Month: October, 2013

Persistent Prayer

Pastor Dan Haugen

“Persistent Prayer”

October 20, 2013

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

Cable television tycoon Ted Turner has often been quoted as being critical of Christianity. Turner made some very revealing remarks at a banquet in Orlando, Fla., in 1990, where he was given an award by the American Humanist Association for his work on behalf of the environment. “Turner said he had a strict Christian upbringing and at one time considered becoming a missionary. “I was saved seven or eight times,” the newspaper quoted him as saying. But he said he became disenchanted with Christianity after his sister died, despite his prayers.

In times of trouble, when we are feeling lonely, when we need something or just when we need a friend, we often turn to prayer. Prayer is our opportunity to have one on one time with the Creator. It is our chance to petition God for something that has come to mean something to us. It’s how we ask for forgiveness, prepare our hearts for ministry and calm ourselves to get through a time of anxiety. Prayer is one of God’s greatest gifts to us. But even prayer has its limits.

Oh, I’m not speaking of any limits God puts on prayer. There is no indication in Scripture that prayer can only do so much.

No, I’m speaking of the limits we, ourselves put on prayer. I’m talking about the times we have tried to be persistent only to lose faith that our prayers were not being heard because those prayers weren’t answered according to our specific request and timeline. I’m talking about the times that we felt prayer had been useless because, Like Ted Turner, we didn’t get the results that we wanted. I’m referring to all those times we thought our prayers to God went unanswered because they didn’t tell us what our itching ears wanted to hear.

Luther said that prayer “comes close to being the most difficult of all works.” He said this because so much gets in the way of prayer. It’s not just our attitude as to how prayer should work according to the standards we have placed on it. It’s because, as he said, “a hundred thousand hindrances at once intervene before I get at it, then the devil fills my head with all kinds of reasons to delay it, blocking and hindering me from all sides: as a result, I go my way and never think about it again.”

So prayer becomes a thing of last resort, something we’ll get to when all our other attempts have failed. Because it didn’t give us immediate satisfaction in the past we consider it something that can be put aside until we are desperate enough to use it. Many have even considered giving up on it all together.

I’m sure every one of us has considered giving up on seeing some of our prayers answered at one time or another. Probably more than just a few of us actually have given up and stopped praying, maybe not altogether, but at least we have quit praying for certain things. We quit praying because of discouragement and doubt. We quit praying because deep down we sometimes wonder if prayer really makes a difference. So how do we keep going when we feel like bailing out?

Our Gospel lesson this morning deals with all of these issues. It’s not often that a parable has its explanation given before it’s telling but Luke does so here and, in doing so he tells us in verse one that its purpose was to remind us to be persistent in our prayers and to never give up.

I believe this is a message we all must be willing to hear. During our time here in ministry at Redeemer, we will be faced with many challenges as we try to make a difference in the kingdom. That’s what happens in a world ruled by fear and doubt. Today it might be money problems and tomorrow it might be any of a myriad of dilemma’s the devil will use to take our focus off of the power of prayer. But there is every reason to listen to what God is stressing in this parable about never losing our faith in what prayer can provide.

 

There is no guessing here according to Luke. Our call is to be tenacious in our prayer life. We must be persistent in prayer because we have too much at stake not to be. We are all here for a purpose and we have all been brought together in this place to carry out the will of God in our own unique way. Yet we will never fully understand God’s purpose for us if we stop the conversation.

Who among us has not felt that since our prayers are not being effective according to our own design, we might as well just quit? Perhaps the questions that we should consider are, “What happens when we give up?” Who is being left out by our lack of patience? What is it worth to our neighbor to keep up our pleas?”

There are two characters that are introduced in this parable. The first one is the Judge. A man who “neither feared God not cared about men.” He is painted as a harsh Judge with a stubborn streak and little patience. Today we would say, “He could not have cared less.”

To understand this story we need to understand its New Testament setting, We learn from history that The courtroom was not a fine building but a tent that was moved from place to place as the judge covered his circuit. The judge, not the law, set the agenda; and he sat regally in the tent, surrounded by his assistants.

Anybody could watch the proceeding from outside, but only those who were approved and accepted could have their cases tried. This usually meant bribing one of the assistants so that he could call the judges attention to the case. This is still true in much of the third world countries today.

This leads us to our second character, a widow determined to be heard so that she might be granted justice against her adversary. If not for her tireless attempts, this woman’s time might never have come. The message here is clear. Be steadfast in prayer and determined in your goal to be heard.

