Last spring my sister, who is a year older than me, was diagnosed with Glaucoma. I was talking to my optometrist so fast it would make your head spin. When she got me into a specialist and he told me there was no evidence right now that I had the same thing I was over the moon, and when he added that there were some markers that indicated that I might be at risk and recommended that I have a test a couple of times a year that I would have to pay out of pocket I said “sign me up.”
And if you were to question me about this fear of blindness I could probably talk about missing the beauty that surround me but bottom line is would be about reading. I literally can’t imagine my life without books. Most of you know that we do a third service at the Berkeley each Sunday afternoon and last year one of the ladies who attend our services had a stroke and lost a good portion of her sight and each week she would tell me how much she missed reading. On the other hand another one of the ladies was Agnes DeGarthe who lived to be a hundred and one and was a voracious reader, you very seldom saw Agnes without a book and she never wore glasses.
Most of you didn’t realize that I wore glasses until I started wearing them for this series but I have worn glasses since I was a teenager and only started wearing contact lenses about 6 years ago. In the scripture that was read this morning was the story of a man who did not have healthy vision but then he did and that is where we are going to start.
He opened his eyes and it was dark. Panic welled up inside him as he realized that he couldn’t see. But then he realized that he had never been able to see that it was just the start to another black, barren day. He felt his way around his room looking for his clothes, getting ready to face a hopeless day begging on the streets. He had long ago surrendered any hope of seeing the things that others saw. He knew that he would never see the sun that he felt on his face, would never view the grass he felt under feet. Never know what a tree looked like or and never see the people that jostled him on a daily basis as they pushed past him on their way through life. He would never be anything but what he was, a poor, blind, beggar in a hard land during a cruel time in history.
And so his day began, no different than any other day that he had spent, no better no worse just a day. And then his day changed because some friends came and took him by the hand and dragged him out of his house, their voices blending together in confusion as they told him of the man Jesus, the one who made the lame to walk and the blind to see. He was here they said, and Jesus could heal him. And so they dragged him through the streets of Bethsaida looking for the one that so many called lord. And then they were there and they pushed him into the carpenter begging that he heal their friend. His voice was soft, but his hands were hard and callused by his years spent working with wood and timber. Jesus spoke quietly to the blind man as he led him out of the crowd and through the city gates. “Where were they going? What did this Jesus want with him?” All he’d wanted was his sight he protested but Jesus continued to lead him by the hand. And then they stopped. And he waited, straining to hear, willing his ears to see the things that his eyes couldn’t. Jesus spit, that’s right he spit, spit right in his eyes and then laid his hands on him. And, and he could see, he looked around and the colors and shapes and sizes, and movement overwhelmed the blind man he was speechless words couldn’t explain or describe what he was seeing. Then he heard the master speak saying “do you see anything.” Could he see anything? He could see everything but it was so confusing, “what was the everything he could see” “I see people, they look like trees walking around?” And then Jesus reached out and touched him again and then he realized another miracle had happened because now the confusion was gone, and he knew what everything was.
Think about it, just for a minute. Here was a man who had struggled through his entire life without vision. His entire life revolving around what he could feel and hear. And into his darkness walks Jesus and his life is changed forever. You realize of course that there are far greater blindness’s then not being able to see physically. Although being the reader that I am the thought of not being able to see a written page terrifies me more then any other handicap. There is a lesson to be learned here, and it is a whole lot bigger then knowing that Jesus can heal the physically blind. And we are going to use this story as a platform for the concepts that we are going to share as we look at the need for healthy vision in our churches today.
1) Healthy Vision is From God This might be obvious but it needs stating. Blindness had robbed this man of a lot of opportunities in life but it wasn’t life threatening as long as he didn’t walk off a cliff or into the path of a chariot. He could still walk and talk. He could still love and be loved. Admittedly there were things that he couldn’t do, but there were a lot of things that he could do. The problem was that he missed out on so much. Some of it tangible like the ability in that time and culture to earn a living without begging. Other things couldn’t have a price tag put on them but they were just as important or even more so. Seeing a sunrise, or sunset. Looking into the eyes of the one you love. Seeing for the first time a new born foal struggle to it’s feet, watching God draw a rainbow across the sky. But he was alive. Even if he wasn’t living life to the fullest.
The lack of vision doesn’t mean that a church is dead. There are a lot of churches out there without a vision that are alive. They function. People are saved and ministered to. But they miss out on so much. Simple things like knowing where they are going so that they can plan ahead in buildings, staff and programs. Major things like knowing what God wants them to do so they can be in the centre of God’s will. God has a plan for every church, just like he has a plan for every individual. And if we don’t have vision that plan will never be fulfilled. We might do good things but we will never do the best things.
