Posts Tagged ‘Midweek Lent’

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