Archive for February, 2009

The Birth of a Vision

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

The Birth of a Vision![i]

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego
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On December 17, 1903 at 10:35 in the morning, Orville Wright secured his place in history by becoming the first person to perform a powered and sustained flight from level ground.  For twelve gravity defying seconds he flew 120 feet along the sand dunes of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  

Now in the field of aviation, this historic event represents a beginning.  But for Orville and his brother Wilbur Wright, it was the end of a long and tedious journey—it was a journey initiated by a dream that is common to all little boys—the desire to fly.  But what most children abandon and let remain fantasy, Orville and Wilbur insisted on looking at it as a potential reality.  They believed that they could fly!  But more than that, they believed they should fly, and eventually, fly they did!

 

This childhood experience sparked in the boys an insatiable desire to fly.  The only thing they lacked was a means.  So they immediately went to work removing the obstacles that stood between them and their vision to fly.  This evening we will begin a Lenten journey learning what a vision is, where it comes from, how it is initiated, and how it becomes a reality.  While what we learn during this time will have immediate application for following a vision for our church and its ministry within our community, the same concepts can be used to help you develop and follow multiple visions in your personal life.

 

What is a vision?  Well, a vision is a concern that God puts on your heart.  In our Old Testament reading we join a man named Nehemiah who was one of the many Jews who were captivated by the Persian empire when the nation of Judah was defeated.  The capital city of their nation, Jerusalem was also the home of God’s Holy temple.  It was left ransacked and inhabitated by a remnant of Jews and other people who were moved into Judah by the Persians.  One day, while Nehemiah was at work within the Persian king’s palace, a group of men who still lived in Jerusalem met with him and reported, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” (vs. 3) Not only these things were true, but Nehemiah also learned that the Temple and its worship practices were not being maintained and that the remaining Jews had all but abandoned their worship of God and they had adopted the religious practices and cultures of the surrounding nations.

 

Now this probably was not new news to Nehemiah or any of the other Jews captive in Persia.  Undoubtedly he had heard this type of report before, but this time something new happened to Nehemiah…he felt an overwhelming concern; in fact he felt this concern so deeply that he began to weep.  Now Nehemiah was not the type of man who wept at the drop of a hat.  He wasn’t weak and he certainly wasn’t emotionally unstable.  But he was burdened, and his burden led him into a prolonged period of prayer and fasting. 

 

Little did he know that these deep feelings were the initial birth pangs of a vision that you and I would be reading about thousands of years later.  The point is, Nehemiah’s vision didn’t begin as a vision.  It began as a concern…a burden; a burden for his nation and for his people.

 

But a vision doesn’t mean we must take immediate action.  As a pastor, I talk to a lot of people with a ton of good ideas.  Many times, I get the sense that God is indeed beginning the process of creating a vision within their hearts.  The problem with almost all of these ideas is, they want to implement them RIGHT NOW!  Once they feel that their idea is from God, they assume that all systems are a go, and they must drop anything in their lives that will hinder that vision.  They want to step out in faith and start right away.  But the story of Nehemiah, along with numerous other Biblical accounts illustrates the truth that a clear vision does not necessarily mean you have a green light to begin to implement your vision; not yet anyhow.  A vision rarely requires immediate action.  It does however, require patience.

 

Why wait?  Why can’t we just plunge right in?  Because developing or discovering a vision for our church and its ministry or even in a particular area of our lives takes time.  Vision development is a process.  Sometimes it can even be a painful process because of the time it requires.  But it is a process that yields a product worth every bit of agony we may encounter along the way.

 

Revving our vision engines at the starting line feels like a waste of time.  After all, there are people to rescue, relationships to save, and even blessings to receive!  What’s the use of waiting?  It’s this sense of wasting time that is the very thing that compels many people to implement a vision far too soon.  The assumption of our culture is that if we aren’t moving on, nothing’s going to happen.  But this is not the case at all, because you see, why we are waiting…

 

God is developing the vision within us.  As God is working within our hearts and the circumstances of our lives, He is also developing His vision within us.  As His vision is developing within us, He is also maturing us in preparation for implementing that vision.  Now please hear this, because the difference between holding onto a vision and allowing it to fade away as fantasy depends on this truth:  If you are following a God given vision, God will ensure that it matures into a reality because He is at work behind the scenes preparing the way for it.

 

But how do we know if a burden we carry is from God or centered in our own self-serving desires?  Well, a God given vision will eventually feel like a moral imperative, because it is!  St. Paul discusses this imperative in our Epistle lesson in the simplest of terms, “Be reconciled to God!” (2 Cor. 5:20)  Nehemiah knew also that this was the key to God’s favor and intervention for his fellow Jews in Judah and God’s city and temple Jerusalem.  Listen to his confession as he communicates this imperative: “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. 8 Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, 9 but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’  10 They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name.

