Are there places in our lives God is calling us to make a journey of trust into the unfamiliar?
We’re talking about this idea that faith is awakened. Also, there comes a point where faith gets moving, and it starts to take steps forward. What I’d like to suggest is that our willingness to receive His grace in our lives, to be open to what He wants to do in our lives, within our soul, relationships, and key commitments, what He wants of us or wants for us, our willingness to be open to His grace is a setup. It’s the setup. It’s the setup for the moment in our lives when we know without a shadow of a doubt it’s on us to step up. When we know that there’s nobody else that will do this for us. No one else can. We’re the ones who are meant to step up. I’ve always been fascinated by people who, it seems so easy for them to capture those moments.
They seem almost like divine moments where it’s their moment to step into the gap or the circumstance and they succeed. Do you know what I’m talking about? Those stories are accounts of people who are able to step up, see it through, and walk away from those moments. They are actually able to be grateful for what they were able to do. Those always grab my attention. I always put a marker on those stories when they come up where those accounts or those biographical accounts. I like to revisit them every once in a while.
Maybe that’s why I find myself revisiting a moment in time almost 10 years ago now. It was January 15th, 2009. Many of us will know the details of this. It was 3:24 in the afternoon when US Airways 1549 was leaving LaGuardia, going to Charleston, South Carolina. The pilot said that in a span of a hundred seconds, the first a hundred seconds of the flight, a gaggle of geese hit the plane. We know this story. The passengers in the flight heard loud banging and it sounded like pelting on the aircraft. They saw one section, an engine up, and flames. They all saw the smoke and smelled the fuel in the air. The pilot says that in a span of 200 seconds, he needed to make crucial decisions. Critical, no one else could make them. It was his moment to step up.
Thankfully, it was a moment where we got to witness an aircraft in danger over the New York skyline, safely land in the Hudson River. The pilot was able to save more than a hundred souls on that craft. I just love this story. We know that he wrote Captain Sully and he’s affectionately called Sullenberger. He wrote his own account of his biography. There was a movie made about him with Tom Hanks as the chief actor. He was interviewed countless times. He’s actually from the East Bay Area. I remember rewatching some of these interviews and hearing him express what he was thinking. What he was experiencing when his moment came when he needed to step up and no one else could.
The interviewer asked him, “Did you train for water landings? Was this part of your training?” He says, “No.” You didn’t train for these because we’re taught that if there’s an emergency, we have to put our life vests on. We have to get in the brace position in case of a water landing. “You’re telling me, you guys have never trained for them?” He says, “Yeah, our simulator has found it too unlikely to put into the program to train for water landings.” Which is reassuring, right? The interviewer asks, “Was it discussed at all?” Sully says, “Yeah, in theory.” “This is in theory?” He says, “Yeah, in theory.” He says, “So basically you saw drawings on a chalkboard?” He says, “Pretty much. That’s what we got in flight school. We got drawings on the chalkboard.” Then he asks the question. The question I think is worth asking over and over is, “How in the world did you make the right decisions in the moments when you had mere minutes to do so?” What Sully said made me press pause and rewind it. I wrote it down. He says, “We had to dig deep. We had to apply what we did know and adapt to solve a problem we had never seen before.”
I thought, wow. He says we had to dig deep, we had to apply what we did know and we had to adapt it to solve a problem we had never seen before. I thought what did he know? What did Captain Sullenberger know that he was able to apply and adapt to this problem he had never seen before? He was enrolled in the US Air Force Academy in 1969. Graduated as an officer in 1973 with a bachelor’s in science. He served as a fighter pilot for the US Air Force from 1973 to 1980. He was a flight leader, a training officer, and attained the rank of captain while building up experience overseas. As a top pilot, he was the mission commander for red flag exercises, in which pilots receive advanced aerial combat training.
Sully was also a member of the Aircraft Accident Investigation Board. In 1980, he became a commercial pilot. Over his years of professional piloting, he became an instructor as well as an Air Line Pilots Association safety chairman, and an accident investigator. He participated in several US Air Force and National Transportation Safety Board accident investigations, which means that he not only received high-level training and experience, but he also understood all the different elements that go wrong with an airline accident.
