Posts Tagged ‘Lent’

Return to Me!

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Ash Wednesday (Year C), February 13, 2013
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message on Joel 2:12-19

What is Lent?  Well simply put, it is a time of repentance; a season of 40 days when we remember Jesus’ 40 days of temptation in the wilderness.  This Lenten season, we will follow Jesus.  We will make some interesting stops along the way.  Towards the end of our 40 day journey, we will come together, in the upper room on Maundy Thursday, and share the Eucharist meal with each other.  Together we will be nourished by our Lord’s Supper.  Then on the next day, we will discover why the darkest day of our Lord’s life on earth is called Good Friday.  And finally, our Lenten journey will end with loud alleluias on Easter Sunday morning with a sunrise service that looks into and celebrates the empty tomb.  After our worship, we will gather in fellowship over a hearty breakfast.  And all of this journey starts tonight.

Tonight, through the prophet Joel, the Lord invites us with these Words: “Return to me.” This is the same invitation that He made when Adam and Eve fell into the original sin long ago.  He invited them to return to Him through the promise of a Savior, their Savior who would come to undo the evil that they set in motion.  It was an evil that would forever lay claim to their descendants.  He made the same promise to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all of their descendants. To prove to them that He would keep His promise to bring a Savior, He delivered the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt and made his law-covenant with them at Sinai.  Through the Law, He separated them from all the other nations as a people for himself; by faith in the coming Savior, they were to be his holy people. But they broke their covenant with him, disobeyed his commandments, and worshiped other gods. Joel’s message, “Return to me”—that is, come all the way back to me—“with all your heart,” is a great way to sum up all of the preaching and teaching found in the Bible. It also answers this question: “How can we be delivered from judgment on the day of the Lord?”

Did you ever wonder why Joel called for “fasting and weeping and mourning” (verse 12)?  Well, these were considered proof of real heartfelt sorrow for sin. Did you know that throughout the Bible there is only one fast-day set aside by the law of Moses?  It was called the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29, 31).  On that day, the Israelites were to deny themselves, and confess to God their deep sorrow over their sins. So in our Old Testament lesson, Joel is calling his people to mourn because they have abandoned the Lord their God.

Don’t you find it true that sinners like to build defenses against the Lord and his call to repentance. Worldly people laugh at God’s invitation to return to Him, and they like to surround themselves with “life’s worries, riches and pleasures” (Luke 8:14). But I think that we religious people too  have a line of defense all our own. We can take something good like religious ceremonies and use them as a defense against God’s call to repent. People in Joel’s time might lament loudly and tear their garments as a sign of sorrow and then think that God is fooled, without ever letting his Word penetrate their hard hearts.

That is why Joel continues, “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God” ’ (verse 13). He does not want his “religious” people just going through the motions of repentance. In speaking to the people of God, their pastor, Joel, expected that they would let the Word sink into their hearts and consciences. He expected that the visible signs, fasting and weeping and mourning, would be outward marks of an inward sorrow about past sin. Such “godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10).  Do you have this kind of sorrow over your sins?  If so, then return to the Lord your God.

Worldly people who laugh at God’s call to repentance will probably not gather tonight to receive the sign of an ashen cross, and hear a sermon like we are hearing. These kinds of gatherings are usually for people who are “religious.” Unfortunately, we Christians are often not all that different from the “religious” people in Joel’s time: we recite our confession of sins, sing our hymns, sit through a sermon, put our offering in the basket, and think that God must be satisfied with us. Our worship can become a mere “going-through-the-religious-motions,” a defense against the Lord’s call to repent, without faith in our hearts or the fruits of faith in our lives.

Tonight, God’s Word wants to tear down our “religious” defenses. Tonight, our Lord continues to call his wandering people home: “Return to me with all your heart.… Rend your heart and not your garments.” Let the law of your holy God humble your pride. Let him lead you to contrition, even though your broken heart may hurt. True repentance is appalled at sin, because sin separates us from the Lord, the source of life and love. And true repentance includes faith in the promised forgiveness of sins. The repentant sinner turns back to the Lord, confident of his grace and says along with David: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. (Psalm 51:1)

When Joel invites the Israelites to repent, he fittingly describes Israel’s God: “He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and he relents from sending calamity” (verse 13). These are the same terms the covenant Lord used to describe Himself when he passed before Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:6, 7). Then also the Lord was dealing with a disobedient people. The Israelites had forgotten him and his deliverance from Egypt in favor of the pleasures of worshiping a golden calf. Yet Israel’s Lord remained ready to welcome sinners home again.

