Tag Archives: Vision

Without a Vision, the People Perish!

Text:    Acts 16:6-15

Do you ever have the feeling you are going around in circles and getting nowhere?   Do you ever feel that our church is doing that?     It’s a frustrating feeling!   You feel like you are trying so hard—-you are doing so much work—-but you don’t seem to be achieving much or getting anywhere.

One of the key reasons for this happening is our not being able to see what our destination or goal is.   Without that destination of what God wants you to do in mind, we are not  able to focus on where we are going——and we keep going in circles.

Although I grew up on a farm until 5th grade, we then moved to Abilene.   My last two years of high school and first two of college I went to work for a farmer near Abilene who farmed 500 acres of wheat as well as other crops..   After the wheat harvest was over it was then time to do the plowing with a five bottom plow.   If my employer wanted the field plowed so all the furrows were in the same direction, I found very quickly that thr first thing I had to do was plow a straight first furrow.   The only way to do that was to find something directly across the field from me and fix my eye on that and head the tractor straight toward it.   If I took my eyes off the destination for even a moment I would have a crooked furrow .   I had to stay completely focused on my destination.  

Long ago, the writer of Proverbs said words that relate to this example.   He wrote:   “Without a vision, the people perish”, as translated in the KJV.   It was important for Israel to keep in focus their vision of being God’s chosen people to spread knowledge of God to the rest of the world.

It is just as important for a congregation today to have a vision that they can focus on to achieve.   If it is to be achieved successfully, it must be God’s Vision, not just the congregation’s. Do you know what this church’s vision is?   (Please don’t all answer at the same time in telling me)   Is it a common, shared vision.?   Is our church focused on it?

A VISION should answer these important questions:

WHAT is our congregation’s purpose for living?

WHY is our congregation here in this specific place?

WHAT specifically is God calling us to do as his church?

HOW is God using us, or wanting to use us to make a difference in our world—-right here—right now?

If we have no such shared vision for our congregation, we really have no reason to live. WITHOUT A VISION, THE CHURCH WILL PERISH EVENTUALLY!!

In today’s text, the Apostle Paul is having a vision problem.   He and his missionary group were going in circles and not getting anywhere it seems. Paul’s idea was to head into Asia but that idea was nixed by the Holy Spirit.   He then decided that they would go toward Bithynia but this decision was also disallowed by the Spirit of Jesus.   Paul and his companions appear to be on the verge of traveling in circles when he finally received a VISION in a dream that directed their mission to Macedonia—to the West and not towards the East and Asia.  In Paul’s vision he saw a man in Macedonia calling for their help and immediately they set out for Macedonia—following the vision sent to him by the Holy Spirit.   They arrived in Philippi and there with the help of Lydia establish one of the strongest churches on their missionary journeys.

Two important things must be noted here about Paul’s actions. First, he was aware of the Holy Spirit’s leadership of their journey and when the Holy Spirit blocked where he thought HE wanted to go—twice—-he followd the leadership of the Spirit of Christ.   Secondly, after first being blocked and then again, Paul didn’t sit down and pout when denied the door to Asia. He didn’t say—“I’m not going to do anything until the Holy Spirit tells me what to do. He didn’t just sit and bemoan the fact that Jesus didn’t want him to go to Bithynia but Paul kept moving—thinking that “if we can’t go that way we’ll try this way”—But he listened for the direction of God’s Spirit as to where to move!!!   That is what we must learn from this scripture passage.

We listen for God’s Spirit to move us through prayer..   I’m sure Paul was in prayer most of the time.   We must never undertake any journey in the name of Christ except through prayer.   That is how the guidance of the Holy Spirit will come.

The English philosopher/political economist, John Stuaret Mill was prepare for his profession by a stern Scottish father, James Mill—himself a recognized philosopher/economist/ historian.   His father observed his son’s early brilliance and determined that the boy should be educated exhaustively in literature and the arts, science, history and philosophy.   However, he declared that religious learning was unnecessary and distracting, so he kept his son away from any religious education.   Later, John Stuart Mill (the son) declared, as he looked back on his youth, that he realized the profound sense of lostness and longing that had pervaded his heart.   Although his mind was crammed with information, John Stuart Mill declared his soul was “starved.”   Without the directional guidance of a God personally known through prayer and faith Mill likened himself to a well equipped ship, but with no sail.