As a widow she had several factors stacked against her. First of all as a widow, she had little standing before the law. In the society of that day a woman did not go to court. The widows, were a segment of society that were often oppressed and taken advantage of legally. Isaiah 1:23 says, “Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves, they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them.” And because she was a widow she did not have a husband to stand with her in the court.

Finally, since widow and poor was almost synonymous, she had no means to pay a bribe even if she wanted too. We are not told the circumstances of her adversary or how he was oppressing her, we just know it was unjust.

As hopeless as her situation must have seemed, she was persistent. The language of verse three is in the present tense. This indicates that every day she begged him for help. Wiersbe says, “The language leaves open the possibility of confrontation everywhere, not just in the court. She probably pleaded with him in front of his friends and his colleagues, she confronted him in the street, she pestered him in the market, she might have even called out to him at his home.”

And we should be tireless in our prayers because they might be answered at any time. God’s time is not our time no matter how much we think it should be. We might feel that a quick answer to our problems would be to our greatest advantage, but only God knows when our answered prayers will serve His and our purposes best. We are called to have patience in our prayers, be stubborn even, with a faith that one day, in God’s perfect time, they will be answered. I, personally, can think of many prayers I’m glad were not answered in the time I had established apart from God. If not for God’s perfect timing, I doubt if I would be standing in front of you here this morning.

According to verse four the judge finally became weary of her constant petitions. For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man,

 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.'”

Although the Judge keeps refusing, she keeps coming. A literal translation of the phrase is “blackens the eye,” probably in the sense that by her persistence she is giving his reputation a black eye. The judge is finally moved to help her, not out of sense of justice or compassion but one of self-preservation. Jesus counters this by saying, If the uncaring Judge finally relents, Will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry out to Him day and night?”

This parable is not just about how persistence pays off. It’s about a God who truly cares for you and hears your prayers, even if there are times you feel He’s a million miles away. It’s about a God who is listening to the appeals of your heart and begins immediately working on an answer. It’s about the faith you need to be patient and calm even when the answer doesn’t come in a specific time frame of your own setting.

We need to understand that Jesus is not comparing God to an unjust judge. Rather he is making a point by showing a contrast. Unless we see that Jesus is pointing out contrasts, we will get the idea that God must be argued or bribed into answering our prayers.

 

But if a poor widow can get an uncaring judge to answer her request by perseverance, then how much more should we expect that the Righteous judge (God), who does care, will answer the request of his children’s persistent request.

Finally, we must be unrelenting in our prayers with faith that we have a God who keeps His promises. We can all look back at the many times God has been good to His Word in our own lives. Sometimes we have to look at our whole life as an event to see how God has, indeed, heard and answered the prayers of our heart.

Jesus concludes with a question in the last part of verse eight, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”
Why does Jesus want us to be persistent in prayer? Because prayer demonstrates faith. That is really what he is after. Without faith, prayer becomes little more than a ritual that we perform and then stand and wonder “Does it really work?” Then when our prayer is answered we are amazed. In the book of Acts, chapter twelve Peter has been imprisoned for his preaching and in verse five we are told, “So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.

I have no doubt that they were sincere, but when Peter is miraculously set free by an angel the gathered group of believers were “astonished” to see him knocking at the door. So much so that he had to convince them before they would let him in…. We are called to have faith.
Notice something else, Jesus does not say “if the Son of Man Comes” he says “When the Son of Man Comes” Jesus is saying something like this, “You can count on the fact I will return just as I have said I would and when I do, I will bring the justice that I have promised. Therefore don’t concern yourself about whether I will fulfill my promises, but rather whether you will be found faithful when I return.” What we need to concern ourselves in is not the Lord’s faithfulness, but rather our own!

We have a God of promise who listens earnestly to our prayers. He cares about us in a way that goes well beyond our own comprehension and has promised us the greatest of gifts, eternal life with Him, made possible because he cared enough to send His Son to give us that chance.

Here at Redeemer, we have taken up the task of consistent prayer. You are asked to pray, every day, for each of your brothers and sisters in Christ here so that we might emerge victorious in our efforts to make a difference for Christ.

The prayer sheets are not simply attempts to get you to think about prayer, they are pleas to do as God as asked us and be persistent in our prayers. We have too much at stake to stop now.

