Millions of earthquakes occur every year. Most are small and undetected. But last September Mexico City was rocked by two quakes 11 days apart. The first measure 8.2 and took 100 lives; the second measured 7.1, but took 370 lives.
One man who survived the second quake wrote about his experience. When the trembling began he thought is was a truck passing outside on the street, then the second shock hit with such force that it launched him to his feet and sent him running shoeless and shirtless out his front door, into a blast of jumbled sirens.
On the street the earth seemed to roll like water. He raced back into his house to turn off the gas, grab a shirt, some flip-flops, and his roommate’s dog. Then, he took a walk around the neighborhood. The sight was shocking. Apartment buildings teetered close to collapse; glass and concrete fell like hail; smoke rose up from everywhere; residents embraced and consoled each other; several local hospitals were fatally wounded and patients were being evacuated. And wouldn’t you know it, he said, “Street vendors sold popsicles and tacos without skipping a beat.”
The article concluded saying, “Mexicans are saying that it wasn’t only apartment buildings and schools that collapsed during the earthquake, but also the government. After the dust has settled and the final body count has been tallied, politicians will have to answer to an immobilized and empowered nation” (Devon VanHouten-Maldonado).
When God—not religion or ritual or tradition—but the reality of God himself comes into your life, you have what I call a “God-quake.” And a God-quake has an aftershock, which I call a “Self-quake.” And when you get shaken-up, you can’t sit still. A “self-quake” leads to a “society-quake,” just the earthquake mobilized the residents of Mexico City.
Today I’m continuing in our series on The Church, and we’re looking at “Our Ministry” vision. I’m not going to itemize a list of projects and activities. Rather, I’m going to explain the four directional thrusts our ministry: Downreach, Upreach, Inreach, and Outreach, and show you how they come out of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah’s encounter with the Lord.
1. God-Quake: Downreach
Please follow along with me as I read from the 6th chapter in the book of Isaiah.
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. (Isa 6:1–4)
Isaiah was the King’s nephew. And Uzziah had been on the throne for 52 years. You would think that that would give a lot of stability, but the king had contracted leprosy and been in seclusion for years. The nation was falling apart.
So, here comes Isaiah. He’s young, he’s brilliant—if people are still studying what you wrote 3,000 years later, it’s telling. Isaiah is a prophet, which means he’s a preacher; a gifted speaker. He’s got ideas, no doubt. He’s fearful for the nation’s future, especially with Assyria growing powerful right next-door. But he’s also fearful for himself, for when a king dies, sometimes contenders for the thrown wipe out rivals and their families.
So, Isaiah is praying. And the last person he would have thought to show up to his prayer meeting comes crashing through the door. Isaiah has a vision of the Lord — it’s a God-quake.
Isaiah is rocked by the weight of God’s glory. Of course, he had had many conversations with his theology buddies about God before, but God was merely a concept to him. Now God is a reality, and Isaiah is overwhelmed.
When the living God becomes reality to you, nothing is ever the same again. I’ll tell you why. The Hebrew word for “glory” means weight or heaviness. When you drop a heavy object into water it displaces the water, the water level rises. My mother once learned this the hard way. She filled the bathtub up and then deposited me and my two brothers into it and there was a flood that rivaled Noah’s. There was a water-quake because us three boys had more glory than the water. That water had to get out of the way.
When God shows up in the Bible there’s an earthquake. When he met Moses on Mt. Sinai, there was an earthquake. When the Spirit filled the upper room where Jesus’ disciples were meeting after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, there was an earthquake. God’s reality is so weighty, so glorious, it swamps our preconceptions about God.
This is important because when all you have is a God-concept, God is lighter than you. What’s real to you is all the cultural stuff swirling around you; all the stuff you can see and touch and feel. So when you bring God into your life; you fit God around your patterns and priorities; you interpret God according to your existing beliefs and positions. You define God with respect to your plans and goals and agendas. A God-concept is something that you shape, it doesn’t shape you.
Based on his reaction to the vision, all Isaiah had before was a concept of God. You can be moral and religious with a God-concept; you can study the Bible and even be a preacher, but—and don’t miss this—since you’re heavier than your God-concept, at the end of the day, all of these things are done to boost your glory … to get more inspiration, to get more energy, to get more strength, to get closer to your goals and desires.
When you meet God everything changes. Why? Because God’s glory is weighty; it swamps all other boats. It overturns concepts. He doesn’t fit into our patterns, our beliefs, our plans, our goals, our agendas. He radically overwhelms them, re-orientates them, reorders them, re-engineers them, recreates them.
When the apostle Paul, who wrote half of the New Testament, met the glorious Lord Jesus on his way to persecute Christians, his God-concept got capsized. God didn’t fit into Paul’s agenda. Rather, Paul got fit into God’s. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote about his reordered life: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).
