I have had a message on my heart from the moment that I received the call, and indeed responded to it. That may seem strange, but it's the truth, and I want to give it to you this morning. It has burned into my soul over the past weeks and months since that event, and I want to share it with you today.
It's found in Proverbs 29 - Proverbs chapter 29 - and it is only one verse of scripture, and even part of a verse of scripture, verse 18. Now, I am breaking a rule here because when I went to college I was taught a lot of things and I've broken a lot of them already! But one of the things you're taught is when you go into a church that you don't do anything too drastic or anything like that, or say anything too drastic. But this message is, I believe, from the Lord - and because it's from the Lord I hope that you can take it this morning. It's an encouragement to you all, that's what I want to do - I want to encourage you all in the Lord.
Proverbs 29 and verse 18: "Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he". There are four names that come into my mind when I read that verse, in a human level. The first is a man called Thomas Edison. The second: a man called Alexander Graham Bell. The third: Martin Luther King, and the fourth was a group of men who, in 1966, landed upon the moon.
Thomas Edison was the man who brought the light bulb to bear on humanity. But that man, he made many mistakes. He made many failures. He was trying to do something: his vision, his dream was to transport electricity to every house in every nation. Benjamin Franklin, before him, in the late 1800s was the man who, you remember learning at school, had the kite and he attached the cord to the kite and the key - and he discovered how electricity transmitted from the sky right to earth. But the point I'm trying to make to you this morning is this: that Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin - they had a vision. They had a vision to give something to humanity.
Alexander Graham Bell was a teacher to the deaf, and as a teacher to the deaf he had a vision that one day people all around the world, from one end of the world to another, would be able, in their own homes, in their own nation, to communicate one to another from a distance. He, of course, was the creator of the telephone.
The men who went to the moon - one great step, one great step for all humanity, all mankind - and no matter what you think about it, it was a great step - but it came from vision that these men had, that scientists had, that one day human feet would land upon the moon.
Of course, Martin Luther King was killed for his vision. Without going into all the details of the morality of it all, you can remember the day, or you know of the day when he stood before that great throng and what did he say? 'I have a dream'. All of these men, all of these characters were men, or even women, of vision. The verse that we read together this morning says this: "Where there is no vision the people perish".
Those were human visions but what does this verse mean, and what does the word 'vision' in this verse mean? Well, the Hebrew word in this verse simply means this: 'a sight' - a mental sight in your mind, a dream, a revelation, an oracle, a vision. It comes from the Hebrew root word 'to gaze at', to gaze upon or mentally perceive, to contemplate with pleasure. Now, what it literally means in this verse is this: that without the word of God, without a revelation, without a vision for God the people are naked. Now, if you think about it this morning that is true. If we did not have the word of God I would stand up here - I don't know what I would say, I would waffle, maybe tell stories, talk about politics or the news - but you would go away from this place spiritually naked. If you did not have the word of God to feed upon, the Bread of Life to feed upon day after day, you as a Christian would be naked.
But inherent within that meaning of the word 'vision' there is that idea of having a sight, of having a contemplation, of having a dream for the future. I want to define that word for you this morning like this, that vision is this: a picture of the future that produces a passion within you. What is vision? It is a picture that makes your heart and my heart race as we think of what God can do in future days. "Where there is no vision, the people perish".
There are two things I want to share with you this morning. I want to ask you two questions. Are you a visionary? Or are you stationary? Visionary or stationary? When I use that word 'visionary' I don't mean a dreamer, I don't mean someone who sits around all day thinking of what could be, but don't get off their behind to make it happen - but when I use the word 'visionary' I mean someone who has a dream, someone who has a vision and will do all in their power to make it a reality.
I want to start with the second first: stationary. Are you a stationary Christian? And really what that means in the context of our verse is this: a visionless Christian. Are you a naked Christian, as the verse says - one who is not ordained with a sight, a perception, a contemplation, a dream, a vision for God in the future. In all my years reading through the Bible I could think of four types of stationary Christians that the word of God brings before us. I want to share with you, quickly, what they may be, and ask us individually, ask us internally: 'Could we, could you, could I be a stationary Christian?'
The first stationary Christian that I find within the New Testament is the traditionalist. If you go to the book of Galatians, or you go to the book of Hebrews, you find there a group of people who were naming the name of Christ. But the problem was that in naming the name of Christ, in claiming, as it were, the promises that were in Christ and in His salvation, they had a problem. Because in one hand they were reaching out for that salvation, but yet in the other hand they could not let go of those things that were behind. Of course, there are so many people who get saved and that's where they are, isn't it? They get saved and they want what Christ gives. Maybe they only profess faith in Christ, they're maybe not really saved and they try to strive after this Christian life and faith in Christ, but they cannot let go of their sin. But there are so many Christians, and second Corinthians and chapter 3 and verse 6 talks about that. That they are people who follow the letter of the law, follow the word of God, but the Spirit of God - the One who has inspired that word, the one who wrote that word - is missing.