When a flight goes wrong, he understands, he sees the results of poor decision-making. He was the one who investigated and was able to go back and forensically analyze what was it that needed to happen in order for this accident to be avoided. His preparation, though it didn’t result in him being exactly trained for that exact moment, his depth of knowledge that he was able to dig deep, apply, and then adapt to the circumstance he had never seen before. His experience was vast which made an enormous impact on me because I felt like it struck me. Do you know what? It means that there was a whole lot of work that went into being the type of person who could step up for the situation he had to step up into.
This is true for life. This is true in all other aspects of life. I think of those of us who have pursued a degree or an advanced degree, there’s an enormous amount of energy. There’s an enormous amount of time. There’s some degree of sacrifice. There’s some degree of discipline that is required. Really, at the end of the day, that ceremony of graduation really means, conventionally speaking, that we are given the privilege to begin our vocation. It is an enormous amount of work to start and step into the work. Over the years, I’ve gotten to walk with couples. I’ve been able to officiate weddings. I’ve gotten to see friends go through the process. I’ve gotten to experience it myself. The amount of energy when a couple becomes engaged to the moment they celebrate their wedding ceremony is huge. There’s an enormous amount of activity.
There are all kinds of negotiations, decision-making, lobbying, counter-lobbying, and compromises here and there. There is all this amount of attention to detail down to the seat, to the place setting, everything that we care about. We put all this energy into it. I remember my wife and me, that was almost nine years ago now, getting to our wedding day, feeling like we were crossing a finish line. I know I’ve seen people get there and there’s this, “we made it.” Internally, from those of us who have a little bit more experienced, you’re just beginning. You’re about to start. You made it to the start line. Good job. All of that work was the setup for them to step up.
This happens in every aspect of life. It is not unfamiliar in our faith journey. Our willingness to receive His grace and let it do its work in our lives when the pressure is not on, when things are going smoothly, or we may think this is not relevant to our lives. All of that work of allowing His grace in our lives, do you know what it is? It’s the setup. It’s a setup that no doubt He foresees and we know it will happen. There will be a moment in our lives when we and we alone will be the ones who need to step up. Some of us may currently be walking through areas in our lives where we know we need to step up in our core commitments.
We know we need to step up in our key relationships. There are certain habits that we’re lacking that we need to step up and develop. There are certain things at work, in our homes, our own hearts, our own internal life, and attitudes, the way we’re thinking, whatever it might be, we alone, no one will do it for us. Oftentimes, what tends to rise to the surface in those moments and makes Captain Sully an amazing example is fear, a sense of being overwhelmed, feeling ashamed of being capable of being able to step into the challenge, it’s far larger than us.
The capacity to contain ourselves and actually move. It really is contingent on how much pre-work we’ve done and allowing His grace into our lives. God is fully aware of our frame, doubts, fears, and anxieties. The beautiful thing is He meets us right there. He doesn’t remove the requirement to step up. He gives us the capacity to do it. If you open up your handout, I’d love for us to explore this account is this man named Isaiah.
Isaiah is a prophet of the Older Testament who had a remarkable experience with God that I think is worth noting. It gives us somewhat of a template of what the human experience is like in this faith journey. Even though the specifics may be very different. We’re told in verse one, that it was in the year King Uzziah died that Isaiah saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne and the train of his robe filled the temple. Attending him were mighty seraphim. Those are angelic beings that many have come to describe as fiery beings. Each having six wings with two wings. Two wings covered their faces, two covered their feet, they flew and were calling out to each other. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of heaven’s armies. The whole earth is filled with His glory.” Their voices shook the temple to its foundations. The entire building was filled with smoke. The vision Isaiah is given, gives us insight into the very environment in which God is found. It’s an extraordinary picture. It’s hard for us to grasp albeit but it’s an extraordinary picture. It’s meant to convey something of holiness and supreme power. A gravitational pull toward automatic worship. You cannot do anything else except worship.
We get a glimpse of this. We who may not have Isaiah’s experience get a clue of this when we see excellence in athletics, hear a beautiful piece of music, or see an artistic performance that just elevates the best of humanity. Something inside of us strikes us with a degree of awe. When in the presence of greatness, one soul cannot help but declare, “That’s great.” I grew up having this experience around athletics. I was not necessarily an artist. The music though, I appreciate it and love it. It’s not something that is natural to me. It’s very natural to my wife. When I was very interested in my wife, actually at the time we were already married, we were still having this ritual of wanting to experience dates.
