Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Power of Visions

What is the point of a vision?  You hear a lot about vision, whether it is the President talking about his or her vision for the future to a business man or woman talking about what they want their company to do in the next fiscal year.

But what does it mean to have a vision and what do you do with it?  I hear preachers on TV give a vision for their ministry, followed by a request for money to “sow a seed” for the kingdom to complete this vision.  I’m not trying to question their motives, but I’m often wondering is that what it means to have a vision?

So what is a vision?   And how much does God place on visions and to what extent does he use visions?  I have come to realize several things.  One being that Visions are a call to action for a change in direction and attitude.  A second is that visions are

Visions are a call to action for a change in direction and attitude.

Listen to the story
Matthew 1:18-20 (NIV)
[18]  This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. [19]  Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
[20]  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
Here we have Joseph who was about to divorce Mary as it was allowed to him where it says in Deuteronomy 24:1 about when a man can divorce his wife for infidelity.  He didn’t get what was happening because, well probably because he is a man and most men don’t listen-at least that is what I’ve heard.  (Grin) But that is for a discussion later on.

God informs him in a dream (visions in the OT and NT are often through the appearance dreams) that this is a good thing and to not go through with his plans.  Joseph listens, marries Mary and goes to Bethlehem (which becomes a fulfillment of prophesy for it is there that Christ is born).

Acts 10:9-22 says this:

Acts 10:9-22 (TNIV)  (9)  About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. (10)  He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. (11)  He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. (12)  It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. (13)  Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” (14)  “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” (15)  The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (16)  This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven. (17)  While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon's house was and stopped at the gate. (18)  They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there. (19)  While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. (20)  So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.” (21)  Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?” (22)  The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.”
Peter has this vision of all types of animals to eat and he refused because they were considered unclean according to the law.  God tells him that it is okay for him to eat of it.  God was using this sheet to inform Peter that it is no longer just the people of Israel that God cared about-it was everybody.  Peter, recognizing this as a God thing, goes and talks with Cornelius and builds a relationship that ends up for Cornelius a deeper and closer walk with God.
What the lasting result is with Peter is that he begins to understand that God is for all people.  To the point where he went to Rome and ministered there to the point of death. 
Listen to what Foxe’s Book of Martyrs says about Peter:
IX. Peter Among many other saints, the blessed apostle Peter was condemned to death, and crucified, as some do write, at Rome; albeit some others, and not without cause, do doubt thereof. Hegesippus saith that Nero sought matter against Peter to put him to death; which, when the people perceived, they entreated Peter with much ado that he would fly the city. Peter, through their importunity at length persuaded, prepared himself to avoid. But, coming to the gate, he saw the Lord Christ come to meet him, to whom he, worshipping, said, "Lord, whither dost Thou go?" To whom He answered and said, "I am come again to be crucified." By this, Peter, perceiving his suffering to be understood, returned into the city. Jerome saith that he was crucified, his head being down and his feet upward, himself so requiring, because he was (he said) unworthy to be crucified after the same form and manner as the Lord was.
God uses dreams and visions sometimes to get our attention, to cause us to change direction, and to cause us to change our attitudes.  Not only does God gives us a vision when He wants change, he also gives us a vision of what is to come.
God Gives Us A Vision of What is to Come
The job of the prophets, like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, etc.  was to relay the vision that God had for what was to come for the people of Israel and the world.  They were the mouthpiece of God.
Then say: The Prophets were to tell the people of Israel three basic things:
1.      You have forgotten your fist love.
2.      You are being punished
3.      There is coming a day of hope.
You can almost boil the message of the prophets into those three things.  What is interesting is that a lot of them would receive this message in a dream or vision, and it would always be about what is to come.
For instance, turn to Zechariah 9:9
Zechariah 9:9 (TNIV) (9)Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Zechariah sees this vision of someone coming.  Riding on a donkey, Jerusalem’s King.  Who is that?  Jesus.  This is a vision about the future.

It almost begs the question, why would God do that?  Why would he want to give us a vision of what is to come?

Well let’s look at Proverbs for an answer:
Proverbs 29:18 (NIV)
[18]  Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law.

The reason is that when there is no vision, the people fail.  When there is nothing to hope in, there is no point of change.

Without vision-
Have you ever walked around in the dark?  What does it feel like?
Talk about Ethan and the dark.  He doesn’t like it.  If he can’t turn on the light somewhere he will NOT go in.

We don’t like not being able to see.  It is confusing and often times it leads to disasterous results. 

Now think about that on a spiritual or a faith level.  If we have no sense of guidance in from God.  No sense of vision-it is confusing and it leads to failure.  But what causes this to happen?

Remember the last part of the proverb.  It says, “…but blessed is he who keeps the law.”
If you look at that and you look at the examples we’ve talked about tonight, the people received the vision based upon their devotion and their dependence on God.

So what does this mean for you?   What is the Gospel for you?

Maybe you are here today, and God has given you a vision to help the homeless or the less fortunate in your community, but you have been fighting it because you have no idea where to begin.  Ask God where to go.  It can be something as simple as a canned food drive at your church or a clothing sale in which the proceeds are donated to a local charity.  It can be something as easy as going to the Compassion Center and making a food plate, or simply going and talking to them, sharing a meal with them.

