This is it, the Sunday that I’m sure you all have been eagerly anticipating! Today is our vision casting Sunday! Today is the day when we say “goodbye” to 2015 and usher in 2016 by receiving the vision that God has given New Hope for the new year.
Why is it so important that we have a vision, though? Why is it that we’re reminded of our overall vision to Gather, Grow, and Go every time that we leave this building and into our community?
Well, what do people without vision see?
Darkness! (Matthew 6:23)
Without a vision from the Lord to guide and direct us, we’ll only see all of the problems, challenges, and darkness that exists. We’ll never have the New Hope that God desires us to possess without the vision to see beyond those problems, challenges, and apparent darkness to see where God is taking us. Without vision, we’ll never have hope to overcome our obstacles. Without vision, we are just stumbling around in the dark through life and do not know where we are going (John 12:35). Without vision, we will simply fade away in disappointment, giving up and missing out on all that the Lord had prepared for us.
Habakkuk experienced exactly this. In Habakkuk chapter one, he cried out to God asking how long he had to cry out and not have God listen; how long God would tolerate injustice and wrongdoing. He said that strife and conflict were before him. The Lord answered in an ironic and unexpected way:
The Lord’s Answer
5 “Look at the nations and watch—
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told.
6 I am raising up the Babylonians,
that ruthless and impetuous people,
who sweep across the whole earth
to seize dwellings not their own.
The Lord then went on to describe in detail just how powerful and evil the Babylonians were and that was the entirety of His response to Habakkuk. We cry out to the Lord for deliverance and He replies that He is raising up our enemies… Habakkuk then complains again and the Lord replies:
The Lord’s Answer
2 Then the Lord replied:
“Write down the vision
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald may run with it.
3 For the 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.
After again describing Habakkuk’s enemy in detail, the Lord simply reminds Habakkuk that He is still in His holy temple. It is interesting that God didn’t tell Habakkuk that everything was going to be OK and that things would get better. Instead, He reminded Habakkuk of who He was and told him to write down the vision of God so that many may run with it. That vision gave the people hope that as they were obedient to God, that God would take care of them. In the end, things would be restored and justice would be administered on the enemies of Israel. The vision reminded God’s people that His promises were certain. It reminded them that though there would be a time of waiting and opposition, that they would gain the victory in the end. This gave them hope to press forward toward God’s goal for them.
This is why vision is so critically important!
Proverbs 29:18 (KJV)
Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.
Proverbs 29:18 (MSG)
If people can’t see what God is doing,
they stumble all over themselves;
But when they attend to what he reveals,
they are most blessed.
This year, we do not want to be a people without hope. We do not want to be a people that only see darkness and problems everywhere. We do not want to stumble all over ourselves or be ones who simply fade away in disappointment. We want to be ones who see the vision of the Lord and who run with it!
This year’s vision is:
Salt & Light: Demonstrating God’s Kingdom
Jesus said that:
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
We are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We are ones who are called to be unashamed of Jesus, who let our light shine before others. We are ones who hunger and thirst for God and make others hungry and thirsty for Him as well.
There has been much speculation about the upcoming year in the media as well as the church and most of it has been bleak and discouraging. I believe that this year, the Lord is asking us this question.
“Why is there such darkness in our world?”
Many of us blame Satan. Many of us blame evil people or a corrupt government. Many of us blame it on the Lord; claiming it to be a sign of His soon coming.
The Lord is revealing to us for our vision this year that the true reason for the areas of darkness in our communities is only because of the absence of light. Darkness reigns in those areas only because we have fearfully cowarded away from them and have not brought His glorious light into those dark areas. Darkness only exists due to the absence of light.
Can the light be overcome by darkness? By no means! We, however, have hidden the Holy Spirit under a bowl believing that we were somehow protecting Him and His reputation by keeping Him away from darkness. Think about it. We can spiritualize this fact and even defend it with the scriptures, but not by correctly dividing the word of truth.
I was taught to avoid dark places in seminary by the quoting of:
1 Thessalonians 5:22 (KJV)
Abstain from all appearance of evil.
The correct context of this scripture is the testing of prophecies, to hold onto what is good in a prophecy and to reject any form of evil in a prophecy. It is interesting that by misinterpreting and misapplying verse 22, we are actually breaking the command found in verse 19! We quench the Holy Spirit who desires to seek and save the lost, who desires to bring His kingdom here on the earth.
1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 (NIV)
19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good,22 reject every kind of evil.
Let people think what they want to think and say what they want to say. We are commanded not live to please man, but to please God alone! He is the only judge and jury that we will stand and give an answer to (James 4:12)! As Paul wrote very clearly, if we are trying to please people instead of God, then we are not servants of Christ:
Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Those who often misquote this verse do so in defense of not not hindering their good Christian witness. Unfortunately, the only witness that is ruined by taking the light into darkness is in the eyes of other judgmental Christians and not the witness to unbelievers. After all, isn’t taking the light into darkness the entire definition of being a witness to unbelievers?
