Well, the time has finally come. A brand new year, a brand new start, and for New Hope, a brand new vision! Why do we have a vision each year, though? Why is it so important? Why is it that each year we seek after God and require His revelation of His vision for us each year? Well, His word teaches us about this.
Proverbs 29:18 (KJV)
Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.
Proverbs 29:18 (NIV)
Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction.
I don’t think that I really need to take time to teach and explain about why it is bad to perish. I mean, it’s obviously a bad thing to perish. According to God’s own word, that is exactly what happens if we do not have a revealed vision from Him. We will cast off restraint and perish.
Danny Silk wrote this bit of wisdom regarding vision: “A person without vision is a person without a future and a person without a future will always return to the past.”
Without vision, we will default to the easiest path of least resistance that most pleases us. However, even when doing what we want, we still will not be satisfied. Without a unified vision, a group of 100 people will go 100 different ways. Without vision, hope is easily stolen and things begin to perish.
With vision, however, we will face challenges and opposition with determination and perseverance because we can see our destination beyond them. With vision, we will follow God’s path and not veer off to the right or left on a path more desirable to us. With a unified vision, a group of 100 people will all serve in their own unique giftings and strengths to achieve that one goal heading one way. With vision, hope is always fresh and strong!
That is why we place such a high priority on seeking out and fulfilling God’s vision for us each year!
Why is the vision always in your face while you are here in the church, though? I mean, it’s painted on the wall when you leave the church and go out into the world, it’s on the screen in front of us constantly, and we dedicate an entire service to explaining and casting it. Well, we find that answer in the book of Habakkuk.
Habakkuk was a prophet who was struggling with God. He prayed and cried out to God, but didn’t feel that God was responding. He was growing impatient and infuriated by the injustice that he saw happening around him. He saw evil reigning and God wasn’t seemingly doing anything about it. Some of us may be able to very well relate to where he is at right now. Some of us may be irritated, frustrated, ready to give up, and confused about what God is doing.
Well, God’s answer to Habakkuk applies to us as well. God’s answer to him was simple; Habakkuk needed vision, he needed to see what God was going to do so that Habakkuk could cooperate with God and move toward that same vision.
2 Then the Lord replied:
“Write down the vision (revelation)
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald may run with it.
3 For the vision (revelation) awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it will certainly come
and will not delay.
This morning, we gather together to receive this revealed vision from God. For us, 2017 ‘s vision is this:
Connected. With God, with family, and with the world.
Specifically, it’s being more intimately connected with God, with our church family, and with the people in the world who have not placed their faith in Jesus around us.
Close relationships are far more than simply important to God, they are the essence of who He is! God exists as three persons in one, which we’ve dubbed the trinity. He is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. Relationships are so important that before the earth ever existed, before anyone had even been born, God existed as the Father, Son, and Spirit. Long before Jesus was ever born incarnate, God in the flesh, He was still the Son.
God spoke and created everything in our universe,
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
In Genesis 2, we find how God created mankind to be connected. First, He created Adam by forming him from the dust of the ground and breathing the breath of life into the formed nostrils. Then, God placed him in the Garden of Eden.
The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
God saw that it was not good for Adam to be alone, but Adam did not yet see this himself. God had Adam name all of the wild animals and birds who were also formed out of the dust of the earth. Through this process, I believe that Adam also saw that it was not good to be alone as all of the other creatures had mates. God then created from Adam, Eve, the first woman and presented her to him and gave her away to Adam in the first wedding ceremony.
Adam and Eve would then walk with God in the garden in the cool of the day.
From the very beginning, even before sin:
Adam needed to be connected to Father
Adam needed to be connected with a family
Adam needed to be connected with the world
It is not good for man to be alone!
This Biblical truth applied to Adam then and it still applies to each and every one of us today; it is not good to be alone. We need to be connected! We need to be closely connected with God, with our church family, and with the world around us.
This year, God is calling us to be connected with Him. He is calling us to go beyond mere spiritual disciplines without relationship to Him and to connect with Him through those same disciplines. It reminds me of Paul’s warning to Timothy found in 2 Timothy chapter 3 about the way people will be in the last days. After listing off all of the horrible attributes that people will possess (and certainly they do now!), he states the reason for the cause of these. He said that they have a form of godliness, but deny it’s power. For sure, we struggle with this problem in our world today!
How do we have a form of godliness, but deny it’s power? We do so by going through the motions of spiritual disciplines outside of a healthy relationship with God! Prayer is simply spoken words and empty wishes, reading the Bible is simply reading the words of a book, and worship is a mere physical act without the power of God that comes only through relationship. Coming to church to serve God and doing things for others is something that we have to irritably force ourselves to do without any natural desire to do so otherwise.
It is sort of like adding raw broth, potatoes, meat, and carrots to a crock pot and never plugging it in. What you end up hours later is the same raw broth, potatoes, meat, and carrots that you put in there. Many of us have all of the raw spiritual disciplines necessary for a healthy spiritual revival, but we’re lacking God’s power. If power is applied to that crock pot, however, those raw items combine to form an awesome stew. That stew’s aroma draws people in with a healthy appetite and desire for revival in their own lives!
