Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays and it has nothing to do with the Turkey, stuffing, football or shopping, it has to do with the story of the Pilgrims. While political correctness has tried to rewrite the events of those who came over on the Mayflower, I still find their story inspiring. Here was a group of people who were willing to give everything they had to start life over in a new land. They faced the hardships of weather and disease that in the first year claimed the lives of half their company. What inspires me about their story is the hard work needed in order to survive in the new land but also the generosity of the Native Americans who in many ways were their salvation, but what really inspires me is thinking about what caused them to leave England in the first place – vision.
The pilgrims had a vision of what it would be like to live in freedom. They wanted to worship freely and live freely and it was this vision of freedom and faith that moved them to give up all that they knew and the comfort of their homes and family and the assurance of food and safety in order to set sail for the new world. Why I like their story so much is because they teach us that we will be willing to give if we have a clear and compelling vision. Whether it is our time, money, energy, possessions or even life itself, we will give and give generously when we have a strong and clear vision.
Today I want us to look at 3 biblical stories where vision helped people to give. Now when I talk about vision I am not talking about those things we can see with our eyes, I’m talking about what God helps us see by faith. Vision is seeing the better future God has for us and there are several ways God can help us see this. In one story a man saw a problem so gave what he had to solve the problem; in another a man saw potential for his life and the world so he gave what he had to make a difference and in the third story a man saw a person and gave all he had to bring hope and salvation to the world. In all three stories, however, it was a God inspired vision that caused each of them to give and to give generously. The first story is about Nehemiah.
In 586 BC, the city of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians. The temple was destroyed and the walls of Jerusalem were torn down. Most of the Jewish people were carried off in chains and lived in captivity. About 50 years later the Babylonian Empire was taken over by the Persians and in 516, 70 years after the temple had been destroyed, the people of Israel were allowed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. The city of Jerusalem, however, still laid in ruins and the walls, which were there to give the people protection, had not been rebuilt. 70 years after the Temple had been rebuilt, Artaxerxes was king of Persia and Nehemiah was his cup bearer. Nehemiah was a from a Jewish family that had been living in Persia since the fall of Jerusalem and when he heard that the city of Jerusalem still laid in ruins and that the walls had not been rebuilt, it broke his heart. Nehemiah 1:2-4.
Nehemiah saw a problem. It was a disgrace for the city of God to be unprotected and lying in ruins and it was this vision that stirred his heart. Nehemiah wanted to do something to solve the problem and so he began to give. He started by giving his time to God in prayer, and then through prayer God gave him faith that something could be done and a solution to the problem was found. Nehemiah led a group of people to Jerusalem where they began to rebuild the walls. Because of his position as a cup bearer to the king, Nehemiah was able to ask the king for help, and the king was moved by Nehemiah’s passion and vision so he not only gave him permission to go but he also gave him resources needed to rebuild the walls.
Sometimes it’s the problems we see that cause us to give. We haven’t seen firsthand the problems and effect of Ebola on the lives of people in Sierra Lenoe, but we have seen with our hearts and so people have started to give. When the Bishop says the situation is hopeless and that his people, our people, God’s people are starving, we have a vision of helping solve the problem in any way we can. We haven’t seen firsthand the people in our own community who are hungry but we can see them in our hearts and minds and so are willing to give. We won’t see the children who will receive the shoeboxes we are putting together, but we have a vision in our hearts of 500 children experiencing joy and so we give. Many times it is the problems that we see that move us to give our time, money, faith and lives and so we give to be part of the solution.
It wasn’t until someone told Nehemiah about the situation in Jerusalem that he saw the problem and sometimes we don’t see great problems around us until someone tells us. So let me share with you a problem. Do you know that in our county the number of people who claim to be non-religious is growing? The population is growing and the number of people who claim no faith at all is growing. Worship attendance in UMC churches in our county is also declining. While our attendance is up and has been up every year for the past 7 years, the same is not true for our county. Are we willing to open our eyes and hearts and see this problem? Like Nehemiah, the problem can lead to a vision to solve it if but only if we are willing to give. The first thing Nehemiah did was pray and so maybe we need to just start praying and ask God to show us how we can be part of solving this problem. Problems can lead to a vision of solving the problem which in turn can lead us to give.
