Posts Tagged ‘Vision’

Faith, the Essential Ingredient!

Sunday, November 15th, 2009


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 Him.  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 the 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 were 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. For a moment friends, let’s think back to the 2nd chapter of Nehemiah, when he was finally given the opportunity to present his God given vision to the king.  Nehemiah’s faith must have been  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 to these words from our Old Testament reading this morning  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.  Do you want to avoid the trap of pride?  Then allow God, through your faith in Him, lead you to remember that your inadequacies always need to turn towards 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! 

Nowhere is this proven truer than in how we approach God’s means of grace.  Within these Holy things of God there is a real danger of us taking His real presence in our lives within these things with a nonchalant attitude or even contempt.  Why do you love God?  Because His Word tells you that He first loved you!  Why do you feel free from God’s wrath and the conviction of His Law?  Because He saved you from these things in your baptism!  Why do you see yourself growing in faith and strength to choose the right over the wrong?  Not because you are such a clever and strong person, but because He feeds you with His very body and blood, there at His table.  He feeds you this wonderful meal so that you will continue to experience His love and forgiveness stronger each day!  He is the One working within you!  You have nothing to brag about or feel clever over!  It is God and God alone who saved you, and it will be God alone who will complete that salvation… so stay close to Him and His means of grace!

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 be many more test of their faith as they continued the task of guarding the city and reinstituting temple worship.  And oh yes, the attacks from Sanbalat and Tobiah 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: As we close our series on vision this morning, let me ask you to consider just one more thought, which can be found in our gospel lesson. There we happen upon a desperate father whose son had been possessed by a demon.  Now what is important to remember is that 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!”

Dear 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 even our 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, I pray that you will let the Lord take your empty hand of faith and fill and lead you out of your fears and hopelessness 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!

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

The God of How![i]
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
November 8, 2009
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In our gospel reading this morning, 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: The Providence of God, The Two natures (God and Man) of Jesus Christ, Teaching the Faith, Service to Others, and Care for Others.  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 He could debrief them and give them some well needed rest and food. 

So off they went to get away, but alas, the crowds saw where they were going and they followed.  It seemed 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 (Jesus) 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 in our Old Testament lesson this morning, 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!

Nehemiah knew the answer to “what must be done” before He knew the answer to how it would be done.  He knew that the wall and the Temple in Jerusalem must be rebuilt, but he had to wait 6 months before God intervened and moved the heart of the king to sponsor and finance his vision. 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”!

Friends, when God puts something in our 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 and try to think of any instance where it was the responsibility of a man or woman to figure out how to implement a divine 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!  Listen: “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 the Son came to this world, in our own flesh and lived the perfect life that we must live but cannot.  Through Jesus Christ, God suffered and died for you.  This was the 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 of 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!

Finally, let’s talk about 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 if it is in keeping with the will of God!

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 He has given to us.  We must ask God to help us focus on what He has called us to do, not on what He needs to do or How He is going to pull it off.

 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 the God of 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!

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

 Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego
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In our gospel reading this morning, 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 had been stricken by a paralyzing disease.  They had sought help in many circles, but physicians, rabbis, and priests were unable to restore the health of their fallen comrade.  But they had not given up…they still had a vision of restored health and community. They had faith that God would restore all that had been lost.  But how God would 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 from 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 way, 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 they kept their eyes focused directly on their source of only source of hope—Jesus!  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 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]  The “good hand” of his God was upon him friends, and God’s good and gracious hand has been upon each and every one of you who have been cleansed and made new in the Holy waters of your baptism.  His hand has ensured that you have been saved through the hearing and preaching of His gospel.  By the gift of faith, you may say along with Nehemiah that “the good hand of my Gracious God has always been upon me!”  What a way to live and spend your life—knowing that whatever may happen around you, God’s good and gracious hand is always guiding your way!

II. You know, 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!  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 a government like the kings 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 friends 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.  We read: “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.  Hopefully we are all praying together for 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.  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 desire to see the vision become a reality.  Like Nehemiah, the thing that 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, smack dab in the middle of a crisis and 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.  Now doubters may ask if this is enough for you to follow a vision, and faith answers, “Yes, with the help of God!”

CONCLUSION: Friends, we don’t know what God is up to behind the scenes of our lives, but God’s Word gives us 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 right now He is fulfilling His purpose within you and around you.  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 pray that you will find comfort, strength and encouragement in these words as you continue to seek out God’s vision and will for you and His church, even our beloved Trinity Lutheran Church.  And I ask this in Jesus name…AMEN!

Reformation: Let’s Do It Again!

