Christ Fellowship

Connect To God, Others, Ministry, and The World

Near & Far

2020 Vision

Near & Far

Nehemiah 1-2

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Rick Blackwood

We have the opportunity to change people’s lives eternally. Don’t let the stuff of this world cause you to miss out on this powerful movement of God. In this message, Pastor Rick outlines how the church’s vision will positively impact people who are near to us and those who are far across the globe.


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Hey everybody! Welcome to Christ Fellowship. My name is Rick and I serve as the Lead Pastor here. If you are a guest with us for the first time today I want to welcome you. I’m so glad that you are with us. I also want to take a moment to welcome all of our campuses across Dade County, as well as those of you who may be joining us online. We are glad that you tapped in today. Just to kind of bring everybody up to date, we are in a series that we launched a couple of weeks ago that we entitled “Twenty-Twenty Vision”. So, with that in mind, if you have your Bibles with you, I would encourage you to open them to the book of Nehemiah, which is kind of our text for this series. If you don’t have a Bible, don’t worry about it. You can follow along because the entire text will come up on the screen for you. We are talking about vision and I want to set that up by sharing this with you.

Back in 1983, I became a pastor for the very first time. In this little church that I pastored in Charlotte, North Carolina, got me a personal computer. In fact, it was one of the very first personal computers that ever built. It was built by a company, I really didn’t know that much about them, but it was built by a company called Apple computer. Folks, from that point on, I became fascinated with the Apple computer story. How many of you know the story behind Apple computers. Let me give you the quick version of it. To begin with, back in the 1970s, a young man named Steve Jobs got this vision for a personal computer. Now remember, when we talk about vision, vision is seeing the way things are and then being able to envision the way they can be. Now, here is the way things were back in the 1970s in the world of computers.

Computers back then were these gargantuan machines that filled entire warehouses, entire offices, and the only ones who could afford them was big business and big government. That is sort of the way things were, But Steve Job s envisioned a world where ordinary people like you and like me would have our own computers, a personal computer, a very powerful computer that wouldn’t fill entire warehouses, but could in fact fit the top of a desk. That was his vision. Folks, from that vision, Steve Jobs began to engineer the world’s first personal computers called Apple computers. It is interesting that he designed computers in his bedroom and then built them in his garage. After a time, eventually these personal computers began to catch on. As they did, two things happened. Number one, they changed the life of Steve Jobs, and number two, they changed the world.

Stay with me, because early on in the beginning Apple struggled with how to market this incredible piece of technology, so Steve Jobs got on a plane and flew from California to New York City. His goal was painstakingly simple. He needed to convince the president of Pepsi Cola, a guy named John Scully, to leave Pepsi Cola and come to work at Apple computers to help Steve Jobs market this incredible piece of technology; to join Steve in his vision that could actually change the world technologically. Now, folks, you talk about the opportunity for John Scully, this was the opportunity that comes around once in a lifetime. But check this out: As the two men sat in John Scully’s plush office overlooking New York City, John Scully began to push back on this opportunity. He began to decline the opportunity. He said to Steve, He said, “Look, the only way I could do this is you would have to pay me a multi-million dollar salary; you would have to give me a million dollar signing bonus, to which Steve Jobs said, “Fine”. I can do that. Just come to California. Just join me in this vision that can change the world.

John Scully looked around his office and then said to Steve: He said, “I just can’t leave my job with Pepsi: My pension, my retirement, my office, I just can’t leave. Folks, it was then that Steve Jobs issued this challenge to John Scully. He said, “John, do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want to change the world? John Scully later said those words literally took his breath away. He said, “I had gotten so caught up in my pension, my retirement, and my office at Pepsi Cola that an opportunity to change the world nearly passed me by.

Christ Fellowship, with all of that in mind, let me turn a corner and bring that over to us, because God Almighty has given uniquely to us this incredible vision. We have the opportunity to change a city for Christ. We have the opportunity to change people’s lives on an everlasting scale in this city, and not only that, as you will see today, we have the opportunity to change people’s lives around the world like no other church has the opportunity to do that. That opportunity is being put at our feet, at our doorstep. Folks, my goal today is painstakingly simple. I simply want to motivate you to join this God-ordained vision with everything you have in you: Your time, your energy, your resources, and yes, even your money. Why? Because if you will tap into this God-ordained vision with everything you have, it will not only change people’s lives eternally, but it will change your life forever. As we are going to see today, God does not forget the work that we do for Him. In fact, as you are going to see later on in this message, God will reward you openly for the sacrifice and for the work that you do in His name. So, what I am trying to say to you today is: Don’t let the stuff of this world, don’t let the sugared water of this world, cause you to miss out on this opportunity to change people’s lives forever; to miss out on this once in a lifetime vision God has given us, uniquely to Christ Fellowship Miami.

