Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Friday, January 25, 2008

Antagonizing other Faiths?

A couple of days ago, WorldNetDaily posted an article, here, about a Christian TV show battling the PC police by Christian "infidels" eating a cookie decorated like Muhammad, the prophet of Islam.

The producers of the show describe their actions like this:

"What were doing is exercising our freedom of speech and freedom of the press to the fullest in order to challenge a tyrannical, oppressive system that has doomed the cultures and countries of the Middle East for centuries," Mitchell told WND. "Now it's trying to invade our borders, and somebody has to speak up about it."

Thankfully, there was a follow-up. Faith TV, in an article here, has decided not to air the episode, saying:

"We're not going to air it," said Jim West, president of the Florida-based, Christian network. "We feel this program just goes beyond the bounds of good taste."

What are your opinions about the whole idea? Is it a good idea for Christians to deliberately antagonize another faith?

I'll have a post that discusses a passage we just discussed on Wednesday night.

Compare this situation to Colossians 4:2-4.

On another note, how do the makers of the cookie know what Muhammad looked like?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sermon--Choosing Blessing or Cursing--1-20-08

Here is the audio for this message:

Choosing Between Blessing & Cursing

I need you parents to fill in the blanks—

Clean up Your Room So…_________
Clean up Your Room Or…_________

Eat you dinner so __________
Eat your dinner Or __________

When we do this as parents—we are essentially laying out Good things or Bad things that can result from a child's choices. There is something that we, as the parent, want them to do and we lay out the consequences or benefits. But even with all the facts, many times, children still make a poor choice.

This is much the same in Scripture in reference to Blessings and Curses--
Choices have consequences—sometimes they have good outcomes, sometimes bad.

The last couple of weeks have been a contrast of a people living with NO Vision and a people living and being led by Vision. The contrast couldn’t be more striking
Review Nehemiah--CARD
Review—the Curses of No Vision

People Led by No Vision—Perish
• The Israelites under Nehemiah were defeated
• They were struggling
• They were under great “trouble & disgrace”
• Unable to fulfill their own dreams, much less God’s dreams
• They settled for the Mediocre
• They neglected the important things
• There was no confidence
• They lived in fear
• And yet were paralyzed to fix the real problems
• They were complacent in all things, especially their faithfulness to God
• Things suffered because there was no spark, there was no energy, nothing to rally behind
• Neglect, Indifference & Fear
• They saw all the tasks as too big
• They saw all the enemies as too powerful
• They saw all the efforts as not worth it
• They were more focused on their own problems
• They had the foundation of the Temple for years before they built upon it—and it all remained undefended for many more with no vision
Even the population in Jerusalem was much smaller than what it could have been—no one wanted to live there—in a place with no vision—no fire—no protection
Slowly—the hearts of this remnant—that God had preserved and brought back home after decades of captivity—were dying, shriveling up and they were unfruitful

No Vision was a curse that hung around their necks like a giant weight—it was a curse that entangled them, enslaved them and kept them from seeing what was right before them—the Opportunity and Glory of God. The Opportunities of God were passing right in front of them and it was because they had no vision that they were unwilling to take hold of them.

Contrast that existence to the energy and vision Nehemiah brought with him—and the difference it made

The Blessing of Vision

Where there is Vision—the people Live—not just a going through the motions kind of living but the abundant life that Jesus promised—a life of fulfilling God’s dreams and His purpose for the Kingdom. There is little more exciting in the world than knowing you are impacting eternity and the Kingdom of God.

• God’s Vision was a blessing because it helped them clearly see the problem
• The blessing of Vision rallied the people to a great cause—everybody participated, people who had passed by the problem for years came forward to encourage and work
• Vision’s Blessing gave them courage and strength to overcome all the Obstacles & Opposition

• Vision’s Blessing helped them accomplish great and wonderful things—the building of the wall in 52 days—but the greatest accomplishment in all of Nehemiah’s work, and all the people’s efforts was not the building of the wall, but the faith that gave glory to God and drew more and more back into that faithfulness.

Looking at this Contrast of the Curse of No Vision and the Blessing of Vision reminds me of the Choice to Live in Blessing or Cursing that is seen in Deuteronomy 27—

According to vs. 9—the people wandering in the desert for a whole generation were told by Moses that they had now “become the people of the LORD your God.”

And to remind them of the kind of life they were called to, God gave them something tangible as a visible reminder of the choice—Moses says—vs. 12—“When you have crossed the Jordan, these tribes shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph and Benjamin. 13 And these tribes shall stand on Mount Ebal to pronounce curses: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan and Naphtali.”

From each mountain—the choice was clearly laid out—a choice to live in Blessing and a Choice to live in Cursing.

It’s not the last time this is set before them in the book of Deuteronomy—which records some of Moses’ last words as the leader of Israel.

Deut. 11:26-28—“See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse-- 27 the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today; 28 the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known.”

Deut. 30:19-20—“This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

These passages are reminders that choices have consequences—We can choose curses, we can choose blessing. Which do think God wants us to choose? He wants you and I to choose Blessing—to choose LIFE.

Choosing Life means that you are choosing to walk in the Vision—choosing to walk in the ways and calling of God that sets you apart—it shows your Love for the Lord, that you recognize and listen to His voice and that you are holding fast to Him. But not just for your benefit—“so that you and your children may live.”

