Archive for the ‘Nehemiah 1:1-2:8’ Category

The Birth of a Vision!

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

The Birth of a Vision![i]
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego
Click here for audio of his message

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 Wright boys an insatiable desire to fly.  The only thing missing was a means to do it.  So they immediately went to work removing the obstacles that stood between them and their vision to fly.  This morning we will begin a 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 together 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 only 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 this: “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 were these things 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 held captive in Persia.  Undoubtedly he had heard this type of report before, but this time something new happened to him…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 now burdened, and his burden led him into a prolonged period of prayer and fasting.  

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

But a burden doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to 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 truly beginning the process of creating a vision within their hearts.  The problem with almost all of these ideas is that 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 burden does not necessarily mean you have a green light to begin relieving that burden; not yet anyhow.  You see, a burden rarely requires immediate action.  It does however, require patience and prayer. 

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—God’s 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. 

Now, 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!  So what’s the use of waiting?”  Friends, it’s this sense of wasting time that is the very thing that compels many people to act far too soon.  The assumption of our culture is that if we aren’t moving on, nothing’s going to happen.  But this isn’t the case at all, because you see, while 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.  What starts out as a burden and a seed of an idea begins to grow.  As God’s vision is developing within us, He is also maturing us in preparation for implementing His 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 the One at work behind the scenes preparing the way for it. He is the One preparing the way!  If God is the One who has given us the vision and God is the One is preparing the way for it to come true, then we want to make sure we are working with Him and not against Him.  We want to work where God is already working!  

But how do we know if a burden we carry is from God or instead centered in our own self-serving desires?  Well friends, a God given vision will eventually feel like a moral imperative, because it is!  The author of our Epistle lesson [Heb. 3:12-19] knew the importance of shutting out all other messages and motivations and focusing only on God’s will as declared in the gospel.  Listen, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” [vs. 12]   Our Lord also warned about false security when He turned the young rich man’s heart away from money and personal accomplishments and talents, and instead directed his faith to God’s leadership and care.  Listen to His Words of life: “You lack one thing: go sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  Our Lord’s point was not that the young man’s riches and accomplishments were evil, but instead His point was that the young man trusted in those things primarily and not in God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness in his life through our God in human flesh, Jesus Christ!  What the author of our Epistle lesson and our Lord are saying to us is that we must first center our desires and plans on the will of God and everything else will fall into place.  What is the will of God?  That by faith we will trust in Jesus Christ, confess our sinfulness to Him, and believe that He will forgive us! 

Nehemiah also knew that God’s will—His love and forgiveness, were the key to God’s favor and intervention for his fellow Jews in Judah and God’s city and temple in Jerusalem.  Listen to his confession as he communicates this imperative in a wonderfully humble manner: “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, 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. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, 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.’  They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. 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. [Neh. 1:5-11] 

Dear friends, all God ordained visions will always 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…forgiveness of sins and salvation for all people.  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] 

What will God’s vision for us entail?  Nothing less that taking on the yoke of Jesus Christ; taking on the burden of proclaiming God’s means of salvation to those who are dying within our community!  But before we can prepare to receive God’s vision for how we will do this, He wants us to first confess to Him as individuals and as a congregation, that we have not been faithful in declaring His message to our neighbors.  We must confess to Him that we have not always been a bright light of grace within our community that has been so badly darkened by sin.  We must then ask Him to show us how to make His will our desire and our vision in our ministry to our neighbors.  

You see friends, 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; the same relationship you now enjoy with Him because of your baptism.  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 pray that as we progress in our messages these next six weeks, that this burden… the burden that was the burden of Nehemiah and that of the church since its conception, would now be your burden… our burden, and that together we would continually as a congregation lift this burden up in prayer as we seek God’s vision for our congregation, our families, and our lives.  I pray and ask this in Jesus name….AMEN!


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

Praying and Planning for a Vision!

