Publication: Pastoral Letter, February 2002
Dear Friend in Christ:
Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus! I pray that 2002 has gotten off to a good start for you. In these early months of the year, I want to take the opportunity to discuss some of the issues and priorities that lie ahead for us as believers.
Today, I believe that the most pressing issue for the Church is how to get out of the door and into the world with the Gospel. That is saying a lot, because there are many serious issues that face us. But, I believe that the will of God and His mission in the earth should be at the top of our priority list.
Praying, preaching, giving, and worship_if authentic expressions_must lead us to obedience at a personal level. To leave the end of it all “inside the walls,” is to nullify most of what is said and done. The “art of doing church” must yield to the art of doing His will.
To illustrate this reality, let us turn to Isaiah chapter 6. The events recorded there take place approximately 750 years before Christ. Good King Uzziah has died and Judah is without strong spiritual leadership. Isaiah is the primary prophet in Judah, and he, along with the nation, are deeply concerned.
Isaiah was a God-seeker. Later, he wrote “Seek the Lord while He may be found…” (see Isaiah 55:6). Isaiah practiced what he preached. During times of trouble, he sought God for direction and answers, seeing future events with great clarity. He became one of history’s foremost prophets. He saw and spoke more descriptions of the coming Messiah than any other prophet, and in many ways, he saw the cross of Christ more clearly than the disciples of Jesus themselves (see Isaiah chapters 50 and 53).
It is apparent that Isaiah was chosen for God’s self-disclosure; among the divine motives surely must have been Isaiah’s devotion to the Lord and to obedience.
Isaiah had an overwhelming vision of the Lord in the temple. While this letter is not primarily about the vision itself, much could be said about it. Isaiah saw the Lord seated on His Sovereign throne; He saw the Lord highly exalted, His glory filling the temple (see Second Chronicles 5).
There were seraphim (covering angels) who cried, “Holy,” continually and declared, “The whole earth is full of His glory.” So powerful was the declaration of the seraphs, that the foundations of the doors and gates were shaken.
There is no more profound vision of God’s Sovereignty and power recorded in the Bible. This vision of exaltation, holiness, glory, and power packs volumes into a few words. Truly Isaiah’s picture is worthy of thousands of words.
However, the measure of this vision is best expressed in the results. To have a great vision is not an end in itself. To have and obey a great vision is the measure of a great life.
Isaiah was stricken by the vision of God. “I am ruined!” he cried, “because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and because I have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
We can only see ourselves clearly when we have seen ourselves in the light of His presence. It is no accident that those who deny the Lord also deny man’s sinfulness. It is like removing all of the mirrors in the house and declaring that we need no grooming. Some people would rather deny God than to see the truth. Isaiah both sought God and saw the truth. Once he saw and faced the truth, he discovered that God could deal with his condition.
Isaiah’s humble admission of his sinfulness was all that the Lord needed in order to cleanse him. One of the seraphs came to Isaiah bearing a live coal_a hot glowing stone touched his lips and said, “Your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven” (see Isaiah 6:7).
A primary result of a real vision from the Lord is seeing ourselves in need of cleansing, and then receiving cleansing and forgiveness from Him. This is accomplished, not by our works, but by His provision and initiative. Isaiah was not just sent away and told to live a better life. He was touched by holy fire and forgiven. Forgiveness and fire are sanctifying agents. Forgiveness and fire are God’s grace to separate us from sin unto Himself for His purposes.
If one’s own sense of morality and “self-love” remain after a “vision,” then one should question the vision. If, on the other hand, one is humbled, penitent, and dependent on God’s grace, then the vision has brought authentic results.
The fire represents the Holy Spirit, who burns up our own efforts and cleanses our lives. The seraphs touched Isaiah’s lips because that was the place that Isaiah declared needed to be touched. It is also the place most likely to offend (see Matthew 12:34; First Corinthians 15:33; James 3:2).
There is another result of this profound vision that changed and directed Isaiah’s life. As soon as he was cleansed with fire, he heard the Lord asking, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?”
Whenever one sees the exalted Lord upon His throne and is touched by holy fire, this question is inevitable. It is the very reason for God’s self-disclosure. While we may seek God, the issue of revealing Himself to us is His choice. I do not believe that He does so for our own purposes. He has a motive in our conversion that is suggested by the fact that He sits on a throne. He is Sovereign and His will reigns. Since He is not willing that any one should perish, though many do, the result of our redemption is to do His will (see Second Peter 3:9; John 4:34-35).
Isaiah sought and saw the Lord; he was sanctified and sent by the Lord. I cannot imagine anyone seeing the Exalted One without becoming His ambassador. Isaiah was sent.
We should note that Isaiah’s message was not one of congratulations to Judah. He was not sent to “stroke” a disobedient people who lived in the very shadow of disaster. He was sent with a warning, and was himself warned that Judah would not see or hear what he had experienced. That was a tough assignment! But he responded, “Here am I, send me.”
We should note also, that there was no one else in the vision that could have responded. When God asks the question, it is not for someone else to answer. He is looking squarely at us_personally. This question is not directed to someone else, nor some group. It is a question that every disciple must answer personally.
Isaiah “found the exit” out of the four walls of the temple and into the world. The vision came in the temple, but as a result of the vision, Isaiah went out from the temple. We have this profound book because Isaiah had a vision that he obeyed.
I am saddened by the fact that so many believers never “find the exit.” They either do not have a vision, have never been sanctified to the Lord’s will, or they remain behind closed doors. They are “temple-bound.”
This causes me to question some other aspects of our worship. Are such people just “doing church” or are they genuinely seeking God? Has the “worship service” become a mere performance? I am concerned that in some cases, it has. All too often now, it seems that even the “gifts of the spirit” seem to lack the fire that purifies and sends. Could they also be just a performance? Would they occur without an audience?
The individual believer, as well as the Church in general, desperately needs a “doorpost-shaking vision” of the Lord Himself, that results in taking a message to a spiritually dull society. Until we have such a revelation of Christ, we probably won’t find the exit.
You may remember a movie from the early 1990s entitled, Groundhog Day, which starred Bill Murray. In that movie, Murray plays a snide, arrogant TV weatherman who is doomed to re-live one particular “Groundhog Day” celebration over and over again until he learns some important life lessons.
Are we as believers living out a “Groundhog Day” scenario, treading through our tired traditions, going through the motions, and failing to catch a vision of what the Lord is saying and doing today? That is not God’s will for us. He wants to reveal Himself to us today and then “show us the exit,” out into the world.
Our patriarchs_and certainly our Lord_took the exit. They refused to live in the theater of unreality and “useless experiences.” They lived and changed history. We can too, if we can ever find the exit! Where is it? God knows and will show us as we seek Him.
May His grace and power bless and guide you in the days ahead!
Scripture Reference: Isaiah, 2 Chronicles, Matthew, 1 Corinthians, James, 2 Peter, John