At NorthPointe we want to be awakened to the real, living God, we want to be overwhelmed by his Spirit, and centered on his Son. We desire to reach down, to go deep into the reality of God, so that we might to know the weight of his glory. And we pray for God-quakes in our services and activities.
And did you know, when a God-quake occurs it leads to a self-quake, which is my next point.
2. Self-Quake: Upreach
And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for 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 burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (Isa 6:5–7).
When the God-quake occurred Isaiah was stripped of his pride and pretense. There was no glory his could wave around on a flag. He was capsized by God’s glory, by the beauty of God’s holiness.
Do you know what holiness is? It’s something higher, something transcendent, something superlative, something beyond, something out of reach, something radiant, something pure, something brilliant and beautiful. As the Christian rapper, M.C. Hammer, would say, “U Can’t Touch This.” Why? Because it’s holy.
That holiness is humbling, it’s fascinating and frightening at the same time.
Brittany used to travel around the country singing in churches. She told me that her tour once went through Colorado and she had the opportunity the participate in the Gospel Music Association’s “Seminar in the Rockies”. She was actually a semi-finalist in that talent search. If she would have won, she would have gotten a recording contract. Anyway, she told me when she heard the winner sing, she was like “Whoa… unbelievable! I can’t touch that.”
Maybe you’ve got some talent. Maybe you’re pretty fast or pretty bright or pretty creative. Sooner or later you’ll meet someone who outshines you. Being in their presence is fascinating, but it’s also frightening.
How would you feel if a really famous person you greatly admired suddenly rang your doorbell? They have a certain transcendence, a brilliance that shines brighter than yours. There’s an attractiveness to them, they’re fascinating. And at they same time their presence humbles you, it’s a slightly intimidating. In fact, you might stand up straighter, or trip over your tongue.
Brittany tells me that the first time we met I was shy and nervous. I told her, “Nah, I was just on my best behavior.” But that’s the point, isn’t it?
This is what we see with Isaiah. He encounters God’s holiness and the next thing out of his mouth is a confession of radical humility: “Woe is me! I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips.”
When Isaiah meets the real God—not a concept—he also get’s a glimpse at himself. He doesn’t itemize hie righteous acts; he doesn’t make excuses for his unrighteousness acts. He simply pronounces curse on himself — radical honesty.
Another guy in the Old Testament did the same thing. Job was the bloke who had everything, and then lost everything. If you read the book of Job, you’ll find him pleading to make his case before God. He wants to wave his banner of righteousness in the throne room of heaven in protest. But in the last chapter God speaks. Job doesn’t wave anything except his hand to cover his mouth: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the year, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (42:6).
I wrote to a friend earlier this month, telling him that I’d learned that a couple of churches that flown me out west for interviews a few years back, but who had selected other pastors were without pastors again. I was feeling righteous: I could have done better; I would have lasted more than 2 years. I wanted to wave my qualifications in their face. Yet by the time I got to the end of my message my grumbling heart had been laid low by the Holy Spirit: “Dan, who are you upset with, those churches or me.” Oh, my. I had been arguing with God. I ended my message by confessing my sin and repenting. My friend wrote me back, confessing his sin and repenting too.
Did you know that when people actually encounter the real presence of God and their self-image gets crushed, that they actually begin to hate themselves? It’s true. They see themselves as flawed, wrong, selfish, distorted, cruel, twisted, and they’re ready to admit it.
Now, you can say, “Pastor, that’s not good. We want people to feel good about themselves, to have a positive self-esteem.” Here’s my response: Don’t put the apple cart before the horse and spill all the apples in the process.
Consider… Here is Isaiah. He’s of royal blood. He’s a prophet. He’s preaching. Then, he meets the God, he gets a glimpse of God’s holiness and he says, “I’m lost. My very best attribute, my golden lips, with which I teach people about God, are unclean and wrong.” The thing he’d parked his self-esteem upon, got pulled out from underneath him. He had a self-quake.
At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry he climbed into Peter’s boat and preached, then he told Peter to go fishing. When Peter realized who is in his boat, he was overwhelmed. He words say it all: “Depart from me, Lord! I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). He’s had a self-quake. His self-image is capsized right there.
God-quakes are always followed by an aftershock, a self-quake. When you God stops being a concept to you, when you meet him person to person I wouldn’t be surprised if you said: “I thought I was loving, but I see I really just loved myself. I thought I was pleasant and funny, but I’m really sarcastic and cruel. I thought I was mature, but I’m really as petty as a middle-schooler. I thought I was patient, but I’m more small-minded and angrier than I every realized.”
If you’re worried about your self-image or self-esteem, I’ve got hard news for you: you’re bent in on yourself. The only thing that can deal with self-esteem issues is to be free from yourself, which only happens when you’re focused on something bigger than yourself.
A big, glorious, holy God will make you feel small, yes! But that’s not all. A big, glorious, holy God will also do the most righteous thing for you: he will sacrifice himself to love you. Ground your self-esteem in that.