In other words—that there may be life beyond your presence or existence—it benefits your children—those who are coming after you—those whom you are leaving a legacy for—5 years is a long time in the life of a child—so much development happens just in a few years.
When we choose blessing—choose Vision—it has effects that lasts for years.

Have you ever wondered where you will be in 5 years—when you think of that moment—is UBC still benefiting from your presence, or is it your children that will be living in the legacy you leave today? Think about that. The life and vision you live today will provide the life for their future. So it’s all the more important for us to live the Vision today—so that in 5 years—there will still be life here at UBC—b/c if we don’t and we choose the Cursing instead of blessing there will be death—in 5 years we’ll be wondering what we left to our children. I

In order for this church to survive beyond 5 years into the future, we must be committed to a vision today—a vision that helps us see our situation clearly, that rallies us to a great cause, that helps us overcome obstacles and opposition, that empowers us to accomplish great things.

What kind of life do we want to live as the Body of Christ at UBC? Do we want to live in the state of No Vision and slowly waste away? Or do we want to embrace and commit to fully embracing the vision that God is sending our way?

You may say—choosing blessing is a no brainer—why is this even up for discussion? Why? Because it’s so hard to do—knowing what is right and good is a totally different animal from doing what is right and good.

How many of you know that if you want to live healthier you need to eat better or eat less? How many of you know that you should get more sleep, but don’t: that you should get more exercise, but don’t

If you made any resolutions just a few weeks ago—they are usually to better your situation, and yet so many have already gone by the wayside.

I strongly believe that God desires to awaken our hearts to Him—that He wants to give us a vision for Life and Ministry here at UBC. And in that vision is Life, is Renewal, is Passion, is Effectiveness—that puts us on the road to great things that accomplish more than we ever could imagine..

We must be aware that as God puts opportunities and decisions before us that we must make choices. In the course of those choices—many times we will not be deciding between Bad and Good, but between Good and Good, Good and Better.

Philippians 1:9—Paul prays that our—“love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best”

Discerning what is best is not always easy—the good is often the enemy of the best. We must understand that as we seek the wisdom and vision of God together in our decisions, in our methods, in our ways of doing things, in our preferences or styles—we may see things differently—but we must be committed to each other, committed to fulfilling the vision of God, committed to building upon our foundation that has been laid, committed to fulfilling our part in the body—taking up our sword, taking up our shovel and building a section of the wall—rebuilding the gate that gives even more access to the Kingdom.

Nehemiah 3 is a chapter that details those who built the sections of the walls—how each family took a different part. In order for the whole wall to be built—they had to work together and independently. Do you think everyone’s section was uniform?

Your section of the wall to build is going to be different than mine—it may look a little different—but use the same basic materials—the foundation is Christ—the building is carried out by obedience to the Lordship of Christ--the ministry of the Gospel, the sharing of the Gospel, the growth of the gospel, the fellowship of the Gospel and the praise of the Gospel.

We are each gifted to serve in unique ways, none is more important than the other, but they are not the same—how you do it will be different from me—how I do it will be different from you—Rather than faithful to a uniform—we must be Faithful to Continue Building!!! What unites us together is our commitment to Christ and His vision for this fellowship.

Looking at the water damage the last few weeks has taught me something—you need to build both inside and outside. Imagine a church, a home a building where only the exterior walls were built—they took the time to put up the insulation, the brick the walls, to put in the windows and doors, to paint and set up beautiful flowers and plants, but on the interior—pipes, timber, was all exposed, there were no real rooms, just space—it would not be a serviceable building—no one would want to really be a part of whatever was happening on the inside. Without the interior worked on, the exterior is just making a dry spot to get out of the rain.

In the same way, if a building was built from the inside out—where only the interior was built—the dry wall was put up, the carpet laid down, the paint beautifully and stylistically done—would still be exposed to the weather and all that hard work would quickly deteriorate.

The interior and the exterior of our fellowship need the empowered attention of His people—Would you agree? We need the walls and the gates

Some examples of Vision that God is laying on my Heart for UBC—that I hope you will consider and commit to.
• A church that ministers lovingly and effectively to its attending and non-attending members
• A church that passionately fulfills the Great Commission by being emboldened witnesses locally & globally
• A Church that powerfully ministers to the children of our community and effectively Reaches and Incorporates their parents

• To be a church whose purpose is to be Christ-like in our daily living by emphasizing total commitment of life, personality, and possessions to the Lordship of Christ
• Life—not just on Sunday mornings—but afternoon, evening & Mon-Sat.—my social life, my home life, my work life, my vacation life—a total commitment of all of our life to the Vision and plan of God—because whoever loses their life—for the sake of Christ—will save it.
• Personality—christlike in my moodiness, my irritations and frustrations, my joys—in all things—our attitude & personality should be like Jesus—in the way we treat one another with respect, in the way we help each other in need.
• Possessions—total commitment of our possessions—finances, you name it—
• Our Daily living should emphasize it all—a total commitment to Christ
• I hope you have made that commitment.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Unchurched views of the Church--Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer is a leader at Lifeway Research. Recently, LR asked the unchurched for their opinions of those who do go to church--the information is striking. So much so that CNN came calling for an interview. You can see the interview at Ed's site, here.

There seems to be a hard edit in the middle that cuts out something interesting--but it's a good segment. I would appreciate any thoughts you have on the research or the concept presented.

Here is another interview with Ed talking about the report.