He showed Moses what kind of God he is. He loves us when we do not deserve it (He is gracious). His heart is warm with mercy for sinners (He is compassionate). Even though often provoked, he does not let his wrath flame up and destroy us (He is slow to anger). He is totally faithful in keeping his covenant promise of abundant blessing (He is abounding in love). Even though his law threatens punishment, he gladly turns his judgment aside when he sees that his Word has had its intended effect (He relents from sending calamity).

And what is the intended effect?  That you would see Jesus!  See Jesus who willingly and gladly took upon Himself all of God’s anger and wrath over your sins.  See His cross, where God demonstrated that wrath and the punishment for your sins.  But then you must look even more deeply into God’s Word and see the empty tomb, where your promised Savior has defeated your deadly enemies, sin, death, and the devil.  All of this He gives to you in your baptism; a onetime washing away of sins and His eternal call for you to repent—to return to the God who saves you.

Like Joel, I cannot promise you that your life will be problem free once you repent and follow Jesus.  Sometimes we can make a real mess of our lives because of our sins.  Unfortunately, the sin may be taken away, but the repercussions of our sins can haunt us as long as we live.  But, perhaps the Lord “may turn and have pity” (verse 14). Like Joel, we must leave it to the Lord and let Him decide how he will answer our repentant prayers. But I can promise you this, anything that is good, which comes our way, will be undeserved. And in the end, any blessing outside of salvation is just icing on the cake.  You already have the greater gift… the Lord has saved you from your sins, simply because he is a gracious God.

While it’s true that the Lord may use tragedies, accidents, or illness to turn sinners back in his direction, there is always a better reason for turning away from sin and back to the Lord: “He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (verse 13). The motive for sincere repentance, like every other good effect in our hearts and lives, is the grace and mercy of a loving God, displayed in the sacrifice of his Son for the sins of the world. It is true that our sins deserve damnation, and in fact they did bring the pains of hellfire on Jesus. But once we have recognized that, God’s Word immediately draws our whole attention away from our sins to our Savior’s grace, compassion, patience, and love.

So, let’s travel down this Lenten road together friends as God’s people walking by faith together here at Trinity Lutheran Church.  Let’s return to the Lord our God, for He is patient and merciful; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love!

Spiritual Warfare Part 5-Prayer

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Midweek Service in Lent, March 17, 2010
Click here for audio of this message

Note: Only audio of this message is available for this message.  Please click the link above to listen to the sermon.

Luke 11:1-13 (ESV)
1 Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread, 4 and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” 5 And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, 6 for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7 and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? 8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. 9 And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

You Are The Light of the World!

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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In the last several weeks we have learned a lot about following a God given vision.  Tonight, we will learn that while we are busy pursuing our vision, God is also busy doing something else.  Something we probably wont see or even be aware of, that is until our work is accomplished.  While we are enthralled with the nitty-gritty of accomplishing the vision, God is also doing a work that will ultimately give a very deep significance to the vision or visions that have been monopolizing our time and attention.  You see, God has a broader and more significant agenda in mind than just fulfilling the vision He gives to us.  These aren’t competing agendas; on the contrary, as we will discover this evening, one is a necessary precursor to the other.  All of our God given visions that we are so intent on seeing through to the end are actually paving the way for something much greater.  Listen to this inspiring thought by a Christian woman named Catherine of Genoa, which was written around 1460; I think it communicates this thought pretty well.  “If we could see what we will receive in the life to come, we would cease to occupy ourselves with anything but the things of heaven.  But God, who desires that we see by faith, gives us this vision little by little, sufficient to the level of faith of which we are capable.  In this manner, God leads us into a greater vision of that which is to come until faith is no longer needed.” 