Stand before Jesus and quote this lie to Him as an excuse for hiding your light and stiff-arming sinful people. Quote this to Jesus who was called a friend of sinners, a drunk, a glutton, a demon. Jesus, who went into the homes of those participating in all sorts of evil practices, who allowed the sinful woman to wash His feet with her hair and tears, then forgave her of her sin. Jesus, who is the living word of God from which we are to take our example for how to live our faith faultlessly.
Quote this verse back to Paul, who actually wrote that scripture to the church in Thessalonica. Paul, who boasted that he used the freedom that Christ gave him to become all things to all men so that some might be saved (1 Corinthians 9). Condemn the spies of Israel who ran inside of Rahab, the prostitute’s home to hide. Deserving of death for her sins, they instead spared her life and she became a critical link in the genealogy of Jesus. She is also honored in the great hall of faith found in Hebrews chapter eleven. Rahab, the prostitute is held up by God as an example for the kind of faith that we are to possess.
The gospel itself is pointless and powerless if not for the light going into the darkness and bringing about transformation and real life change. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is utterly pointless and meaningless if we do not carry His life changing message to those needing it the most.
Those who would love Jesus the most do not because they have not yet been properly introduced to Him by those carrying His light (Luke 7:47). Unfortunately, we have believed a lie of the enemy and as a result, our enemy has been able to maintain a foothold of darkness and to take captive our community simply because we, the light of the world, won’t go near those people or places. As Jesus said:
Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.
Or as the Lord, Himself, said to Samuel when searching to anoint the next king of Israel:
1 Samuel 16:7b
The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
Of course, the Lord is not urging us to go running to places where our flesh is weak and we’ll be tempted into sin. He is not leading us to feed our fleshly desires and away from His Presence. He is leading us further into His Presence and to carry it to where it is needed most. He is urging us to go running to people that we may not normally befriend, circumstances which might make us uncomfortable, and places within our community that we may not normally go. He is requesting that we cast off our fear of man and boldly and courageously go wherever the Holy Spirit leads us to go.
This year, as a church, we will be bringing the light into four primary areas of darkness in our community. We’ll be bringing God’s light into marriages, families, finances, and addiction. Of course, to be the light of the world, we first must be the salt of the earth.
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.
We will not win over anyone from darkness to light by acting harshly toward them or by condemning them. After all, Jesus alone could have done that and instead lay down His life to serve us and to take on the punishment that we deserve. We are called in Philippians chapter two to be like Him in our relationships with others. This is how we become the light of the world. Even as this chapter teaches:
Philippians 2:15-16 (extracted from)
Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. You will become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”
The saying is true that, “No one will care about what you know until the know how much you care”. The key to winning others to Christ, to being salt and light, is by building relationships with them. After all:
Proverbs 18:19 (KJV)
A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.
Jesus said that if salt loses its saltiness it is no good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. Many people throw out the church and Christians underfoot simply because of encounters where a Christian was not wise in the way that they treated them and caused them to be offended. As the word of God states, an offended person is harder to be won than a strong city. The church is losing its saltiness in our world and it is not at the fault of the world that this is the case!
We, who are called to bring the healing of Jesus into the lives of our community, use our saltiness too often to amplify the wounds and sins of the community around us. We’re no different to them than the rest of the world who does the same thing to them. However, Jesus has a different calling for us.
We are to be the salt that preserves their life, the salt that brings out their strengths and unique giftings, the salt like Elisha used that brought healing for an entire community forever (2 Kings 2), the salt that brings reconciliation and covenant between people and God (2 Chronicles 13:5), the salt that cleanses those made filthy from sin and from being birthed into a new life (Ezekiel 16:4), the salt that makes them thirsty for God and hungry for His presence. The salt that makes the things of this world dull, tasteless, and mundane.
We are to be the light that brings hope into every situation. We are God’s prophetic voice to build up and encourage others to draw close to God and into His plans and purposes for their lives. We know that nothing is too hard for our God (Jeremiah 32:17) and that every circumstance is simply an opportunity to seek out and know God in a new way. God has chosen us to represent Him and has commissioned us to bring His Kingdom here on the earth.
You may be sitting here this morning wondering how you can be the salt and light of the world when you could use some salt and light into your own life and circumstances. Well, frequently throughout the scriptures, the solution to gaining breakthrough in your own life, as well as in the lives of others, is to fast. Yes, fasting is the act of giving up something such as food as to rely fully on the Lord. However, fasting is much more than that. True fasting in the eyes and words of the Lord is to be salt and light! The Lord promises to come rushing in to save the day, to release breakthrough for us, as we fast as He desires.
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
This year, the Lord is going to present us individually, as well as a church corporately, to be the salt that makes people thirsty for God and the light that breaks forth through darkness. We will have the opportunity to spend ourselves on behalf of others, trusting God to guide us and satisfy our own needs and desires. This year, we are being called to be Salt and Light, to demonstrate God’s Kingdom to a lost and dark world around us. It’s sure to be an awesome adventure!
Let’s join together in worship and make a commitment to Him this morning to follow Him; truly being the salt and light of the world!