How many of us are “ships without a sail today”?   In our personal lives and in our churches we are often without direction and work aimlessly and futilely to reach a vague destination that we do not know because we are not prayerful in communication with God.   And if God does communicate with us and his breath fills our sails—-are we willing to listen and rechart the direction of our lives as the Spirit leads us?   Because when God’s Spirit fills our sails we will often be taken into scary, ucharted waters.

I am fascinated by the fact that Paul never sat back and waited for God to give hims instructions.   God almost always seems to have to interrupt Paul on a journey.

Paul was on the road to Damascus to persecute the people of the Way when the Light hit him.

He had it in  his mind in the text today to go to Asia when God said, “Whoa” !

Then Macedonia opened up. Lydia was out there looking for God, a God seeker, a God fearer, when Paul came upon her and other women praying by the riverside in Philippi;

This leads me to think that maybe we need to get up and start doing what we think is God’s will now and trust that he will tell us what to do while we are on the way.   Maybe God never gives us more directions and more information than we need and until we have started moving in one direction, there is no need for God to correct us and tell us to change directions.   Perhaps to hear the voice of God as clearly and as fully as Paul heard it we have to be heading in some direction so that God can correct our movements..   Perhaps God will not give us more light than is needed for each step..

Our church is seeking a permanent pastor-–one that will work with us to build the church and to be a shepherd and a pastor to God’s people here in Eureka at Christian & Congregational Church.   The Search Committee cannot just sit and wait for God to send the pastor we need.   They must develop, through prayer, a clear idea of what that pastor should be.They must work and examine and search for a pastor—-but most importantly they must be in constant communication with God for guidance toward the right person—-the one that God intends for this church.  They must listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.   They must be willing to change their minds and change their directions as the Spirit leads them—-just as Paul was willing to be lead by the Spirit.  

We say we want to be a church that attracts children.   We have formed a task force to do that.   That task force must meet and discuss—-and work toward that goal—-but they will only be successful if they listen to God’s Spirit and let the Spirit lead them in directions they may have not thought possible. We must be able, through prayer to see what God’s picture of that church to attract children will be.   It will not perhaps be the pictre that the Task Forces has in its mind—it must be God’s picture.   That is only discerned by constantly talking and listening for God’s guidance.

God has a reason for this church to exist.   God has a purpose, a dream for this church to fulill in Eureka.   We must be open to the vision that will open to us as God leads us forward.   But meanwhile we must be striving to prayerfully find the answers to those questions I gave in the early part of this sermon:

  • As we struggle to answer these questions we must be prayerfully open to God’s Spirit and let that Spirit guide us to the answers that fulfill God’s dream for our church.   Once we have seen the vision, then we will be able to focus on it as Paul did..   Amen.

Are We Nomads or Pilgrims?

Text: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Joshua 4:1-7
Theme: We are wandering nomads until we have a vision and a goal. Then we become pilgrims struggling along the path toward the goal we have chosen.
LIFE IS A JOURNEY! That journey is described in very different ways. In Shakespeare’s play “King Lear”– Lear defines it: “Life is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”    On the other hand, Jesus told his disciples, and us, that he had come that we might have life, and have it abundantly.    Of the two descriptions, I choose the one that Jesus gave and the one that the entire Bible seems to indicate.    God is a God of love and wants his creation to be happy and have good lives.
We do know that the journey of life contains many hardships. It also contains many joys we celebrate. And, it contains many failures as we strive toward our goals. but it also contains many achievements that reward us on the journey. All of these joys, hardships, failures, and achievements are milestones that we reach as we go on this journey we call life. That is true of our lives as individuals and it is true of our life as a faith community we call the church.
In this journey of life we are either nomads or pilgrims. What is the difference? A nomad is a wanderer. Nomads have no goal in mind, they just wander from place to place. A pilgrim journeys toward a known goal.
An important part of life’s journey is knowing our goal or destination. Where are we going? Why are we going there? What difference will that destination make? That is true for us as individuals and it is certainly true for our faith community we call “the church.”Without a vision, the people perish” the writer of Proverbs wrote long ago. How true both for individuals and for churches!!
Without a vision, a goal for our lives and the life of our faith community we are like wandering nomads. When we have a goal in mind we change from being nomads to pilgrims and our life and the life of our church becomes a quest toward the goal that lies before us.