 

All God ordained visions will be in line with what God is up to in our community.  What is God up to in our community?  Why the very same thing that He is up to in every community and every nation in the world…salvation for all people and freedom from the tyranny of sin, death, and the devil.  Listen to the Words of our Savior as he was preparing Himself and His disciples for His eminent and violent death upon the cross:  “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” [Matt. 11:28-30]

 

All God ordained visions for the church; His people, our families, and even our vocation depend entirely upon God working in us and through us to draw all people into a relationship centered in His saving love and grace.  In short, God wants you to work with Him in all that you do so that He can do a work through you, so that others may be drawn to him through the finished work of Jesus Christ!


[i] This is a series based upon the book “Visioneering” by Andy Stanley, published by Multnomah Publishers, Inc., ISB #1-57673-538-9

Reflecting Jesus

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

  Pastor Brian Henderson, Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
“And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.”(Mark 9:8)
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This morning, the Holy Spirit of the Lord comes to us in His transfigured glory!  He comes to us in His Word so that we will know true freedom and peace with God.  Through His Word, He wants to remove any obstacles that might prevent us from seeing Him as He is-a loving champion and Savior.  He is asking us to gaze deeply upon all of His glory and continue to be transformed into His very image.  In short, God wants to deepen His relationship of love with you so that when the storms of life come, and they will, you will see no one but Jesus only.  And He does this by leading you deeper and deeper into fellowship with Him; deeper than you ever imagined.  He wants to impact your life in such a way that you will never be the same again-so that you will never want to be the same again.  He wants to bring real change into your life; a change of heart and mind.  In other words, God wants you to see only Jesus!  When doubt creeps in, see only Jesus.  When your friends question your faith, see only Jesus.  And when you find it hard to see how God could forgive you, it is God’s will that you see only Jesus!  How?  Well let’s turn to our epistle lesson for some answers.  St. Paul says that we can experience this deep and abiding relationship with God by being bold!  When we focus our self- worth on who we are or what we do, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment, discouragement, and guilt.  Why?  Because on our own, we are not perfect…we will sin, and we will disappoint God and our neighbor.  This is the fate common to all of us.  By looking to only our own self righteousness God’s Law becomes a righteous hammer with only one thing in mind…DESTROY!  But when we find our self worth in what Jesus has done for us, when we focus on His grace, His self-sacrifice for us, then the accusations of the Law and our own inadequacies lose their power to intimidate us and cause fear.  With Jesus alone as our focus, then we can be bold!Friends, we who have experienced the saving grace of Jesus Christ through the waters of Holy Baptism have already seen the full work of God’s Law in our lives…it is what drove you to the cross of Jesus Christ and His saving grace.  “You have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer you who live, but Christ who lives in you.  And the life you now live in the flesh you live by faith in the Son of God, who loved you and gave himself for you.” (Gal. 2:20).  You now find comfort in God’s Word that promises that He loves every man, woman, and child and that He doesn’t want anyone to perish, but instead it is His will that all would be saved and receive eternal life.  So when the devil whispers in your ear and attempts to introduce you once again to the terrors of God’s Law, you can say to Him, “Thank you Mr. Law for your work in my life, but you no longer terrify me.  You have already driven me to the cross and there I have found forgiveness and new life through my Savior Jesus Christ, and He alone is my Lord.  I shall live to please Him alone.  I no longer see your terrors, but instead I see Jesus only.”

Sadly, some remain in unbelief.  They remain captivated by the Law because they refuse to see God’s love and mercy through Jesus Christ.  They can’t accept a reality that says God came to us in our own flesh to suffer and die, and conquer death for us.  They cannot receive the truth of God’s Law which says that their sins deserve punishment and death.  “I am a good person” they say.  “I try my best to please God.  Surely that must count for something?”  The unbeliever cannot see the need for God’s mercy because his vision has been obscured and his thinking is clouded by his own pride.  And so it was in Paul’s day.  That is why he wrote in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 4:3) that the gospel was veiled to those who are dying in their sins.  But why is it veiled?  Because the god of this world, the devil, has grabbed hold of the pride of the unbeliever and used it as a tool to blind their minds so that they will not see the glory of God-the light of the gospel which gives everyone the glory of Jesus Christ, who is the very image of God for us.