Nehemiah certainly knew what it was like to wait on God and be consumed by the details of a vision.  Move the rocks, clear the debris, hall the timber, cut the timber, meet with the workers, and do it all over and over again day after day.  It could have been so easy for him to get lost in the daily routine of rebuilding the wall,  but he trusted that God was working in the background accomplishing things that Nehemiah didn’t have a clue about!


Tonight we will learn to understand God’s “parallel agenda” in Nehemiah’s life and the life of exiled Israel, and that will lead us to also understand what He ultimately desires to accomplish in our lives and the visions that He gives to us.


God’s ultimate desire for Israel was to establish her as a light to the surrounding nations.  God spoke this truth very clearly through the prophet Isaiah this way: “I will also make you a light of the nations so that My Salvation may reach to the end of the earth. [Is. 49:6b]


It was God’s desire that the pagan nations would see His activity in the life of Israel and realize, “Israel’s God is the true God!”  Israel was to be a lighthouse and a beacon!  They were to be God’s constant reminder to the nations that there is only one true God!  It was God’s desire that Israel would demonstrate God’s character to all that they came in contact with.  In this way, Israel would bring God glory and also bring salvation to the surrounding nations.


This very purpose is communicated throughout the Old Testament, beginning in the book of  Exodus where Moses led his people out of bondage in Egypt and it continued right up to the days of Nehemiah.  Throughout Israel’s history we find God intervening in ways that humbled her enemies.


Think back with me now to many of our faith stories preserved for us in the Old Testament.  Why did God ask Joshua to march around the walls of Jericho rather than attack it directly.  Because God was after something more than just the destruction of the city; He had a point to make.  He wanted the surrounding nations to be awed, not by Israel’s military strength, but by her God.  Why did God command Gideon to reduce his army from thousands to just a handful of soldiers before sending them out to battle the very large Midianite camp?  Why have a boy with a sling named David fight and slay a huge seasoned warrior?  In every case, God was up to something behind the scenes.  He was using Israel as a mirror to reflect His glory and might.


But from time to time the mirror became tarnished.  Israel would forget who was their true source of strength and glory.  She would loose sight of her God and embrace the idolatry and sinful lifestyles of her neighbors.  Each time this happened God would correct his people and adjust their image so that once again they were reflecting His glory to the world.


Eventually, Israel’s leaders refused to repent of their sins, so God allowed Nebuchanezzar to invade and destroy the nations of His chosen people.  Through captivity and the loss of her independence, God disciplined His people.  As you may have surmised, it was this captivity that set the stage for Nehemiah’s return to Jerusalem years latter.


While Nehemiah was busy rebuilding the walls, God was setting the stage once again to demonstrate His power to the nations.  Notice the response of Israel’s neighbors when the wall was completed: “So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.” [Neh. 6:15-16]  With God’s help, Nehemiah and his crew did in 52 days what some said could never be done at all…and that was exactly the point God had planned to make all along.  Once again, Israel’s neighbors were confronted with the power and presence of the true God! While you are consumed by the details of pursuing God’s visions for your life, family, occupation, and ministry, God is up to something you may have been unaware of.  What was once true of Israel is now true of you.In the New Testament an important transition took place.  God transferred his glorious presence from Israel to the church and to individual believers.  Jesus taught us this truth with these words: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” [Matthew 5:14-16]   At one time God demonstrated His glory through the military victories of Israel, but now God’s glory has been accomplished through His direct victory over sin, death and the devil.  Through the cross of Jesus Christ, God has made all things new, including our sinful hearts.  Through the cross, God has called to Himself a new nation, one that can relate to Him by faith through grace; a nation that has been sealed and marked as His dear children through Holy Baptism; a people who have mysteriously been called the body of Christ—the church.  Through Christ you have been called to reflect His glory through your personal character and lifestyle. As we slosh through the brick and mortar phase of pursuing our visions, we are able to live our lives in a way that reflects the character of Christ.  We are able to conduct ourselves in such a way that causes others to take notice.  And upon further examination of our lives, they are led to the conclusion that there is something special, something divine about our lives. God’s ultimate plan for our lives reaches beyond the visions He’s given us for our families, businesses, ministries, and finances.  He has positioned us in our culture, in our communities, and in our congregation to be a singular point of light that penetrates the darkness of sin.  You dear friends are to be a beacon in a world that desperately needs to see something divine, something that is clearly not of this world. Above and beyond the achievements associated with your visions, God the Father wants to draw people to Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ.  He wants to recreate them into yet more people who relate to Him by faith and follow His vision so that His kingdom…His church will grow by reaching the entire world.  And all this, He chooses to do through His obedient servants…He chooses to do this through you!   

