What is a Vision?

“Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).

Abram was given a vision of what the future would look like. When God calls a man or a woman, often He will give them a vision. Any leader worth his salt has been given a vision in his mind’s eye of what the future will look like. After getting a vision one must prayerfully plan how he or she is to bring the vision into reality. I am reminded of the things God used to envision me for my future. It is not the same method for every person. Stay open to God and be alert to His promptings.

God used various things in my life. Shortly after my fishing career ended, I worked for a while as a window cleaner, and as a painter and decorator. During this time, I was also involved in starting small groups and leading a small group in our home, along with my wife, Sandy. At one point, I worked in a print shop for a Christian printing organization called Cornerstone Print and Design. This small printing company served missionary agencies as well as other churches and Christian organizations in England by printing all kinds of literature that would help them to reach the world for Christ. I remember they had a sign on the wall that said: “A drop of ink will make a million think!” At that time, I really didn’t see myself as a Bible teacher, I was more of an evangelist that would share the message of Christ whenever I had the opportunity. But the sign on the wall grabbed my attention. God used my time at that printing agency for me to get a vision for spreading His Word to others, even in other countries. I could see the need for Christian literature that would help people understand the gospel of God’s love. It was good to be a part of printing tracts for Christians to use in other countries. These tracts explained the Gospel in their own language. God began to show me His vision to reach the world, and that is what I am still seeking to do today.

What is vision? I have heard it described as “foresight with insight based on hindsight.”  We ought to look into the future and begin to see with the eyes of faith what God wants us to do. Vision also focuses on one’s present circumstances and asks the question: “how do I get to there from here?” Also, vision takes into account the learning that one has accumulated from the past. Vision is a clear mental image of a preferable future that is given to a man or woman of God, to enable him or her to work toward that particular goal that he or she has seen. When a person has obtained a clear vision of what God wants to do, then the man or woman of God goes to the Lord in prayer for practical steps to reach that goal or vision. Without practical steps toward the preferable future, there is difficulty in stretching beyond the present reality. Abram is shown a picture in his mind’s eye of the future that he is waiting for and holding onto in faith.

What methods does He use today? How can you tell if a vision is from God?

God will often use His Word, or a message through a dream, through song, encouragement from another, a mentor, or someone who inspires us to do what they are doing. It can also be a need which we want to meet, or a strong desire to do something. It can be as simple as a natural God-given talent mixed with a strong desire. If a vision is from God, it will always be in line with scripture. Test your vision to see if it matches up with the Word of God. Ask Him to give you the first step in seeing your vision come to pass. Be ready to take a step of faith. Often, there is an excitement that comes when we see what God has for us to do… 13for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (Philippians 2:13). What vision sustains you while you wait for God’s promises to be fulfilled? If you do not have one, ask Him for a vision for your life. Keith Thomas

 

The Man Justified Before God

9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10″Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’13″But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14″I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14)

This parable is on the subject of prayer and concerns itself more with the inner attitude or heart of prayer. In this parable, the contrast is between a self-righteous Pharisee and a penitent tax collector; no two people could be further apart than these two. Jesus shocks his audience by saying that the penitent tax collector went away justified rather than the Pharisee.

Both men were praying in the temple precincts. From the way the passage reads, I can picture the Pharisee standing up close to the front of the Temple Courts. His posture was that of standing up straight and looking up to heaven, congratulating himself out loud. I’m sure that others nearby could hear how he so righteously lived his life. It is mentioned that the penitent tax-collector stood at a distance, perhaps at the back of the Temple courts near the entrance, because he felt so unworthy. He could not even look up to heaven, which was the normal posture of prayer. (Our tradition today when called to prayer is to look downward, mainly due to the words of this parable.) It is interesting to note that often when Jesus is mentioned praying, it records that He “looked up to heaven.” In the Pharisee’s case, his posture of looking up to heaven is seen as his own self-righteousness and self-importance, which the parable later points out.  In the Pharisee’s prayer, the Greek words record him saying 5 times “I—I—I—I—I.” We find him praying “about himself” (verse 11), the literal rendering of the Greek is that he’s praying to himself. This man certainly was not maximizing his time of prayer, his prayer never got off the ground! His self-righteous attitude never brought him into a true relationship with God, he has no appreciation for grace, and in fact he disdains it. He’s far too righteous to need the grace of God! His life is all about keeping various laws to earn his right standing before God. He fully expects that his eternity is secured with a great mansion, but fails to look deep within himself to see his own character flaws. His boast was that he fasted twice a week. William Barclay tells us:

“The Jewish law prescribed only one absolutely obligatory fast- that on the day of Atonement. But those who wished to gain special merit fasted also on Mondays and Thursdays. It is noteworthy that these were the market days when Jerusalem was full of country people. Those who fasted whitened their faces and appeared in disheveled clothes, and those days gave their piety the biggest possible audience.”[1]

Like a good Pharisee, he tithed even on his spices, the mint, dill and cumin (Matthew 23:23), but yet he had no regard for the tax collector, in fact he despised him as he looked back at the man who could not even hold up his head. The man who has standing before God is one who has genuine humility and sees his need for mercy and grace from God:

“These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word” (Isaiah 66:2).