Really what it is is something called 'doctrine without power'. Harry Ironside, that great commentator on the word of God, said this in relation - he said: 'Lack of vision will manifest itself in a cold, dry, theological or philosophical treatment of the scriptures, as though given to exercise the intellect rather than the heart and the conscience'. The old saying is true, isn't it? That 'If you have only the word of God you will dry up. If you have only the Spirit of God you will blow up. But if you have both you will grow up'. One writer says that in too many places the Bible is being thumped and doctrine is being argued 'til 3 in the morning, but the Spirit, the Spirit of that doctrine is missing.
The second type of person I find in the New Testament is quite similar to that - it's the sentimentalist. You see, right throughout church history and right throughout the word of God there are always a little group of people and they look at one era of history as the time when God really shone. I don't know what that era of history is for you; I have my own. Many think it was the 1700s when Wesley and Whitefield were about. Many think it was the 1859 revival and times of refreshing then. Many think it was when Nicholson was in the province, when there were men who even stood in this pulpit in the early 1900s, 1950s. Many believe that that was God's era, that was God's time, and that God needs to come. Some of those people even try to emulate or 'conservate' that era in history.
If you went to North America today - maybe some of you have been, maybe some of you have seen this - there's a group of people called the Amish people. Maybe you saw them in the films. They have long beards, they wear sackcloth, they wear strange clothes, they don't believe in automobiles, they go into horses and carts. They don't use electricity. They don't believe in light because they believe that were was a certain time in history that was sacred, that was special, that was God-sent. In fact, there are two types of Amish people. There's the Button Amish people, and there's the Zip Amish people. The Button Amish people believe they are better than the Zip Amish people, because zips are modern and buttons aren't. That is the extent that they have got to - sentimental about an era of history. I want to encourage us today, because many are downhearted. Many, I believe, in the Christian community in Northern Ireland and even in our western community are down-hearted, are weary in the battle because years ago there were many more saved here than there are now.
Do we need to create that era again? Do we need to conserve that era here? Listen to the voice of God in Isaiah 43 and verse 19: "Behold, I will do a new thing". You remember when the church was born, and there was a man called Gamaliel - a wise man. Remember, Paul sat at his feet and learnt the Old Testament scriptures. But you remember what happened - that there was an uproar because of this church, like a flame that was burning through Palestine and going throughout the world. They were trying to stop it with arms, they were trying to stop it with philosophy, theology, everything - but they could not stop it. You remember Gamaliel's words - 'If this is of God, no man will stop it!'
Sentimentalists don't have vision. You remember in Acts 13:36 - what was written there? What did the preacher say? 'David, King David served his own generation well'. Can I say this? This humbles me. This frightens me because the only people who can reach our generation today, the only people who can show them Christ, who can bring them to Christ is not John Wesley. It is not George Whitefield. It is not D.L. Moody, or C.H. Spurgeon. It is David Legge. It is you, it is me, it is this church, it is the Christian church of today - they alone! Do we trust God to do a new thing?
There's the Second Adventists. There's the traditionalists, there's the sentimentalists, there's the Second Adventists, and I'm not talking about the cult now, but the second Advent is the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. We find them in the scriptures, in the book of Thessalonians. And really - to shorten the story - what it says is this: that they left their jobs, they left their occupations, they sat in a holy huddle and they waited for the Lord to return. Sometimes I hear that the Lord is coming back again, and praise His name He is coming back again! I believe more than that - He's coming back soon. But I honestly believe that some people have got so spiritually depressed that they believe that, because the Lord is coming back soon, that God cannot move. Praise God that our God can do anything, and our God is the God of the impossible. When men say 'no', He says 'yes'. No matter what we have in our heads, or no matter what doctrines we may form, God says He is sovereign, and God can work around our thoughts.
Then there is the pessimist. In Numbers 13 we find them, verse 26, but we haven't got time to go over that all - but a little chorus that the children sing goes like this:
'Twelve men went to spy in Canaan,
Ten were bad,
Two were good.
What did they see when they spied in Canaan?
Ten were bad,
Two were good.
Some saw giants tough and tall.
Some saw grapes in clusters fall.
Some saw God was in it all:
Ten were bad,
Two were good'.
What do you see this morning? Do you see the giants that are ahead? Do you see the great machine, the great bulldozer of civilisation with all its evil philosophy, with all its paganism? What do you see? Do you see the dwindling pews? What do you see? Or do you see the clusters of grapes? Do you see what God can do? Do you see the vision of God? Do you see the power of God?
Do you listen in prayer meetings? Sometimes we can hear pessimists pray. They talk about what's happening in the world and the terrible things that are happening in the church. And, my friend, I don't know - that is right, that is true, but I have found from experience in my Christian life that the way God answers prayer, and the prayers that God answers is positive prayer - prayer that is praying with our hope in God. 'Why art thou downcast, oh my soul? Hope thou in God'. Oh, we must be positive in our prayers, we must be positive in our attitudes, and we must be positive in God. Are we stationary? Or are we visionary? Are we visionary? Do we have a vision that saves the people, that makes the church go on, that pushes the church on, that builds the church of Christ, that lifts the name of Christ, that lights up the world?
