The Church in my City

Chapter 11 Vision

Vision is something you see. And Jesus said "No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above" (John 3:3). By natural birth we see our life in this world in a certain way. When we are born spiritually we see our life in the Kingdom.

How does vision differ from the ordinary logic that takes us from one proposition to another? We use the word theory to suggest the idea of seeing (Greek theoreo means "I see") an interconnected whole. Model theology is about alternative visions. But vision is never a merely academic or antiquarian interest. A vision gives us a new way of seeing humans and the society they live in. It is always forward looking. If we act on it a vision changes the way we live our lives.

In the Old Testament one of the ways the prophets received their messages was by receiving verbal messages (often beginning with tongues that needed to be interpreted as in 1 Corinthians 14:13-19). The other way was by being given a vision which was then described in words and interpreted by the prophet (as in Zechariah 4:1-7, 6:1-8). A person who saw visions was called a seer (khozeh meaning visionary or roeh meaning see-er).

Samuel was a circuit judge but he was also known as a seer (1 Samuel 9:9-19). These days we look to an expert for advice. But King David would turn to God, his personal seer. "Tell me what do you see?" (2 Samuel 24:11, 1 Chronicles 21:9, 18). But seers were also given a vision to communicate to a nation (2 Kings 17:13). Ezekiel saw a vision of dry bones that came alive (Ezekiel 37:1-14), and he had another vision of an ideal temple (Ezekiel 40:2-43:17). Daniel saw visions of succeeding empires (Daniel 7:1- 8:26, 10:5 ff.). Sometimes prophets would write a book of visions they had seen
(2 Chronicles 9:29, Zechariah 1:8,18, 2:1, 3:1, 4:2, 5:1, 6:1).

In the New Testament it was the vision of a man of Macedonia that persuaded Paul to cross into Europe (Acts 16:9 - to his surprise it turned out the man was a business woman named Lydia). The Book of Revelation describes some visions that John the apostle saw when he was in exile on the island of Patmos. It seems probable, though we could not prove it, that many in our day have had a vision which clarified and motivated what they had to do.

But for our purposes here in the city of Kingston a key vision was the one given to Peter. In the vision he saw unclean beasts, which were forbidden by the kosher laws (Leviticus 11), and to his horror he was told to kill and eat them. Through the circumstances that followed he discovered that the vision meant that "God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him" (Acts 10:35). This resulted in people of all nations being accepted by baptism to begin learning without having to submit to Jewish laws and culture (see the previous chapter). Paul called it the mystery that had been revealed to him (Ephesians 3:2-6). I am glad we accept anyone of any country or race in the church of my city. If Saddam Hussain came in, we would welcome him.

Vision needs a direction of looking. In a business corporation people must keep their minds on the company's vision, what policy the CEO has in mind, and then translate this into a vision of how they view one another and treat their customers. How does our vision motivate us?

Jesus wants our customers to get a vision of God the Father. "I want you to know how much he loves you, even when you fail. He counts you as his children even when you don't behave very well. As I kept saying to ordinary people 'Your sins are forgiven.' You can't see the Father (John 1:18), but like a loving Parent, he cares and watches out for you behind the scenes of your life."

Jesus also wants us to have a vision of how he did things. And we do that by reading the Gospels. This is the way he touched lepers. This is the way he enrolled disciples to begin learning with him. This is the way he freed people from burdensome rules - Jesus had no time for legalism. Rather than complicated theology, this is the way he told parables. This is how we are to love enemies and other tiresome people. This is how he faced the storms of life. And this is the way he died with absolute certainty in the resurrection.

Instead of money to control our direction we need a vision of how the Holy Spirit gives us inspiration and empowerment from the very depths of our being. When we have something difficult to do like loving an enemy, teaching a parable to children, praying for a sick person, we first admit that we cannot do it by your own wisdom, then we look to the Holy Spirit to do in us "abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine" (Ephesians 3:20). Compared with 1978 when I came to this city, I am glad that so many have learned that there are lots of other good things we can do by our own efforts, but none of us can do a single thing to share in building his church without the Holy Spirit.

Jesus very creatively united our Trinitarian vision in his parable of the Vine. "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch canot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing" (John15:1-5).

Here the vision and the application are intertwined. The vine grower is the Father who watches and prunes the vine. Jesus the Son of God is himself the vine tree. The Holy Spirit is the sap that bring up nourishment from the earth to supply the needs of every little branch. If the flow of the Spirit is hindered the branch produces no fruit, and soon gets broken off. But by the Spirit a branch is astonished to find itself carrying huge bunches of grapes.

The only thing we need to add to this vision from the previous chapters is that the Messiah's tree in every city has branches of oranges, pears, apples, plums, and every other fruit we can imagine. There is a rich variety, not uniformity, in the church in our city. Once this vision becomes clear, we no longer view other denominations as competing with us. As we saw in chapter 5, we can recognize and appreciate that the fruit they produce each in their own way is equally a pleasure to our heavenly gardener.

In the Nicene Creed we say "We believe in one only holy Catholic (universal) and apostolic church." I am proud that the church in my city is more and more grasping the vision of what that means for us.

Chapter 12