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In his book The Changed Life, Henry Drummond said, “The eternal life, the life of faith, is simply a life of higher vision.” I like that idea because it implies that all people are living by some vision.
All of us have some goals in life. You cannot live life without some vision, some dream of what you would like to be, some plans for the future, some thoughts about yourself and your family. The least promising, homeless person in our society has some plans for the future, some hope for his life, some thread onto which he is holding.
The most secular person in our materialistic society has a vision for his future. Even Manuel Noriega had a plan for Panama. It just so happened that it was a selfish, corrupt plan, and it involved injustice and drugs, but he did have a vision.
“Vision” is found seventy-five times in the Bible, and “visions” is found twenty-eight times. Sometimes they are called “lying visions,” “delusive visions,” or “false visions,” but usually they are visions come from God. They are usually what one scholar calls “a supernatural manifestation … that serves a divine revelation of something otherwise secret” (The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary).
You are already familiar with Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 27:1-4), of Daniel’s four beasts (Daniel 7), of Amos and grasshoppers (Amos 7:1), of John the Baptist at the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:16), and of Peter with the sheet let down from heaven (Acts 10:9-18), to name but a few of them in the Bible.
The Apostle Paul had his own personal vision that is described three times in the Book of Acts, lone of which was our Scripture lesson. On the road to Damascus to continue his aggressive persecution of Christians, Paul is struck down by a sudden light and a heavenly flash. “Why do you persecute me?” cried a voice. “Who are you, Lord?” said Paul. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
Then Paul was told to rise and to enter Damascus, and to wait for further instructions. Paul remained blind until a Christian named Ananias was directed by God to come to him, which he did with fear and trembling, for he knew of Paul’s zeal in searching out and destroying Christians. Nevertheless, he came to Paul, who was in the process of praying when he arrived. Ananias laid his hands on Paul and Paul’s eyesight was restored. After he was baptized, he began immediately to preach that Jesus is the Son of God.
This is the heavenly experience that made Paul a driven person as he traveled around the world sharing the good news of the gospel with anyone who would listen. It was this religious experience that sent him sailing aboard ships that were eventually shipwrecked. It was this experience that supported him in dark, dirty dungeons and that strengthened him in times of beatings and personal attacks.
Paul’s vision passed its greatest test when he was brought before King Agrippa. The contrast of these two men is dramatic. Agrippa was a Greek Jew who was brought up in Rome in the lap of luxury. He was the last of the Herods, an unfortunate son of a famous family, for he was reaping the bitter fruit of a dying era.
Agrippa’s vision was one where “might was right,” where money had its privileges. He was used to ordering people around. He didn’t need their respect as long as they feared what he could do to them. If you will pardon another reference to a man much in the news today, it was the difference between the power that Noriega wielded and the power of Mother Teresa; two completely different visions.
What is the vision that drives you? What is the vision that drives the church? Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish …,” and we have seen how Paul described his vision, and even declared before Agrippa, “O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision …” (Acts 26:19).
It is appropriate that we take a moment to examine where we want to go, what kind of church we want to be, and how to get there. What is the vision that we might embrace?
I’d like us to divide the vision into two parts: a vision for our individual lives, and a vision for the church. They are related.
1) I think the vision for the individual Christian in the years ahead is going to involve more personal discipline. We are coming out of a disastrous time where the ethic has been, “If it feels good, do it.” This ethic has brought havoc within our society, and not only among our young people, as the AIDS epidemic has verified. To live as if there is no God in heaven is to bring havoc. We are told (2 Peter 3:18) to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,” but for a long time we have been too personally preoccupied with other things.
Richard J. Foster once wrote, “This decade we’ll have the opportunity to provide a practical theology and specific strategy for growing into Christlikeness. Christians will be taught how to live like Christians,” and after all, that’s all that we want out of life, isn’t it?
What we as individual Christians need is a vision of, a commitment to, more “holy habits.” These are not new, but what would be the new element is the regular practice of them: prayer, solitude, simplicity, regular worship, Bible reading and Bible study, religious reading, generous stewardship of all that God has given us, and compassion for the less fortunate around the world.
If our vision for the future is to be more like Jesus, then we must begin doing the things that Jesus did, and Jesus went about doing good, loving His neighbor, helping the down-and-outers, ministering to the sick and lonely. There is no other way to follow Christ than to be Christlike in our personal everyday lifestyles. I see this as the most dominant vision in the future for each individual Christian.
2) The vision of the church is closely akin to this first one. I see the future Church bringing these “holy habits” into the mainstream of its life. If we believe that spiritual growth is our reason for existing, then everything that we do must be measured with this rule: “Did it make me more Christlike?” Did that service, that program, whatever it is, draw me closer to Christ? Every meeting in church ought to close with a prayer that says, “O Lord, the only reason we are here is because we love You and we want to serve You.”
Years ago in Boston, Bishop F. J. McConnell delivered a speech that made a telling point. He said, “During the Boxer Rebellion hundreds, probably thousands, of Chinese Christians were martyred. There they knelt, with their heads (literally) on the blocks, the knives trembling in the hands of their executioners. All they needed to do was to grunt out a Chinese word that meant ‘I recant’ and their lives would be saved. Now, what should I have done under these circumstances?” he asked. “With my head on the block I suspect I would have said, ‘Hold on! I think I can make a statement that will be satisfactory to all sides’.”
There is a frightening intimacy between what we believe and what we as individuals, and as a church, will become. We are a “vision driven” people. Rather than making a statement that will be satisfactory to all sides, the vision for the future for individual Christians and the church must be a higher vision that strives to be Christlike in all we do.