Here is the entire report from Lifeway--it's very telling.

If you are not involved in any church--what is your opinion of it and those who do go?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Important Discovery-- First Temple

The Jerusalem Post is reporting in an article that a seal dating back to the time of Nehemiah has been found that references a family named in the Bible. This family returned from exile with Nehemiah and had been in service of the First Temple.

If this artifact is authentic, this is an incredible discovery that validates the Jewish presence in Jerusalem and the worship at Solomon's Temple. It has implications in contemporary discussions over the Temple Mount--in that some some deny that there ever was a Jewish temple at that location--such claims undermine both Judaism and Christianity considering many key moments in Jesus' life center around the Temple expanded by Herod the Great.

It's an exciting thing to consider--which is also related to the recent claim of the discovery of a segment of Nehemiah's wall.

Do you consider this important?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Sermon- 1-13-08-- The Benefit & Blessing of Vision-- Nehemiah

Here is the audio of this message.

The Benefit & Blessing of Vision

F.E. Marsh has enumerated some of God's blessings:
An acceptance that can never be questioned. (Ephesians 1:6).
An inheritance that can never be lost (I Peter 1:3-5).
A deliverance that can never be excelled (2 Corinthians l:10).
A grace that can never be limited (2 Corinthians 12:9).
A hope that can never be disappointed. (Hebrews 6:18, 19).
A bounty that can never be withdrawn. (I Colossians 3:21-23).
A joy that need never be diminished (John 15:11).
A nearness to God that can never be reversed (Ephesians 2:13).
A peace that can never be disturbed (John 14:27).
A righteousness that can never be tarnished (2 Corinthians 5:21).
A salvation that can never be canceled (Hebrews 5:9).
F.E. Marsh.
Last week we saw in the lives of a defeated people the truth that “where there is no vision, the people perish”

We saw that a people without Vision—are often paralyzed by fear, a lack of commitment, and so often the good things that need to be done around them are neglected, are forgotten—the opportunities are missed—and so often when we do not step up to the plate when God lays an opportunity before us—it’s going to be a while before He comes back to us and says—Here’s another opportunity for you.

When we don’t have Vision—there’s nothing to commit to, nothing to fight for, no victory to achieve, no sense of accomplishment, no sense of cause, nothing to live for—it’s just a drudgery of life.

But it’s moving to the truth of the flip side—that “where there is vision—the people live.”

Last week we finished with the truth that you and I are the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and that you and I together are being built into a spiritual house in order to serve as priests, dedicated to giving glory to God.

I like these definitions of Vision

Vision is the ability to understand the history, the present condition, and the potential of the church, and to conceive a plan for action that will maximize the ministry potential. More often than not, vision is a result of having spent much time absorbing the facts about the community, knowing the resources upon which the church can call (people, funding, facilities, equipment, etc.), and devising sound but creative strategies for moving forward. Vision always entails progress: it is never satisfied with the status quo.
George Barna, How to Find Your Church, p. 104.
Vision: the capacity to create a compelling picture of the desired state of affairs that inspires people to respond; that which is desirable, which could be, should be; that which is attainable. A godly vision is right for the times, right for the church, and right for the people. A godly vision promotes faith rather than fear. A godly vision motivates people to action. A godly vision requires risk-taking. A godly vision glorifies God, not people.
Bob Logan.
Eph. 1—Revelation helps us “Know Him better”
Phil. 1—knowledge and insight--Vision will help us “discern what is best”

1. Vision’s Blessing Helps you Clearly See What is Needed—1:3-4, 11
• It is easy to get comfortable when something is broken. I remember times when a picture was leaning, or there was a crack in the wall that needed repairs—it’s easy to go right on by—to get so used to seeing it this way—so comfortable with the problem—that you can lose the drive to fix it, that you can even be afraid of seeing the problem fixed at all.

• For those coming from Jerusalem, for years, they had lived with the problem—for years, they may have thought someone should do something about it—for years, the reminder of their defeat was before them and for whatever reason, they were afraid of what would happen if they tried to fix it.

• At this point—they didn’t know what to do with it—at this point, they may have lost hope it would ever change. But when they took the problem with them to Susa, the capitol of Persia, someone else heard about it—READ 1:2-4

• Nehemiah was broken by the situation –and he took it before God—called out to Him to reveal the way to impact what is a sad situation—
• The people of God had been paralyzed from living as God has invited them to live—and they were suffering for it--and everyone around them was suffering as well. When Jerusalem was not functional, when the Temple was not the central place of true worship it was supposed to be—everyone in the surrounding country couldn’t worship effectively either—they remained in darkness b/c those who should have been shining the light were afraid, were immobilized, had lost sight of what God had called them to be and so lost the vision of God.

• After many days of mourning, fasting and prayer, and taking things to God, Nehemiah was ready to step out and take a risk. READ v. 1:11

• What was needed was Jerusalem needed to be rebuilt—Jerusalem needed to return to the center of Jewish life and Worship—the covenant needed to be lived out. Hope needed to be restored—the light needed to shine again.

• The blessing of the vision God had given him helped Nehemiah see the problem—and see it so clearly that he was moved to do something about it.

