Yesterday I had an opportunity to share some remarks to clergy and laity of the Grand Rapids District as my six years as a district superintendent near their end. I offer them as a challenge to all who seek to “write the vision” and bring in God’s kingdom on our earth.
I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,
And what he will answer concerning my complaint.
Then the LORD answered me and said,
“Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it.
For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
It speaks of the end and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
It will surely come, it will not delay.
Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
But the righteous live by their faith.” (Habakkuk 2:1-4)
So here I am like the prophet, Habakkuk, standing on the rampart of the Grand Rapids District, at my watch post one last time. From the rampart I see ministry that is changing lives, from the tiniest churches to the largest churches, and it takes my breath away. Up here on the balcony of the district, my primary role has been supervision, “super-vision,” if you will, which really means “watching over the Grand Rapids District in love.” I can’t even begin to share with you the joy that I have had watching over you in love.
Of course, I’m not here alone. You’re on the rampart, too, for we have been doing ministry together, from White Cloud, to Bradley, to Lowell, to Shelby, to Haiti, to Africa University, to the far corners of the world. What a view it is to see God at work through us!
Did you notice what Habakkuk is doing while standing on the rampart? He’s complaining, and he’s waiting for God to answer him. Back in chapter one Habakkuk cries out, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you won’t listen? Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble?”
I confess that there have been days when those words have been on the tip of my tongue as well. The kingdom has not yet fully come in the Grand Rapids District. I would have loved to focus all my time on being the chief missional strategist of the district, which is how General Conference changed the district superintendent job description a few weeks ago. Alas, a good bit of our ministry as superintendents is painful and even disillusioning as we watch over our districts in love. I’m sure you feel the same way in your local churches at times.
How does Habakkuk respond to his own lament? He says, “The enemy is all around me. I can’t fix everything, but I’m not going to give up. I’m going to climb up on the rampart and wait and watch to see how God answers my complaint.”
And how does God answer Habakkuk? “Write the vision,” God says. “Write the vision.” You and I are like Habakkuk, for we, too, are standing on the rampart of God’s future. How do we write the vision of God’s future for the Grand Rapids District and our world?
First, God calls us to imagine the vision. Vision is the articulation of God’s future for us and our world. On the rampart, we can see what others can’t see. Our vision is both near and far. We see in others what they cannot see in themselves. We visualize and imagine possibility.
One of the techniques of former Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson was having his players lie down on the basketball court and visualize themselves winning games. When superstar Kobe Bryant asked why they had to do that, Jackson said, “I make you visualize yourself as a champion because you cannot be what you cannot see.”
- Where will you position yourself on the rampart so that you can imagine possibility and see your community and world through God’s eyes?
Second, God calls us to share the vision. Make the vision so clear and plain that even a runner can read it. My personal vision for the Grand Rapids District has been, “Healthy clergy, healthy churches, healthy world.” Everything that I’ve done as a superintendent – from building relationships to training, equipping, empowering, coaching, writing, challenging, supervising, and inspiring – evolved from that vision.
4 years ago our Leadership Council worked on a new vision statement for the Grand Rapids District, which became “Growing Together, Reaching Out.” From that vision came the Connection weekly newsletter, our Ubuntu Gathering Center project, Communities of Shalom, a strategic plan, and an emphasis on collaboration and sharing resources. We are so much stronger when we grow and reach out together.
- Will you make your vision so clear, understandable, attainable, and compelling that everyone can see it and embrace it?
Third, God calls us to wait for the vision. There is still a vision even though it may not come to fruition on our timing. If the vision tarries, don’t get discouraged but allow God to shape and prepare you through active, discerning, grace-filled patience.
- Who is God calling you to be as you wait?
Fourth, God calls us to work toward the vision. Futurist Joel Barker once said, “Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.” Our vision of the kingdom of God is not based on self-interest, personal agendas, or dogma. The vision is loving God and watching over our neighbor in love, nothing more, nothing less.
- How is God calling you to act as you wait?
Finally, God calls us to trust in the vision. In verse 4 the Lord says, “Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.” The apostle Paul pointed to these words as a major witness to his doctrine of justification by faith. When we face walls that seem impossible to scale, when the view from the rampart is foggy, and when we begin to doubt, stay the course, keep a right spirit, live by faith.
So here we are, my dear friends, standing on the rampart of our world, with God’s future before us. We cannot be what we cannot see. See the Christ who goes before you. Keep writing the vision. Keep imagining the possibilities. Keep sharing, waiting for, working toward, trusting in, and living out the vision of God’s kingdom of shalom and Ubuntu for all.
- Will you keep watching over one another in love?
- Will you keep watching over our new superintendent, Bill Haggard, and our administrative assistant, Liz Bode, in love?
- Will you keep watching over our world in love?
I pray so. I know so. Amen.