The First Sermon at West Loop UBF, Jan 6, 2008

Where is Your Vision? (This is the unedited sermon I preached at our first Sun service at West Loop UBF on Jan 6, 2008. I happened to come across this as I was searching through my email.)

"Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint…" (Prov 29:18, NKJV).

The theme of this message is vision. Our key verse, Proverbs 29:18a says, "Where there is no vision, the people perish…" (Prov 29:18, KJV). Why is this? It's because if a man has no vision, he will live as he feels, and he will perish in obscurity. But with a vision, he can face hardships, overcome any difficulties and struggles and even conquer the world. In history, all great men were men of vision who overcame impossible odds. Here are a few stories.

In 1975, at the age of 20, Bill Gates dropped out of college. In 1986 at age 31, he became the richest man in the U.S. How did he do it? He had a vision that every household would have a PC. In those days a computer was slow, huge, costly and impractical. But when he had a vision, he realized his vision. Even a lunatic like Hitler, when he had a vision of a superior German race, was able to shake the world for a brief time in history. Martin Luther King's speech "I have a dream," is mesmerizing. King's vision was that his 4 children will "live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." His vision forever distinguishes King as a great 20th century American hero.

Recently, billionaire Sam Zell bought the failing Chicago Tribune company. In his speech, he said, "the name of the game is excellence, relevance tied to revenue." His vision is for the Tribune to be relevant, profitable and great. Although the newspaper industry is in decline, and the Tribune has accumulated much debt, Zell took over as the self appointed CEO and chairman. He is taking a big risk. But he said he is doing this because others told him repeatedly, "It cannot be done." Zell is 64. Forbes lists him as the 317th richest man in 2006. He can retire and take life easy. Yet he finds and creates new challenges for himself. Such men of vision inspire us to do something great and impossible with our lives.

In the 1960s, through Jesus feeding the 5,000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish, Dr. Lee saw the vision of poor and fatalistic Koreans carrying out world campus mission through 1:1 Bible study. According to his vision, God sent out 1,500 lay missionaries to 80 nations.

Dr. Lee often loved to tell the story of a limousine with 2 people in the car: the chauffeur and the President of the company. He'd ask, "What is the difference between the 2 people, since they are both the same human beings?" Likely, the President of the company had a vision, for which he gave his life, while the chauffeur had no vision and lived for his paycheck, for the weekend, and for his foxy girlfriend. This story stresses the importance of having a vision for your life.

I pray that God may grant you a great vision for 2008. This message has 4 parts:
  1. God's vision for Abraham;
  2. God's vision for Israel;
  3. Jesus' vision for Peter;
  4. God's vision for you.
1st, God's vision for Abraham. Abraham was a childless 75 year old man. To Abraham his life was over. But God called him and promised to make him into a great nation with descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky (Ge 12:2; 15:5). It was like a dream. But it was not a dream. It was God's great hope and vision for Abraham. To fulfill this vision, God trained Abraham in faith for 25 years until he could believe the promise of God to have a son in his old age when "his body was as good as dead" and when his wife's "womb was also dead" (Ro 4:19). When Abraham believed by faith, God fulfilled his vision and eventually brought forth the nation of Israel. Because of God's vision, 1 useless old man Abraham became 1 great nation Israel. We learn here that our God is a God of vision. God's vision is never for us to be a little better off, or to do a little bit better. Rather, our God has a great vision for each man to do something great with his life, because our God is a great God. At a minimum, each man must be a father of faith for 1 nation, like our father Abraham.

2nd, God's vision for Israel. God's plan was to forge a new nation Israel in the womb of Egypt. For this, God raised Joseph, Abraham's great grandson, as the Prime Minister of Egypt. Then due to a severe famine, Joseph brought his family of 66 persons to Egypt where they grew to a population of 600,000 slaves over the next 430 years. After 4 centuries of slavery, they developed a deeply rooted slave mentality (Ex 15:24, 16:2,3, 17:2). Their favorite activities were complaining, blaming others, feeling sorry for themselves, having a victim's mentality and doing nothing. In brief, they were a bunch of losers. But God had a great vision for them. After delivering them from slavery in Egypt through Moses, God said to them, "you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Ex 19:6). What does this mean? A priest is a mediator who brings man to God and brings God to man. God's vision was that they would be God's special priestly people to lead people of all nations to God. God's vision for his slave people was unrealistic. In fact, it was downright ludicrous. It's like asking a homeless bum to become the mayor of the city, or asking a prostitute to live like Mother Theresa. But God's vision was that his slave people Israel would become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. For this God trained them for 40 years in the wilderness so that they might learn just 1 simple lesson: "Trust God for your daily bread." But even with just 1 simple lesson for 40 years, they failed because of their slave mentality, and all of them but 2 died in the desert. However, their children who were born in the desert understood God's daily bread training. Then they entered Canaan, the Promised Land and defeated their enemies, not because they were able to, but because they simply trusted God, which they learned from their daily bread training. In this way, the nation of Israel was born. Because of God's vision, a nation of worthless slaves became a nation of conquerors.