CONCLUSION: In Nehemiah’s day, the completion of the wall highlighted God’s presence and power.  The question we are forced to consider as individuals and as a congregation as we are pursuing the various visions He has set before us is this: What is it about these visions that has the potential to point to the presence and power of God?  To borrow Nehemiah’s words, what would have to happen for people to realize that this work has been done with the help of God?  May God give each of us as individuals and as a congregation the wisdom to discover the answer to this question as we evaluate each vision in our lives and in our congregation, in Jesus name…AMEN!

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

Faith, the Essential Ingredient!

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Faith, the Essential Ingredient!
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego
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INTRODUCTION: Few things provide our faith with a more complete workout than a God given vision.  Spiritually speaking, faith is confidence that God through His Holy Word is who He says that He is and that He will do what His Word promises that He does.  Faith isn’t a power or a force… it’s a gift from God that causes you to believe in God.  How is this gift given from God?  By hearing and reading His Word!  Faith isn’t a tool that you can use to get God to do something against His will, but it is a gift that God gives so that you will do something counter to your old sinful nature, specifically it causes you to believe and trust in God’s work and will for you!  In short, faith is the God-given ability to respond to His promises or revelation properly!

Embracing and owning a vision in its infancy, before anything has really happened is in itself an act of faith.  When you place your faith in a vision of God, you are making a statement about your confidence in the person and character of God.  When we pursue a vision of God we are making a proclamation about our confidence in Him.  It’s a proclamation about how important we believe His agenda is…it’s the way we honor God with our time, talents, treasure, and heart!

I. Nehemiah is only one of many of many Biblical characters who lived with the tension of faith and vision.  Scripture is full of stories of men and women following a vision as they are led by faith.  Think of the honor Noah and his family brought God by obeying Him and building the ark-and think of the scorn and humiliation that they must have endured from their neighbors.  They were taking God at His Word…it was going to rain and they had to be ready.  Noah’s faith fueled his vision.  He was taking God at His Word.  There would be a flood and that was final.  Noah was not only a man of faith; he was also a man of vision.  Listen to God’s description of Noah as found in the book of Hebrews: “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” [Hebrews 11:7]  Pursuing a vision requires faith; and that pursuit will test, stretch, and sometimes exhaust your faith.

While we wait and wait, and trust in God’s work in our lives, something interesting is happening-God is receiving glory from His faithful servants who trust in Him.  He delights in our tenacity and perseverance.  Our faith and faithfulness bring Him great honor-the honor He rightly deserves!

II. Nehemiah’s faith was stretched beyond recognition, yet he continued to trust that God would fulfill the vision.  What a shock it must have been for the King to notice Nehemiah and be moved to help him fulfill God’s vision.  Instead of the king throwing Nehemiah out of the throne room, he earnestly asked Nehemiah what must be done to fulfill the vision!

Now, Nehemiah was given a chance to lay out his whole plan before the king…the very man that had the resources to fulfill it!  Think about it, Nehemiah had rehearsed this speech a thousand times and now he got to deliver it.  He was prepared for the challenge, but he wasn’t depending on his preparations, and he wasn’t depending on the king; he was dependent on his ever present and working God!  This is the kind of faith God is developing in you and me as we wait for His work to fulfill our vision.  Listen to the confidence in Nehemiah’s words as he addresses the King: “And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah,  and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.” And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me. [Neh. 2:7-8]

Did you notice who got the credit?  Nehemiah knew it wasn’t his patience or the king’s kindness that fulfilled the vision.  No, but what did he say?  “The king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.”  Only God could have pulled the vision off and Nehemiah recognized God as the source and success of the vision.