Do you understand the tragedy of the unbeliever?  Can you put yourself in their place and feel the hopelessness of this tragedy?  Many of you will answer yes to this question, but then do very little to help.  You know that right outside the doors of this sanctuary in our own community there are people dying without Jesus.  If you are honest with yourself, you have let many opportunities to witness God’s love to unbelievers pass you by.  In the past you’ve felt the working of God’s Spirit urging you to share your witness about Jesus love and forgiveness with them, but you found other things to be more pressing, more important.  Dear friends, I am not relating this to you in order to drive you back into the captivity of God’s Law, rather I am telling you this so that you will confidently go back to the same source of love and forgiveness that gave you life and hope so that you can go out to your unbelieving neighbor with the very same message.

For us to be bold once again in our relationship with God, we must go back to the Spirit of the Lord who constantly brings us freedom; freedom form guilt and the power to love God with all of our hearts and minds.  Isn’t it true that the same things that seem to prevent our unbelieving friends and family from receiving Jesus as their Lord and Savior are the very same things that seem to get in the way with our relationship with God?  Don’t we, like our unbelieving neighbor tend to live our lives centered on our own accomplishments rather than what God is doing in us and through us?  Don’t we tend to care more about what others think about us instead of what God wants from us?  And what does God want from us?  God wants the very thing that His Holy Spirit gives to us-the ability to relate to God in love and not fear; the ability to love Him as He deserves to be loved, and the ability to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Friends, do you want to experience God’s love and peace more deeply?  Then learn to trust in the completed work of God through Jesus Christ.  It is that work which first saved you and it is His work that continually changes you and keeps you secure in a relationship of love and forgiveness with Him.

Do you want boldness in your life?  Do you want to have God’s vision for you come alive? Do you want the ability to be an effective witness to Jesus Christ?  If so, then you must stay connected to Him through His Word, prayer, and service.  Now being in His Word is kind of a no brainer.  You’re in His Word right now at Divine Worship.  Each time you gather for the preaching and teaching of His Word you are hearing God speak to you in a very intimate fashion.  Each time you confess your sins and hear your pastor pronounce the absolution, God is speaking directly to your heart, and he is reminding you of the time in your life when the water and His Word were combined at your baptism so that you could have confidence that because of Jesus Christ all of your sins have been forgiven.  And each time you gather at His Holy table you are fed in a miraculous way.  Somehow His Word joins with the bread and wine and it becomes also the very body and blood of your Savior.  And at this meal, God not only calls you to eat and drink, but also to see, smell, and touch His forgiveness of all of your sins!  Now for some this may seem like enough to carry you through the week, but dear friends, God wants to give you so much more exposure to His Word!  He wants you to read His Word every day, even for just 5 minutes of your time, and then simply meditate on it-think about what you have just read.  Why?  Because dear friends, faith comes by hearing the Word of God…the message of Jesus Christ!  Do you want to be bold in your faith?  Then stay in the Word! 

But God does not just leave it there.  He does not want a one way relationship where He talks and you listen; He wants you to talk to Him!  He wants to hear what you are thankful for; He wants to hear what makes you afraid; He wants you to tell Him what tempts you to sin and He wants to know what worries you.  He wants to know what makes you angry and He wants to know what makes you glad.  He wants you to tell Him what you need and what you want.  And all of this is done in a miraculous conversation with God, a conversation called prayer.  St. James said that you have not because you ask not!  How much difficulty do we have in our lives simply because we have discounted the miraculous; simply because we have excluded God!  Oh dear friends, pray away…pray away and pour out your heart to your heavenly father.  You can be bold in prayer because Jesus promised you that His Holy Spirit is with you making sure that you know that every Word you speak in prayer is precious to your Heavenly Father.

I want to close with one last way that God strengthens His relationship with you and draws you even deeper into His heart, and that is your service to Him and your neighbor.  Now certainly there is enough work at Trinity to keep even the most eager busy for a life time.  God is not asking you to do it all; no instead he is asking you to look around this house of worship and find one or two ways, one or two ministries that you can join or start in order to serve Him.  He is asking you also to pitch in and keep His house clean and in working order.  He is asking you to grow in your relationship of love with Him and then simply share your experiences with your neighbor.  Go where God leads you and simply be prepared to always give a witness to your neighbor about what God means to you.  Be prepared to share with anyone God puts in your way, what having a Savior who calls you by name means to you.  Be prepared to be the love of Christ in the life of a person who may no nothing at all about forgiveness and unconditional love.

Now I know this might sound strange to some here this morning, but when we get involved with serving God and our neighbor, something wonderful happens, something we may never have prepared for; He allows you to go even deeper in experiencing His love!  Don’t ask me to explain how this is; because I don’t know the answer, I only know that it is true.  Friends, His Word promises that you too will experience the very same thing: “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” Just like the morning rain opens the petals of a rose, so God desires to abide in you with His glory and transform you!