I remember she said, “Do you know what I want to do? I want to go see this artist.” I thought I don’t like that artist. She says, “He’s coming through town and I already bought us tickets, we’re going.” I said, “Well, I love you. So I’ll tolerate him.” I remember making our way toward this concert and feeling a little bit bothered that I was going to this date night that I felt we should be both of us enjoying it. I wanted her to know how much I wasn’t enjoying it. She was gracious as she still is and kind. She put up with my antics, but I remember kind of just making fun of this artist on the way there, she put the music on. I was like, “Man, I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
We get to the parking lot of the concert venue, everybody gets out of their cars and I mean, they’re fans. They’re singing the songs and talking about how they can’t wait to see him. “Did you hear what he did at this last point in his tour?” So I felt out of place. I decided to sarcastically join it. I said, “Yeah, I can’t wait either.” I started naming songs that were very popular and easy to name, but I didn’t know what his music was like. I didn’t really know what he was like. He had a little bit of a bad rep and that’s all I knew. I remember going in, making my way, befriending those around me and they didn’t know I was being sarcastic. My wife was avoiding me. She was staying significantly away. I remember getting to our seats, sitting there, and the murmuring and the anticipation were palpable.
I remember the lights going down and all of a sudden the guitar starts playing. I thought that sounded pretty good. I remember just sitting there and all of a sudden, I feel the environment change and murmuring starts to happen. “Do you think that’s him? Oh my gosh, that’s him. It was one of his members. I don’t know. I mean, he could do this. He’s ridiculous.” This person, it sounds like they’re just making it up, but it sounds really good. The spotlight comes on the stage and all we see is the back of the person playing the guitar. He gets down on his knees, playing the guitar and it sounds good. Then people, you hear this collective awe, this gasp as the musician starts to lean back playing the guitar.
Here’s the deal. I’m not making this up about this person. The light flashes on his face and there’s John Mayer playing that guitar and he pulls the guitar over his face. He does something even more impressive. He gets up while playing the guitar. He’s like an artist athlete. The jazz ensemble starts playing and the hairs on the back of my neck are up and I’m telling them, “No, you shouldn’t like this.” But everything inside of me was like, “Yes.” Everybody is yelling. I’m just silenced, awestruck, and humbled. He went for the entire night. It was amazing. I thought he’s so good. He’s so skillful. He’s gifted.
How did I not know this? I started repenting. I shouldn’t have made fun of him. John, forgive me. Everybody is celebrating and joining in, but I didn’t feel worthy. I felt like I did too good of a job of mocking him. Now I have to eat my humble pie and take it in. Just like, yes, you’re good, Isaiah. Isaiah is describing an event. Do you know what John did? John used his gift and skill to transcend the human experience. Do you know what happened? It didn’t matter what ethnicity we were all from. It didn’t matter what tribe. It didn’t matter what background we had. It didn’t matter what musical taste we all incorporated. Something happens when excellence is elevated to a high level and we’re all able to witness it. Do you know what happens? Unity and automatic awe come out of us.
We can’t help it. Isaiah wasn’t in the presence of an artist. He wasn’t in the presence of a musician or an athlete. He was in the presence. He was in the very presence of the greatest artists, the master artists, the giver of all gifts and talents. You understand this. It’s hard for us to grasp, but he was sitting in the presence of the creator of all life. He saw greater beings himself. He couldn’t help it. All they could do is say, “Holy, holy, holy.” Isaiah, realizing what he’s witnessing is filled with the very same thing. You and I would readily feel this sense of awe that overwhelms him.
In fact, this image of the Supreme ruler is what the commentary said. It says, “every person’s course is shaped by the view that they form of the supreme ruler. If a person has such a view, he has no principle. If a person has no such view, he has no principal. He is living either anarchy or slavery to some other mind.” What does that mean? This is a profound statement. What he is saying is that if God, the God that we have in our mind is the God that is revealed within the scriptures. Well, that supreme being will elevate out of us the greatest virtues of humanity, and then humility will emerge in awe. Strength and courage will come out of us.