Maybe you are new with us today and you say, “Rick, exactly what is the vision that God has given to Christ Fellowship? What is that vision?” Well, we are going to find out today from a man who understood vision perhaps better than anybody. We talked about it last week. His name is Nehemiah, and let me tell you, it is from Nehemiah that Christ Fellowship gets the concept and works the concept of a God-ordained vision, because Nehemiah got it. So, as we look at his life, I want to give you three thoughts about his vision. Number one: Nehemiah had a twenty-twenty vision. Nehemiah had a twenty-twenty vision as you are going to see later on – and so do we. Folks, think about it: When you have twenty-twenty vision physically, that means you see things clearly, not only up close but you have the capacity to see things clearly far away. Right? Now with that in mind, let’s pick up the story line, beginning in chapter one, verse one.

Nehemiah 1:1: “The words of Nehemiah, son of Hacaliah: In the month of Kizlev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, - Remember, Nehemiah is in Persia - came from Judah – he comes from Israel, from Jerusalem - with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and about Jerusalem.” Stop right there because Nehemiah was asking about Jerusalem which was hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of miles away from where Nehemiah lived. Remember, Nehemiah lived in Persia. So, why is he asking about the country of Israel? It is simple. Nehemiah lived in Persia but his roots were in Israel. Nehemiah’s job and Nehemiah’s house were in Persia, but his ancestry, where he came from, was Israel. Put another way, listen to this. Israel was Nehemiah’s native country, so consequently it was in Nehemiah to care about Israel. In fact, he was intuitive for Nehemiah to care about Israel because that was his roots; that’s where he came from. That was his native country. It was intuitive. With that in mind, Nehemiah asked intuitively about how things were in his native country.

Listen to what they said. Here is the report he got: “They said to me. Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble.” Why? Because the wall of Jerusalem is broken down. Then Nehemiah asked this: “The city where my ancestors are buried.” In other words, the country where I came here from, my native country lies in ruins. Now folks, get the picture. Nehemiah gets this disturbing news that his native country, which was far away from where he lives, was lying in ruins. Remember 587 BC, the Babylonian empire amassed its troops along the Israeli borders. Then they go in and they destroy the nation of Israel. They sacked the city of Jerusalem, and they tore down the walls. That was 587 BC. Fast forward seventy years. The Persians come on the scene and wipe out the Babylonians, so now the Persians are in charge. Nebuchadnezzar is no longer the big guy. The king of Persia, a guy named Artaxerxes is in charge, and Artaxerxes said to the people of Israel, “You can go back to Israel. He says to the Israelis, “You can go home now.” But when they get back to Israel, what they find, and Nehemiah’s brothers are there, they find a city that has been completely destroyed, that has been laying in ruins for decade after decade after decade. When Nehemiah hears what is going on in his native country, watch how he responds.

Verse four: “When I heard these things, that my native country was lying in ruins, I sat down and wept.” Folks, don’t miss that, because Nehemiah’s heart was intuitively burdened. Nehemiah’s heart was intuitively broken, for the physical condition of his native country. Now get me wrong: I have no doubt that Nehemiah cared about Persia where he lived. He cared about that country too. For one thing, he says at the end of chapter one, “I was cup-bearer to the king.” Now folks, that is pretty extraordinary, because Nehemiah was a Jew, and yet Artaxerxes, the king, trusted Nehemiah so much that he made Nehemiah his cup bearer. That means before the king would drink anything that might kill him, in case anybody wanted to assassinate the king, Nehemiah drank it for him. If Nehemiah didn’t die, then the king knew it was okay for him to drink the drink. That was Nehemiah’s job. That meant Nehemiah was trusted by Artaxerxes. That meant Nehemiah was close to Artaxerxes. That meant Nehemiah had a great job. This was a wonderful job for Nehemiah. In fact, Nehemiah grew in such favor with Artaxerxes that Artaxerxes actually started doing favors for him. He likes Nehemiah.