• In the same way, when we hear about people here in Macomb who are struggling, who are suffering, who are trapped in darkness apart from Christ—you and I can be tempted to just go on living—and not really think twice about it because we’ve become comfortable with our own little world, our own friends and family, or because we’re afraid of stepping out and doing what is necessary to change things, or we’re waiting for someone else to do it—but just like Nehemiah we should be broken about the situation of the lost around us—and we need a vision from God to shake us—out of our complacency. Vision’s Blessing helps us to See what is Needed and also give Hope for a Solution

• Lord God, may we be so broken when we hear the report of those in need of Christ that we will call upon and pursue after God and His plan for making a difference.

2. Vision’s Blessing Rallies People to a Great Cause—2:17-18, 3:1
a. 2:17-18— Let us start rebuilding
b. waiting for a vision—they were waiting for someone to come along, and show the conviction to do something about it—it wasn’t that Nehemiah was smarter—it’s that he wasn’t going to let this moment pass by—not when God had given him the blessing of a vision—and the people responded to that.
c. 3:1—the rest of the chapter describes the different sections of the walls and the gates and the various groups or families that rebuilt them.
d. After years of doing nothing—of knowing the problem but unable or unwilling to do anything about it—after hearing from Nehemiah and what God had shown him, they were now ready to do it. The vision that God had laid on Nehemiah’s heart inspired them to action. Now they had something to believe in—the discouragement, the defeat, the years being dominated by local thugs are cast aside with a vision of hope and a future.

e. The people of Jerusalem were rallied by the blessing of Vision. The greater cause of fulfilling the vision allowed people to work together, even on their small sections, but accomplish something they could not do on their own.

f. This was a great cause—restoring dignity to Jerusalem and its people—restoring its place as a center of worship to almighty God.—the vision that Nehemiah brought with him was a breath of fresh air for those who had been waiting.

g. WWII brings many such moments to light—not many in England thought they could survive the German onslaught until Winston Churchill gave them a vision of Victory. Many in America wondered if the United States should cut it’s losses in the Pacific and stay uninvolved after Pearl Harbor

• Vision’s Blessing Overcomes Obstacles & Opposition
• The amazing thing about starting something for God is that you are guaranteed to face opposition. Nehemiah was no different. He endured tremendous opposition, undermining and threat.

• Nehemiah--2:10, 19—not everyone liked the vision Nehemiah brought with him. They were from neighboring towns and were fearful they may lose income or power. others resentful—Resistance to anyone offering a vision—opposition

• 4:1-3—Ridicule and Mocking—since the direct opposition wasn’t working the enemies of Jerusalem made fun of them and sought to discourage them—to sap their hope—to discourage them from completing the project and fulfilling their cord

• Then it went so far in 6:5-9—the opposition was even deliberately bringing up False Accusations and lies
• Satan was willing to throw anything at them to make them stop and discourage them from doing the work God had called them to do.

• That is so typical—Satan’s pattern hasn’t changed. As soon as you start moving toward fulfilling your calling and vision of God, Satan is going to try anything to stop you. And you should not expect to be exempt from such treatment. He’ll try any such tactics on us—so long as we don’t just stand on the sidelines or sit on the bench—he’ll use whatever means necessary to keep you on the bench and not in the game. Satan will use family, he’ll use your kids, your spouse anything.

• That’s why Nehemiah needed to set up guards to help them all—while some did the work of building, others did the work of guarding. READ 4:13, 16—the cause was worth fighting for.

• 7:1-3—guarding—ordinary guards—everyday citizens were given charge of the gate—required the participation and commitment of everyone.

• It was the vision of seeing the walls back up—the dream of the gates functioning as they should that helped all the people overcome the opposition—don’t you want to take part in something worth fighting for? Something that has an eternal value—because our mission, the vision for this family, this body of believers is worth it—especially when we are standing by each other—guarding and working.

• It is vision helps you overcome obstacles and opposition—it may not be easy but reminders of what you’re doing something for and why it will make a difference.

• Vision’s Blessing has Amazing Accomplishments
• 4:6—early on, despite the opposition, the wall was rebuilt to half it’s height—the people were inspired and worked with “all their heart”

• After helping out the social situation—restoring justice to the poor—again Nehemiah faced opposition again and Sanballat attempted to lure him into a trap. But Nehemiah continued to pray and seek God—“Now strengthen my hands” he said in vs. 9

• Successful Vision—6:15-16—completing in 52 days—fear of the enemy—now those in Jerusalem were able to truly live as they were intended to live
• 7:1—with all these things in place—the singers and Levites were appointed—true worship was restored.

• 7:4—city was large and spacious—few people in it—they were ready to receive

• 8:1-3, 5—Hunger for the word

The rebuilding of Jerusalem was for the Glory of God—that the people would no longer be a disgrace—and they experienced some great aspects of mercy from God. they rallied around Nehemiah and the vision God had given him and together they accomplished a great task. They had the foundation laid and it was time to build upon them.

They had walls to build in order to keep unwanted enemies out—a matter of protection and defense. But the gates were supposed to give access to anyone who came—so they might benefit from the access to God. Strength and access—so long as the people of Israel held to this vision—they were pleasing to God and He blessed them.

I believe we are in a similar situation—we have walls that need repair—we need gates and access to God restored—we need an awakening of the vision and calling of God in our hearts so we will impact the community around us and not live in fear, not be paralyzed to inaction, but work with all our hearts to accomplish our mission—the one that Jesus gave to us—strengthening the family of God to reach out to the lost and hurting.

We have such a good foundation to build upon—our situation is far from hopeless—I believe we are on the verge of God’s great blessings.