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Reformation Sunday
Click here for audio of this message

 INTRODUCTION:  In 1505, a young but brilliant German law student named Martin Luther found himself caught in the open, on foot during a violent thunder storm.  As lightening struck the ground all around him, Luther in fear for his life threw himself on the ground, and with his face in the mud, he begged God to have mercy on him and spare his life.  He entered into “negotiations” with God by stating that while he knew he was a sinner, if God would spare his life, he would then dedicate his life to Him and become a monk.

 Luther did survive, and true to his word he became an Augustinian monk.  During his time in a monastery, Luther tried to work out his salvation and become closer to God through study of the Psalms, prayer, fasting, meditation and hard work.  But no matter how hard he tried, he could not seem to find peace for his troubled soul.  Nothing seemed to shake his feeling that he was a helpless sinner caught in the grasp of an angry and vengeful God.  We might say that Luther began to feel as if he was a flightless bird trapped in a gilded cage.

 In 1507, Luther was ordained to the priesthood and licensed to preach and study Theology at the University of Wittenberg.  Luther’s superiors soon discovered that God had gifted him with a brilliant mind, but yet he seemed to be held back by his now obvious feeling of guilt.  The solution?  Luther must make the pilgrimage to Rome, where church tradition taught that the journey itself would earn merit with God and bring the pilgrim closer to salvation.  Luther was also told that he could purchase certificates of forgiveness called indulgences, which were published by the Pope himself.  These indulgences guaranteed the purchaser of even more favor and love from God.  Well, Luther, ever the obedient monk did as he was told, but he found no peace in the pilgrimage or the possession of indulgences.

 While the story of Martin Luther is for some ancient history it is nonetheless our history, the history of the church.  Historians tell us that if we are to understand our history correctly, then we must learn to identify with it.  This morning, that will be easy for us.  You don’t have to become a monk, Priest or Pastor to put yourselves in Martin Luther’s shoes because we all have something much deeper than this in common with Brother Martin—we all struggle with sin!  If we think of Martin Luther as a flightless bird being held in a cage, then sin was the cage that held him captive.  Today, on Reformation Sunday, we celebrate the freedom that God gave first to Martin Luther and then to the whole church. 

This morning, we’ll look at how we too have been freed from sin and enabled to live as God intends us to live, by learning two concepts.  First, the cage that holds us captive has been opened; and second, we must be given two strong wings so that we can fly out of it. 

 I. The cage of sin can only be opened when God’s Word provides the gift to believe, that is faith.  All of us, like Martin Luther are born trapped in this cage of sin.  No matter how hard we try to free ourselves from our cage, we fail.  This is the hard lesson Luther learned.  It was not until God, through His Word provided Luther with the faith to trust in Jesus that Luther saw the cage of sin opened.  What does scripture say about faith?  Faith comes from the Word of God.  Martin Luther discovered this one evening while studying God’s Word in the privacy of his own room.  Through his devotional reading of our Epistle this morning, Luther received the gift of faith.  Listen to these words, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” [Rom. 3:21-24]

 By those Words, Luther discovered that God is not angrily staying far away from us and we do not have to try hard to reach Him or please Him.  In fact, the opposite is true.  You and I though born sinful and distant from God are not lost at all, for God Himself through Jesus Christ, has come to us so that we who were once lost are now found and released from the bondage of sin.  Through Christ’s work alone upon the cross, and through the gift of new life given to you within the holy waters of your baptism, you are now right with God!  Now while this is certainly Good News, it is not new news, but rather it is the consistent and old gospel of grace, which has been handed down from the very beginning; it had simply been overlaid and hidden by the traditions of men.  But now the cage, which once imprisoned Luther and even us, has been opened and like Luther, we are set free; but free to do what?  Free to follow God’s direction in our lives.   

 II. So Luther, now armed with a vibrant faith through God’s Word was able to rightly understand that Word.  Through God’s love and care, Luther was changed in a way that would impact time and eternity, and God’s desire is that we would also be changed in this way.  Remember that I told you that Luther was like a flightless bird, caught in a cage?  Well, the cage has now been opened, and now Luther and we too, must be provided two strong wings so that we can leave the cage of sin and soar where God wants to lead us.

 A. The first wing for Luther and for us comes from our Lord in these Words: “Come unto me, all you who are tired of carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.”  For Luther there could have been no heavier burden than the burden of sin!  And now Jesus had miraculously removed that burden from him and exchanged it for peace with God.  Luther realized that he could quit working to please God and simply rest in God’s forgiving love.  What did Jesus say in our Gospel reading?  “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (And) if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  You see friends, not only have we been freed from the bondage of sin, but we have also been invited to rest in God’s love as His adopted sons and daughters.  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12).  (And) all who are now led by the Spirit of God, are now sons of God.” (Romans 8:14).  What good news!  Rest in this gospel!

