I have been waiting to share with you the message that God has burned into my heart while I was away with my family on vacation. I have been sharing this lesson every chance I have been given since I have returned home. I shared it with our staff on Monday morning, I shared it with the Promise Keepers on Wednesday morning, and I have shared it with many individuals during the past week. The lesson that God has been teaching me is the power of vision. I want to clarify something for us as we begin so that I don’t confuse you. Vision is kind of a nebulous term that can mean many different things. When someone says that they have a vision they can be talking about all kinds of experiences or insights they have experienced.
We experienced the reality of one man’s vision while we were in Florida on vacation. Many years ago Walt Disney took a group of people out to a piece of land in Florida that had no usefulness at all. The land was marshy and muddy and there wasn’t anyone who believed that it could be useful for the city of Orlando until Walt Disney shared his vision of what we know today as Walt Disney World. Before one shovel of land was ever turned Walt walked through the acreage and described in vivid detail, as if it was already before his eyes, the various structures, themes, rides, and excitement that the park would bring.
As Walt Disney World was under construction, the visionary leader died and therefore missed the grand opening of the greatest theme park in the world. At the dedication of the park someone said, “Isn’t it too bad that Walt Disney didn’t live to see this?” Mike Vance, creative director of Disney Studios, replied, “He did see it-that’s why it’s here.” (Haddon W. Robinson, Hamilton, Massachusetts, Leadership, Spring, 1993, p. 48.)
There are those like Walt Disney who have a vision of building a theme park, a business, gaining an education, or winning a gold medal in the Olympics. I love to hear their stories as they inspire and move us all, but that is not the kind of vision that I want to talk with you about this morning.
There are others who speak of having visions of gaining great wealth, finding a cure for cancer, or discovering the origins of the Universe, but that is not the kind of vision that I want to share with you this morning. There are still others who have a vision of playing professional sports, taking exotic vacations, being a size 7, or striking it rich, but these are the visions that I want to talk about this morning.
I don’t want to mislead you into thinking that the next several minutes is going to be an Anthony Robbins or Oprah Winfrey-type seminar on creating your vision and getting what you want out of life. There are plenty of folks who can help you with that type of thinking if that is what you are looking for in life. They can help you plot and plan and pursue starting a new business, making more money, losing weight, etc. I’m not putting those folks down it is just that as I have gotten older and learned more about the Lord the more I am convinced that what we truly need is a clear vision of another kind. What people desperately need today is not a vision that centers on themselves and their happiness or alleviating the suffering of humanity, even though that is a wonderful and noble vision to pursue. What we need more than anything is a vision of God’s holiness, majesty, glory, righteousness, power, and grace.
While we were on vacation God struck me with such a clear vision and a deeper understanding of His magnificence and might, His love and mercy, His sovereignty and provision that I can’t escape it to this day. Let me back up and share with you how God began to teach me this lesson. One night Dan and I were out walking on the beach when I saw a group of ladies huddled together up on the beach. I went up and asked, “What are you guys doing?” They showed us a turtle nest where some baby turtles had hatched and about six of them were really struggling. One of the ladies was licensed to work with the turtles and she began to tell us about them. The six were really weak and it looked like they weren’t going to make it. The women were holding them in their hands and rubbing them, trying to rejuvenate their little bodies. While they were busy working I began to quiz them about the turtles. They said that they were Green turtles and that they were on the endangered species list. They told me that the mother had laid up to 100 eggs in the nest that she had dug and buried about six weeks ago. After the mother had laid the eggs she covered them up and walked back to sea never to see the nest again. I asked if the turtles are born any time or if they are born just at night. The lady said, “Oh, they are only born at night. Never born while the sun is up.” I’m not very smart so I asked, “How do they know that it is night?” She said, “Well, they just know. Nature has taught them when it is time to be born.” I said, “Oh, I see.” She went on to tell us that when the time is right the little turtle bites his way out of his shell, digs out of the sand, and walks down to the water. I asked, “How does the turtle know to walk to the water instead of towards the trees behind us?” Once again I heard, “Nature has taught them what to do when they are born.” I asked my sons, “Isn’t evolution a wonderful thing?”