Jesus’ encouragement to his disciples to pray and not give up is still relevant to us today. We can be like Ted Turner and turn from a life of faith because of what we think is unanswered prayer or we can be like the widow, persistent in asking for what she needed. For unlike the widow who had to plead for justice, we as followers of Jesus are God’s children who have his ear at all times. Unlike the widow who had no one to plead her case, Jesus’ followers have an advocate in heaven.
We are really faced with a choice between praying or losing heart, going on with God or Giving up on God.

Trust in our God of promise. Have faith in His plans for us and be persistent in your prayers to Him. The Holy Spirit will continue to work in you through Word and Sacrament to provide the faith you need to be consistent in your prayer life, so I pray you keep up the good fight with confidence and conviction. We have much more ministry to do here at Redeemer. Pray that God’s will would be done in this place and in His time. Amen.

Bible Study Questions – Luke 17:11-19

Bible Study Questions – Luke 17:11-19

Where was Jesus going? Which border was he travelling along?

 

Think about the day when these 10 men realized they had been afflicted with leprosy. What kind of thoughts do you think crossed their minds regarding the future of themselves and their family?

 

The border between Samaria and Galilee is about 35-40 miles from the cities where Jewish priests used to dwell. Think of various reasons why Jesus didn’t heal these men right away, but sent them far away instead?

 

What made these men start this difficult journey, even though they hadn’t been healed yet? Would you call these ten men believers or non-believers at the moment they set out on their journey?

 

Why do you think only one returned to thank Jesus? What’s up with the other nine? Think of as many reasons as possible why the nine Jews didn’t come back to Jesus to thank him.

Why was Jesus disappointed about the nine not returning to him?

Do you think you have ever disappointed Jesus by similar behavior as these nine men showed?

Do you think that the one leper disobeyed Jesus by turning back? Why or why not?

Why, in your opinion, would a “foreigner” like this Samaritan be more thankful than the (Jewish) true people of God?  Why might gratitude be more readily found in those who are marginalized?

How does Jesus’ response validate or invalidate the leper’s spontaneous return to give thanks?

What was the added benefit of the one that did return? What do you think is the difference between “well” and “cleansed”?

What is our modern day leprosy? In our culture what is a group of people that may not be easily received by the church?

 

What specific actions could you take to make those people feel welcomed as they seek the Lord?

 

What is the difference between the faith that seeks healing and the faith that seeks Jesus himself?

Stepping Out

Pastor Dan Haugen

“Stepping Out”

October 13, 2013

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…..                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Please pray with me…

What is your idea of a real lousy day? Is it when things never seem to go right? Is it when a high expectation is crushed? Is it when you receive bad news? How about when you weren’t able to sleep all night and now you have to face the day? I would tend to count all of these.

A man was sitting in a bar staring into his drink and he stayed like that for quite some time. Eventually a big trouble-making truck driver stepped up next to him, grabbed his drink and gulped it down in one swallow. At that, the man burst into tears. The truck driver said, ‘Come on man, I was just joking. Here, I’ll buy you another drink. I just can’t stand to see a grown man cry.” “No, it’s not that,” the man said chocking down his tears, “it’s just that this has been the worst day of my life. First I overslept and missed a very important meeting, my boss was very upset and he fired me. When I left the office, I discovered that someone had stolen my car and the police said there was nothing they could do. I took a cab home and after he dropped me off and drove away I realized I had left my wallet in the back seat of his taxi. I thought it couldn’t get any worse, but when I walked into my house I saw my wife in the arms of another man – and she told me to leave. So I stopped at the drug store, and then came here. I’ve been sitting here all day thinking of taking my life….and then you come in and drink all my poison.”

I’d say it turned out to be a bad day for both of them. The Bible never promised us that all our days would be rosy and free from pain and anxiety. It never says that life as a Christian would be any easier on us then it is on a non-believer. In fact, it says just the opposite. It says there will be many days that we will have to face trials and tribulations in our life, sometimes because of the faith we profess. It says that, because we live in a sinful world, we will face the consequences of that sin at many times and in many ways. The secret in overcoming all this, the secret to a successful life, is to know where to turn when the going gets rough. That’s the lesson we learn today from our Gospel text.

Ten lepers approach Jesus looking for him to have pity on them. They must have heard of how Jesus had healed others and probably thought that this was their only chance at having a normal life by escaping from the awful consequences of their disease. If this didn’t work, the only thing that was sure in their lives is that it would end in a miserable slow death.