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

   Praying and Planning for a Vision![i]

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego
Click here for audio fo this message

Tonight we will talk about that dreaded period of time when it appears impossible for your vision to come true.  We’re talking about those weeks, months maybe even years when circumstances don’t seem to allow you to act upon your vision.  This is the season when you are not yet free to take action, but your passion seems to push you to do something.  Visions often die during this stretch of inactivity; we can become discouraged while maintaining a vision that seems to have very little potential for happening.  It’s during these times that God is calling us to do 2 things: Pray and Plan! 

 

In 1989, early in my career with the Border Patrol, something terrible happened in my life that would be the beginning of a burden, which in turn God would create into a vision.  One night, a law enforcement friend showed up at my door in tears asking for a place to sleep.  I later found out that his wife had the police remove him from the family home with a restraining order demanding that he not return.  We stayed up and talked most of the night, but it seemed that most of his problems were spiritual in nature.  I did not yet have the expertise to help him sort out all that had happened, was happening, and might happen.  Not knowing what to do, I referred him to his family’s priest.

The following morning, my cop friend woke up early and waited for the priest to arrive at the church.  About four hours later he returned to my home once again in tears, but this time he was drunk.  He told me that the priest was clueless about the life that cops lived and that he was unable to even sympathize with him.  I spent the next 2 hours with my friend trying to console him, but alas I had to go to work.  As I was leaving for work, I told him that he could spend one more night on my couch.

That night while I was at work, my friend took his own life with his service revolver.    As I stated earlier, this incident would be the birth of a burden that God would turn into a vision.  I knew that if my friend could have talked to a clergy with law enforcement experience, there was a good chance he would not have taken his life.  My friend needed a chaplain, but the Border Patrol did not have a program and neither did any other agencies in San Diego County at the time.  I began to research chaplaincy programs with a passion.  I collected every bit of information I could find.  I even recruited my family Pastor and several other clergy to volunteer for the position, provided I could get them the training.  I submitted all of my research, findings, and recommendations to our Chief in the San Diego area and waited.  Very quickly my answer came back…NO!  He did not want church people bothering his agents! I began to pray and pray and pray!  I prayed that God would make my dream a reality.  About 2 years later, while I was still praying, but also doubting, God began to work.  My pastor recommended that I seriously consider becoming a lay-minister.  I enrolled in the Deacon program and began studies that would eventually lead to seminary and my ordination. 

One day, out of the blue, some 7 years after my friend took his life, I received a phone call from Washington D.C. directing me to report to Border Patrol HQ on temporary assignment to work on a National Border Patrol Chaplaincy Program.  It seemed that the chief of the Border Patrol had heard from several different sources that there was an agent in San Diego who was passionate about starting a chaplaincy program.  They told the chief that I had even enrolled in religious instruction to be a minister with the hope that I could someday help make the vision a reality.  In 1999, God turned my vision into a reality, by establishing the very first National Chaplaincy program in the Border Patrol!  More on this story latter… What’s the point of the story?  Prayer kept the vision alive in my heart and God did the rest! Prayer is critical towards strengthening our relationship with God and developing the vision He has given.  Why?  Because during these times of prayer is when we begin to see what we are looking for.  Without prayer we can often miss what we don’t expect to find.  Nehemiah prayed for two things in reference to his vision: He prayed for opportunity and he prayed for favor.  Let’s look at the first part of verse 1:11 to see how he prayed for opportunity: Nehemiah prayed, “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 and give success to your servant today…”  Normally, we tend to pray for miracles, but in most situations, it is more appropriate to pray for opportunities.  Think of it this way, you have already been given the greatest miracle of all, eternal life.  Through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, your sins were paid for; you are right with God and eternally forgiven through your baptism; just as Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, you to have been guaranteed that you shall join Him in heaven in a place that He has especially prepared for you!  What greater miracle could you receive?  So since God loves us that much, shouldn’t we be willing to work with Him in fulfilling the vision that He has given to us?! Parents, instead of praying that your child or grandchildren would become a man or woman of Godly character, pray instead for opportunities to build character in their lives.  Church, instead of praying that God would bless your church with growth and new life, pray for opportunities to become a part of our church’s mission to go out into the community with the presence, power, and purpose of God…seeking and saving the lost! If you pray for an opportunity, most likely you will recognize it when God brings it to you.  Isn’t it interesting that Nehemiah never prayed that God would rebuild the wall, but instead he prayed that God would use him, give him the opportunity to build the wall himself?  This is the difference between dreamers and visionaries.  Dreamers dream about how nice it would be if someone else did something and visionaries look for an opportunity to do it themselves! 