If the image or vision we have is not of the greatness of the majestic supreme powerful one, then what happens is we are susceptible to a much lower vision of who He is. Do you know what happens? We also become susceptible and in many ways, vulnerable to the lower qualities of what it’s like to be human. They end up being the ones that dominate who we are. Isaiah brings us into an extraordinarily privileged position of showing us exactly what God is like. We’re told in verse five, then he said in the presence of these, “It’s all over. I’m doomed. I’m a sinful man. I have filthy lips. I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the king, the Lord of heaven’s armies.” It would be no different than an artist thinking they are a good, talented, and skillful being, being in the presence of the greatest artists in the world.
Automatically, do you know what that does? It magnifies how much more this artist needs to go. The athlete in a small pond being exposed to the enormous, vast sea of high-level, excellent athletes throughout the world, or an intellectual being exposed to the highest intellects in the world. It will automatically create this internal sense of rapprochement and recognition. There is so much of a gap where I thought there wasn’t one. I’m undone. I have so much to know and learn and grow.
It’s at that moment that the seraph in verse six, “one of the seraphs and angels flew to me with a burning coal he had taken from the altar with a pair of thongs and he touched my lips with it. He said, “See? This coal has touched your lips. Now your guilt is removed. That rapprochement you have, it’s gone. Your sins are forgiven. Your lack, it’s removed. It’s toned for.” Then I heard the Lord asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to these people? Who represents us? Who will be our ambassador, our mediator, our spokesman, who will go for us?” He said, “Isaiah, his moment had come step up.” Isaiah says, “Send me, I think I’m ready. Send me, Lord. Please send me.” We will be confronted with moments in our lives. We may think they’re irritants. We may think they’re frustrations. We may think that somebody else should have done it. We may think that what we feel is resentment and anger that this is now on us and all the while it might be God saying, “Hey, will you step up?
Will you be the one? Will you be the one to meet that need? Will you be the one to step up into that situation? Will you be the one who makes the decisions that help, heals, and strengthens? Will you be the one that reconciles? Will you be the one to forgive? Who’s going to go if not you?” What we have to understand is Isaiah didn’t start there. He ended there and he began there, how? He began his journey how? This shows us stepping up begins with lining our load. It is going to be extraordinarily difficult to step up in situations with courage and strength if we are bearing a heavy load. What does that mean? That means that we all have baggage. Every single one of us. It means that we all have emotional, psychological, relational points of baggage. A lot of times His grace in our lives, in many ways, begins like Isaiah recognizing how lacking we are, how incapable we feel.
We, in a sense, are all Isaiah. All of us. When we get an accurate picture of the amazing power of God, do you know what happens within us? We start to recognize that’s what it looks like. That’s what it looks like. I can’t compare. There’s no way. Yet, His response to us is to send us a burning coal. Do you know what the burning coal is? The burning coal is Jesus on the cross dying for us, being buried, and three days later, being resurrected back to life. That is the burning coal. When we receive His life into our soul and we allow His grace to touch us, something occurs. Our baggage begins to lighten, our emotional, psychological, or relational baggage begins to become less so. What happens is that we start to recognize that He is the one who is able to step into our lives and say, “Hey, yes, there are some heavy things you’re carrying. Let’s talk about this. Let’s walk through this. Let me give you grace. Let me give you forgiveness and mercy. Let me cover you. Let me straighten you. Let me speak words of life over you.
Those words don’t define you. My words define you. Let me strengthen you in these words and help you in the way you see yourself and feel about yourself. Let me go ahead and start reconciling your relationships. Yes, there’s been a rift. Yes, there’s been division. Yes, there’s been pain. Yes, there’s been disappointment. But will you allow me to start bringing healing into those areas? Will you allow my grace to operate? They don’t deserve it, that’s true. Neither did you. Neither did I. Will you receive my grace? Will you receive fire from heaven to burn away the guilt and shame to seal up the wounds? Let me do this.” When Jesus enters our lives, you know what happens?
There is cleansing and healing. Look, even if it was a vision or not, a burning coal burns. It’s painful. When Jesus steps into our lives, it will mean feeling a burning sensation of things we used to cling to. Things we used to harbor. Things that became our defense mechanisms in the past and now they’re burning down because He is becoming our defender. Things that we used to run to for shelter. They are now crumbling and that’s painful. When He is our shelter, He starts calling us out of things. He starts loosening and challenging things. He starts challenging the way we think the way our attitudes are expressed, the words we use. He starts challenging our actions. There are things Jesus wants to do in our lives that require us to remain.