Students, maybe you have a vision to bring the community together for Christ.  Maybe God ahs been giving you a vision to witness to your friends who so desparately need for someone to be the prescence of Christ in their lives.  They seen the bad side of religion, but they have not seen the sweet face of Jesus.  One excuse is always I don’t know how.  This is what you can do:  Bring your Bible to school you want to get a conversation going, that is a good way to start.   When I was in high school, I was challenged to bring my Bible to school because there was no law saying that I could not.  So I did.  Immediately, I was asked why and it opened up a door of conversation about my faith.  Another excuse is I’m not smart enough.  Or another excuse is they know me to well.   To that I say, you have a story, and it is yours.  People just want to know what makes your life different compared to theirs.  They are dying to know.  You don’t have to know everything or be a preacher.  You just have to be willing.

This is the Gospel for you today.  I believe it is this-that as you seek God in your days, God will give you the vision that He has for you.  That may mean he shows you a vision that will require you to change direction or to change an attitude as He leads you to a new “day.”  However, God does not do anything that comes back null and void.  The amazing thing about following God’s vision is that Godly change happens when God’s people follow God’s vision.  Lives are impacted in a way that impacts the Kingdom.  And this is what he asks:  All He asks for you is to be obedient to the vision He has given you.

This is the Word of the Lord.

Social Justice Revolution

One of the things that we are constantly hearing about is change.  We always hear about change.  We hear about Political Change, Health Change, Technology Change, etc.  All types of change.  All claiming that the change they have is the answer to what we need.  That change is real change.  Pure change.  Now what they offering is not necessarily bad, but is it what really matters? 

The sixties were a time of great change.  A lot of people were tired of how things were, everyone was wanting change.  A revolution of change.  Have  you ever heard of the song Revolution by the Beatles?  The song has appeared on several of the Beatles albums.  Initially it was on the White Album and then on the B-side of the Hey Jude Album.  Here are some of the lyrics:

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it's evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don't you know that you can count me out
Don't you know it's gonna be all right
all right, all right

Here are some things that I would like to share with you.
Arkansas unfortunately falls into the top ten states with the highest poverty rates. It is currently ranked at the 8th highest poverty rate in the United States, with a poverty rate of 15.6%.
This is just slightly better than the poverty rate of Alabama, and just slightly higher than the poverty rates of Tennessee and South Carolina.

Where the Worst Poverty in Arkansas Occurs

The most critical levels of poverty in Arkansas occur mainly along the southeast border on the bank of the Mississippi River (see map below article).
Nine of the 13 major cities in Arkansas also have a poverty rate above the state average, showing the poverty is in both urban and more rural regions of Arkansas.
Two of those nine cities experience critical levels of poverty, meaning that the poverty rate is at least 50% above the state average. These two cities are Pine Bluff with a poverty rate of 25.5% and West Memphis with a poverty rate of 28.3%.[2]
Here are some stats for the criminal population in Arkansas:
In the year ending June 30, 2004, 13 states reported an increase of at least 5 percent, led by Minnesota (13.2 percent), Montana (10.5 percent), and Arkansas (8.9 percent). Twelve states reported decreases in the number of prisoners, including Alabama (6.7 percent), Connecticut (2.5 percent) and Ohio (2.3 percent).[3]

The National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) reports the following:
The data for 2008 are in and the numbers tell a troubling story: 44 percent of American children grow up in families that face serious struggles to make ends meet. Parental employment, parental education, family structure and other variables each play an important role in predicting the likelihood that a child will endure economic hardship. We break down the facts and figures into five age groups of children: Under Age 3, Under Age 6, Ages 6 to 11, Ages 12 to 17, and Children Under 18.[4]
Here are some more stats:
·         Arkansas' childhood poverty rate is 24.3% compared to the national average of 18.3%. - ACS Survey
·         Over 345,000 of our elderly citizens lives below the poverty line and has to choose between food and medicine. - ACS Survey
·         Arkansas is ranked in the top 8 of most food insecure states.
·         The regions in our state with the greatest prosperity will experience the greatest increase in poverty by 2010.[5]
This morning I would like to invite you to the Gospel of Matthew, and we will be looking at Matthew 25:31-46
(31)  “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. (32)  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (33)  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. (34)  “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. (35)  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, (36)  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
(37)  “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? (38)  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? (39)  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
(40)  “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (41)  “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (42)  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, (43)  I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ (44)  “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
(45)  “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ (46)  “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Wow.   Has anyone ever heard of the saying, "You're so earthly minded that you are no heavenly good?"  What does that mean?  When someone is saying it to someone else, it means that they are so caught up in the ways of this world.  They are consumed by how the world thinks, and works, that they don't focus on the prize ahead.  They don't look to the things of God.   The things that are important.