As we remain faithful, waiting for God to fulfill the vision, we are glorifying Him. When it seems impossible, like there is no way that what we are waiting for, what we are praying for will ever come to pass, we are glorifying God.  When our friends begin to ridicule our faith in God’s faithfulness and still we wait for the vision to come to pass, we are glorifying God.  And when the vision finally becomes a reality, and all of our doubts are silenced and our opponents are silenced, God is glorified!  Listen and see how this was true with Nehemiah: “So the wall was finished on the 25th day of the month Elul, in fifty two days.  And when our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.” [Nehemiah 6:15-16]

III. Now, please allow me to speak of a very real danger that comes when God’s vision becomes a reality in our lives; it is the danger of saying, “Thanks God, but I can take it from here!”  Few things can distort our perspective like a very public success.  The rewards of success can turn a humble person into a tyrant and bully.  Why?  Because success often leads to self sufficiency and pride.  Launching a successful vision can do the same thing to a simple person or even a church.  As we discussed earlier, faith in God forces us to focus on our inadequacy and His adequacy.  Mature faith is a faith that is able to maintain that perspective even when the vision becomes a reality!  But this kind of faith, faith that can fight off pride is rare, and that is why God works overtime to ground, strengthen, stretch, and mature our faith in the early stages of the vision He gives to us.  Our ability to go the distance depends on it!   

I encourage you all, if you haven’t done so already to read the rest of the book of Nehemiah.  You will soon discover that the fulfillment of God’s vision to rebuild the wall was just the beginning of Nehemiah’s journey and the journey of the Jews.  They would continue to need great faith because there would continue to be much work ahead as they began the task of guarding the city and reinstituting temple worship.  And oh yes, the attacks from Sanbalat and Tobiah’s would continue, in fact they intensified, but Nehemiah and God’s people would not be deterred because they still depended on God to lead them by strengthening their faith!

CONCLUSION: In our gospel lesson, we encountered a desperate father whose son had been possessed by a demon.  Many had tried to help the boy, including the apostles, but nothing seemed to work, and yet the father still had hope beyond hope, he had a vision that God would heal his son…he had faith that Jesus would be willing to restore his beloved son by freeing him from the devils grasp.  And how did the father ask Jesus to help him?  With these words, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us!”  Here the father leaves it all up to God and the will of His Son to act.  And to this Jesus looked directly at the father and said, “All things are possible for one who believes!”

Tonight friends, do you believe that God loved you enough to intervene and save you from the very thing that separated you from His eternal love?  Do you believe that because of His compassion for you, Jesus suffered and died so that you might no longer fear sin, death, and the devil?  Do you believe that regardless of how hopeless things might seem for your personal life, your marriage, family, job, or church God has a vision for each of you?  Do you believe that it is His will that you might have an abundant life, marriage, family, occupation, and ministry?  Do you believe that He has a plan for you? Then call out in your heart as the father did, “I believe Lord; help me with my unbelief!”  And now, let the Lord take your hand and lead you out of your fears and hopelessness and follow Him as He begins to lead you into the vision he has for you, your marriage, your family, and this church.

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

The God of How!

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

The God of How![i]
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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INTRODUCTION: In our gospel reading we join Jesus and the apostles at the end of a day full of ministering to the needs of thousands of people who gathered to be with Jesus. The disciples had just returned from a field trip where much was learned through God’s miraculous presence as Jesus taught them how to minister to the needs of others.  If we looked at their day as being a typical day of seminary for future ministers then their course of study for this day would be: Teaching the Faith 101, Service to Others 101, Care for Others 101, Aid for Others 101, and Contributing to the comfort or happiness of others 101.  Yes, it was a full day of on-the-job-training.  The apostles were tired and hungry, so Jesus had them come with him to a quiet place where they could get some rest and food and be debriefed by Jesus.

So off they went to get away, but alas, the crowds saw where they were going and they followed.  There seems that there would be no rest for the weary, because you see, Jesus had compassion on the crowds.  The teaching of the apostles continues…Lesson #1…always have a heart for the things that matter to God!