The second story about how vision moves us and energizes us to give is about a tax collector named Zacchaeus. If you grew up going to church or VBS than what you know about Zacchaeus was that he was a wee little man. He was short and yet he wanted to see Jesus so he climbed up into a tree to watch as Jesus passed by. This is from Luke 19:1-9,
What happened to Zacchaeus during dinner that moved him to give away half of his possessions and pay back anyone he had cheated? It was a vision of God’s kingdom. Just by going to Zacchaeus home, Jesus made a statement about who Zacchaeus was. He was not a hated tax collector who had no place in God’s family and no part in God’s kingdom; he was a child of Abraham. Jesus opened Zacchaeus’ eyes and the eyes of his heart to see the full God given potential of what his life could be and what the kingdom of God was all about. Zacchaeus could now see that the life God wants us to live is filled with acceptance and forgiveness and that we all need to work to make things right. It was this vision that moved Zacchaeus to seek forgiveness and offer restitution. It was a vision of God’s kingdom and the potential of a new life that was so compelling that Zacchaeus willingly gave all he had to see it become a reality.
Seeing the potential that God has for us and for our world can move us to give. We give to the food bank and work hard to feed people on Christmas Day because we see the potential this ministry has to bring about God’s kingdom. We know that what we do in Jesus’ name can and will change people and our community so we give to make the potential of God’s kingdom a reality. We forgive people and we ask people to forgive us because we see the potential of what forgiveness can do in our families and n our community. We work to help people and offer hope to people because of the potential power that brings to our world.
Jesus was the master of helping people see the kingdom of God and getting people excited about this vision so that they would willingly gave themselves to it. Zacchaeus gave away most of his money to help make things right in his life and because it was what the kingdom of God was all about. The disciples gave away jobs and careers because they saw greater potential in following Jesus. They found more personal satisfaction for their own lives in following Jesus so they gave. When we have a vision of what God can do in us and through us, it will move us to give and give generously.
Sometimes I get excited when I think about the potential of Faith Church. When I look at what you have done in the past and the potential of what God can do through us in the future it motivates me to give. We can build a school in Sierra Leone and partner with a Big Ten University to make it a success. We can spread the gospel of Jesus Christ right here as we encourage our brothers and sisters to do the same thing on the other side of the globe. We can change the heart of a child through 500 shoeboxes filled with gifts, we can feed our community on Christmas Day and we can live more fully and give more generously. We can do all this because we have a vision of what God can do in us – we see God’s potential.
So the vision of a problem or the vision of God’s potential can cause us to give, but sometimes it is a person who causes us to give and that was true for Thomas. Thomas was the disciple who was not in the upper room when Jesus first appeared after his resurrection. All the rest of the disciples got to see Jesus alive and standing in front of them and that vision changed them, but Thomas didn’t get to see Jesus alive and so he couldn’t believe it was true. A week later Jesus appeared again and this time Thomas was there and the vision of the risen Jesus forever changed Thomas. John 20:26-28
This vision of Jesus changed Thomas forever and it moved him to give all he had. It is believed that Thomas left this encounter with Jesus and at some point traveled East, all the way to India where he shared with the people his vision of the risen Jesus. Thomas called them to place their faith and trust in Jesus as their Lord and God. Many did and generations later when missionaries arrived in India they were surprised to find Christians who knew about Jesus and a man named Thomas who shared with them his vision of the risen son of God. So the person of Jesus changed Thomas.
When we get a clear vision of Jesus it changes everything and while we won’t physically see Jesus standing in front of us like Thomas did (at least I never have), we can still see him in faith and trust. Look at what Jesus says to Thomas – John 20:29. We don’t physically see Jesus, but we can still have a vision of this person that can change us and excite us and cause us to give. When we see Jesus in the scriptures, in prayer, in the world around us, in the problems and potential God has shown us, it will change us and move us to give in ways we never thought we would or could. Everyone who encountered the person of Jesus gave. It started at the manger where shepherds gave their praise to God and it ended after the resurrection where Thomas gave his future to God. A vision of Jesus will move us to give and give all we have.
Without a vision of who God is, what God is doing and what God wants to do in us and in the world around us, we might give some but we won’t give all. Generosity comes with vision. Inspiration comes with a clear and compelling vision. Giving requires vision and what can move us to give is seeing problems, potential and the person of Jesus. May God open our eyes and the eyes of heart so we may see Jesus and the potential of God’s Kingdom and our lives.
G.I.V.E. ~ Vision
God can develop His vision for us when we see
problems, potential or people.
• Read the story of Nehemiah’s found in Nehemiah 1-6,
• What problems in the community has God helped you see?
• What might be some solutions to these problem?
• What is God calling you to give in order to be part of the solution?
• What one step could you take to move forward this week?
• Pray for solutions and the courage to give.
• Read the story of Zacchaeus found in Luke 19:1-10.
• In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done. What aspect of God’s kingdom would you like to see formed in this world? In our community?
• What can you give to make that potential become reality?
• What God given potential can be realized in your life and what do you need to give to make it happen?
• Read the story of Thomas found in John 20:26-29.
• Why did seeing Jesus cause Thomas to give?
• Where and when have you seen Jesus and how did this vision change your vision of yourself or the world?
• How has seeing Jesus caused you to give?