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When I was five years of age, I was forced out of the security of home and presented with an old wooden desk in a building off Humber Road that I can hardly remember. I was introduced to Dick and Jane, Sally and Tim and Puff remember them. I was sentenced to this institution for the duration of years minimum sentence, but I was never told of what crime I was guilty that it required me to be sent to school, but I got to enjoy it. I met some wonderful characters during my incarceration in a number of schools. I will never forget 4th Grade geography and my introduction to a Malaysian pygmy named Bunga. I have memories of Erik and Inga from Norway and Natsook and Klaya from Canada’s north when the book took us there.
Twelve years of school and they let me out. They called my release date “graduation” not “parole”, but I must have reoffended because later that same year at just years of age I found myself destined for a large institution, a university which promised me another four years of hard time. But I escaped early only to be forced into hard labor. By the time I reached my late 0s I really got into trouble and this time I asked for it. I applied and was accepted to a Bible College for another four years and my reward for going there was standing every Sunday in a pulpit. When 0 dawned I did not plan to be here pastoring this church. It had to be God’s idea of using all those years in school and University and college to make it all worthwhile and meaningful. It is only now that I fully realize that the schooling and the pastoral experience was spiritual and pastoral training – essential preparation for life and ministry.
Everything requires preparation. Sermons. Food even fast food. Employment. Marriage. Immigration. A new language. I want to speak today from an Old Testament passage all about preparation. King David prepares to have the temple built on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.
1 Chronicles 22:1-5 (NIV) - Then David said, "The house of the LORD God is to be here, and also the altar of burnt offering for Israel." So David gave orders to assemble the aliens living in Israel, and from among them he appointed stonecutters to prepare dressed stone for building the house of God. He provided a large amount of iron to make nails for the doors of the gateways and for the fittings, and more bronze than could be weighed. He also provided more cedar logs than could be counted, for the Sidonians and Tyrians had brought large numbers of them to David. David said, "My son Solomon is young and inexperienced, and the house to be built for the LORD should be of great magnificence and fame and splendor in the sight of all the nations. Therefore I will make preparations for it." So David made extensive preparations before his death.
What a sobering reminder in that last verse. That verse will become a funeral sermon at some point in time. Preparation implies the presence of faith. David had faith that after he died Solomon would take the materials he had gathered and turn them into a mighty edifice that God’s presence would hallow and bless. Preparing food implies faith that someone is going to sit down and eat and be nourished. Gardeners have faith that seed will become a plant. Farmers prepare the soil and tend their crop because they are confident of a harvest. Stores open their doors because they expect customers to patronize their business. Manufacturers create things that they expect people to need. In a sense all these pursuits indicate vision. David could see a magnificent temple rising on the hilltop and worshippers ascending the hill with their offerings unto God.
Vision is hard to define, but we know how dangerous it is if we don’t have any. Proverbs :a states: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Very simply, it means we die a little if our eyes are not on the future. Leonardo daVinci had vision. He could see machines that flew through the air. Jules Verne was a visionary. He wrote of submarines that could descend to the depths of the ocean. Galileo was a visionary. He could see the sun as the centre of the universe and all the planets, including a globe-shaped earth, going around it. Columbus was a visionary. He was convinced he could sail way past the horizon and not fall off the edge of the earth. Paul was a visionary. Even from prison he could see the entire world being impacted by the simple message that Jesus saves and he could see churches springing up right across the Roman Empire and beyond.
God-inspired vision is the ability to see farther than other people who are earthbound. It means we never get bogged down in the present or mired in the past, but we plan for the future. Even a bright present does not mean a bright future. I have read the reports of how the pews at the great Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, England, were full when Charles Spurgeon was in his prime. Did you know that the great tabernacle where he preached to thousands is now all but deserted on Sundays? It pays the expenses through the proceeds from a religious bookstore. Somewhere, the vision was lost. Somebody neglected to prepare for tomorrow. Somebody failed to prune the trees of dead, unproductive branches. Others failed to water the tender plants and protect the seedlings. Now nobody sits under the tree and no nest will be built there. The roots have rotted and before long it’s deadwood.