After hours of teaching and ministering to the people it was getting late in the afternoon, and the apostles were tired and hungry, so they said to Jesus, “(Lord) send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages (so they can) buy themselves something to eat.”  Now Jesus could have called an end to their school day, but the most important lessons still had to be taught and learned.  Jesus said, “You give them something to eat.”

How Lord?  With what we have on hand, we don’t have even enough for ourselves.  What you have asked us to do is impossible!  Oh?  Impossible for who?  Impossible for you yes, but for God…never!  If what you are asking for is in keeping with God’s will, then He will take the little you have and do great things with it.  Lesson #2, our God is the God of How!  How can it be done…God knows!  How can the impossible become a reality…God knows!  “Then He commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass.  So they sat down in groups…And they all ate and were satisfied.”

Like Nehemiah, the apostles could not see how their vision of feeding the large crowd could ever become a reality with only 5 loaves and 2 fish.  Yet God created a way.  Lesson #3…God wants to do a work of faith within you so that He can do a work of ministry through you.  And what is that work of faith?  That you might know that He is the God of How!

I.What” always precedes “How”! Nehemiah knew the answer to the what must be done before He knew the answer to how it would be done.  He had to wait 6 months before God intervened and moved the heart of the king to sponsor and finance his vision of rebuilding the wall of the city and the temple in Jerusalem.  Nehemiah knew what God had called him to do, but he didn’t have a clue how God would do it.  For months nothing happened, and he had no indication that anything was about to happen.  He knew that humanly speaking, there was absolutely no way this vision was ever going to get off the ground.

But God had a plan.  God knew how to secure Nehemiah’s release from service to the king and God knew how to move the king’s heart to finance the rebuilding project.  God had already worked out all of the critical details.  What God desired was a who!  By embracing and internalizing the burden that God placed on his heart, Nehemiah became God’s answer to “who”!

II. What God originates He orchestrates.  When God puts something in your heart to do, He goes to work behind the scenes to ensure it happens.  Think back for a moment about any Old or New Testament story in which the responsibility of figuring out how a divine vision would be fulfilled fell to the men or women to whom God gave the vision?  Did Moses have to come up with a way to get the Israelites out of Egypt?  How about through the desert?  Was it David’s responsibility to figure out how to get Saul off the royal throne so he could ascend to it?  When Jesus told the apostles to feed the five thousand were they responsible for figuring out how to do it?  Later, were the apostles responsible for figuring out how to spread the gospel throughout the whole world?  When Sanballat and Tobiah were trying to discourage Nehemiah and the Jews in order to stop their work on rebuilding the wall was Nehemiah responsible for shutting them up?  No!  But what did they do?  They turned to the God of How!  They called out to God and said, “Hear, O our God, for we are despised.  Turn back their taunts on their own heads…for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders.”  In essence, they surrendered the hopelessness of their situation into the hands of the author of their vision.  They trusted in the presence and care of the God of How!  “When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan (to discourage us and stop our work), we all returned to the wall, each to his work.”  And the progress and completion of the vision becoming a reality continued.

In every Biblical example of fulfilling a God-given vision, it was God who orchestrated all the events so that everyone involved would stand in awe of God and recognize without a doubt that God had done all of the impossible work!  And this is true in your own life!  It was God through His law that convinced you that you were lost in your own sins and that you could never on your own return to Him and trust in Him alone for your eternal salvation.  And it was God alone who through no help of your own, removed the obstacles that separated you from his eternal love and care.  Through Jesus Christ, God came to this world, in our own flesh and lived the perfect life that we must live but can not.  Through Jesus Christ, God suffered and died for you.  This was your penalty for your sins that you were to experience, but because of God’s love for you, He took your place so that you might forever not just know His love for you but eternally experience it!

Dear friends, when you stand before God and feel the convicting weight of His law upon your heart; when you feel the impossibility pleasing a perfect God, do not turn to your own solution, but turn to the God of How, who has provided the how through the cross…through the completed work of Jesus Christ, for you!

III. Good ideas vs. God ideas!  Good ideas are limited to our own potential, actions, and resources.  If you are chasing after a good idea then you will have to devote a lot of time, energy, and resources in trying to implement your idea.  A God idea, a divine vision, on the other hand, is limited only by God’s potential and resources.  That means anything and everything is possible!