I don’t know about you, but if I’m Isaiah and see a flaming angel grab a hot coal and come toward my face, I’m not going to stay there and let it touch my lips. How about you? But Isaiah did. Jesus, we like to hold Him at a distance, but He loves to get personal, come close, and become intimate with us. Look at what the writer of the Hebrews said. There are ways to run this race. He says, “Listen since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses, that is the heavenly reality all around us, let’s strip off every weight that slows us down. Especially the sin that so easily trips us up. Let us run with endurance. The race God has set before us. How do we do this? By keeping our eyes on Jesus.” Jesus come closer. I’m afraid but come. It hurts but comes with your healing touch. Come, I keep my eyes on you. If we want to run, we have to lighten our load. This also reminds us that stepping up is fueled by grateful willingness. Isaiah had just had the deepest part of his soul and the sense of burden on his shoulders alleviated. There is no way he had anything other than gratitude. When he saw an opportunity to be able to do something for the one who had done so much for him, there’s no way.
It is true what Jesus said, “He who is forgiven much, she who is forgiven much loves much.” When we receive the depth of His grace over our lives, do you know what happens? It just spontaneously starts to erupt. How can I love? How can I give? How can I serve? How can I contribute? Lord, where is there a place for me to step up into something? I’m so grateful for the opportunity. Something starts to fuel us. There is no greater fuel than gratitude for what He has done for us. It is not viewed with a sense of begrudging, a sense of obligation, it’s not with bitterness and resentment because nobody else is doing it. It’s with a sense of joy that God, thank you that I get to be the one. I get to be the one.
When the crisis with Captain Sully began, he was thanking God for the opportunity. I can’t tell you how many times he thanked God after because he became somebody far different. He became known as somebody far different. It transformed his life. There’s no other way. In our moments, when we step into them, we start to recognize that God is not only doing something through us. He’s doing something in us. That becomes a fuel for gratitude to emerge within us. Gratitude for the privilege of getting to impact somebody’s life. Gratitude for the privilege of being able to leave a mark of something that is good, beautiful, true, and lovely in this world. Gratitude. Gratitude for the fact that He’s the one who was able to remove our anger and resentment. Who was able to replace our self-pity with an enormous sense of confidence, strength, and courage. Gratitude, thank you because He didn’t have to use us, but He chose to invite us. He chose to invite us.
When we do that, when we step up, do you know what happens? It connects us with God’s heart for the world around us. When we are the ones who say, yes, I hear this in this situation you’re the one asking me who will go before me? We say, yes, I will step up. I will go, send me. What happens is we start to recognize yes, it’s so easy. All we need to do is read the paper, watch the news. It’s so easy to recognize how broken our world is. But to have a vision of the beauty that God wants to create in the midst of our broken world. To be able to step into that beauty, recognizing we have to be vehicles of it. To have a vision of what God wants to produce in our home and our most intimate relationships.
A vision, not of what currently is, but of what He is creating. We get to be a part of that. That’s your heart for my wife, for her husband, for our friends, for our neighbors, for our coworkers, that’s your heart God. There’s a person that irritates us and we hear His compassion and His grace for them. We get to become the people who sent something of His hand upon us because we step into situations differently when we recognize God is doing something. It’s not just us. You better believe Isaiah stepped into his work, family, and friendship environment noticeably different because why? He was sent. God was up to something. God had His hand on him. The confidence that emerges when we know we are participating is something that will outlast us that is far more permanent than anything else we think actually is permanent. It will overpower our fear, our shame, our sense of being overwhelmed because we team up with the one who wants to do a great thing in our midst.
My prayer is that every single one of us here would be willing to receive His grace working within us so that when our moment to step up arrives, we say send me, use me and I thank you for the privilege of getting to be the one to step up. Lord, you are the truly majestic one who is far kinder and more gracious and loving than our deepest fears. You are the one who does not condemn. You do not push away, you move toward. You do not disqualify, you actually have given us the means by which we can be the ones to take a step with you. I thank you for the gift of your son, Jesus. I thank you for His tenderness, love, and grace. I thank you for the promise you say you will never leave nor forsake. I thank you that there is not one moment in our lives that we may count as insignificant. There’s not one moment that is wasted on you. I pray that your grace would do its work and that you would set us up for our moment or moments when we most needed to step up. I pray for this in Jesus’ name. Amen.