John Stott, who served as chairperson of the Lausanne Conference on World Evangelization said a few years ago that spiritual vision begins with a holy discontent. It does not sit in comfort watching change taking place in the world feeling that the church can be counted on to always be the same. Be assured, the message of the Gospel is unchangeable. The package and the presentation changes. We have to prepare to respond to what is new in our society. Paul didn’t have e-mail or the World Wide Web Twitter and Facebook has not seen two decades yet. Paul had Roman roads, legs that would carry him and a classical education. He used what he had. The business that refuses to computerize and network and market effectively today will fossilize. To become satisfied with where we are, either as a church or an individual, is to be like a tree in the petrified forest where petrified birds sit on petrified nests hatching petrified eggs. We may be perfectly preserved, but the life departed a long time ago.
A holy discontent is not carnality, rather the opposite. It is not being cranky because things don’t go our way. Rather, it is a spiritual ability to be dissatisfied with the way things are and to know there is something beyond where we are. It is crying out to God in fervent prayer from brokenness to be wholeness and for the lost to become the found. Vision is the willingness to move towards what we can see and prepare for it. In popular language it is the ability to see “the big picture.” It is David looking at a threshing-floor and seeing a magnificent temple. It is Paul seeing a congregation in every city and outpost of the Roman Empire. It is Martin Luther King Jr. ascending a mountain and seeing a day when the “back of the bus” would be a place to sit and not a reflection of race or position in society. It is looking at disciples and seeing an innumerable host crying “He shall reign forever and ever.” For us it seeing families made whole, empty pews filled and lives genuinely touched by the power of God. It is seeing ten students in your Sunday school classroom rather than four. It is seeing a new converts class the size of our Bible study crowd. It is seeing ushers struggle to find a seat for people in this auditorium. Vision is faith with a big screen.
Vision is sometimes seen as merely a mental forecast, but when we see as God does preparation demands a work order. I grew up around rail yards – here in Corner Brook, in Bishops Falls and in Port aux Basques. When I was old enough I spent a little of my working life as a clerk. I would take work orders to the rail yard crew. Quite a few times I handed off the orders to my own father. On the work order would be a list of railcars all located in various areas of the yard. The job of the trainmen and engineer was to shunt all the cars around until they could produce the line-up that was on the work order.
Once these preparations were made, the cars would be shunted into the shed for unloading by stevedores. Kids know about this because they watch Thomas the train and Sir Toppim Hat. There’s a life lesson in that as we start a new year. Have we considered getting our life in order and in line so that what we contain can be unloaded to a hungry world? Every day is an exercise in preparation for the future. As I pondered my place late in 0 and now on the first day of 0 I realized there had to be a little shunting go on so that I fit with God’s plan for a world that is running out of time.
I want us to take a second look at David’s vision for the temple. It is found in 1 Chronicles 22:14-16 "I have taken great pains to provide for the temple of the LORD a hundred thousand talents kilograms of gold, a million talents of silver, quantities of bronze and iron too great to be weighed, and wood and stone. And you may add to them. You have many workmen: stonecutters, masons and carpenters, as well as men skilled in every kind of work in gold and silver, bronze and iron‑‑ craftsmen beyond number. Now begin the work, and the LORD be with you.” Our text sees David appoint stone-cutters. The nails were made and the bronze was put aside. The logs were all counted. David began elaborate and expensive preparations and he enlisted everyone he needed. If we see nothing to do, it could be an indication we don’t have the necessary vision. In David’s case, he didn’t wait for someone else to do it, he began to prepare diligently for the vision he had.
Vision is never a solo act. Vision has to be shared and sharing vision presupposes communication. The act of bringing other people into the process is what separates a visionary from a dreamer. Jesus saw a harvest and He appointed apostles. A businessperson sees an opportunity and hires staff to run the business. A company knows paper is in demand all over the world so they build a mill with all the trades to perform the tasks, but they also hire woodcutters and trucks to haul it and ships to take it to market and silviculture workers to replant the forests. A person who never communicates their vision is like a person in a restaurant who never orders from the menu. A father sees a son astray and he guides him back through loving discipline. A mother sees a hurt and she moves to caress away the pain.