The very next night our family was walking on the beach when we came upon a man and his three daughters. It was evident that they were up to something so I asked them what they were doing? The dad said, “There is a mother turtle up there in the dunes laying her eggs.” He took us up to see her with only the moonlight illuminating her huge shell. The bugs were so bad that everybody except for me left to find shelter. I walked up the dune and huddled down behind her so that she couldn’t see me. I watched and swatted bugs as she dug her nest, laid her eggs, and then worked so hard to use her big flippers to cover the nest so that predators wouldn’t recognize it. I finally left as she was busy putting the finishing touches on her nest, but sometime after I left she finished, made her way back to the sea, and swam away never to see her nest again.
Who watched over that nest while mom was away? Who formed those little turtles in their eggs planted in the earth? Who protected those helpless eggs from predators for six weeks? Who gave those little hatchlings the strength to dig their way out of the sand? Who taught them the difference between night and day before they had ever seen either one? Who taught them to walk to the sea instead of the trees? Who provided a group of caring women to come to their aid when they were too weak to crawl? Oh, my friend, you and I know who taught them. Annie can answer that question – God did. If God can provide for a little turtle in every way imaginable then He can certainly provide for you and me.
I think we all know that in our hearts. I believe that the certainty of God’s provision gets clouded when we struggle and strain trying to deal with the problems of life that tug at our hearts and cloud our vision. We are like Job, the most well known struggler in the world. Job had everything going for him, but then his life began to come apart at the seams. He lost his children, his herds, his livelihood, his servants, and he lost his hope. He couldn’t figure out why God would allow such a thing to happen to his life. He asked, “Why?” Job felt that God had abandoned him. I want to give you an idea of the emotions that were pummeling Job’s mind and body 27 chapters after he had lost it all. Take a look at Job 29:2-6,
2 “How I long for the months gone by, for the days when God watched over me, 3 when his lamp shone upon my head and by his light I walked through darkness! 4 Oh, for the days when I was in my prime, when God’s intimate friendship blessed my house, 5 when the Almighty was still with me and my children were around me, 6 when my path was drenched with cream and the rock poured out for me streams of olive oil. (Job 29:2-6 NIV)
Did you hear that? Did you notice how everything Job talked about was past tense? “How I long for the months gone by. When God watched over me. When God’s intimate friendship blessed my house. When the Almighty was still with me.” Job is speaking of his relationship with God as if it were over and done. Have you ever found yourself deep in the valley of despair and thinking the same things that were on Job’s heart? Oh, I’m sure there are many of us who are familiar with Job’s past tense problem.
In the very next chapter of Job we find Job’s struggle continue. The worst suffering of all has to be those times when we cry out to God and we feel that He has turned a deaf ear to our cry. Job says,
20 “I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me. 21 You turn on me ruthlessly; with the might of your hand you attack me. 22 You snatch me up and drive me before the wind; you toss me about in the storm. 23 I know you will bring me down to death, to the place appointed for all the living. 24 “Surely no one lays a hand on a broken man when he cries for help in his distress. 25 Have I not wept for those in trouble? Has not my soul grieved for the poor? 26 Yet when I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness. 27 The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me. 28 I go about blackened, but not by the sun; I stand up in the assembly and cry for help. (Job 30:20-28 NIV)
Job is not only feeling abandoned by God, but he cannot figure out why. He has wept for those in trouble, he has grieved for the poor, he has been a good man, and yet he feels so alone. Isn’t it interesting that when we go through tough times that we begin to look around at others and think to ourselves, “Why is this happening to me? I pay my taxes, I go to church, I try to treat people with respect, I read my Bible.” What we are saying is this: “I’m a pretty good person so why is God allowing this to happen to me?” My friend we need to take this lesson to heart – God causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34). The things that the Lord allows to happen in our lives happen for a purpose, not because we are good folks. Isaiah tells us,
6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6 NIV)
Good does not come to us because we are good people, honorable folks who have shocked God with our righteousness. And in Job’s case, hard times were being experienced not because Job had messed up, but because the Master was at work!