They ask Jesus to have mercy on them but he does not touch them tenderly. He did not wash them clean, in fact, he didn’t even pray for them. He simply gave them instructions, “Go to show yourself to the priests.” They obeyed and they were all cured of their disease along the way. Because they would now be free from their disease, they needed to visit the priests to be declared clean.

Leprosy is a terrible disease that leaves large skin lesions all over the body. Left untreated, it can be very aggressive, causing permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs and eyes and in most cases in Jesus day, death. Every day for them was a bad day. Every day they would wake up with the same disease only to find that it had gotten little worse.

The word used for leprosy was actually used to describe a variety of different skin diseases, but historians have discovered that leprosy was a very common form of skin disease in the time of Christ. Because of their obvious suffering, it was most probably leprosy that these ten were suffering from. Lepers were called the walking dead because at this time, there was absolutely no treatment or relief that could be given them and they were doomed with a slow and very painful death.

I think that lepers are a good example for us in our spiritual lives. We are all born with this fatal disease called sin and because of it we too can be properly called walking dead. We have inherited this disease from our forefathers and our children have inherited it from us and so it has been from the beginning.

Isaiah 1:4-6 says, “Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.

Why will you still be struck down? Why will you continue to rebel? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds; they are not pressed out or bound up or softened with oil.”

It was true then and it is still true today. We have been utterly corrupted by sin and God has no choice but to hold us accountable because of it. Each day the sickness that we have become addicted to shows itself in the lesions of our own making. Without Christ, each day becomes a little worse than the last. We are sick with sin and we look for mercy.

People may feel healthy, but if they do not do as the ten lepers did by seeking out Christ, they too can only have themselves to blame as they slowly die from the sin that has infected them. No treatment, no relief, nothing that any MRI or CT scan can discover, only a silent but eternally terrible death to look forward to.

But people don’t seek out Christ because they don’t understand the symptoms of their disease. Luther said, “A doctor must first diagnose the sickness for his patient; otherwise he will give him poison instead of medicine. First he must say: this is your sickness; secondly: this medicine serves to fight it. If he does not really know what is amiss, he will give a bad remedy. So a preacher must preach (the law) so that men can acknowledge their sins, eagerly hear the message of grace and so believe.”

People don’t seek out Christ because they don’t see sin for what it is. The symptoms aren’t as noticeable as they are with leprosy but they are much more deadly…. eternally deadly.

If the lepers were left to themselves with no one else around, they would probably think that things weren’t all that bad. After all, everyone has the same disease and the same symptoms. Or one could look at another and say, “Well, at least I’m not as bad as he is.” But these lepers were not alone, they saw the symptoms, they knew the results and they saw others who did not have to suffer, so they did what they had to do.

There are too many people living today in denial because everyone suffers from the same disease. They don’t want to admit their need for Christ so they ignore the sickness. They want to deny Christ so they declare that all is well. They rationalize by saying, “well, I’m not as bad as that guy, I never robbed a bank or killed someone. I don’t deal drugs or molest children. I’m ok.”

Before Jesus can help us, we have to be able to admit our need for Him because of the sickness we share. We have to stop fooling ourselves into believing that we have done enough and we must continually cry out for mercy from the only one who can offer it.

All the twelve step programs in the world cannot not save us from our addiction to sin, but they do have one thing right. They understand that to save yourself, you have to first admit that you need the help.

Just saying, “I’m addicted to drugs or I’m addicted to pornography or I’m addicted to alcohol” is not enough. You have to agree to seek help.

And to seek the only help available for sin we must step out in faith. You might remember that Jesus is now on His way to Jerusalem to provide the cure for what ails all of us. He has set His face like flint toward the goal he has had from the beginning to pay the price we could never pay on our own.

Upon hearing the command of Jesus, all 10 lepers stepped out in faith as they headed for the priests and as they went they were healed. There is a powerful lesson to be learned here. It wasn’t until they stepped out in faith and obeyed Jesus, that they experienced the healing that they so desperately searched for. Jesus gave them the Word, they stepped out in faith and then it happened. They didn’t look for positive results first, they simply obeyed and Jesus provided.

That’s what faith is. It is the trusting and obeying of God even if we don’t yet see the visible signs of our relief. It is trusting in the Word of God. True faith obeys when it does not yet see the evidence. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Someone once said, “Faith is coming to the edge of all you can see and feel and taking one more step into the darkness – trusting that God will either catch you or teach you to fly.”