This year, we are going beyond raw spiritual disciplines as we passionately seek after a closer connection with God. The same disciplines that we’ve been doing for years will be transformed as God’s power is unleashed in and through our lives.
As we become connected with God, those same spiritual disciplines will transform us. Prayer will become a constant connection with God as we walk with Him continually as our best friend. Reading the Bible will become the author whispering His living word into our lives at just the right time transforming our perspectives and the core of who we are. Worship will be without ceasing as our hearts overflow with thankfulness, psalms, hymns, songs from the Spirit, and sacrificial acts of service and generosity. We’ll be like kids at Christmas when it comes to attending church and serving the needs of others out of an awe of the raw love that He pours out into our lives!
Jesus also reminded us of this need for close connection with Him here:
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
I often wonder how many life-transforming opportunities I miss out on simply because I’m not plugged into the vine as deeply as I should be. How many times do I not hear, or even ignore the still, small voice and promptings of the Holy Spirit?
How many times does God, who calls me His friend, nudge me to a simple act that could lead to a miracle in someone else’s life that I simply miss?
We’re not going to miss those opportunities anymore! We’re going to live always connected and in communication with God, our best friend. We’re going to experience small adventures together and expect the miraculous in everyday life!
This all happens simply by being connected with God!
This year, God is calling us to be connected with our church family. God is calling us beyond church meetings and events toward authentic discipleship as we live our lives connected together as brothers and sisters.
We’ll be aware of what is happening in each other’s lives and be able to come alongside of each other to truly become the body of Christ. We’ll celebrate each other’s successes and meet one another’s needs. We’ll rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. We’ll pray for one another and teach and encourage each other as the Holy Spirit binds us together in perfect unity. We’ll begin to look much more like the church did at its beginning described here:
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
What an awesome picture of what church life could and certainly should look like! Solomon wrote and also described this need for us to be connected with one another.
Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
* String Demonstration *
Paul also wrote and challenges us:
23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
It is critically necessary to be connected with God, but we also need each other. This also is God’s plan and design for us; to need one another.
This year, God is calling us to be connected with the world. The bulk of the ministry that we see Jesus doing was reaching out to those considered by the religious culture to be sinners and unclean. One of the most famous encounters and powerful salvations that we see happen is recorded here:
19 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Just as Jesus was called to seek and save the lost, we also are anointed and called to do the same. This calling requires sacrifice on our part. Reaching out to the lost around us is not something that happens without being intentional about it. No one ever tripped a sinner and got back up being a saint; having simply stumbled into salvation. For sure, we find no examples of accidental salvations in the Bible.
Rather, we find accounts of people being invited into God’s Kingdom and the incredible sacrifices that men and women of faith made just in order to extend that invitation to them. Just being ourselves, the salt and light that Jesus says that we are, and by being around others can make people desire the hope that is within us and ask for it. However, salvation is an intentional act which occurs after either us, or the Lord Himself, invites people to receive it.
Just before Jesus explains the high cost of being His disciple, He gives us a parable that looks far too much like the church of today. Thanks be to God, we are going to choose to no longer allow it to look this way, though!
16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”
Each and every one of us have countless legitimate excuses for not being connected. We’re busy. Plain and simply put, we are truthfully and legitimately busy. We’re just like those that Jesus spoke about. We have things to buy and maintain, we have things that we need to do, we have complex relationships, we are busy.
However, Jesus couldn’t have made it more clear that choosing to be busy with the things of this world instead of being busy compelling people to come into His house comes at a steep cost. It enrages Him. He paid too high of a price for this invitation into His Kingdom to be blown off and ignored. Now, anyone and everyone are invited to receive the invitation that the church is simply too busy to take advantage of.
James chapter 2 reminds us that salvation is not a simple act of saying we have faith in Jesus. Faith, if it is not coupled with our actions, is dead and of no use to us. If we truly have faith that Jesus has forgiven our sins, set us free, and given us new life, then we had better act like it. To selfishly horde our faith after we’ve been saved and not to freely and joyfully invite others to receive it reveals either that we have not truly been saved or that we’ve forgotten all that Christ has done for us.
Let us invite in everyone regardless of where they are at now! In fact, this is more than an invitation. Jesus said to compel them to come into His Kingdom!
Poor? Come on in!
Crippled? Come on in!
Blind? Come on in!
Lame? Come on in!
Live out in the sticks by the boondocks? Come on in!
Jesus tells us to go out, connect with people where they are at, and invite them to connect with Him. The party is ready and waiting on them!
In reality, being called to connect with God, with our church family, and with the world around us is essentially to live out the two greatest commandments that Jesus confirmed:
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
We simply cannot love God and others without being connected to them.
If we all fully commit to God’s vision for us, this year will be a year of tremendous strengthening and growth as we no longer carry our burdens alone, but all live our lives connected with one another.
This year, we will choose to live:
Connected. With God, with family, and with the world.