A church without vision is like a man without sight, handicapped. Even though there are lots of things that a blind person can do to cope with that handicap and minimize that handicap it will always be a handicap, and as long as they are blind they will never see. Science is racing to find a way to provide a substitute for sight with guide dogs and ultra sonic devices but they will always be inferior to being able to see.
A church may try to substitute different things for vision. Programs, staff, buildings. They may race ahead embracing every new concept and strategy that comes along, but if they haven’t got vision they still can’t see where Christ wants them to be. Just as that blind man only enjoyed part of the wonderful creation that God had provided for him churches without a vision often only enjoy a part of God’s total plan for them.
The great commission might be a good starting place for the church. The Great Commission was the direction that Jesus gave to the apostles before he left them, but it is as general and generic and no more a vision then Genesis 1:28 Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”
We need more to guide our lives as individuals then the command to procreate. And in our churches we need to know more than simply; go forth into the entire world.
Too often local churches get confused between the mission of the “church” that is all churches and the specific vision that Christ has for them individually. Matthew 28:19-20 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
That is our mission. How we are going to achieve it is our vision.
What about your personal life? You can be alive without having a vision for your life. You can walk and talk and go to class, love and be loved but do you know where you are going. If you don’t have vision you are handicapped just as if you were blind.
Have you got a vision for where God wants to take you? Have you got a vision for your spiritual walk? Have you got a vision for where God wants you to be next year or five years from now? And if you have a vision you have to ask yourself is it God’s vision? How often are we guilty of doing our will in God’s name and then calling it God’s will? When you dream and set goals for the future is God even in it? Perhaps you need to let Jesus take you by the hand, lead you away from the hustle and bustle of life and give you vision as only he can.
2) Healthy Vision Is Personal Jesus took the blind man to one side; just the two of them and then Jesus touched the blind man and gave him sight. He didn’t touch the blind man’s friends he didn’t touch the blind man’s family he touched the blind man. It didn’t matter that everyone around him already had vision this man needed it personally. Nobody else’s vision would do. I can’t see through your eyes, and the vision and dreams that you have for your life won’t do me any good. It’s unfortunate that so many churches feel that all they have to do is to adopt the vision of a successful church and then they too will be successful. And so we have a whole bunch of churches trying to operate with the vision to reach the lost that God gave to Bill Hybels at Willow Creek, or to Rick Warren at Saddleback, or Kevin Myers at 12stone or Laurel Buckingham at Moncton
But the vision of those men was given to them by God, for that particular situation. The vision that God has given me for Cornerstone is totally different then the vision he gave me for North Point Wesleyan church or Truro. The vision that God gives to churches is as distinctive as fingerprints. It has to be in order to take into account things like demographics, personal, property, staffing.
The vision that God has given Paul Yongi Cho for reaching Korea, utilizing a church base of a million people and tens of thousands of volunteer lay assistants must be different then the vision that God gave to me almost 17 years ago when we had Angela and I and the two kids getting ready to plant a church.
It doesn’t matter if all the other churches around have a vision; the only vision that will help the local church is the local church vision. Not only is the vision of the church unique for that church but it is normally given first to the pastor of that church. Throughout history God has provided a clear vision of where he wants his people to go through a leader.
Whether it was Moses who was given a vision of delivering his people out of Egypt, Joshua who had a vision of taking the promised land, David who had a vision of making Jerusalem the city of God, Solomon who had a vision of building a temple or Gideon who had a vision of freeing Israel from the Midianites.
Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley had a vision for the common people. We need to realize that the vision is given first to a leader and then through him it is communicated to God’s people. And if that vision is the vision for the local church then it will need to come to the local church. A vision for the denomination is great for the denomination but that isn’t a local church vision.
It is scary to talk to pastors who have no vision for what God can do in their communities because unless the pastor has a vision then the church can’t effectively have a vision. And not only that but it has to be a God given vision. It’s not enough to sit down and decide on the vision and dreams that you have for your church if they aren’t from God and yet many churches do exactly that embracing human visions and expecting supernatural results. Too many churches use vision like a drunk uses a lamppost! More for support than illumination. They know where they want to go and so they provide a vision to support their direction. And that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.
What about your personal life? The vision that God gives you will be as distinctive as your fingerprints. You see God has a wonderful plan for your life. And realize that if you are going to get the most out of your life it will only be by following God’s plan.
How often do you feel like “God loves me, and everybody else has a wonderful plan for my life.”? The bottom line is this if you are going to be happy it will only be when you have God’s vision for your life. If I had done what I wanted to do I would have been a politician, if I had of followed what my father wanted me to do I would have been a sailor. There are a lot of people out there who think they know what is best for your future, including you but only God truly does.