That is what God would want all of us at Redeemer to come to know, that He is in control asking us only that we listen to His commands and trust Him enough to take the step into the darkness. There are trials we will all have to face as a family in Christ. Currently it’s a financial one, but other challenges will arise. It is now that Jesus would have us place trust in His word.

As the ten lepers made their way towards the priests, they were cleaned of their leprosy. “Hey look, my hands are healing up!” “Mine too” another would say and then another and then another. Can you imagine the happiness they felt at that time? Can you just see them jumping up and down with joy in celebration?”

At this point, we don’t really know what happened to the other 9. Perhaps they ran throughout the town showing those who knew them the miracle they had been given, maybe they ran to their families to share the news, we don’t know. But we do know what one of them did. He came back to thank the one who had saved him. He fell at the feet of the Savior in praise and adoration.

And here’s the lesson, ten men were exposed to the infinite power of God but only one sought to have a relationship with Him. Nine of the ten were content with what they had been given but only one had the faith to want more. Ten received a great blessing but only one returned to give praise to the one from whom the blessings came.

And we are told that Jesus wanted to see all ten return, He said, “Were there not ten who were cleansed? Where are the other nine?” God’s desire is that you continually come back to Him. He seeks to have a relationship with us all to share, not only in our bad days, but to rejoice with us in our good days.

Jesus also pointed out that the one who returned was a foreigner, a Samaritan, someone who was looked down upon by the Jews. I think there is something to learn here also. Just as this one man, a foreigner, acted differently than the crowd, so should we. We are called to be different then the world. In a culture that has grown away from Christ we are to make an extra effort to find firm footing in our faith and not join them. In an atmosphere that shies away from the truth we are called to declare it.

Let’s hear again the final words in verse 19, “And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” I want you to pay close attention to that last word, it the Greek word sozo which means saved.

To be made well is to be saved.  It’s the same word the Philippian jailer used in Acts 16 when he said, “What must I do to be saved?” The word means to be made complete or whole.

Jesus didn’t come to earth to heal people from diseases of the body, He came to make people whole, He came to complete the picture.

The result of the miracle was that 10 lepers were cured, but only one was made whole. All of them received a miracle but this was only a small portion of what Christ was offering them and only one received the full reward.

Jesus wants to do more than give us a momentary miracle. He wants to give us life, He wants to make us whole, he wants to make this church whole, he wants to complete what He has begun in us and in this place.

Philippians 1:6 says, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Jesus is not done with us yet, there is much more to do but it is a process full of highs and lows. Some days will be bad but our Lord asks us to continue to step out in faith just as the lepers did. But he doesn’t want us to stop there, He also wishes for us to have a relationship with Him that is willing to fall at His feet in confidence through all of life’s trials.

Do we follow Christ simply because we need someone to come to when times are tough? Are we looking for little more than insurance?

Or are we continually at His feet daily in faith and trust so that he can make us whole again. I don’t know why you came to church today, but I know why Jesus did, because He longs to be first in our lives even when times look bleak. He wants to guide you by His Holy Spirit to trust in His promise of salvation.

He wants to share with you an intimate moment as we partake in His true body and blood because symbols are not good enough to show the love He has and the forgiveness he offers. He wants to direct us to the cross where He gave all of himself so that we might be with Him for eternity.

Ten were cured but only one came back. Ten celebrated a moment and one came to celebrate eternity with Christ. How many of us are like the nine and become satisfied with the little we have done, but miss out on the much because we failed to return to the true high priest which is Jesus Christ? Today as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we are doing just that, we are coming back to Christ. As we join together let us all prepare our hearts to be purified and our lives to be made whole once again by His body and blood. He died so that we could have that hope. Amen

 

 

 

Vision

Pastor Dan Haugen

“Vision”

October 6, 2013

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

In America, 10,000 churches in America have disappeared in a five-year period. (Andy McAdams study) Usual Sunday church attendance dropped from 1,606,000 in 1968 to 881,000 in 2005. (www.churchsociety.org) The proportion of the population that can be classified as Christian declined from 86% in 1990 to 77% in 2001.(American Religion Identification Survey) 1,400 pastors in America leave the ministry monthly. Only 15% of churches in the United States are growing. (Andy McAdams)

Why are churches dying? What is the disease that kills them? Why are so many people leaving the church? Is it money or society or is it something deeper? If you look at all of the symptoms of the disease, I believe it all points to one thing, a lack of vision.