Can simply hearing and believing God’s Word really change you?  Can a conversation with God and service to Him and our neighbor really do all of this?  Yes, because each time we enter into these specific callings in life, God allows us to see more and more of His glory.  And each time we are allowed to see more of God’s glory active in our lives, we begin to realize that we no longer are captivated by things like worry and fear, want or need, instead we begin to look around and realize that all we see is Jesus.  And when all that we see is Jesus and His incredible love for us, then we can truly begin to reflect Jesus and His glory in all that we say and all that we do!  May God grant this truth be realized in each of our lives…in Jesus name…AMEN!

The Battle Belongs To The Lord!

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

The Battle Belongs To The Lord!
Pastor Brian Henderson, Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
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INTRO: This morning-this very second you and I are engaged in a battle-a battle with sin and the devil.  This battle has been ragging since the fall of some of God’s angels.  Scripture says very little about the fall of the angels other than they are awaiting their punishment (Jude 6). We know that there is a chief devil formerly known as Lucifer, now known as Satan.  We know that when he revolted against God, he took many other angels with him, because scripture says that there are many devils (Mark 5:9). “From the beginning” of man’s relationship with God the creator, the devil has been intent on taking away the life that God had given the human creature, that is, he wants to destroy our relationship with God (John 8:44). All devils recognize that they are engaged in a war to the death with God (Mark 1:23-24), but God is God and He has already won the battle. He has condemned all of the devils to “eternal chains under gloomy darkness” (Jude 6); that place of “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). Even though they are already defeated, they are intent on continuing their attack on God by practicing their limited but formidable power (Eph. 6:11-12; Acts 26:18). And how do they attack God?  By attacking His most prized creation…you and me!  The devil’s aim is to make you forget about God’s love and power and to trick you into thinking that you have been abandoned by God.  They want to attempt to destroy the power of God’s Word in your lives; they want to destroy the trust that forms the human side of the relationship between God and you. They do this by undermining your confidence in the truth of God’s Word.

I. In our gospel reading this morning, we join Jesus at a worship service.  Imagine that you are sitting in a church in Galilee, and in walks a teacher and some of His followers.  Now you’re used to hearing guest preachers, so this wouldn’t be anything new, but all of that hum-drum changes when Jesus begins to speak.  You know how your mind begins to wander after the first few minutes of listening to something?  Well not with this teacher; you are glued to every word He is speaking.  In fact, you find yourself dumbfounded-mesmerized by the very Words that are coming out of His mouth.   He wasn’t teaching like the other rabbis; He wasn’t talking about rules and laws; He wasn’t even quoting the traditional teachings of other famous teachers; no this Man was speaking with authority and His teaching was clear and easy to understand.  It was if God were speaking to His people directly through the mouth of this new teacher. Everyone at worship that morning was struck by His Words as if by a powerful blow, and as long as Jesus kept speaking, every eye and every ear was fixed on him; they didn’t want to miss a single Word. But when His teaching had ended and the voice that held them spellbound became silent, the tension was relaxed, and then amazement swept over the listeners-something special had just happened in that little church.  Jesus teaching was not like anything they had ever heard.  Normally, the rabbis, priests, and Pharisees who usually taught were concerned with little things like the proper use of mint and cumin, or the length of a man’s fringes on his garment, and the proper washing of cups, and platters.  But Jesus talked about life and how to live it in abundantly.  He talked about eternal things and God’s love for man and His hatred of evil.