In the course of time, Israel became corrupt and abandoned God. God sent enemy nations to humble them and sent many prophets to help them repent. But they refused to humble themselves and repent. Finally, God sent them into exile. Yet, God kept his vision for his people Israel that they would be the best shepherds and Bible teachers in the world. Isaiah 2:3 expresses God's vision: "Many peoples will come and say, 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.' The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." God's vision was that people of all nations would stream into Jerusalem and study the Bible with his people Israel. It's a surprising vision, considering that they were rebellious, ungodly and unspiritual. But despite themselves, God himself would fulfill his vision.

3rd, Jesus' vision for Peter. Though the nation of Israel refused God's vision, God sent his Son Jesus to fulfill God's vision to make Israel a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. How did Jesus fulfill God's vision? Jesus realized God's vision by planting God's vision in his disciples.

However, Jesus' disciples were men of no vision. They were nobodies. They lived on the bottom of society with a hand to mouth survival mentality. They were mere common men with little education and not much ambition (Ac 4:13). They were similar to the masses of people through out the world and through out history. When I was in the Manila in Dec, I saw a middle aged man who was hired to work on their new UBF center. He impressed me by working so hard from 9 to 5, sweating in the hot humid weather. He was obviously skilled and good at what he did, which was carpentry and masonry. But what amazed me was that he was paid 400 pesos a day, which is $10. He worked 8 hours for $10! If he worked 5 days a week all year round, he would make $2,500 a year if he took no vacation. In contrast, when Michael Jordan was playing for the Bulls, he made $10,000 a minute playing basketball. That man would have to work 4 years with no vacation to make what Michael Jordan made in 1 minute! What is my point? My point is that Jesus' disciples may not be that much different from this carpenter in Manila. This carpenter was not a lazy man but a hard-working man. But he had no vision. So he could only be a carpenter all his life. Jesus' disciples were just like that. For instance, Simon Peter only knew about fishing in Lake Galilee. He thought about fish, dreamed about fish, and even smelled like fish. At best, he wanted to win the medal for "most improved fisherman of the year," and someday be recognized as the top fisherman in Galilee. That may have been the extent of Peter's hope and vision for his life. But something changed him.

One day, Jesus called him to be a disciple (Mk 1:17). It happened this way. On one fateful morning, Peter had worked hard all night long, but failed to catch any fish. He must have felt, "What a wasted night of fishing," since he had nothing to show for all of his hard labor. He could only think about how sorry his wife would be when he returned home empty handed. At that moment, Jesus helped Peter to restore his failure. Jesus helped him to catch such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. Through this miraculous catch of fish, Peter's eyes were opened to see something beyond his own understanding, knowledge and experience. But more than that, Peter saw God in Jesus. Immediately, he realized his utter wretched sinfulness and cried out, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" But Jesus said to Simon, "Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men" (Lk 5:4-10). Jesus' vision for Peter was to be a fisher of men and a great man of God. Because of Jesus' vision, Peter's heart and mind began to expand little by little from that moment. Once Peter lived like a fish in a fish bowl. But through Jesus' vision for him, Peter began to see beyond his fish bowl until he would someday see and conquer the whole world with the gospel. Through his disciple Mark, Peter wrote Mark's gospel and he concluded Mark's gospel with Jesus' world mission command: "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation" (Mk 16:15). How could a fisherman who only knew fish, fishing and Lake Galilee speak with the scope of "all the world"? He could because Jesus planted in Peter God's great hope and vision for his life. Because of Jesus' vision, a smelly fisherman became a great man, who had the scope of the whole world.

4th, God's vision for you. Proverbs 29:18a says, "Where there is no vision, the people perish…" I grew up in Malaysia, with no vision. But when I was 16, someone said, "You can enter medical school." A vision was planted, and without ever having considered it before, I applied and entered medical school within a few months.

