Publication: Pastoral Letter, July 2015
Dear Friend in Christ:
Our annual CSM leadership conference in Gatlinburg was outstanding. The attendance was one of our highest ever, and the times of worshipping the Lord were strong. I was honored for 60 years in ministry by many kind friends, but more importantly, the focus of the conference on persecuted believers made a strong impact. Nik Ripken gave an account of how many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are giving their lives in faith and for faith. Gilbert Hovsepian ministered to us in song and by his testimony. His father was martyred in Iran.
My prayer is that those testimonies and many others will inspire the Church in our nation to awaken and serve our Lord with a deeper devotion and take notice of sacrifices that are being made here and abroad. And that brings me to the subject of unshakeable faith.
Isaiah 7:2 says, “…the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind” (ESV). It was prior to 700 B.C. and the people of Judah were fearful of the plot formed against them by the northern tribes who were in league with Syria. Judah’s king was Ahaz, who was weak and frantically looking for help from other nations, but the help did not come. Ahaz was not only weak, but an idol worshipper who caused his own son to be burned in the fires of idolatry. His weakness left a vacuum eagerly filled by enemies, and terrified his own people.
Shaking comes when the foundations are not secure. It has come to nations and individuals throughout history. In fact, God promises to shake whatever can be shaken so that only the unshakeable will remain (see Hebrews 12:27). Shaking can be terrifying, but revealing a false trust can be a good thing if that turns us to God.
I have seen people in a state of terror. I once sat all night with a man who was in agony and fear of death. I could not lead him to Christ in his incoherent state. Like that man, Ahaz’s fear left him indecisive and terrified.
The Lord’s call to Isaiah is recorded in chapter 6. After seeing the Lord “high and lifted up” and seeing his own condition, he responded to the Lord’s call to go into that atmosphere and confront wicked King Ahaz. Isaiah served the Lord under the reigns of four kings: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. They were good kings with the exception of Ahaz, and Judah reflected Ahaz’s wicked leadership.
Isaiah’s message to Ahaz was, “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all” (see Isaiah 7:9). Ahaz was not firm at all. He and his people were shaken. Isaiah told Ahaz to ask for a sign that would validate Isaiah’s message, but Ahaz would not ask. Then the Lord gave him a sign anyway, “Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel; “God with us” (see verse 14). It was a sign for the future, but Ahaz’s mind was on the present, not on God, or God’s future for them.
What followed Ahaz’s fear was a disaster; he was captured and taken away. In his place followed Hezekiah, a good king who sought the Lord, and his people were spared (see Isaiah chapters 36-37). Leaders who put their trust in God make a huge difference to any nation or group of people. The prophetic challenge and the challenge of all leaders is to look to the One who is never shaken.
Isaiah heard from God who said, “Do not call conspiracy all that their people call conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, Him shall you regard as holy. Let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread. And He will become a sanctuary ….”
God’s message was simply, “If you fear God, you need not fear anything else.” Isaiah’s response was, “I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding His face from Jacob (Israel and Judah), and I will hope in Him.” Israel and Judah were looking everywhere for hope except to God, and their trust was sorely misplaced. Again, God gave another sign that would be fulfilled in the distant future, “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
Isaiah continually points Judah to God and to the future that He had for them, but in their arrogance and idolatry, they continually looked to other nations and to other gods for help that never came; that was the cause of their shaking. That is the cause of all shaking when nations or individuals turn to other sources for help.
Pride produces blindness; humility before God allows Him to open our eyes. The plots that Judah feared never materialized. But what they did not expect came upon them. Assyria rose up and conquered both Syria and Israel. Even while Assyria was plundering some of the northern cities, Israel in its pride responded, “The bricks have fallen, but we will rebuild with dressed stones; the sycamores have been cut down, but we will put cedars in their place” (see 9:10). Verse 13 says, “The people did not turn to Him who struck them, nor inquire of the Lord of hosts.” It wasn’t merely Assyria; it was God with whom they were dealing (see 10:5).
It is amazing that some of our leaders quoted Isaiah 9:10 after September 11, 2001, when the twin towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed. (If you have not read The Harbinger by Jonathan Cahn, I urge you to do so.) When adversity comes, the first place we should look to is the Lord Himself, not our own resolve. He alone controls our destiny. Isaiah chapter 11 gives yet another messianic sign: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of Wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord…” (11:1-2). The entire chapter describes the Kingdom of the Messiah and continues through chapter 12.