3) Healthy Vision Is Perfect have you ever been confused by this particular portion of scripture? You know the story, Jesus spits in the guy’s eyes, you say “no pastor he spit on his fingers and then applied it to the man’s eyes” uh-huh read it again, Mark 8:23 Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. Then, spitting on the man’s eyes, he laid his hands on him and asked, “Can you see anything now?”
So he had spit on the man’s eyes and laid his hands on him and then he asked him “do you see anything?” And the man responds in Mark 8:24 The man looked around. “Yes,” he said, “I see people, but I can’t see them very clearly. They look like trees walking around.”
And then Jesus touched him again and he could see properly.
You ever wonder, “How did he know what trees looked like?” Or “were the people really brown with branches and leaves?” Or “how in the world did Jesus mess up that miracle?” The answers are: that what he said was that he saw people, they were walking and they were talking but they didn’t match the description that he had in his head, instead they looked like what he thought trees would look like. His vision had been restored but his perception was all wrong.
When Jesus touched him the second time he wasn’t fine tuning the first miracle, “well it’s obvious we have a problem with the colour contrasts and vertical hold let me, there that should do” instead he was changing the perceptions that the man had of what things should look like.
When Jesus gives us a vision either as a church or as a person they are often coloured by our perceptions. In other words if you perceive church to be six hymns, three prayers, and a fifty minute message all geared to edify the folks who have been on the way and in the way for thirty years. Than the vision that God has given me for Cornerstone might confuse you. I see church but it looks like trees walking around. Often times it isn’t that we need to have our vision healed nearly as much as we need to have our perceptions changed. At Cornerstone we have a vision for touching those who are Unchurched and those who have been abused by churches, is that too strong of a term. And because of that we have worked at making church a little friendlier in order to more effective minister to those people.
It means that I need to spend more time in developing and implementing ways of reaching those lost sheep then in coddling the flock. It means that all over again we need to get concerned over winning lost rather than concerned over losing the found. And part of that means that we expect the believers in the church to minister to those people who come to our churches looking for a spiritual healing.
And even though sometimes what we are doing seems out there it really isn’t. When we started using music from Hill Songs in Australia in 1995 we were the first church on the Atlantic District to do it, when we launched our website in 1996 we were the only Church on our district with a website, when we started using PowerPoint in 1998 we were the first church in the Atlantic District to use PowerPoint in every service. And now we are just one of any number of Wesleyan Churches that do that. And two years ago when we started broadcasting our services live on the web we were the first church in Halifax and the first Wesleyan Church on our district to it. And we will continue to seek out new and exciting ways to deliver an ageless message.
What is it that we need to do to reach those folks who are indifferent to church? Host a health clinic with area health professionals? Preach a series a messages revolving around CSI or spend half a year looking at 24 Hours in the life of Jesus, how about using Dr. Seuss as a springboard for a series of messages.
You say, “But Denn I want church to be the way I perceive it, with a pulpit, and a communion table and hymn books, singing the hymns I grew up with and having bake sales to raise money.” But you have to realize that in order to accommodate the 400 people who call Cornerstone their church home we would have to have church 400 different ways to match each person’s perceptions of church. And if you think that is a problem with a larger church it was the same when we only had 40 people. Where two or three are gathered there will be two or three different opinions on what church should look like.
In the same way we can have a faulty perception of what life is supposed to be like. If we view life as making us “healthy, wealthy and wise.” And figure that we’ll never have problems or pain or grief then the life that Jesus gives us will never match up to the perceptions that we have. It isn’t that our life is wrong it’s our perceptions of what our life should be like that are wrong.
The vision that Jesus gave to the blind man was perfect vision in Mark 8:25 Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes again, and his eyes were opened. His sight was completely restored, and he could see everything clearly.
He was neither near sighted nor far sighted. The church that can see where God wants it to be in 10 years without being able to see tomorrow doesn’t have perfect vision. The person who knows where God wants them without knowing how to get there doesn’t have perfect vision. How about it, has Jesus touched you and given you vision? Or maybe you need to have your perceptions changed and healed.
So how do we protect our the health of our vision? Good question, and one I asked my optometrist. And the answer were all things that we can do: Make sure that you have regular eye exams, not just eye screenings where they check your vision but eye exams where they check the health of your eyes. A thorough eye exam can also catch diabetes, blood pressure problems and skin cancer. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV damage, wear eye protection when you are working at anything that might get in your eyes, and quit smoking. Funny how that keeps coming up, want a healthy heart? Quit smoking. Want a healthy mouth? Quit smoking? Want healthy vision? Quit smoking.
You want healthy spiritual vision? Keep your eyes on Jesus, he told us in Matthew 6:33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
I began by saying that one thing that scares me as a person is to lose my vision, and the thing that scares me more than anything as a pastor is for the church to lose its vision