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Message for 12-1-13 CATCHING A VISION FROM GOD

“CATCHING A VISION FROM GOD”

Acts 2:17-18

 

            The ancient Hebrew prophets had extraordinary powers with which they were able to catch a vision of the future.  Who would have dreamed in Isaiah’s day that Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon would all one day worship the God of Israel?  Who would have dreamed that each of these mighty world powers would become powerless harassed minorities ruled by others?  Yet the predictions of Isaiah the prophet in Isaiah 19 have come true.  The original Egyptians, Assyrians, and Chaldeans of Isaiah’s day today are followers of Jesus Christ who worship the God of Israel.  All of them are harassed minorities in lands ruled by Arab overlords.

            Isaiah reaches farther into the future and sees the day when all nations shall stream to Zion to hear God’s word, the day when “they will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.”  Jesus sees the day far in the future when he shall return in judgment, when 2 men will be in the field, and 2 women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and the other left.  Because no one knows the day or hour, Jesus says, it is all-important to be ready.

            In Jeremiah 31, Jeremiah predicts that one day far in the future, Jerusalem would be rebuilt on a scale far beyond how it stood in his day.  What city planner could have predicted what would happen?  Today Jerusalem has spread north, west, and south even beyond Jeremiah’s wildest dreams, to where it has become a city of 25 square miles (16,000 acres)!  To see that before it happens takes what we call vision.

            By contrast, lack of vision can be seen in the story of the Puritans who built a road into the woods 2 years after settling in the New World and building their town.  After 3 years, the town tried to impeach their city government because they thought it was a waste of money to build a road 5 miles into the wilderness.  Who would go there?  These folks had enough vision to cross 3000 miles of ocean and endure all the hardships that went with it, but they didn’t have enough vision to see 5 miles out of town.

            On the day of Pentecost, Peter harks back to the words of the prophet Joel, where God promises to pour out the Spirit of God, not just on super saints, but on all races, genders, and demographic categories of people.  God’s Spirit will be poured out on male and female, slave and free.  Young people shall see visions, and old people shall dream dreams.

            Vision – the ability to see beyond the obvious – envisioning the future before it comes into view – gaining a clear picture of who we are and where we’re going – is absolutely essential to the effective ministry of a church.  Individuals, businesses, and churches who are the most effective in today’s world are the ones who have a clear picture of who they are, exactly what they’re trying to do, and where they must go.

            Vision begins with how we see the past and the present, the ability to see exactly where we are right now and how we got here.  Vision determines whether we see a glass of water as half empty or half full.  As a leader, part of my job is to say, “Look at it this way,” to get people to see their situation with a new set of eyes.  For instance, did you know that you can grow a church with nobody but senior citizens?  As long as you keep reaching new ones, nothing can stop you.  And look at it this way: 15 years from now, being a church that excels in reaching senior citizens will not be a bad deal, because there will be more senior citizens by then than any other age group.

            What we expect to see can make a huge impact on how we see reality.  Setting our expectations too high can cause needless frustration and disillusionment.  I grew up expecting spring to begin about the first week of April.  Imagine how I felt in NW Iowa when the leaves came out on May 15.  Two years later, I was thrilled when the leaves came out on April 25.

            When church attendance is low, or if people are too busy for church, I have a choice.  I can be miserable, or I can adjust my expectations.  If a person comes to church 3 times per year, how I see that all depends on what I expect.  If I expect them to be in church 40 times a year, I’m going to be disgusted.  But if I start with the idea that here’s a person who would never darken the door of a church, I would be overjoyed to see them 3 times per year.  What we expect, colors how we see reality.

            Yes, vision also includes our ability to visualize the future.  But vision is more than simply recognizing which way we’re headed.  It’s more than simply projecting from today’s trends to the way reality may look in the future. Instead of drifting along as victims of circumstance, catching a vision from God will allow us to capitalize on changing circumstances.  Vision enables us to be alert to opportunities, like a surfer trying to catch the right wave to ride.  Catching a vision from God will move us to conspire with God to create a better future.  George Barna writes in his book The Power of Vision, “The future is not a done deal waiting for our response.  The future belongs to God, and through him to those who are willing to shape it.”

            But when I speak of vision, I’m not talking about us simply dreaming our own dreams.  I’m talking about God’s vision, not ours.  I’m not talking about putting mind over matter, creating our own realities, or inventing our own bright ideas.  Vision, to be effective, must correspond to reality.  One pastor tells about his visit to the eye doctor. The nurse tells him to read the bottom line.  The pastor says, “A, Z, T, F, and it looks like a W.  How’d I do?”  The nurse says, “They’re all numbers.”

            Vision, to the extent that it comes from God, must correspond to reality: the way it is, and the way it will be if we act or do not act.  As humans, our vision is somewhat distorted; we need God’s corrective lenses.  Our information, our emotions, our hunches can often be wrong.  We need to rely on God’s vision, not our own.  Proverbs 3:4-5: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding.”

            Catching God’s vision is a process that takes time and prayer.  We can’t snap our fingers and say, “God, show us this morning your vision for our church.”  In Acts 13, the church at Antioch goes through a process of prayer and seeking God’s direction.  What happens?  God tells them to set aside their 2 favorite Bible teachers and send them off to the mission field!