During my medical internship in Singapore, while taking a shower, a fellow intern said, "I'm going to apply to go to the U.S." Another vision was planted, and I immediately decided to come to the U.S., despite objections from family and friends and many difficulties. By God's providence, I came to Chicago in 1980.

After coming to Chicago UBF, Dr. Samuel Lee began shepherding me. Those of you who know me know that I am stubborn, forceful, opinionated and highly infuriating. But through Dr. Lee, God planted a vision in me that even an unlikely person like me can shepherd American students and raise 120 disciples. Dr. Lee's vision was unforgettable. Dr. Lee always communicated to me that I was great. But whenever he did I trembled, saying to myself, "If only you knew how sinful I am!" But he never deviated in always communicating to me unconditional love, trust and respect, despite my countless flaws, failures and sins for over 2 decades. In this way, God used him to plant the fear of God in me. In this way, God burned a fire within me to raise disciples of Christ all my life no matter what. Only by God's mercy and the vision of Dr. Lee, God blessed my house church to establish pioneering house churches in the U.S. and to pioneer 1 nation, the Philippines.

When Dr. Lee passed away in 2002, I began praying for my own kids and for our 2nd gens. I felt a disconnection between us because there were generational barriers and cultural barriers. So, our 2nd gens subliminally thought of UBF as "my parent's church." But God granted me a vision that they are the best kids in the world, because they have 2 great attributes: 1) they honor the Bible as the word of God, and 2) they want to live a moral life. Then with the prayers and tears of countless UBF parents, God blessed our Young Disciples ministry over the last 5 years until 200 attendants came to our YD winter retreats in recent years.

What is my vision for our West Loop UBF? My vision is borrowed from Dr. Lee. Dr. Lee's vision was to love and raise American leaders. According to his faith and vision, God raised so many great Americans, beginning with P. Ron, Dr. Jim Rabchuk, Dr. Joe Schafer, P. Teddy, Dr. Helen Rarick, Dr. Sam A. Lee and countless others. Similarly, God put in me a desire to support young leaders, so that God may raise them to be great servants of God. By God's leading, God has granted us a handful of already great men and women of God for West Loop UBF. (Rhoel, Tim, Henry, Jim, Arthur, Len and Ruben. Their wives: Elena, Angie, Susan, Jenny, M. Helen, Liliana, Tif. We also have Michelle, Damon Mui, Oscar, Dindo, Iris.) Because of each of them, who are all far greater and better than I, I stand in awe of God. Because of them, and the prayers of many, and by the great mercy of God I see the vision that God will make us the best UBF chapter in the 21st century, by catching up to Triton, UIUC, LP, West LA, IIT, and Chicago UBF, to whom I am forever indebted.

Finally, how can we have a vision? First and foremost, we must love Bible study. The greatness of UBF is directly related to how much Dr. Lee and Mother Barry loves Jesus and loves Bible study above all else. Dr. Lee's last words were, "Go back to the Bible." No one can have any meaningful vision apart from the word of God. Then to grow in the word of God and in God's vision, the best way is to share the Word of God with others. Studies show that you remember 10% of what you read, and 70% of what you teach and share with others. So, to grow in God's word and vision, the best way is to share the word of God with many students. Next, we must know that it's not easy for anyone to have a vision, not even for God and Jesus. God waited 25 years for Abraham, 430 years for Israel, plus 40 more years in the wilderness. Jesus shed every ounce of his blood to fulfill God's vision. Dr. Lee gave his life for > 40 years to fulfill God's vision for UBF world campus mission. Having and fulfilling one's vision is obviously not easy. Thus, many have no vision. Proverbs 28:19a says, "Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint…" "Where there is no vision, the people perish…" (KJV). Without a vision, man will be mediocre and underachieving. Without a vision man will perish without a trace.

From this message we learn that our God is a God of vision. God's vision is never small but great and awesome, because our God is a great God. Because of God's vision, 1 old man Abraham became the father of 1 great nation Israel. Because of God's vision, Israel was transformed from useless slaves to mighty conquerors. Because of Jesus' vision, 12 ordinary men became men of world conquest. Because of Dr. Lee's vision, God has abundantly blessed UBF in the last ½ of the 20th century. May God bless each of you with God's great vision for world campus mission in the 21st century.

One Word: Conquer the world with God's vision.