Here’s some things to do—

First—pray and seek God’s vision for our church and for your life.

Second—allow yourself to be broken for the lost and hurting around you—don’t continue to pass by the same thing that needs fixing and not do anything about it

Third—if you haven’t seen someone in a while that you’re used to sitting next to or your used to seeing—give them a call this week. Invite them to lunch or over for dinner. Be excited about our church and invite them to join you in the work of God—come be a part of the Church visitation this Saturday,

Fourth—start building—take a section of our church’s needs and fulfill it with all your heart. Start building upon the foundation of the Temple that has been laid in this church, in your heart—don’t let the foundation remain unused—if God has laid something on your heart—share it—Patrick and I and others will help you in fulfilling it.

How many of you know that a few years ago, the church came together and agreed upon a Vision Statement. It’s a very sound one—when the foundation is Christ—and these are great building blocks to shape what and how we build.

UBC Vision

• To be a dynamic spiritual church empowered by the Holy Spirit to share Christ with as many people as possible in our church, community, and throughout the world.--Evangelism

• To be a worshiping fellowship, experiencing an awareness of God, recognizing His person, and responding in obedience to His leadership--Worship

• To experience an increasingly meaningful fellowship with God and fellow believers--Fellowship

• To help people experience a growing knowledge of God--Discipleship

• To be a church that ministers unselfishly to persons in the community and world in Jesus name.--Ministry

• To be a church whose purpose is to be Christ-like in our daily living by emphasizing total commitment of life, personality, and possessions to the Lordship of Christ.

UBC is like Jerusalem—we need to see the vision of God to awaken us to His great Mission—that will sustain us through opposition—that we can expect to accomplish great and wonderful things.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Sermon-- 1/6/08-- The Consequence of No Vision-- Nehemiah

Here is the audio for this message.

The late Supreme Court Justice Oliver Holmes was on a train when the conductor came through collecting tickets. Holmes couldn’t find his ticket and became rather distraught. The conductor tried to console him by saying, "Mr. Holmes, don’t worry. When you find your ticket, just mail it in. We trust you." Mr. Holmes responded in frustration, "My dear man, that’s not my problem. I need my ticket to tell me where I’m going."
We all need to know where it is that we’re going.

It’s a good thing to know where you’re going—and also how to know when you’ve made it. Exploration requires being able to see farther than just where you are at the moment.

About 350 years ago a shipload of travelers landed on the northeast coast of America. The first year they established a town site. The next year they elected a town government. The third year the town government planned to build a road five miles westward into the wilderness.

In the fourth year the people tried to impeach their town government because they thought it was a waste of public funds to build a road five miles westward into a wilderness. Who needed to go there anyway?

Here were people who had the vision to see three thousand miles across an ocean and overcome great hardships to get there. But in just a few years they were not able to see even five miles out of town. They had lost their pioneering vision. With a clear vision of what we can become in Christ, no ocean of difficulty is too great. Without it, we rarely move beyond our current boundaries.

Losing our Vision is a dangerous thing—it has consequences.

In 586 BC, the Jewish world was hit with a major blow—Jerusalem, the sacred city of David and the home to Solomon’s Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians—the walls were destroyed, the Temple demolished, the precious, holy articles were carried off to be used for pagan gods, their leaders and most of the inhabitants were taken off into captivity. Those remaining behind suffered through drought and famine, continued defeat and other problems. By 538 BC about 70 years later—Babylon had fallen and Persia came to power under Cyrus—and he did something unusual—he let the Jews go home. Under the leadership of a man named Zerubbabel, these exiled Jews returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple. Things were looking up for while. It seemed as if Israel was on the verge of becoming a blessed nation once again. But the people refused to turn away from the very sins that God had judged their ancestors for. The temple was not being maintained. Sacrifices had ceased. The Jews continued to adopt the religious practices and culture of the surrounding nations.
By the time of Nehemiah, the political, social, and spiritual conditions in Jerusalem were deplorable.

Things were looking bad again for Israel—Israel Had Lost Sight of the Vision-the vision that God had for them

Israel had Great Potential—
God’s Great Plan
Genesis 12:2—“I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you.”

ISA 42:6 "I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles,

Exodus 19:5-- 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.'

Deuteronomy 4:34-35--“ 34 Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by miraculous signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?
DT 4:35 You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other.

2SA 7:22 "How great you are, O Sovereign LORD! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears. 23 And who is like your people Israel--the one nation on earth that God went out to redeem as a people for himself, and to make a name for himself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out nations and their gods from before your people, whom you redeemed from Egypt? 24 You have established your people Israel as your very own forever, and you, O LORD, have become their God.

All the nations of the earth were to be blessed through this nation God had created—God’s vision was for them to be a blessing—to be His priests and representatives to the World—to be a light. But somewhere along the way, Israel lost sight of what God had called them to be

At various times, the nation that was His possession, rejected their place in God’s plan—rejected the vision of greatness—each man turned to his own way and did what was right in his own eyes. And that is a dangerous place to be.