I read a story recently about a little league coach who reminisced about his childhood years playing baseball in little league. He remembered how during his first year, his coach had called together the entire baseball team for a picnic, and he asked the team, “Who here wants to eventually play major league baseball.” Every single hand went up, as every child there dreamed about playing in a major league stadium and hitting the game winning hit.

That boy grew up to become a little league coach himself, and the week before opening day his first year of coaching he did the same thing. He had a team picnic, and he asked the team, “Who here wants to grow up and play in the major leagues?” Not one hand went up on a team of twelve kids. He said he could see in their eyes that not one kid on his team believed that he had what it took to become a major league baseball player.

In such a short time, the dream of “what if” had become an unthinkable and improbable reach. Realism had crushed the dream so many young boys had of becoming like Joe Dimaggio or Willie Mays one day. In the span of less than a lifetime, the vision of “what if” had been snatched away and replaced with “no chance.”

I believe a lack of vision is also what is killing our churches. Church vision is that elusive thing that dares to think of the seemingly unthinkable, the trait that counts on the infinite power of God to do the impossible.

Vision has been called hope with a blueprint. It’s what an inventor has when he starts with an idea and works out the details by thinking outside the box. Vision is what a new mother sees when she looks at her new-born baby and imagines what that child will grow to become. Vision ignores the critics who say that it can’t be done by trusting in a God who says, “All things are possible.”

Healthy vision in a church has a way of ignoring all the doubters. It has a way of grasping at the seemingly impossible and making it a reality. When people say, “Your church is too small,” a church with vision says, “Our God is great and His will be done.” When they say, “You don’t have enough resources,” a church with vision says, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

The greatest harm to any church is when it lacks the kind of vision that should be in abundance because of God and all He has done to give us hope. Somehow faith has been affected by our own shortcomings and we forget to count on a God of infinite wisdom and power who asks us every day to trust in Him and the plans He has for us.

That is what was happening to Young Timothy in our Epistle lesson for this morning. Paul had sent Timothy to clean up a mess in the church of Ephesus and salvage what he could of the ministry Paul and others had started there. But, I imagine, as with many young pastors, Timothy found himself way over his head. All the leaders were older and maybe even wiser and he was having a hard time establishing himself as a leader. And to make matters worse he was shy and timid and lacked many of the skills a leader in the church needs. The stress and doubt from all this was making him sick.

Stress is a major killer of vision. It distorts things to their most negative level and leaves the victim grasping for anything that will help, even if it is not from God. Stress is something Paul knew very well, in fact it was something that he was experiencing when this letter was written. Paul would now have been locked in a cold dungeon and chained up like a common criminal for some time. His friends even had a hard time finding him according to verse 17. Yet it was vision that Paul was feeding Timothy. That is what faith does to a person.

The first paragraph of our vision for our church reads like this:

The vision at Redeemer Church is to nurture the life of Christ in its members by selecting programs and activities that proclaim His saving grace and foster growth in our people through Christian education and service to our community and the world.

I want us to focus on the last few words, it says we are trying to foster (spiritual) growth in our people through, “service to our community and the world.”

We also see that word serve in verse 3 of our text when Paul says, “I thank God, whom I serve…” Now this word for serve in the Greek is λατρεύω, and it actually more properly means worship. When this word is used in Scripture it always means service as an act of worship. It is never the kind of service one would do for his neighbor apart from God. This is actually where the word “liturgy” comes from, the act of worship.

Paul’s whole life was an act of λατρεύω. For him it was a way of life, it defined him. So how is it for our church? When we think of worship do we think of service to our neighbor as a necessary part? Is it what defines us? When we dream of what we could one day become are we imagining ourselves on the forefront of service toward others as a part of our worship of God? As we vision ourselves and the ministry of Redeemer, are we willing to go through the trials that Paul had to face if it means we must do so to serve others as Paul is serving the church? Paul had a vision for the church, one of service and ministry and not even chains and the threat of death could extinguish it.

Thomas also had to have a vision of some kind for the church of Ephesus. Paul tells us he had a true faith that was instilled in him at an early age by his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. He was a third generation Christian brought up in a strong Christian home just like many of us were.

He was charged with the task of “fanning into flame the gift of God.” In other words, he was to use his God given gifts to get his people to see the vision God had given him, so that they might use the gifts God has given them to help him realize it.

And I guess that this is also my charge, to guide Redeemer to be a church where our passion for God and His purposes inspire us to believe him for the impossible.