            Catching God’s vision for you, as individuals and as a church, will require a similar process of prayer, research, and action.  Catching God’s vision is like putting together a 3000 piece puzzle.  It may take years for all the pieces to come together.

            Does God give visions that are never fulfilled?  I think of the young guy who felt called to serve God in South America, who was killed in a plane crash on his way to the mission field.  I think of Paul and his vision to preach the Good News in Rome and then in Spain.  From what I can tell, Paul never does get to Spain, and he only reaches Rome near the end of his life. We may not ever reach the place God has in mind, but we can always follow as far as our vision leads us.

            What practical good is all this talk of vision?  What role does vision play in actually changing the future?  Vision gives us a clear direction in which to concentrate our efforts, a clear target toward which to channel our energy and resources.  Without vision, our energy and resources are spent in too many directions to be effective in any one area.  As a church, we must be clear about what we are trying to do, what our primary business is.  Are we – a restaurant?  A museum?  A society for preserving an historic building?  Are we a branch office for the local funeral home?  Or are we – a recovery group for broken sinners?  A place designed to attract outsiders to a living faith in Christ?

            What exactly are we trying to do?  We have to be able to answer that question in a few short words that say it all.  The purpose of Domino’s Pizza is not to make pizza – it is “to deliver.”  The purpose of the Disney Corporation is “to provide people happiness.”  The original purpose of the Salvation Army was “to make citizens of the rejected.”  The purpose of Willow Creek Community Church is: to turn non-church Harry into a fully-devoted follower of Christ.  The mission of a former church of mine was “to help people grow in their relationship with God and with God’s family.”

            Once we identify God’s vision for our church, we must be willing to say No to any effort that will distract us from our primary mission.  Wycliffe Bible Translators refuses to build hospitals, feed the poor, or get involved in any activity that will distract them from their primary business, which is: to translate the Bible into every language on earth.  Wall Street analysts say, sell your stock in any business that launches into a new business outside their area of expertise.

            Somebody once discovered a restaurant called the Church of God Grill.  They asked how the place got its name.  The place used to be a church who sold fried chicken to make money to support itself.  The place got so popular and the people got so involved with the food that the church part ended up getting lost.  Friends, we don’t want to end up like the Church of God Grill.

            Pastor Daniel Brown compares churches to players on a soccer field.  Everyone wants to be where the action is on the field.  But if players don’t stay in their position, they may not be where they are needed when the ball comes their way.  Likewise, churches want to be where the action is on God’s field.  We want the big youth program, or the attractive contemporary service that draws the crowds.  But God wants us to play our position on the field.

            As much as we would like our church to be all things to all people, God has not equipped us to do that.  We need to play the position God has assigned to us.  No church can reach everybody.   We need to specialize in what we can do best.  If we are faithful at reaching who we can, God will give us more people to reach.  God has not equipped me to reach the hard-core party animal who doesn’t give a hoot about God.  God wants to use you and me to reach people whose need are most like our own.

            Vision begins with the leader.  You can’t build a visionary church without a leader who has at least occasional flashes of vision.  But visionary leadership is not enough.  You cannot dictate vision from on high.  If the entire church is to own the vision, the people will have to help discover that vision.  Seeking God’s vision will require all of us to spend time in prayer listening.  God will give us better ideas that we’d ever come up with on our own.  Brainstorming is not enough; prayer is essential.

            Seeking God’s vision will also require us to hear what God is saying to others.  None of us hears God clearly or completely all the time; we need to hear from fellow believers.  We also need to do a better job listening to those whom the church is not reaching.  We need to hear the voices of those outside the church who hunger for healing and don’t know where to find it.

            Mother Teresa had  a vision of the poor of Calcutta dying with dignity, a vision that propelled her to action.  Martin Luther King had a vision of justice for all races.  Sheldon Jackson stood on top of a bluff overlooking Sioux City, Iowa back in the 1860’s and saw a vision of Presbyterian churches yet to be born across the frontier, from Nebraska to Alaska.  And God has a vision for us as well, if we are willing to take the time and effort to find it.

            As we prepare to move forward as a church, we are making plans to involve each of you in discovering God’s vision for this church through a program called Holy Cow.  It is a survey where we hope to hear what God has laid on your heart as your sense of who we are and where we need to go as a church.

            Vision: the ability to see beyond the obvious, gaining a clear picture of the present and the future, as God sees it.  Imagine what a vision of where we are and where we need to go could do for the life of our church.  What is God’s vision for us for the future?  What do we need to do to prepare for the year 2050?  Let us call upon the Spirit of God to help us discover God’s vision for us, so that we can effectively prepare to meet the challenges that lie ahead of us.

            God is the only one who can give us vision, the only one who can open our eyes.  God is the only one who can help us see how much we need a Savior, how lost we are without him.  None of us can save ourselves by our own goodness.  Christ alone can save us and put us right with God.  To be prepared for our eternal future, we need to place our faith in him.

Lord, grant us your vision to see beyond the obvious, to grasp the future (both real and potential), to begin with the end in mind, to make the future what you desire it to be.  Grant us your vision for us as a church.  We ask for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

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