There is a Consequence for Not Living in the Vision
Again, Being Outside the Vision Has Consequences

Proverbs 29:18:Where there is no Vision—the people perish—they let it all go—they are let go—they suffer spiritually

The Vision comes from God—He gives it—we must receive it, commit our selves to it and live in His Revelation. When we don’t, when we go our own way—there are consequences—and you can see some of them in and around the man Nehemiah who came back to Jerusalem after about 150 years of Captivity, about 100 years after the Jewish people were allowed to return home

READ Nehemiah 1:1-4—

After all these years of struggle and exile—after the provision of God by being allowed to return home—the people of Israel were still struggling to live the Vision because even after God had tried to get their attention they still hadn’t gotten the fact that their lives needed to change, their commitment to God needed strengthening.

By not living in God’s vision—the people of Israel experienced defeat after defeat—they lived in “great trouble and disgrace”. This is what lies outside of God’s vision. When you and I are unwilling or uninterested in God’s vision it’s typically b/c we’re more interested in fulfilling our own vision. We usually have great visions for ourselves—we can envision the Job we want, we can picture the kind house we want to live in, the kind of car we want to drive, see the figures of our salary, the prestige of our position. There is only one thing wrong with those dreams—if they are yours and not God’s.

You may have your dreams and visions of the future, but if you refuse or ignore God’s vision—there is “great trouble and disgrace” ahead. God doesn’t want us happy nearly as much as He wants us obedient—and not just obedient in the sense of “DO AS YOUR TOLD”—but in the sense of God saying, “Your dreams for your life are nothing compared to mine! They pale in comparison. You are setting the bar way too low because My vision is immeasurably more than all you can ask or imagine for yourself.”

Our dreams are usually too small—what we try to do, the life we try to build on our own is not nearly as beautiful as the one that is in God’s heart.

In reality, our dreams and visions and efforts are embarrassing by comparison. Look over in Ezra 3:12-13—

Many of the older priests grieved at the new temple b/c it did not compare to the previous Temple. They looked at the Foundation, which foretold the size and shape and they wept of the new Temple and they knew. They knew it would never be as beautiful, never be as glorious or as large as it could have been had the old one remained standing—had they remained faithful—that opportunity was lost. They were ashamed and embarrassed even when they tried to do things for God. That foundation sat there for many years before the actually built it.

The things we pride ourselves in gets broken down—the gates have been burned with fire—so many of our dreams are about protection—protecting ourselves, protecting the ones we love, protecting our future—but this world tears through our defenses—but you know—that’s not even right—this world is not the only one that does tears down our walls and our defenses—God does it—when we are not living His vision. God takes full responsibility for sending the Israelites into captivity—Full responsibility for tearing them down b/c His desire is that they be fully Restored and then be Willing to live as He has dreamed--

Out side the Vision—the Israelites were Fearful of everyone around them. They Feared and Catered to the Opposition & their Lies—building stopped—walls knocked back down—the sacrifices for the Temple were given up—they had no confidence in what they were doing, they were not committed to God and so every decision was based more on fear—they could not be trusted.

Even Nehemiah was not confident of the people he came to lead. We’ll get into it next week, but Nehemiah came back with God’s vision and the king’s permission to a people whom he didn’t know how they would take his leadership so he does things secretly.

Nehemiah 2:11-18

He first stayed 3 days, doing nothing out of the ordinary.
He didn’t tell anyone until he could get an honest assessment himself
Only went at night—afraid to go during the day lest someone see him
Examining walls--Broken down
Gates destroyed so that no one could come through effectively which shut down convenient trade—but neither could they stop any enemy.

Why hadn’t they repaired the gates already, why hadn’t they already repaired the walls already—why hadn’t they revamped the Temple?
They let the enemy silence them, they let the enemy stop them—They let the enemy intimidate them—With No Vision from God—they were Perishing—they were letting it all go—neglect, indifference, fear—they were Paralyzed.

Paralyzation—inability to do anything, unwillingness to try anything.

They were more comfortable with trouble & disgrace because at least they knew what that was like. Not taking any risk or doing anything new, staying in a bad situation.

broken walls—anyone comes and goes—because you know, having a wall just invites attack—like you’ve got something to hide or something worth protecting—better to not have a wall at all—better not to project a picture of strength and power where you are actually influencing the surrounding area and the lives around you because that just invites the attention of the enemy.

You know there is truth to that—as long as you are doing nothing and having very little impact on the Kingdom of God—as long as you and I are unwilling to ask God for His vision, unwilling to Fulfill the vision He has already given us, then Satan has little to fear from us and he will largely leave us alone—because we’re defeated already.

Sure, he’ll do a few things here and there to remind us not to stick our heads out of our shell—Satan does the little things so as not to awaken a true dependence on God, awaken a desperate cry out to Him.

When I visit with people and they tell me they haven’t been to church in a while but they plan on it this week, I usually give them a warning. Get Ready. Because if you mean it, you’re really interested in making a change and pursuing after God—then Satan will try to intimidate you, he will try to threaten you—I usually tell them that something will happen between now and this Sunday to keep you from following through—especially on Saturday night or Sunday morning. You’ll get in fight with your spouse, one of your kids will get sick, your car will break down, the clothes you plan on wearing will be dirty or have some mysterious stain on them, the water heater will have quit so there’s no hot water to take a shower.

Satan wants to keep you with your Temple Unbuilt and Unused. He wants to keep your walls and your gates knocked down so you won’t be a threat or influence for the Kingdom of God.
Does it feel that way for you? Did you know that Satan really fears you, really fears this church living the dream, living the Vision God has for us and being the influence for the Kingdom of God?