You need to know that Job was not a bad man. He was not a man of feeble faith. Job was not a fair weather follower of God who was accustomed to singing His praises when things went well and shaking his fist in the face of God when things turned sour. Job was a godly man. You can learn that by looking at the very first chapter of Job. Take a look with me.
1In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. 2He had seven sons and three daughters, 3and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East. (Job 1:1-3 NIV)
That is not a self-righteous man’s assessment of himself. God also saw Job as a man who was blameless, a godly man who feared God and shunned evil. Take a look at Job 1:6-8 and read along with me.
6One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. 7The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.” 8 Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:6-8 NIV)
I wanted to share all of that with you so that we could approach Job’s revelation with a solid understanding of the character of the man, the heart of the man who saw tragedy and turmoil turn him away from his trust, love, and complete dependence upon Almighty God. Job’s heart mutated from a heart knowing God’s provision and care for him to a heart feeling that God had abandoned him.
Job’s story is one of the most well known stories the world over. The reason for this is that we can all identify with Job. Who among us has not had our understanding, our vision of God, His glory and majesty, clouded by hard times?
I was watching a program about a week ago about how the family of Rachel Scott has coped with her murder that took place at Columbine High School. The story focused on Rachel’s brother, Craig, and how he has dealt with his loss during the past year. We watched on television as this young man went from boldly proclaiming his faith in God and His ability to see him through the loss of his sister to a young man, who at one point, said that he didn’t know what he believed about God any more. Craig hasn’t been able to sleep at night. He walks the halls of his home, he walks outside in the still of the night, but as his grief increased he could seem to find no peace. My heart broke for him as I watched his struggle. I know that there are literally millions of folks who can relate to the struggle of Craig Scott, those who have suffered such devastating losses in life that they can’t seem to find peace and wonder if they can even go on.
Job was certainly in that place and he couldn’t figure out why he was going through such heartache. He wanted God to show up so he could ask Him some important questions.
God did show up. God asks Job,
1Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: 2 “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? 3 Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. 2 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. 5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? 6 On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone-7 while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? 8 “Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, 9 when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, 10 when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, 11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’? 12 “Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, 13 that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? 14 The earth takes shape like clay under a seal; its features stand out like those of a garment. 15 The wicked are denied their light, and their upraised arm is broken. 16 “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? 17 Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death? 18 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this. 19 “What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? 20 Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings? 21 Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years! (Job 39:1-21 NIV)
God went on to take Job on a stroll through creation and to point out to him how God provides for the animals, how He controls the clouds, the lightning, the rain, and everything in all of creation. God takes Job to school and gives him a lesson in His sovereignty. Job drinks it all in and then we find Job responding to God.
3Then Job answered the LORD: 4 “I am unworthy-how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. 5 I spoke once, but I have no answer-twice, but I will say no more.” (Job 40:3-5 NIV)
God was not through with his lesson on Job’s limited knowledge and God’s infinite power and provision for all of His creation. After God had finished Job responded once again. Take a look at Job 42:1-6,
1Then Job replied to the LORD: 2 “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. 3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. 4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ 5 My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. 6 Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6 NIV)
The defining moment of Job’s life takes place. Job, for the first time since his life began to unravel gets a vision of the awesome power and majesty of Almighty God. Job says, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” Job’s newfound understanding of God’s magnificence changed Job’s life forever as we see in the concluding chapter of his story. Job’s problem was that he was judging everything that had happened to him by his own understanding and he had forgotten that God’s ways are different than our ways.
Hard times will come for all of us. Hard times have already come for many of us and we have been devastated because we have gauged their purpose in our lives through our own understanding rather than knowing that God has a purpose for everything. God has a purpose for everything that comes into our lives. I want to encourage you to forget about trying to figure out the “Why” of what is happening and focus on the “Who” of your experiences. God loves us and that fact can’t be disputed. As the world’s thinkers contemplated whether or not God loves His people, God sent His Son to die on Calvary’s cross for the sins of the world, for your sins and mine. Whenever we wonder about God’s love all we have to do is look over our shoulder and look at a lonely cross fixed on a hill.