Vision must have a futuristic and unselfish motive. What is even more remarkable about David’s vision is the fact that he laid plans for the temple, appointed workers and gathered the materials, but he would never see the building rise or be counted among the worshipers. Listen to this conversation in Chronicles :‑: “Then he called for his son Solomon and charged him to build a house for the LORD, the God of Israel. David said to Solomon: ‘My son, I had it in my heart to build a house for the Name of the LORD my God. But this word of the LORD came to me: You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight. But you will have a son who will be a man of peace and rest, and I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side. His name will be Solomon, and I will grant Israel peace and quiet during his reign. He is the one who will build a house for my Name. He will be my son, and I will be his father. And I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever. Now, my son, the LORD be with you, and may you have success and build the house of the LORD your God, as he said you would.’”
What is astounding about David is that he knew he would never see the completion of his vision, but he worked towards it anyway. It was his heart for God that propelled him onward, not his thought of personal fame. David planned the temple, gathered the materials and appointed the workers. He was the driving force, he originated the project, but when you read the Bible it was “Solomon’s Temple.” Solomon’s name became great in the ancient world, but David’s vision set his agenda.
There is a powerful lesson in David’s example. He gave the final years of his life preparing for the next generation. That does not mean that David neglected his kingdom because he was obsessed with the temple. Folks, we have to strengthen what we have and keep it strong because the next generation needs all the help it can get. But we also have to prepare diligently so that the next generation carries the vision to new frontiers.
How good are we at diligent, deliberate preparation? Will we plant seeds or draft the plans for structures even if another generation gets the benefit and the credit? In my first pastorate I drove to our new church one morning to find a green minivan parked outside. I knew who was in it long before I was within visual range. It was a father and grandfather whose sole ministry was to ensure that each of his grandchildren received the basics of Christianity. Every grandchild was in Sunday school even when his convenience store was open on Sunday and it was his turn to work. He came to my office one day with his wife and brokenly they shared the news that he had cancer. He fought it bravely, but so quickly there came a point when he knew the end was near. He was let out of hospital for one day at home just before his death and it was this day that he sat in the passenger seat and looked at the church that was the focus of his vision for himself and his family. He planted a tree that is still growing; he adopted a vision that is still alive in the ministry of those who carry his torch.
I knelt beside my own father countless times and glimpsed his God; vision was passed on. In those times he handed me a work order and told me there was a work for me to do; he showed me a pattern, revealed the materials I would need to build and pointed me towards the future. I want you to see beyond the usual when you prepare your hearts for Communion today. People of different generations will accept the emblems together and partake together. Fathers and sons will lift the cup together. Mothers and daughters will do the same. Parents will think of their children and grandparents will think of two other levels of their family. Prayers will rise spontaneously from our hearts for those outside the circle of believers. Our vision is always for continuity, for tomorrow’s unbroken communion as our family continues what we do today. I’m with you in this, oh how I’m with you!
Let me conclude with this…What, in our personal lives, do we have holy discontent over? If we do not know Christ, are we troubled by our sin? What are we discontented with in this church and I don’t mean trivial things? Don Francisco penned a song that fits my attitude about the trivial, “I don’t care if you pave your parking lot or put pads upon your pews; what good is a picture perfect church if you’re missing all the cues.” The cue is the voice of the Spirit who tells us to prepare for the future. Are you discontented enough to pray and prepare? Are you willing to accept a work order from the Lord of the Church? I hope we don’t feel too comfortable. Have we settled down to wait for the Rapture? How well is Jesus known based on where we go to school or where we work or where we pastor or where we live? Is there a vision for our family? Our office? Do we have a vision for the harvest? Jesus said, “... open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” John :
Spiritual vision sees the world through God’s eyes. It scans the horizon and sees the pain, confusion, and spiritual hunger - and then it rejoices for it sees hope - soul-winning churches made up of soul-winning people who can see beyond the building blocks and the timbers and the preparations and see an edifice erected to the glory of God. We’re building something – all of us – I trust the materials are good, the motivation inspired from heaven and way forward clear for the next generation!