That’s why Satan peppers us with fear and negativity, with bad attitudes and dissention, with laziness, busyness or other excuses.

You can see some of those attitudes and excuses pop up in the words of the people Nehemiah was trying to lead in ch. 4 & 5—I’m going to read these and then you tell me what the attitude and excuse

Nehemiah 4:10—afraid the task is too big and they don’t have the strength

Neh. 4:11-12—afraid their enemies too powerful and will defeat them.

Neh. 5:1-5—giving time & energy to this effort--afraid not going to have enough to pay bills, to support family, we’re so debt ridden that there’s no way—my home needs to be the bigger priority than the church—Rebuilding Jerusalem is not worth my time, effort and money—feel cheated and swindled—are we getting enough return on what we’re doing?

A people not willing or too afraid to live in God’s vision are defeated already. And there is a great Vision from God to be fulfilled.

This week we’ve been looking at a people that have lost sight of the vision of God—we’ve looked at some of the consequences that comes as a result. Being Afraid—living in fear, being Paralyzed to where you don’t do or try anything—the greatest of which is settling for less than God’s best.

Next week we’ll look at the benefits of living and believing the vision from God—using Nehemiah. But in the meantime, I want you to consider something:

Are you in the least concerned that you may have lost sight of God’s vision for your life or for the life of this church?

What evidence, if any, can you see in your own life? Are you, are we paralyzed and unwilling to do anything? Are you listening to the voice that whispers in your mind—no don’t do that, don’t start that conversation, don’t make that commitment—don’t try to build a wall—don’t try to build upon the foundation of my Temple?

Are you more afraid of messing up than you are of trying? Then you’re like the man given a talent in Matthew 25:25-- 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.”—essentially paralyzed from doing what God has called you to do? Are you defeated before even trying—not in action but in your heart and in your mind?

Because when we are like that, even what we have will be taken and given to someone who will live the dream, live the vision—God’s Kingdom will not be thwarted by your or my stubbornness—He’ll find someone else.

God does not want to see you defeated, He does not want to see you afraid or hesitant or paralyzed. He wants to see you and me fulfilling our calling, fulfilling His Vision for us. He wants to empower and embolden you to start that conversation about spiritual matters, to pray on the spot for that person who is troubled and not worry about what someone else may think of you.

It is when we have lost sight of His vision that we are those things—it is when we lose sight of His vision that we are essentially like Jerusalem before the coming of Nehemiah—our walls have been neglected, our Temple has only minimal treatment—our commitment to living as God has called us to live is haphazard.

Can you imagine how far removed from the Vision and Glory of God it must have taken for them to have the Foundation of the Temple laid—but still be unwilling or too scared to actually build it?

Think about it—you are called the Temple of the Holy Spirit—Peter tells us that we are being built into a Temple 1 Peter 2:4-- As you come to him, the living Stone--rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him-- 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…

Each of you has a great foundation of faith that is laid—this church has a great foundation of faith that is laid--and God is calling you and me to build upon it—to not go year after year with your individual Temple unbuilt—year after year with the walls of protection, the walls of strength, the walls of faithfulness unbuilt.

If you’re unwilling to build on your Temple or unwilling to build up this church to fight against the darkness—then you have lost sight of the vision God has for you. And if we have no vision—we will perish.

But—the flip side of that is—Where there is Vision—the People Live!

And if God is laying on your heart a vision for our church—I want to hear about it—don’t be afraid to share it.

And if we begin to shake off the dust and idleness of letting our Temple and our Walls remain unbuilt—then Get ready b/c 2 things are going to happen—the first is that Satan is going to try and put a stop to it before it gets very far—that happens over and over again in Nehemiah—the second Get Ready is Get ready for God to show more, for God to do more, for you and I to see Him working in such a way that is refreshing and powerful—Get ready for Him to take you on an adventure.

Are you willing to do that? To seek God’s vision and truly live it?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Sermon-- It's Time-- New Year's Sermon

What a difference a year makes. In 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected as the president of the United States and even before he took office, 7 states seceded and by April 12th, 1861, the Civil War had begun. Between 1917 and 1918 the United Sates lost 110,000 casualties.

Many things

Last year at this time, where were you? What were you doing? What has happened between then and now? What has changed? Some of you have lost loved ones, others have gained grandchildren that you would have never suspected this time last year. What can happen in the next year that will change your life?

Think of your first year of marriage, your first year as a parent, your first year of high school, your first year of college. So much can change in so little time.

• This Year and Every Day in it is a Gift from God
o More than just the year, every day is a Gift
o PS 118:24 This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
o God made this day and He has allowed you, granted you the privilege to be a part of it. You and I are not eternal, we do not control our presence

o The Psalmist wrote, "PS 39:4 "Show me, O LORD, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. PS 39:5 You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man's life is but a breath." [Psalm 39:4-5].
o And then again, "All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be" [Psalm 139:16].
o God is the One who created our life each day, each moment is a gift from Him. So every day should be appreciated—every day no matter what is going on in life.

o He doesn’t fill us in on all the details.PR 27:1 Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.”—but He desires that we be faithful with the gift He has given.
o You Have a Choice--Every day of this year must be dedicated and given over to God—every day’s problems must be given to Him—every day’s needs must be sought from Him—ask Him for your daily bread.
o Commit to live each day as a gift from God, as something irreplaceable—don’t waste it, don’t take it for granted. Dedicate yourself and your day to Him and a year of those kind of days those years will never be considered a failure. Your life and the life of those around you are precious.
o So many things can happen in the next year—what can you think of?
o Most of those examples were bad—why do we do that? Why aren’t there more thoughts of the good things that can happen in the coming year?