Next, during Nehemiah’s prayer time, he prayed for favor.  Let’s look at all of the 11th verse to see that: “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, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”  Nehemiah prayed that God would cause King Artaxerxes to take an interest and support his vision; he prayed for the favor of the king.  This was a long shot!  The king wasn’t known to be a compassionate man.  In fact, when Nehemiah finally got his chance to speak to the king, we read that he was frightened out of his wits.  “And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid. [2:2] 

Remember that I told you in my story about the Border Patrol Chaplaincy program that I first tried to implement the program here in San Diego, but the local chief turned it down because he didn’t want church people bothering his agents?  Guess what my first assignment was when I returned to San Diego…I was tasked to sell that very same chief on the now national but not mandatory chaplaincy program.  The thinking was that if San Diego, the biggest patrol area in the nation accepted and implemented the program, the rest of the nation would follow.  What did I do?  I began to pray!  What did I pray for?  I prayed that God would change the chief’s heart.  I prayed for the favor of the king!  I spoke to one of the assistant chiefs, and made an appointment with to speak to the chief about the chaplaincy program…and this was the advice I was given: “You better come up with a real good reason between now and then, because you already know how he feels about the idea.”  Well, I did no additional preparation as far as pitching the idea, but I did continue to pray for favor.  One week later I had my face time with the chief, and in 3 short minutes he informed me that he had a change of heart and decided to implement the program.  What’s more, he said that he wanted me to head the program because I demonstrated moral integrity, passion, and determination.  Just the qualities that he felt were needed to successfully implement the national program locally! 

Think about this, if God could sway the chief’s heart and King Artaxerxes to do a thing that was not in keeping with their nature, he can certainly change the heart of anyone who stands between your vision or the vision of this congregation!  Humanly speaking, there was no way the king was going to support Nehemiah’s vision.  But prayer takes us well beyond human possibilities doesn’t it? 

Finally, let’s talk about something else you can do during the time it seems your vision is on hold…you can plan.  It is important to spend a good deal of time planning a strategy for implementing your vision.  Don’t let the seemingly impossible things about your vision stop you from putting together your plan. 

If you had the resources, what would you do?  If you had the time, what would you do?  If you knew someone would be sent by God to give you the opportunity, what would you do?  Let’s look at Nehemiah’s plan to get some help with our own planning endeavors: 

Step 1, convince the king to allow me to leave his service so that I can go and rebuild the wall.  Step 2, convince the king to lend financial support to the building project.  Step 3, Get letters from the king to the authorities in the area asking them to give me safe conduct along the way.  Step 4, work out a deal with Asaph, keeper of the kings forest to procure enough lumber to rebuild the gates and a new house for me to live in.  Step 5, ask the king to give me the title of Governor of Judah so that I can govern the people and keep order.  Step 6, Organize and equip the people of Judah.  Step 7, begin construction. 

Whew what a list!  Now I don’t know about you, but the fact that he actually implemented everything that he planned for and asked for makes me feel a whole lot better about God’s leading, guiding, and fulfilling His vision that he gives to me, to you, and to the church! 

Our plan, may not be as intimidating as Nehemiah’s, but we must remember that if our passion is in keeping with God’s moral imperative, to seek and save the lost, to repair broken and lost relationships through the gospel, God will be the one creating, leading, and guiding our vision.  Pray dear friends, pray and plan, because God given visions will not fail.  We must always remember that all God ordained visions for His 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 through Jesus Christ.    

This evening we have learned that when considering our vision, we should follow Nehemiah’s example by spending a lot of time praying and planning. In other words, God wants us to pray and plan for and opportunity to work with Him in our visions so that He can do a work in us and through us, so that others may be drawn to him through the finished work of Jesus Christ! 

Let’s pray…


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