Our challenge is that sometimes we have to stand back for a while and trust in God’s work.  Since we never know exactly when or how God is going to step in, it is critical that we remain focused on our relationship with Him through Jesus Christ, and second we must keep our hearts on the vision.  We must focus on what God has called us to do, not on what He needs to do or How He is going to pull it off.

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, how is never a problem for God. If God has anything that’s even close to a problem, it’s us!  He isn’t waiting on us to come up with everything we need to accomplish the vision He has created within us.  Remember this: If your self esteem tricks you into thinking that you have what it takes to get the vision done, you’re wrong, because this is a God Thing…it always has been!  God has called you but He’s not depending on you.  You are a player and not the whole team.  God is looking for your obedience…He’s looking for your dependence and reliance on Him.  Dependence and reliance that actively waits for God’s how!

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

Positions Please!

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Positions Please![i]

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

In our gospel reading this evening, we join 6 young men with a vision…a vision of restoration to a community of friends that has been broken by illness.  For reasons unknown, one of their members has been stricken by a paralyzing disease.  They have sought help in many circles, but physicians, rabbis, and priests were unable to restore the health of their fallen comrade.  But they have not given up…they still have a vision of restored health and community. They have faith that God will restore all that has been lost.  But how God will do this they didn’t have a clue that is until they heard that Jesus of Nazareth had come into their small town of Capernaum.  Jesus was known to be a teacher of God’s Word who also had the ability to heal people of all kinds of diseases.  So off they went carrying their friend on a stretcher.

When they arrived at the home where Jesus was staying, it quickly became obvious by the crowds  gathered there that they had arrived at the right home.  There was one problem though, how would they get in?  The door was blocked by the large crowd, and so were the windows.  And yet their vision of restoration would not let them give up.  Well there was only one choice; if they couldn’t pass through the door or the window with their friend then they would have to make a new one, through the roof!  So up they went and down went their friend as they lowered him directly in front of Jesus!

What were these men hoping for as they followed their vision of health and restoration?  Healing for their comrade’s illness certainly, but they received much more than that…they heard the sweet Word of forgiveness and restoration directly from the mouth of God!  “Son, your sins are forgiven!”  Now there are always those in the crowd that will try to destroy the vision that God has given, and this encounter was no different.  For you see, there were some experts of the law inside this home, and their response was, “He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  But our 6 comrades did not lose hope, and their eyes focused directly on their source of hope and what He would say or do next.  I imagine that Jesus moved closer to the man on the stretcher and said clearly so that all could hear, “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins-I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 

And that was it, their comrade was healed.  The very same God who had put this vision of health and restoration into their hearts had now spoken and the vision was a reality!

I. When God’s vision begins to come alive in our hearts we may tend to become impatient and say, “If I’m on the verge of experiencing something divine, then why am I stuck here doing something not even remotely related to what I feel God has put in my heart to do?   The 6 comrades in our gospel reading must have felt this way as they daily saw their once active and supportive friend lying helplessly on his bed.  Certainly Nehemiah must have asked this question every time he thought of Jerusalem and its dilapidated condition, “Lord, what am I doing in Persia?  My vision is to be a builder not a bartender!”

But God knew exactly what He was doing.  He had placed Nehemiah in the right spot from the beginning.  God had spent years preparing and positioning both Nehemiah and the king for everything that was about to unfold.  Think about it.  From the time Nehemiah was a boy God had been arranging all things to work for the good, to enable Nehemiah who was called according to God’s purpose to fulfill God’s will, which was Nehemiah’s vision.  From a boy Nehemiah lived in the royal palace as a servant.  From there God placed him in the ranks of important Persian officials, and within those ranks Nehemiah was quickly became known as a man of integrity.  Eventually he was appointed to the position of cup bearer…a position that guarded the very life of the king by preventing him from being poisoned.