Naturalists recently have discovered that there is only one creature in the whole world that has both a positive and a negative lens within its eye. It is the chameleon. I don't know whether you've ever seen them on the television programmes, but they will sit still and all that will move is their eyes. There may be a bug that will come and land on a plant and, in one second, its tongue is out and it takes it. It is the only creature that has positive and negative vision in the whole world. Do you know what happens because of that? It is more successful in catching those bugs than any other. My friends, this morning, the secret of spiritual (and I use this term carefully) success, is in your vision, in my vision, in our vision, in the vision of the two spies - Joshua and Caleb. What did they see? Not the giants. They saw them, but knew that God was bigger than the giants. They saw the grapes, they saw the fruit that they could have, they saw the land flowing with milk and honey - but more than that: they saw their God!
We hear about the book of Revelation a lot, don't we? And we read it and we love it. But sometimes we often forget that the book of the Revelation was a letter. It was a letter written to people - the Christian church. And the reason was - one of the reasons was - that these Christians were dying for their faith, they were suffering for their faith. God inspired John the apostle to write them this letter. Why? To show them that while they were on the earth, while they were suffering, while they were bleeding and sweating for the cause of Christ, while their family members were being exterminated, there was another plan in heaven. There was God's plan and it would not be confounded. They on the earth could overcome that opposition, that persecution, through the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony. Why? Because God had another plan.
Do you see the earth? Do you see dwindling doctrine? Do you see decaying churches? Or do you see God's plan? Do you see God's vision? It would be amiss of me to preach this message this morning and not mention our blessed Lord. Because who is there, who is there greater in vision than He? That He had a vision before we could ever understand, before the worlds began, He had a vision of sinful humanity. He had a vision of redeeming people with His own blood for Himself. What did He do? It says He set His face 'as a flint' to go for that vision. He set Himself straight, He gave His life, He denied Himself, He did everything to get that vision. He Himself, as He hung upon that cross - we were hearing this morning - and as He shouted, "It is finished", He realised that that vision had been completed and accomplished.
Yea when He was on the earth - in Matthew and 16 verse 18 - He said this (and this is the vision I want you to take with you this morning): "I will build my church". No buts about it, no conditions about it - "I will build my church". What He was doing was this: He was setting down a spiritual law that I want to leave with you today. It's this: that God will manifest Himself in direct proportion to your passion and your vision. 'If you seek me', God says, 'with all your heart, I will be found of you'. You and I - the Iron Hall assembly, its pastor, its elders, its deacons - will never know our potential for God until we step out and take risks on the frontline of the battle.
How do you know if you have vision? How do I know if I have vision? Let me ask you a few questions quickly. Ask yourself: are you concerned for dirty people in East Belfast? Are we concerned about people that don't fit in? Or are we secretly, deep down, glad a little bit that they don't fit in and we don't have to deal with them? Do we serve a certain class? Are we touching the untouchable for Christ? Or do we want God to clean the fish before we catch them? My friends, I want to encourage you today. Michelangelo, the great artist, was walking on his holidays in the city of Florence. He was walking down the street in his good clothes, and as he was walking down chatting to his friends, he saw in the corner of the market a great stone. He ran to that stone, and his friends didn't know what he was doing. He started chiselling away at the stone in his good clothes, getting them dirty, and his friends asked: 'What are you doing?'. He said this: 'I see an angel in that stone!'. There are many stones in our world today, but what do you see? Do you see an angel? Do you see what God can do? Do you see the power of God? Do you see the might of God? Do you see the saving ability of our God?
Are you like the shoemaker that went from the US of A to Africa as a missionary? His trade, of course, was making shoes - and when he went out there he sent a telegram back that he was coming back, because people in Africa didn't wear shoes. Another missionary went out in his place. He was a shoemaker, but the letter he sent back was entirely different and it said this: 'Send help for people here need shoes!'. What is our vision? Do you know what my vision for this place is? Quickly: my vision for this place - and I hope that we can say together, I believe that we can, and I believe that you have a vision - is that this will be a place of discipleship, that this will continue to be a place of fellowship, that it will be a place of worship, that it will be a place of the ministry of the word of God, and it will be a place of evangelism. And that it will be a place of growth.
Growth gets slated a lot today but, my friend, when God waters a plant, when the seed is planted what happens? It grows! I'd love to see it. Not specifically growing biologically - and by that I mean through birth, and through you having children, and eventually me having children - not geographically, that people shift from here to there and move from this church to that. It will happen. There's nothing wrong with it, but oh to see, oh to see growth biblically, where men and women, sinful, dirty, filthy men and women find Christ, find hope and find life.
The difference between a visionary and a stationary Christian is this: a stationary Christian sees things and asks 'Why?', but a visionary Christian dreams things and asks 'Why not?'. The poorest man - and I finish with this - on earth is not he that has no pennies, but he that has no dreams. Where there is vision, people are saved. May God bless His word to our hearts this morning.
Our Father, this morning we ask that every believer in this place would catch the vision of what can be done - we believe, what will be done - in the power of God if we would only step, step by faith into those great loving arms of growth of the Lord Jesus Christ. Lord, give us each one today a vision of what You can do. For Christ's sake. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape, titled "Visionary Or Stationary" - Transcribed by Trevor Veale, Preach The Word.
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