What many in the Body of Christ will do today is categorize everything that happens in their life. All the good things go in the “God box” and all of the bad things go in the “Satan box.” I would never dismiss the Enemies schemes, the Bible describes Satan as a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Satan is looking to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10) and nobody knew that better than Job. What we forget is this: Satan cannot move one inch in your life or mine without first getting permission from God. There are not two equally powerful forces at war in the Universe, there is only one God and He either permits Satan to test or He denies his request to sift you like wheat. When God allows Satan to test us it is to draw us to God, to grow us in our faith and dependence upon our Heavenly Father, to bring glory to God, and to teach us to cling to the Cross as weak and vulnerable sheep.
We need a vision of Almighty God – His holiness and power, His majesty and grace, His provision and righteousness. This vision is the only vision that will sustain us through mountain top experiences and the most difficult experiences of life. The other visions of wealth, success, fame, and happiness are straw houses that will burn up with the heat of life’s troubles. When we come to know God for who He is our life will be characterized by peace and complete reliance upon Almighty God.
No matter what happens in life we can know beyond a doubt, as Paul knew and wrote to the Romans, that all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord. Take a look at Romans 8 with me.
28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. 31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died-more than that, who was raised to life-is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:28-39 NIV)
Absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God that has been demonstrated in Christ Jesus our Lord. That is the crystal clear vision that we so desperately need this very morning. I will assure you my friend that visionaries will continue to pursue their dreams of greatness, fame, achievement, and acclaim, but these visions of grandeur will never see us through this life. When hard times come press clippings and accolades just won’t cut it. Hanging out with the popular group at school just won’t cut it. Driving the latest status symbol just won’t cut it. Living large with a pool in a gated community just won’t cut it. The only comfort, the only thing that will sustain and lift you up when you are so down is a crystal clear vision of the sovereignty, the glory, and the infinite love of Almighty God. The only vision that will enable you to live life to its fullest with complete confidence in the Lord is a vision of His grandeur and grace.
Past Surgeon General, Dr. C. Everett Koop was a success from the beginning of his practice in the world’s eyes yet he knew something was missing from his life. He started asking questions about all of the suffering and agony he witnessed as a Pediatrician. One day Dr. Koop’s friend and assisting nurse at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, Erma Goulding, heard Dr. Koop’s struggle and invited him to come to Tenth Presbyterian Church to hear Dr. Donald Gray Barnhouse speak. Dr. Koop says that as he listened to Dr. Barnhouse preach the curtain began to be pulled back and he realized that “my life wasn’t just a series of dilemmas, followed by happy coincidences.” Charles Morris, writing about Dr. Koop says,
Koop realized that his own life and all the opportunities he’d been given were planned by God for His purposes. In fact, not a molecule moves, not a sparrow falls from the sky except by the will of God. God does not act randomly. (Morris, Charles. Jesus In The Midst of Success, p.31)
Dr. C. Everett Koop’s eyes were opened to much more spectacular realities than a successful practice. Dr. Koop’s eyes for the first time caught a vision of the glory of God as the sovereign King of all creation and he accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior of his life. That vision would sustain Dr. Koop and his wife several years later when their son, who was a junior at Dartmouth, died in a rock climbing accident. Charles Morris writes,
When the news of David’s death came, the first thing the family did was gather in a circle to pray. Koop asked that the Lord ‘having taken David from us according to his perfect will, would please show us some of the things he would accomplish through David’s death.’
The story of the Koop family strikes so many of us as rather odd, but in fact they are a wonderful testimony of brothers and sisters whose vision is clear. After all, does not God’s Word say this: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of one of His saints.”
What we need is a glorious vision that will sustain us through every moment of life. What we need is a glorious vision of God’s power and His infinite love and His purposes in the midst of what the world’s deems as meaningless and tragic. If the vision you are pursuing will not sustain you through thick and thin then I would beg of you this morning to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of your life.
Let me ask you this as we close: If the Lord can take care of a little baby turtle from the time he is laid in his nest through six weeks of being formed in the shell. If the Lord can teach that baby the difference between night and day, the difference between trees and water, then don’t you think He can take care of you and me? Don’t you know that He will provide as He has always provided throughout our entire lives. Oh Lord, open our eyes so that we might see You in all of Your glory.