiritual sight. He wrote, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death….For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their mind on the things of the Spirit” (see Romans 8:2-5). He continues to warn that the mind of the flesh is death but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace.
I remember pastoring a Baptist church in the 1960s. I had very negative views regarding “hippies”, interracial marriage, and a host of other prejudices. When I was baptized in the Holy Spirit, I was introduced to new ways of seeing. Hippies, African-Americans, Latinos, interracial couples, and others began attending our church. It took some adjustments for me and our church but eventually our church became very diverse. That was very unusual during those days, but it was a work of the Holy Spirit.
The truth is that we cannot truly reach those that we want to reach, that the Lord wants us to reach, until we see differently and respond differently. Prior to my own experiences, I only reached those I thought were “good people.” Afterwards, all kinds of people showed up because we saw them differently. They were ready when I was.
Walking in the Spirit means that our sensitivity is to the Holy Spirit, not to appearance or natural desires. It means that we can overcome suffering, fear, pre-judgment, circumstance, and obstacles. It means we trust God’s purpose in everything when we see beyond the obvious because God does (see Romans 8:28). It is the difference between how the culture sees and how we see; how our natural eyes see and our spiritual eyes see. That indicates that we are truly sons and daughters of God. If we pray more in the Holy Spirit, we will see more in the Holy Spirit (see Romans 8:14-27).
What Shall We Do?
Romans chapter 12 gives us some answers as we seek spiritual vision: Present our bodies as a living sacrifice; do not be conformed to the world (in focus and thought); renew our minds (think differently); discern; be humble; sober in thought; respect the rest of the Body of Christ; have genuine love; show honor; be fervent, patient and prayerful; give generously; bless those who persecute us; rejoice or weep appropriately; associate with the lowly; don’t repay evil with evil; live peaceably as much as possible; and overcome evil with good.
This is quite a list! It begins by giving ourselves over to Christ and being led by the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul not only taught it; he lived it, as Christ gave him new eyes. Those who saw the Father and the world that way changed the world because they had been changed. We want to change our culture and our world. That will begin with those whose eyes have been opened to see Jesus and His Kingdom through spiritual eyes. If we awaken, we will see another Great Awakening. It could be a new day!
Let’s continue together in prayer for renewing of our minds and healing of our spiritual vision. Also, would you prayerfully consider a special financial gift to support the mission of CSM among the nations? In many places globally, including in North America, the vision of many is dimmed. The bold and clear proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus and His Kingdom can bring healing and deliverance.
We are thankful for your ongoing prayer and friendship. Please let us know how we can serve you. And, if you have any prayer requests, please share them with us, and we will stand with you.
P.S. You are invited to our *May 9-11 CSM Leadership Conference in Gatlinburg, TN*! Our theme this year is “*Living Cells*” and our featured speakers include Larry Kreider and Dr. Michael Peters. For more information and to register, please call 251.633.7900. We hope to see you there!
Scripture References: Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Corinthians 2:14; John 1:31-34; James 2:13; 2 Corinthians 5:11-21; Romans 8:2-5; Romans 8:14-17; Romans 12; John 5:17-39; John 8:12-29