Publication:Pastoral Letter, January 2018
Dear Friend in Christ:
Happy New Year! I pray that you and your loved ones had a very blessed Christmas. Celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus reminds us of God’s promises and His faithfulness to keep His Word. How can we best position ourselves to receive His Word for 2018? Could God do something new in you?
Isaiah 60 gives us this prophetic call: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.” God’s glory is His goodness and mercy, which radiate out from Him and shine upon us. He calls us out of darkness and into His marvelous light (see 1 Peter 2:9). As we enter into His glory, we are transformed and we reflect His light into a darkened world. Having freely received, we are now called, equipped, and empowered to freely give.
Then in Chapter 61, Isaiah prophesies that Jesus will bring liberation to captives, healing, and comfort for those who are afflicted and suffering. According to Jesus, this is not only our inheritance, but also our mission toward others. Psalm 40:1-3 gives us a vivid picture of the deliverance testimony that we share:
“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.”
There are songs we sing from the pit, and songs we sing from the rock. When we are lost and without hope, our primary focus is our own situation and need for salvation. However, when the Spirit of the Lord gives us hope, our perspective changes. We wait upon Him in expectancy and faith; when we receive our deliverance, we have new footing. Our attitude changes and so does our altitude!
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 96:1-3, 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.”
This was a revelation to the people of Israel in those days and remains so for us today: God’s glory and God’s salvation are for all people, in all nations: “Every kindred, every tribe, on this terrestrial ball.” Those lost in darkness and oppression still long to hear the song of the Lord and to see His glorious light. Scripture tells us to pray without ceasing, but we are also instructed to praise without ceasing.
Isaiah was called to faithfully declare the word of God to a people who didn’t want to hear it; to warn people, knowing that most of them would reject him and his message. What he had to say would not win anyone a popularity contest. He rebuked Israel for their corruption and waywardness. He told them that their sin was going to result in strong judgment from God. But Isaiah 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.
Though many did reject Isaiah’s prophetic word, a remnant remembered. He offered encouragement to them in passages such as Isaiah 42:9-10, saying:
“Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them. Sing to the LORD a new song, and His praise from the ends of the earth.”
As Isaiah was in a posture of worship before God, he was lifted beyond his own circumstance, perspective, and wisdom. He stepped into eternity, and began to see and hear eternal truth. True worship before the Lord will prepare our hearts 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 hearing the voice and will of the Lord is incomplete. Worship that does not result in obedience to God’s will is not full worship. What some call a “worship service” is often a theater concert production that produces little actual worship or service. What a contrast this is from what happened to Isaiah:
“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 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:
It seemed like a “mission impossible” because the hearts of the people were hard and dull. Yet, God spoke through Isaiah 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).
NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE
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, 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 of the current circumstances and into God’s glorious redemptive plan. He saw a new day and a Messiah who would make a New Covenant that would bring refreshing among the nations. By the Holy Spirit, Isaiah saw a way where none had existed before. He saw a river springing up in the desert that would flow to the ends of the earth!
The same God who made humanity, and saw humanity fall away, also had a redemptive plan. In Jesus, 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 told the Christians 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. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:16-20).
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; to “die to ourselves” and live for Him. 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 one day in heaven, 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 says, “Grace is the enabling gift of God not to sin. Grace is power, not just pardon.”
For those who are thirsty, there is a deep flowing river of the sweetest and most refreshing living water. It will carry us through the challenges that lie ahead in 2018, and will one day carry us into eternal glory with our Father in Heaven; our Father, whose desire from the foundation of the earth has been to enjoy fellowship with His people—to make His dwelling place with us. John, the disciple of Jesus, was given this beautiful revelation:
“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.’ And He said to me, ‘Write, for these words are true and faithful….It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts’” (Revelation 21:3-6).
TIME TO SING
We have been given a new song; 2018 is the time to sing it. Like those citizens of Philippi who heard Paul and Silas singing in jail in the midnight hour, today’s generation is desperate to hear our freedom songs. We have a new song for a new day. The song of Paul and Silas not only opened doors of deliverance for them, but to all the prisoners; to a family, a city, and to millions more who still read their story today. Who will hear your song? Will you sing it?
Please continue to agree together with us in prayer for the nations, including the United States. And, would you prayerfully consider a special financial gift this month to support the mission of CSM? We are equipping and encouraging believers worldwide with the Good News of Christ’s Kingdom. We are on a journey of faith; we invite you to walk with us. We need you to walk with us.
Also, please mark your calendar for the May 8-10, 2018, CSM Gatlinburg Leadership Conference, “Celebrating the Goodness of God!” We will have amazing testimonies of God’s miraculous power and refreshing times of prayer, worship, and fellowship. Please visit csmpublishing.org for more information. We’d love to see you there! Have a very blessed 2018!
Scripture Reference: Isaiah 60; Isaiah 61; 1 Peter 2:9; Psalm 40:1-3; Psalm 96:1-3; Isaiah 42:9-10; Isaiah 6:1-9; Isaiah 43:19; 2 Corinthians 5:16-20; Revelation 21:3-6
STEPHEN SIMPSON is the Editor of One-to-One Magazine and the Director of CSM Publishing. In addition to publishing ministry, Stephen has served in leadership for churches and ministries in Costa Rica, Florida, Mississippi, Texas, and Michigan, as well as being the Senior Pastor of Covenant Church of Mobile (2004-2013). He continues to travel in ministry across North America and in other nations.