Isaiah’s word and work was to remind Judah to turn to the Lord and His plan for their future. They could survive the period of danger if they put their trust in Him. Otherwise, they would suffer the continued correction. Unfortunately, they failed to hear. Tradition says that Isaiah was eventually martyred, but his faith never wavered. I cannot imagine the difficulty faced by Isaiah and other prophets who were called to a rebellious people. (See Isaiah 6:8-13 and Matthew 23:37.)
God’s people continued to accept the false prophets and eulogize the dead prophets (see Jeremiah 23
and Matthew 23:29).
What Can We Learn?
Isaiah had two sons who themselves were given as signs. The first son was “Shear Jashub”, which means “a remnant shall return” and “Maher Shalal Hashbaz”, which means “the spoil speeds and the prey hastens.” The meaning was, “There will be a remnant, but judgment is coming soon.
When a people lose the fear of God, they lose their stability. God alone is unshakeable; He is unchanging and those who trust in Him are unshakeable (see Psalm 125:1). Trust in ourselves or others who do not trust God is a prelude to grave disappointment. Even those of us who trust the Lord can sometimes look elsewhere first, only to be shaken. Look to the Lord first and continually.
Dr. Samuel Chand has written a book, Leadership Pain, in which he describes how leaders deal with the pain of leading. He and other writers document how many thousands of religious leaders quit each year. Chand says that we must increase our pain threshold. The prophets had a very high “pain threshold.” Martyrs have a very high pain threshold. They endure a lot of real suffering, not merely “hurt feelings.” If we are going to be unshakeable in faith, we must overcome, endure and show others how to endure.
In 1965, I was going through a difficult time, losing church members, facing financial stress, and under examination by my denomination due to teaching on the Holy Spirit. I was getting up early to seek the Lord, and one morning my attention was called to John 15:16, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain.” The last phrase seemed to be emphasized “that your fruit should remain.” The Lord had chosen me to produce enduring fruit. Indeed, I believe that we have all been chosen to do that. But how can we produce lasting fruit? What must we demonstrate and teach?
First of all, we must endure. We must model what we teach. I confess that I have not always done that. Nor has all my fruit remained, but that is my aspiration. Lasting fruit is not without pain and others watch to see how we handle our own difficulty.
The generation that endured the Great Depression and World War II have been called “The Greatest Generation.” I don’t know if they were, but they were certainly among the greatest, because they endured great hardship. The Apostle Paul told Timothy (by the Holy Spirit), to endure hardship as a good soldier (see 2 Timothy 2:3). The apostle modeled it and taught it; his fruit endured.
Let No t Your Heart Be Troubled
To be apostolic will require endurance in difficulty. We cannot merely appeal to our culture’s self-interest and hope to produce fruit that will endure the tough times. We must warn our hearers of the dangers of forsaking God and encourage them with the eternal rewards of unshakeable faith in God. The promises of God are a great blessing; to receive them, we often must endure hardship. Character is engraved within us in the hard times. Without enduring opposition, we will remain weak.
I do not know where you are in your walk with the Lord, but 2 Thessalonians 2:2 says, “Be not soon shaken in mind or be troubled ….” Jesus told His disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled, believe in God and believe also in me” (see John 14:1). What we believe will affect us in every way. I urge you to believe that God loves you, has a plan for you, and if you trust Him, He will never leave you! Be unshakeable; He is!
P.S. We sincerely ask for your continued prayers in July, as well as your financial support. Ministry needs and opportunities do not take a Summer vacation; we depend upon the Lord and the support of our friends in order to continue our outreach among the nations. We are at a critical time in history. “Embracing the Truth with Our Lives” is more than a slogan!
Scripture reference: Isaiah 7:2, Hebrews 12:27, Isaiah 6, Isaiah 7:9, Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:6, Isaiah 9:10, Isaiah 10:5; Isaiah 11:1-2, Isaiah 12, Isaiah 6:8-13, Matthew 23:37, Jeremiah 23, Matthew 23:29, Psalm 125:1, John 15:16, 2 Timothy 2:3, John 14:1, 2 Thessalonians 2:2