II. Dear friends, God’s Word has always been with us, even from the beginning of creation (Gen. 3:6), but through Jesus presence it comes to us new and with authority over sin, death, and the devil.  Scripture doesn’t say exactly what Jesus taught that day, but whatever it was, it came out with the power of God.  It cut into the hearts and minds of everyone listening like a sharp double edged sword.  It pierced their ears and their soul.  And here is a truth that we must learn: Jesus Word is always delivered and received with authority because it is the very Word-the very mouth of God speaking to His people, a people He so desperately wants to be in relationship with, and that includes you!  His Word is meant to destroy the power of sin and the strongholds of evil that hound you and take the joy out of your life.  He wants to free you from the control and direction of the devil and have you walk with Him in peace.  Does this sound like something you want as well?
ILLUS: There was an old man that lived in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. One summer, one of the old man’s grandsons spent his school vacation with him. The Grandson said, “PAPIE, I read the Bible and I don’t understand it, and what I understand I forget as soon as I close the Bible covers. What’s the use of reading the Bible!” Without directly answering the question, the Grandfather told the grandson to get the dirty, sooty basket he used to carry the heating coal and run down to the river and bring back a basket of water to the house. To please his grandfather, the boy grabbed the basket, ran to the river and got a basket of water. The boy ran back to the house with the water, but by the time he had reached the house the basket was empty. The grandfather simply looked at the young boy, and told him to hurry-up and bring another basket of water. The boy ran quickly from the river this time hoping to at least bring a little water, but once again, by the time he arrived at the house the basket of water was dry. After his third trip, the boy told his granddad, “It’s no use PAPIE, the water just spills out by the time I get here. It is useless.” The grandfather looked at the disgusted young boy, and said, “So you think it’s useless?” “Yes! Papie, it’s useless to try!” the boy replied. The Grandfather said to the boy, “Son, look at the basket.  Can’t you see something’s happened?” The boy was amazed, after three trips to the river; the dirty coal basket was clean-it looked new! The grandfather said, “See that’s what the Word of God does to you. As you read, you say you don’t retain and understand it, but your heart’s being cleaned. THE WORD OF GOD DOES THE WORK OF GOD!”
Friends, since we believe that the Son of God came to destroy sin, death, and every devil, and since we understand that there is true power in the Word of God, then we can understand the hatred that comes directly at us from the kingdom of darkness.  We understand that the devil hates God and us because…

III. God’s Word has power over the devils and over our own sinful flesh and desires.  Starting in verse 23 of our gospel we see this idea come alive.  After Jesus was through teaching, and while astonishment still held the people, “all at once,” a demon possessed man burst into the synagogue.  “And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are-the Holy One of God.”   Can you imagine the shock of those worshiping that day.  They had just heard this great teaching-this message from God-their minds and hearts were still trying to sort out what just happened and in bursts this poor demon possessed man, screaming at the very man that just changed their whole way of looking at the world and their life with God.  The people must have been thinking, “Why did this demon possessed man rush into our solemn assembly and violate both the sacred time and place and why is He so focused on this teacher?  

Yes friends, why indeed!  We can all agree that logically, the demon should have done everything in its power to drive the man he possessed away from Jesus in order to keep his hold on him. So why didn’t the demon do this?  Because the power of God, the very presence of Jesus compelled Him to come and receive that which every demon knows is their future…DEFEAT!

“(And) Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.” (vs. 25-26) Dear friends, the miracle of defeating the demon and freeing the man possessed, is a graphic example of how the power of Christ has saved us from sin.  It shows us that this power to free and to save doesn’t lie in the person who was saved, but instead it lies wholly in the authority of Jesus Word. Can you see that this person who was freed was so far gone that no one could expect faith from him, yet the freeing Word of Jesus, the gospel of peace with God, brought faith all by itself and through its own work. Do you understand friends that the Word of God is a seed that makes its own soil! It’s a spark that carries its own fuel to create a fire, and it’s a Word that can create new life and hope where there is only death and hopelessness.  Yes friends, the miracle here is the power of Christ’s Word alone to save from sin, and it doesn’t depend on the person being saved. This is the miracle of your baptism when God’s Word along with the water freed you from the power of sin, and the fear of death and the devil.  It is God’s Word that opens your ears and heart to hear these Words, “Do you renounce the devil and all of His ways?”  And it is that very same Word that moves you to answer, “Yes I do renounce them!”  Friends, your salvation lies wholly in Jesus himself. When Jesus speaks, His Word accomplishes its intent: “And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” (vs. 26-27)

CONCLUSION: Friends, since we believe that the Son of God came to destroy the works of the Devil, we can understand why we are always under the attack of the kingdom of darkness; and if we will but look at Jesus as True God, who lives within us through His Word and Holy sacraments, then we can also understand how the Prince of Darkness might, in a counterfeit way, might try to do something similar by trying to possess or harass a person in order to cause injury and destruction, and separate that person from Christ and His healing and saving presence.  But through His Word, Jesus has snatched you from this fear and freed you from the grip of sin, death and the devil.  Live this truth-be bold in life-follow Jesus-and work for the advancement of His kingdom: “And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.” (vs. 28)

Dear friends, this is our simple mandate-to spread Jesus fame, His love for all men-His Holy gospel, where ever we go.  We do this as individuals and we do this together as His church when we live our lives under His power which comes through His Word and then when we share that Word with who ever will hear. 

May the almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given you the new birth of water and of the Spirit and has forgiven you all your sins, strengthen you with His grace to life + everlasting.  In Jesus name…AMEN!