This was a big problem with the religious establishment in the time of Christ.  The leaders only cared about themselves.  They wouldn’t say it out loud, they would demonstrate it with their actions.  Standing on street corners saying how much better they are than someone else.  They would not associate with the unclean because it was the “law.”  They expected people to clean up before they could be involved with them. 
Christians are so guilty of this.  There are ministers out there who have multi-million dollar houses because they only care about you if you give lots of money to them.  Some of the most selfish people I have come into contact are church people.  Fused with change for themselves. 
It was Gandhi who said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."[6]  Desmond Tutu said, “When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.”[7]  I know people who have left the church because they have been so burned.   They look at church people as only caring about themselves and nothing else. 
The church is not only looked at as self gratifying, they are looked at as hateful people.  As a group of people who will only accept someone if they believe exactly like we do, and only as we do.  Judgmental hate mongers.  Unforgiving. 
And while that happens,
When we are consumed with our self, we are the ones who don’t care about those around us.  We are the goats.  When we care more about religion, we are the goats.  I think that what Christ is saying to us today, is that we need to focus less on ourselves and more on others.  Remember the poverty rates that I just shared with you?  The hunger rates?
Brenan Manning once said that the leading cause of Chrisitianity is Christians.  Those who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door with their lifestyles.  It is time for that to end.   It is time that we as follower’s of Christ stop being goats and start being the sheep that we are called to be.  
You want a revolution?  Serve those who no one cares about.  Love those who are unloved.  Care for the sick.  You want revolution?  Care for those in prison, or sick, or outcasted.
Remember what Christ said about the least of these?  When we care for others, we see God at work in our lives.  It is when we do that, that we truly show how much we love God.  When we do that, we move from a cold religion to a relationship.
You maybe here this morning and have no idea what to do.  You know that God is calling you to help those who cannot help themselves.  It can be something as simple as helping a family that you know in need.  Is there a family that the church knows in need? 
Maybe you know that God is calling you to be involved with one of CBFs many mission organizations.  Maybe you have been putting it off until now.  Today is the day.  Listen to this story from the All Church Challenge web site: 
When I met Catherine and Mollie at Student.Go orientation they told us more information than I could ever remember in a very short amount of time because we didn’t have much time together and they wanted to get us ready for what we were going to be doing this summer. One thing that stuck out to me was something they described as a Blessings Ministry that would go on during the All Church Challenge weeks. They said that a group of people would go to different places in the community to give back such as the nursing home to visit, homeless shelter, food pantry, or the battered women’s shelter. I was imminently interested and excited to be involved in that particular part of the All Church Challenge because I enjoy doing those kinds of things and I thought that doing it in a community such as Helena, Arkansas would be different than the other experiences I have had. The day I got to Helena on the way home from the airport Mollie told me that she and Catherine had talked and they wanted to try to start getting a group of youth together once a week to go to different places in the community to serve and bless individuals instead of just during the All Church Challenge. I was so excited and I thought it was a great idea. I got a whole list of people and places in the community that needed and deserved blessings and I started making calls. I was pleasantly surprised by how interested and eager for us to come most of the people I talked to were. We decided to go on Mondays and that same day I got the next two Mondays scheduled at different places in the community. Monday morning I went to several houses to pick up youth that were from Helena and West Helena that were volunteering their time to go to Grace Food Pantry to help unload a giant eighteen wheeler full of food in extremely hot weather.  We got there and things were hectic. I had never in my entire life seen that much food in one place. It was our first time being there so we were not sure where we could help the most. After about ten minutes of standing there in shock we all realized we just needed to start asking who needed help and start moving the food wherever we were told to move it. It was incredibly hot but everyone jumped right in and was willing to do whatever they were asked. I was surprised at how quickly the unbelievable amount of food disappeared. All of it either got loaded into cars to take to other, smaller food pantries or it got organized in the right places in the Grace Food Pantry. Doing community service projects such as this always leaves you feeling good but when I left that day the only thing I could think about was how helpful the youth that came were and how many of them that actually showed up. Most of the youth that were with us on Monday were people I had met that day for the first time therefore I don’t know anything about their past, their family, or their friends but what I do know is they were some of the most caring, respectful, enthusiastic people I have ever met and I cannot wait to work with them again. When I was 16 or 17 and in high school I can’t honestly say that I would have woken up early on a Monday morning to go unload a giant eighteen wheeler truck full of food in the blazing hot sun just to volunteer and that makes me admire the youth more than they will probably ever know. I hope they realize the difference they made on Monday morning and the difference they can continue to make in this community, this state, this country and maybe even one day the world. Being in Helena Arkansas and working with all the wonderful people in the community has already been a treat and a wonderful experience. I know this is going to be a summer I’ll never forget and I’ve only been here a little over a week. We are going to the Angel’s of Grace Battered Women’s shelter Monday and I can’t wait to see the youth that live in this community going out of their way to give back[8].
When we do what God calls us to do, we are changing the world.  We are bringing real revolution.  We are bringing real change, change that is lasting.  Change that is tangible.  Imagine what this world will be when we all do that…

[1] “Revolution” By Paul McCartney and John Lennon
[2] David Boston, Stats taken from US Census.
[3] Charles Montaldo,
[4] NCCP
[5] Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, stats taken from the US Census.
[6] Gandhi, Famouse
[7] Quoted by Chris Ellis