• This Year You Will Fight Many Battles
o You may be glad that this past year is over—maybe it’s been pretty tough on you. I will not stand up here and say everything’s going to be easy—everything’s going to be a piece of cake.
o I guarantee, you will experience tough times this year. They may be as a result of your health, of your job, they may even be in your relationships, friendships, family member, even your marriage. You will have your feelings hurt, you will want to cry, to lash out.
o You and I will battle, daily temptations—especially the temptation to face these moments alone.
o The enemy will hurl fiery arrows in our direction to take out our effectiveness for the Kingdom of God.

o Sin is a guarantee for trouble in this world—as a Believer Jesus guaranteed it—JN 16:33 "In this world you will have trouble.”

o You are a part of a larger battle—our enemy the devil prowls around searching for someone to devour As much as we will have battles as a Nation, we will have battles to fight as a church—we will have important decisions to make—you will have battles as an individual. You and I, in desiring to serve our Savior will be on the front line of the battle that is not against flesh and blood.
o Eph. 6:12—“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

o We are not left defenseless—we are given armor to put on, we are given the Holy Spirit to lead us, we are given the Sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.
o But it is the Battles that most often grow and strengthen our faith. What would we have to say about Moses if there was not a struggle to leave Egypt—What about David—he is most famous for what?

o What about Elijah—if there’s one thing we know about him it is ____________.
o Paul wrote many of his letters from prison. And Jesus endured great temptation in the desert, great opposition which eventually led Him to the Cross—and it is there in that Battle, that our greatest Victory was won.

o So don’t be surprised or dismayed by my saying you will have battles to fight this year.

o Our hope comes from the fact that Jesus also said “But take heart! I have overcome the world."” This simple truth—that Jesus has overcome the world is what makes the challenges, difficulties and battles you and I are going to face this year bearable.

o Peter says in 1 Peter 1:6-7--though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
o Our struggles and battles refine and prove our faith genuine. And they also result in Praise, Glory & honor for Jesus
o So in that—since every day is a gift, since every day there will be a battle of some kind--

• Every Day is Filled with Opportunities
o To Make a Difference
o To Give Glory to God
o To Bring Glory to God
o Every Day is a Day to Impact the Kingdom of God
o In 1269 Kublai Khan sent a request from Peking to Rome for "a hundred wise men of the Christian religion...And so I shall be baptized, and when I shall be baptized all my baron and great men will be baptized, and their subjects baptized, and so there will be more Christian here than there are in your parts." The Mongols were then wavering in the choice of a religion. It might have been, as Kublai forecast, the greatest mass religious movement the world has ever seen. The history of all Asia would have been changed.

But what actually happened? Pope Gregory X answered by sending two Domnican friars. They got as far as Armenia, could endure no longer and returned home. So passed the greatest missionary opportunity in the history of the church.

o How would this world be different if we don’t miss the opportunities that God puts before us.

o Galatians 6:9-10--9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
o EPH 5:15 Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
o Colossians 4:5-6--5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
o Don’t miss an opportunity to share your faith when God opens the door, or God interrupts your routine
o Don’t miss an opportunity to say “I love you” or God loves you.
o Don’t miss an opportunity to do Good and be a neighbor—even when it’s inconvenient, even when it’s an interruption, even when it may make you late—when someone is in need—be the presence and power of Jesus in that moment.

• Romans 13:11-12 says, "The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness & put on the armor of light."
• You’re and my salvation—that moment when Christ calls us home, or when He returns in glory—that moment is nearer now, today, this year than ever before.
• We need to have our Hearts Awakened to the Heart of God and make the most of every opportunity—that is where our great challenge and adventure lies.
• Commit to make a difference every day

• You want to make a resolution, don’t make one that is for your benefit only—make one that has can have an eternal impact
• Commit to reading through the entire Bible this year
• Commit to Deliberately seeking out 5 of your neighbors or coworkers to ask them if you can pray for them touching base with them 3 times a month
• Commit to inviting 3 people or families to church every month
• Commit to personally leading 2, 3 or 5 people to know Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior this year.
• How many of you already have the battle raging inside of you?
• I can’t do that?
• I don’t know my Bible that well.
• I’ll be embarrassed.
• I always hate it when someone comes to my door.
• Someone else more gifted can do it.
• Live each day with the expectation that God has something wonderful to do in you and through you. Live each day with the expectation that you will see God do something wonderful in your life, something wonderful through you.

If you have no dream or expectation or no vision for growing our church then get ready. In the coming weeks, we’re going to be looking at the dangers of not having a vision, the benefits that come from having a vision, and the choice made between them. In that time, I want you to commit to asking God to give you a vision for this church and your part in it. Vision is rarely easy, it rarely makes you comfortable—so if your vision for UBC is something you can do from your couch, while you sleep or the comforts of your own home, then you need a bigger vision.
In the coming days and weeks—some moments are going to be laid before you—some decisions that you will have to make, some commitments you will need to pray over. You’ll be hearing us talk about them here—and some of them will be a battle. I guarantee some things you won’t be too interested in—there will be a voice whispering in your ear—don’t do that—you’ll look silly