What’s preventing you from resting in God’s love?  What’s preventing you from living out this truth?  What is preventing you from becoming all that God has declared for you?  Is it anger, pride, or an unforgiving spirit?  If so, please hear my words, CHRIST HAS SET YOU FREE! 

For some, perhaps what’s holding you back is the very thing that hindered Martin Luther for much of his early life, FEAR!  There is nothing that I can think of that darkens the human heart more than fear in any of its many forms. But those of you who truly trust in Jesus Christ have been saved from all of your fears. You’re delivered from all fear of misfortune; you’re delivered from all fear of other people; you’re delivered from all fear of death; and you’re delivered from perhaps the biggest fear of all, the fear of eternity. Write this question on a card “Where will you spend eternity?” and give it to a person who doesn’t know the Lord, and it will make that person extremely angry; write the same question on a card and hand it to a Christian, and it will make them smile. Why is this? Simply because a person who trust in Christ alone isn’t afraid of eternity, but instead that person delights in the thought of eternity because to that person, eternity means joy, happiness and glory.  

B.  Now let’s look at the second wing that we’ll need in order to soar where God leads.  Jesus said just before He ascended into heaven: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  You see, the second wing God gives us, is His real presence in our lives, which is critical when we as His church and as individuals are obediently following His great commission.  In essence, God wants us to listen to His call and follow Him.  But follow Him where? Well out of the cage of course; out of our bondage to sin and fear and out into our communities, our schools, our places of work, and even into our families to be His Children, the Ambassadors of Jesus Christ.  Well what are we to do?  Well, we are Ambassadors of Christ aren’t we?  Well then we are to represent Him; we are to do the very thing He did, we must seek out and save the lost with the very same gospel and baptism that saved us.  Who are the lost?  They’re the broken people that live in our community.  They’re the people who still live in bondage to sin and fear.  They’re the people who become angry or afraid when asked where they will spend eternity. 

 Dear friends, we must go out to our neighbors and develop relationships of trust by serving them where they are.  We must be Christ to our neighbors!  Which is easier, to bring the City of San Diego into Trinity or for Trinity to go out into our community?  That’s right, now you see, we are being sent out to them!  We do this as individuals when we just simply live our lives at home, work, school, or where ever we go.  But how will we do this as a congregation?  Honestly, we don’t know yet.  That is why we have entered into our sermon series and it’s why we’re praying for God’s vision. 

 CONCLUSION: While we wait for God’s burden for the lost within our community to become His vision for us, we at least know this much: It is God’s desire that we along with Martin Luther and all other Saints learn to soar where he leads us.  But we must soar on two wings, not one.  To live only in the promise “Come unto me you weary and I will give you rest” is to live only half of the life God has provided for us.  Instead, while retaining the first promise, let’s also embrace the second one, which is that God will be with us as we go out into our community with the Good News in a way that will impact the people in our communities for time and for eternity.  Let’s not let our fear hold us back, because He is with us—we are not alone!  He is always with us, even to the end of time.  If we can live out both of these promises, then along with Martin Luther we will have reformed both our own lives of faith and also the faith life of our church.

 May God grant this to you and to His church, in Jesus name…AMEN!

Praying and Planing for a Vision

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

Praying and Planning for a Vision![i]
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego 
click here for the audio of this message

Last week we discovered that God’s vision always starts out as a burden—a feeling that you must act or do something.  It becomes a moral imperative, because it is.  What is that moral imperative?  To seek and save the lost—God has called each of us to help others know His forgiving love through Jesus Christ.  So our vision for our church, our family, and even our employment will always be centered on that truth.  This morning 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, and sometimes 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 I had to go to work, so I left him alone.  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.  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.  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 are 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 too 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 trust and work with Him in fulfilling the vision that He has gives 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 help build that 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.”  If God is for us, who can be against us?!  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]  Have you ever been afraid of people that you felt had some sort of power over you?  Has your fear of these people ever seemed to paralyze you from action, like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car?  Nehemiah knew that fear, but he trusted in the God of mercy, who was always with him.  He knew that it was God’s responsibility to relieve the burden and fulfill the vision that He put within his heart. 

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 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 didn’t do any 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.   

 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 morning 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 an 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 which draws heavily from the book “Visioneering” by Andy Stanley, published by Multnomah Publishers, Inc., ISB #1-57673-538-9

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

You Are The Light of the World!

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

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

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
Click here for audio of this message

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