Keith Thomas

[1] The Daily Study Bible, Gospel of Luke, William Barclay, Page 223.

The God Who Answers Prayer Before Being Asked

Isaiah the prophet more than five hundred years before Christ, spoke about a time when God would answer prayer before His people ask.

…they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them. 24Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear (Isaiah 65:23-24).

This is a story written by a doctor who worked in Africa:

“One night I had worked hard to help a mother in the labor ward; but in spite of all we could do, she died, leaving us with a tiny, premature baby and a crying two-year-old daughter. We would have difficulty keeping the baby alive, as we had no incubator (we had no electricity to run an incubator). We also had no special feeding facilities.

Although we lived on the equator, nights were often chilly with treacherous drafts. One student midwife went for the box we had for such babies and the cotton wool that the baby would be wrapped in. Another went to stoke up the fire and fill a hot water bottle. She came back shortly in distress to tell me that in filling the bottle, it had burst (rubber perishes easily in tropical climates). 
’And it is our last hot water bottle!’ she exclaimed. As in the West, it is no good crying over spilled milk, so in Central Africa it might be considered no good crying over burst water bottles, they do not grow on trees, and there are no drugstores down forest pathways. ‘All right,’ I said, ‘put the baby as near the fire as you safely can, and sleep between the baby and the door to keep it free from drafts. Your job is to keep the baby warm.’

The following noon, as I did most days, I went to have prayers with any of the orphanage children who chose to gather with me. I gave the youngsters various suggestions of things to pray about and told them about the tiny baby. I explained our problem about keeping the baby warm enough, mentioning the hot water bottle, and that the baby could so easily die if it got chills. I also told them of the two-year-old sister, crying because her mother had died. During prayer time, one ten-year-old girl, Ruth, prayed with the usual blunt conciseness of our African children. ‘Please, God’ she prayed, ‘Send us a hot water bottle today. It’ll be no good tomorrow, God, as the baby will be dead, so please send it this afternoon.’ While I gasped inwardly at the audacity of the prayer, she added, ‘And while You are about it, would You please send a dolly for the little girl so she’ll know You really love her?’ As often with children’s prayers, I was put on the spot. Could I honestly say ‘Amen?’ I just did not believe that God could do this. 
Oh, yes, I know that He can do everything; the Bible says so. But there are limits, aren’t there? The only way God could answer this particular prayer would be by sending me a parcel from the homeland.

I had been in Africa for almost four years at that time, and I had never, ever, received a parcel from home. Anyway, if anyone did send me a parcel, who would put in a hot water bottle? I lived on the equator! Halfway through the afternoon, while I was teaching in the nurses’ training school, a message was sent that there was a car at my front door. By the time I reached home, the car had gone, but there on the verandah was a large 22-pound parcel. I felt tears pricking my eyes. I could not open the parcel alone, so I sent for the orphanage children. Together we pulled off the string, carefully undoing each knot. We folded the paper, taking care not to tear it unduly. Excitement was mounting. Some thirty or forty pairs of eyes were focused on the large cardboard box. From the top, I lifted out brightly colored, knitted jerseys. Eyes sparkled as I gave them out. Then there were the knitted bandages for the leprosy patients, and the children looked a little bored. Then came a box of mixed raisins and sultanas – that would make a batch of buns for the weekend. Then, as I put my hand in again, I felt the…could it really be? I grasped it and pulled it out. Yes, a brand new, rubber hot water bottle. I cried. I had not asked God to send it; I had not truly believed that He could.

Ruth was in the front row of the children. She rushed forward, crying out, ‘If God has sent the bottle, He must have sent the dolly, too!’ Rummaging down to the bottom of the box, she pulled out the small, beautifully dressed dolly. Her eyes shone! She had never doubted! Looking up at me, she asked, ‘Can I go over with you and give this dolly to that little girl, so that she’ll know that Jesus really loves her?’ ‘Of course,’ I replied! That parcel had been on the way for five whole months, packed up by my former Sunday school class, whose leader had heard and obeyed God’s prompting to send a hot water bottle, even to the equator. And one of the girls had put in a dolly for an African child – five months before, in answer to the believing prayer of a ten-year-old to bring it ‘that afternoon.’ ‘Before they call, I will answer’ (Isaiah 65:24).

What a wonderful answer to a very specific prayer. The joy that a child of God feels when a specific answer to prayer is received goes far beyond just the answer itself. It is also a reminder to us that God keeps His promises, that He is mindful of us, and that we are able to call on our Father in this new day of prayer. Maybe today is a good day for you to begin praying in Jesus’ name for whatever your need is.

Keith Thomas

The Raising of Jairus’ Daughter

49While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” he said. “Don’t bother the teacher anymore” 50Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.” 51When he arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother. 52Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her. “Stop wailing,” Jesus said. “She is not dead but asleep.” 53They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54But he took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” 55Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. 56Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened (Luke 8:49-56).

Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed” (v. 50). When they got to his home, the professional mourners were there, crying and wailing at the loss to the family. He said to them, “Stop wailing,” Jesus said. “She is not dead but asleep.” 53They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead” (v. 52-53). The Greek word translated as laughed in verse 24, is a scornful belly laugh at the words of Jesus. The mourners ridiculed Him knowing what death looked like. They were not beginners at funerals. She was not asleep. This was no coma. They were witnesses to the death of the twelve-year-old. What did Jesus mean by saying that she was asleep? Those who are of the household of faith in Christ never die. Our body may be put in the ground, but we are very much alive at the point of departure of the body.

Some believe that, when a Christian dies, his soul sleeps and that he is unconscious until Christ comes for him or her at the resurrection. The Bible does have a few passages where Jesus talked about death for a Christian as “sleep.” In the case of when Christ raised Lazarus from the dead, He deliberately waited another two days before He even left for the tomb (John 11:6). The Lord waited so that He could prove to the skeptics that He had authority over death. Jews believed that the dead person’s spirit could remain around his body for up to two days before going on to the afterlife. Lazarus was not sleeping in the tomb. He was dead.

11After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” 12His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep (John 11:11-13).

[Jesus said:] “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).

The believer in Christ is never dead; he is separated from his body, a state that Jesus calls “sleep.” A person is only dead, according to the Lord Jesus, when he has not entered into a relationship with Christ (Ephesians 2:1, 5). We are told that, at this moment in heaven, there are the spirits of just men made perfect (Hebrews 12:23). In another place, when Christ returns for His church at the Rapture, “God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). Their bodies were in the grave, but they themselves, the unseen part of our nature, i.e. our spirit and soul, are very much alive and with the Lord.

When I get into my car, it is dead until I turn on the ignition. It will do nothing at all without my driving it. In the same way, the real me is composed of a spirit and soul that “drives” my body. The real person lives on beyond death. There is more to life than just this body of flesh.

At a funeral we bury something, not someone; it is the house not the tenant that is lowered into the grave. Verna Wright.

 1Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands (2 Corinthians 5:1).

Paul the Apostle wrote: “We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). He fully expected that, the instant his body released him, he would go immediately to be with the Lord. If you are a Christian, the body is seen by the Lord to be “asleep” until the resurrection of the dead at the coming of the Lord. To be “absent” from one’s body simply means to die because, at death, the spirit is separated from the body and moves into its eternal abode—either heaven with the Lord, or hell, separated from God for eternity.

Back to Luke’s testimony. The Lord took Jairus and his wife, plus His three closest disciples: Peter, James and John. It was an intimate moment with the Savior. Can you imagine the joy of your only child coming back to life from the dead! He cares for us in our pain, He cares for us in our trouble. Jesus cares! 54But he took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” 55Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. (Luke 8:54-55). When Jesus took the daughter’s hand and told her to get up, Luke tells us that her spirit returned (v. 55). What a wonderful sight as her eyes flickered before opening and seeing the face of the Lord Jesus. Many of us reading these words will one day have that experience of shutting the eyes of flesh and seeing the Lord Jesus as we pass into real life—eternal life. Where had the little girl been? Her body was dead and laying on the bed before the Lord and three of His disciples, but the real person, her spirit, had been somewhere else—with the Father in heaven. I hope to see you there. Keith Thomas

Jesus’ Authority over Sickness

Peter’s mother-in-law was healed (Luke 4:38-39).

Continuing from yesterday’s post, Luke gives us another example of Jesus’ authority. The second time it is in the home of Simon Peter:

38Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. 39So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them. 40When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them. 41Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Christ (Luke 4:38-41).

Some say that Peter the apostle was never married, but here in this passage we are told that Peter did have a wife. His mother-in-law was sick. Paul the Apostle also tells us that Peter had a wife:

3This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. 4Don’t we have the right to food and drink? 5Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? (Cephas is another name for Peter) 6Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living? (1 Corinthians 9:3-6)

Notice how Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, “he rebuked the fever, and it left her.” The Greek word used here for the English word ‘rebuke’ is “Epitimao,” which means to blame, censure, chide, rebuke, warn or berate. It is an abrupt, curt, and biting charge pointedly expressing disapproval, the taking to task of someone for a fault, and connotes a sharp or harsh tone (Lexical Aids to the Key Word Study Bible). Wouldn’t you wonder about Jesus talking to your mother-in-law like that? This is more than likely the first time Christ has met her. He is in Peter’s house and rebuking his mother-in-law’s sickness. Jesus would not normally speak in this kind of tone; He was speaking directly to the illness. The result? She got up totally healed and began waiting on them.

Jesus did not always address an illness or sickness in this way. I certainly would be quick to say that not every sickness has a spirit behind it. In certain countries where the demonic is openly practiced, the link between illness and spiritual practices, such as voodoo, is more common. Verse 40 states that the people brought to Jesus ALL who had various diseases, and He laid His hands on EACH ONE and healed them. Notice, too, that demons came out of many people. He had power to shut their mouths and would not permit them to speak.

The Church needs to exercise the authority of Christ for our day and age (Matthew 28:18-19).

Keith Thomas