Now, if we look at these things from the eyes of the world, it would seem impossible for him to ever realize his dream…after all, a servant to the king was to be seen and not heard, but again, God had Nehemiah just where he wanted him.  Like a master strategist, God had been working behind the scenes putting all the players into position.  And now the curtain is about to go up: And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time.  And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.” And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me. [2:6-8]

II. From the outset, just about every God ordained vision seems to be impossible.  It can be a real battle not to be intimidated by the apparent impossibility of beginning and completing that vision.  If you want to throw a wet blanket on a new vision, try sharing it with someone who isn’t part of your praying and planning team that is also following the vision.  You know what they’ll probably say to you?  “Hmmm…that’s an interesting idea.”  In other words, what they’re really saying is “You’re crazy.  That will never happen!”

Nehemiah, like the 6 comrades did not share his vision or his plan with people outside his inner circle.  For months, Nehemiah kept silent.  After all, who would have taken him seriously?  Think about it, he was a slave who worked for the king.  He couldn’t leave whenever he wanted to and visit Jerusalem.  It was the king’s government that destroyed the walls of Jerusalem to begin with.  Why would the king want to rebuild the city and create a possible military threat to his kingdom?  But miracles do happen when God is the author of the vision; when God is the one who is guiding you.

Nehemiah was allowed to begin work on the vision.  But still he kept silent: “And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me. Then I came to the governors of the province Beyond the River and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen.  But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant heard this, it displeased them greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel. So I went to Jerusalem and was there three days. Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem. There was no animal with me but the one on which I rode. I went out by night by the Valley Gate to the Dragon Spring and to the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that were broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire. Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but there was no room for the animal that was under me to pass.  Then I went up in the night by the valley and inspected the wall, and I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned.  And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, and I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, and the rest who were to do the work.”  [Vs. 8b-16]

Can you relate to some of Nehemiah’s feelings as he considered his vision?  Maybe you have a vision on rebuilding your marriage or family.  Or perhaps a vision to rebuild our church so that it can once again become a thriving, living presence of God’s love and forgiveness within our community-a place where people are intentionally and regularly sent out to seek and save the lost with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  If we look at the landscape of our circumstances it might seem overwhelming and even impossible…like there’s no way you could ever pull it off.  But what we must remember is that there will always be more questions than answers when God gives a vision.  There will always be obstacles and there will always be a lack of resources. 

Anyone with a vision from God will at first be alone.  Nehemiah must have felt terribly alone as he rode along the perimeter of the city adjusting his plan and formulating the costs.  He must have wanted to recruit the people immediately.  But God tempered that desire with the negative spirit of Sanballat and Tobiah who communicated displeasure that Nehemiah was there checking on the welfare of the people of Israel.  But Nehemiah was not discouraged, because it was God giving him the vision and it was God creating that unquenchable and insatiable desire to see the vision become a reality.  Like Nehemiah, what will keep our vision alive is the knowledge that it is God Himself who has called us into uncharted territory with a divine purpose in mind…His vision will come true!

III. Dear friends, believe it or not, God wants to do the same work of faith and trust in you that He did through Nehemiah, and the paralytic and his friends.  There is always something in our lives, in our families, at our employment, and in our church that requires following where God is leading in a vision that He has provided.  God’s desire is to work through the circumstances in your life to the point where you are exactly where he needs you.  Now, this is easy to say when you are looking back, but when you are in the here and now looking ahead, it becomes something that we have to undertake by faith.  Many times, when following a God given vision there is no tangible connection between our circumstances and the vision, accept God’s Word, a word that promises you that because of Jesus Christ’s obedience to His Father’s will, you are loved and forgiven; that because of Jesus Christ, God will never leave you or forsake you.  Doubters may ask if this enough for you to follow the vision, and faith answers, “Yes, with the help of God!”

CONCLUSION: You don’t know what God is up to behind the scenes of your life, but God’s Word gives you faith to trust Him that indeed “For those who love the Lord, all things work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose.”  Please hear this important truth: It is not a problem that you are not where you think you should be in order to implement God’s vision.  It is not an accident that you are where you are.  God is very much in control of your circumstances and fulfilling His purpose.  God’s vision for your life is your purpose.  God is using your circumstances to prepare you to accomplish His vision for your life.  If you are “seeking first” His kingdom’s purpose, to seek and save the lost and restore their lost relationships with God through the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, then where you are is right where He wants you!

[i] This is a series based upon 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