Moses reminded the Hebrews that in their early history, they were nomads. In verse 4 and following of chapter 26 of DeuteronomyMoses speaks about that in these words: “When the priest takes the basket of first fruits from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God. ‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor (Jacob), he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous….the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand…and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” He points to the fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham, that wandering nomad, that he would make of him a great nation that would be a blessing to the entire world—a promise repeated to Jacob. Now that goal was being accomplished as the Hebrews entered the Promised Land.
The Exodus from Egypt had led them toward that goal of the Promised Land and the Hebrew people ceased to be “wandering Areamean”—nomads—and at that time became Pilgrims—-making their way toward the goal of the Promised Land.
And when they entered the promised land according to the book of Joshua, Joshua told them to leave behind them at the place where they entered the Promised Land, 12 “Milestones” representing the 12 tribes of Israel where they crossed into the Promised Land—- it was named Gilgal (circle of stones). The story is recorded in Joshua: Joshua 4:1-7]

On Feb. 5, 1994, the Markale Market in Sarajevo was jammed with Bosnians. Hundreds of women, children and men had come for their weekly outing in search of food and goods. Suddenly, without warning, a 120 mm mortar shell hit the crowd, exploding in the midst of the open air market, tearing apart the bodies of 68 people and spewing blood for yards around.
Unable to accept the murder of his anonymous brothers and sisters, a cellist from the Sarajevo Symphony resolved to mark their memory in some way. He decided that each life lost must be marked and honored in some way. The day after the deadly bombing he took his cello and a chair and quietly set them up in the heart of the bombed-out area of the marketplace—the site of so much cruelty and carnage.
Then, without saying a word, he played a short memorial concert, uninterrupted and unannounced, that transformed the scene of horror into a place of harmony and beauty while the crowds gathered and listened as he played. At the end of his concert, he picked up his chair and cello and faded into the crowd.
The same thing happened the next day and for 68 days, as the cellist played a memorial concert for each of the victims who had died in the shelling. He commemorated their lives, not just their dying, and brought dignity and honor to their families. His concerts marked the milestones of each of their lives.

Moses told the people to remember the MILESTONES in their journey from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. They were to remember that even as they wandered in the Wilderness God provided for them—the manna and the doves. He reminds them to celebrate the crossing of the Red Sea on Dry Land The Passover celebration is a remembrance of the Exodus and the freedom from Egyptian slavery.. And Joshua reminded them to celebrate their crossing of the Jordan into the Promised Land on dry land. The Circle of Twelve Stones at Gilgal carried from the bottom of the Jordan River that they crossed on dry land, marks the celebration of the entry of the Hebrews into the Promised Land .

The question is thisWhat are the milestones that we will leave behind individually that shows our pilgrimage on earth? What will we leave that future generations of our families will remember and celebrate? What differences will we have made that are enduring? The same three questions might be asked for the congregations that we serve and have served. What will we leave behind that will be remembered and celebrated long after our names are no longer known? What milestones will we leave to future generations that will be remembered and celebrated? What difference will our lives as a part of a community of faith make that will continue to have impact after we are gone? In other words….

What are we going to pass on through our lives? What is the torch that we will pass on to those who follow us?
There is a story of a father and his young son on a hike in the mountains. The path was not well marked and the footing was treacherous at times. The son said  to his father who was leading the way—-“Be careful, Dad, I’m following in your steps right behind you!” In the same way we must “be careful” and…..

Hold high the torch! You did not light its glow—
‘Twas given you by other hands, you know.
Tis yours to keep it burning bright,
Yours to pass on when you no more need light;
For there are other feet that we must guide,
And other forms go marching by our side;
Their eyes are watching every smile and tear
And efforts which we think are not worthwhile,
Are sometimes just the very helps they need,
Actions to which their souls would give most heed;
So that in turn they’ll hold it high
And say, “I watched someone else carry it this way.”
If brighter paths should beckon you to choose,
Would your small gain compare with all you’d lose?
Hold high the torch!
You did not light its glow—
Twas given you by other hands, you know.
I think it started down its pathway bright,
The day the Maker said: “Let there be light.”
And He once said, who hung on Calvary’s tree—-
“You are the light of the world…Go!!…Shine–=for me.