In my vision for Redeemer, What I don’t see is a church that always plays it safe or a church satisfied with “good enough.” I see a church that reaches out in faith, beyond its comfort zone, to bring people to a saving faith in Christ. I see pews filled with people who at one time had little hope but who have found it through the Holy Spirit’s efforts realized by His work through us. I envision the words of Ephesians 3:20-21 which says, “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more then all we ask or imagine, according to His (infinite) power that is work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Jesus Christ throughout all generations, forever and ever, amen.”

As in everything with God’s church, it begins and ends with our faith in Him through prayer and petition. In our Gospel lesson God tells us that the faith of a mustard seed can do what seems impossible. If we want to see this church filled each week with a constantly expanding multitude of spiritually growing Christians who are learning each day to walk more intimately with God, then we must begin and end all things in faith found by way of word and sacrament and in faith that it will happen. Our vision is only limited by what our faith allows us to see. Faith is an action word.

And we must be confident in our efforts. We get hints here that fear was one thing holding Timothy back from fulfilling his duties.

Verse 7 says, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power, of love and self-discipline. The Greek word here means cowardice or lack of moral strength. Paul is telling him that when he feels these kinds of emotions, they are not coming from God. What comes from God is an attitude of power and strength, a confident assurance of all that is possible with God. This is the kind of power that gives us the faith to face our fears head on in a place of adversity. It is the kind of power that allows us to use all the gifts God has given us to do the ministry we were called as disciples to do no matter the conditions. It helps us to stand for what is right when the world tells us we are wrong. It calms us when we are frightened and guides us when we are weak. It is the strength of God’s love to bring us through the day and the self-discipline to make a difference even when we question our abilities, a spirit of strength that allows us to realize God’s vision for His church.

I know that many of you hold back from doing ministry because you feel you’re not young enough or smart enough or educated enough or any of a myriad of other excuses we use to remain in our comfort zone. God speaks to everyone in the same way. Just like He instills ideas for ministry in the leaders of the church, He does for all the rest.

They will not be the same visions all the time, but they are every bit as important to the health and growth of the church. Instead of ignoring the visions we have for the church, God is asking us to use our gifts to realize them. Step out in faith and become someone who goes the extra mile. We have all been brought together so that we might use our unique gifts together to make a beautiful quilt of ministry. If even one patch is missing however, we are not doing as a church what we have been called to do. Our vision for the church has to be a collective one filled with ministry done by the gifts God has given each one of us.

We are not to act as if we are ashamed of our faith in God but, rather, we are to revel in His promises. We are to proclaim that faith by using what God has given us to aid in His ministry. We can’t allow ourselves to be tempted to hide our witness or keep our faith hidden inside our hearts for only a special few to see.

Let’s strive together to fulfill the vision God has for His church and may it include the passion to be a church that strives to remove every barrier that keeps the unchurched from understanding and responding to the Good News of Christ. Let’s work in partnership with each other in filling the empty pews we see here each week with those who don’t yet know and understand the salvation that God offers to all who believe.

God has made all things possible through the death and resurrection of His Son. He has given us a hope that can sustain us through the trials we all will face. He has given His grace to overcome those times we fail to live up to His expectations for us and He has given us the vision to see better days ahead as He leads us on in ministry.

There will always be tensions between our visions and the way things really are because vision looks to better things and often we’re tempted to let this vision evaporate into “good enough.” We soften the vision because it seems too unrealistic and hard to attain. Well, we’ve tried that and it doesn’t work, we have only to look at the condition of the church to see that. Being satisfied by what we feel as good enough has led us to a very dark and dangerous place full of compromise and secularism.

I believe God wants more than that. God wants the people of Redeemer to have a renewed vision for worship, prayer, service and outreach. He wants to take the tension between what we see and how things really are away and show us that those visions can be achieved through the use of the gifts He has given all of us to achieve them and the Holy Spirit who He has sent to inspire and guide us.

He wants us to allow Him to stretch us beyond what we feel we can do and to excite us again with all the possibilities we have. He wants to fan the flame from the little flicker of faith within us to an inferno.

Our vision for prayer is realized by praying and our vision for worship is realized by doing. There is no substitute for God’s vision for His church and He has asked us to see the vision He has instilled in every heart. Let’s, together, take the leap of faith we will need to make a difference. If our vision is to see Redeemer grow both spiritually and bodily, then we must all work together to make it happen and not be content with “good enough.” Amen