As soon as Isaiah sees himself, as soon as he owns his sin, as soon as he confesses it, God explodes into his life. The angel comes to him with a hot fire, a coal.
Now, let’s put this in perspective, everyplace that you find fire in the Old Testament is denotes judgment. And this angel is making a beeline to Isaiah’s lips. Yet the fire has been taken from the alter of atonement. Isaiah is pardoned, rather than pulverized.
Self-quake leads to true worship. It frees you from being bent in on yourself. If focuses you on God. The cross shows us the self-sacrificing heart of God, which is turned towards you in love. Isaiah didn’t atone for himself, God did it. When you get this, when you’re awakened to you need for the personal God who does this for you, the movement of your heart is upward in worship.
Upreach is a thrust of our ministry. Our desire is for true worship, the kind of worship born of self-quakes, the worship that comes with encountering the fascinating and frightening beauty of God’s holiness.
3. Society-Quake: Inreach & Outreach
So, a God-quake has created a self-quake, and that has an aftershock — society-quake.
Let’s go back to Isaiah 6 and check this out. Look at verse 8:
“And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here I am! Send me.’”
The first thing to pop into my mind upon reading that verse is a vision of a little boy in the front row of a Magic Show dancing with his hand in the air: “Pick me, pick me.” And I can hear God saying, “Wait a minute, son, don’t you want the job description?”
But that doesn’t matter to Isaiah. Why not? Because he’s not focused on himself; he’s been freed from self-concern. He doesn’t give a hoot about what he likes, what he’s good at, or what he wants. He’s flowing with the rhythm of the Spirit. He’s dancing with the Trinity.
When Mother Teresa was passing through a crowd in Detroit a woman remarked, “Her secret is that she is free to be nothing. Therefore, God can use her for anything.” Think about that.
When you don’t have to earn brownie points for God to accept you; when you’re freed from needing the applause of others to feel loved; when you don’t have to refer to yourself at all, then and only then are you available to love others well.
The Bible can be summarized in two sentences: “(1) Cheer up, you’re a lot worse than you think you are” — LAW. And “(2) Cheer up, God’s grace is a lot bigger than you think it is” — GOSPEL (Jack Miller). When you get this, you’ll be free.
Isaiah is finally free. I’ll summarize the rest of the chapter for you—it’s the job description; I’m not going to read it. But this is what it’s saying: “Isaiah, go and preach. But don’t expect success. The people won’t want to hear you. But do it anyway, you’re the pastor. Keep telling the people about me until society becomes like a forest of trees that’s been cut down. But don’t fear. There will be some remains, and my Son, the suffering servant, will come from the remains.”
There’s a promise in that, but I wouldn’t want a job description like that, would you? I’m afraid of failure; I’m afraid of insignificant. But when those fears control, I’ve lost my freedom
Do you know why Isaiah wasn’t afraid of failure? Because God already saw him as one, and loved him anyway.
Do you know who else society thought was a failure? Jesus. He was crucified before anything “big” happened, according to society. Yet the Father’s love freed him to minister to others inside and outside the people of God.
Our vision for ministry includes inreach and outreach. We desire to serve those inside our fellowship and those outside it. But understand, the capacity for ministry doesn’t come from having your arm sufficiently twisted, nor from a rousing locker-room speech. I doesn’t come from trying to earn something with God. The capacity for inreach and outreach, the capacity to love others well—to quake society such that folks say, “You’re weird, no one loves like that”, that capacity comes from a self-quake.
It’s been said that the Church’s problem is that Christians are on the inside of the church with their noses glued to the window, watching the parties outside the church and wishing they could be there. I want to be a church where those outside come and glued their noses to the windows, watching the party inside and wish they could come in. I think this when the inreach, the inner life of the church, becomes outreach. This is what Jesus was getting at when he told his disciples to love one another so that society would be shocked (John 13:34–35).
When I was young I got sent to the principal’s office at least once at each school I attended. It was frightening to see the principal; he had glory! My elementary school principal had a paddle hanging on his wall. My teachers would even threaten me with a trip to his office.
A friend of mine had an experience, which I wish had been mine. One day he messed up big and got sent to the principal’s office. As he walked down the hall he started making out his will: his brother would get his bike, his friend would get his stamp collection. When he knocked on the principal’s door and was asked to enter, he was sure he was gonna die.
Then the principal told him to sit down, and said, referring to his teacher, “Son, you don’t like Miss [Smith] very much, do you?” My friend nodded, agreeing he had trouble with her sometimes. Then the principal laughed and said, “Well, I don’t like her very much either.” From that day on they were friends. He cherished his trips to the principal’s office. (Steve Brown)
I never encountered a principal like that, but if I had, I would have told everyone and started a parade that would have felt like an earthquake.
The reality of God sets off a series of quakes and aftershocks in our lives. I don’t know how God has shaken your life. But I do know that it’s that shaking that frees you in more ways than you can imagine. And more than anything it frees you to love others well. And this is our vision for ministry at NorthPointe.