Folks, my point is this. Nehemiah was not blind to the country where he lived: Persia. He also was not blind to the country from where he came. He had atwenty-twenty vision. He had this vision for where he lived, which was very close. But he had this far away vision for this country from which he came, from where his roots were. In fact, listen to Nehemiah 2:1: Nehemiah says, “In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before. So the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.” The king picked up on it that Nehemiah had this sadness of heart. “But I said to the king: ‘May the king live forever, but why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried, the place I came from, the country from which I came here – lies in ruins?” Folks, stop right there.

When I read that this past week, it was like God spoke to my heart. “This is the way a lot of people at Christ Fellowship feel.” You say, “Meaning what?” Meaning for many of you, you live in the city of Miami, and you care about this city. You care about the people here. We talk about people here are far away from God, and you care about them. You want to see them brought near to Christ. You care about this city but at the same time for many of you, your roots are in another country, and you care about the people of that country. Why? Because just like the people in Miami are lost and far away from God, many of the people in the country from which you came here are lost and far from God, and you care about that. Listen, it is in you to care about that. It is intuitive that you would care about the people in the country from which you came here.

By the way: Did you know there are eighty different nationalities of people in Christ Fellowship? Eighty! I’m not talking about second or third generation. I’m talking about first generation: Eighty different nationalities of people in this country. Do you know what that means folks? That means a whole lot of you have this intuitive burden in your heart; have this intuitive passion in your heart for people all over the world. What I’m here to tell you is that it is that passion in your heart for countries all over this world, for people all over this world, that drives, that empowers the twenty-twenty vision of this church like no other church can be empowered.

Our vision is near, and by that I mean that God has given us a vision for the people and the city of Miami.You know, vision is seeing the way things are and then being able to see the way they can be. How are they in Miami? We spent a lot of time on this. Ninety three percent of the population is far away from God. But we at Christ Fellowship have a vision, and we have a strategy to bring those people close to God. In fact, our twenty- twenty vision is to bring 50,000 people who are currently far from God into a personal relationship with Christ by the year 2020. That is our near vision. But here is what I love. Our vision isn’t just near.

Our vision is also far. You say, “Why?” Here is one reason. Listen to Acts 1:8: Jesus said this, ”But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem – that’s like saying the city of Miami – and all of Judea, and Samaria – That’s like saying all of Dade County, and watch this – and – how far? – to the ends of the earth.” Make no mistake about it: Jesus had a twenty-twenty vision. He had a vision for what was near, and He had a vision for what was far away. That is us, Christ Fellowship. We have a vision to reach 50,000 people in the city of Miami before 2020. That is our near vision. But we also have a global vision. That vision is to reach 50,000 people far away; 50,000 people from other countries. Listen: As I read this story of Nehemiah, it’s like God just lifted this off the pages of Scripture and said, “Rick, here is the power to pull this off.” “Here is the power to reach 50,000 people globally.”

Here is the energy to do it. Nehemiah is talking. He said: “Then I said to them. He’s talking to Jewish people, to Israeli people. ‘Do you see the trouble we are in? Jerusalem lies in ruins.” Nehemiah was burdened that his native country was lying in ruins, so watch the power of Nehemiah’s burden. He says, “Come.” “Come on.” Then he says, “Let us” -all of you Israeli people. “Let us”. You have the same burden I have for Israel. “Let us rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.” I love it, because it was Nehemiah’s intuitive passion for his native country that powered up his vision. It was intuitive for him to care about that. Listen to this. We are going to tap Here is what God just seemed to lift off the pages and give us the power to do this –We are going to tap in to your intuitive passion for where you came from - that country where you came from to power up our global vision, to go to the places that you care about.

Listen to this. This is our new strategy for global missions. We are going to plant – I’m so excited about this - Christ Fellowship churches in countries that you intuitively care about; that you intuitively have a passion for. These are not going to be churches that are just random. “Yeah, there is a church over there that we supported – whatever.” No. These are going to be Christ Fellowship churches, and they are going to be as much a part of you, as much a part of Christ Fellowship, as Christ Fellowship Palmetto Bay, as Christ Fellowship Redland, as Christ Fellowship West Kendall, as Christ Fellowship Coral Gables, as Christ Fellowship Downtown, as Christ Fellowship Miami Springs, as Christ Fellowship Miami Beach. They are going to be that much a part of us. In fact folks, listen: I envision the day when there is going to be a Christ Fellowship Columbia. How many of you love Columbia? Let me hear you! I envision the day when there is going to be a Christ Fellowship Haiti. I envision the day when there is going to be a Christ Fellowship Jamaica. I envision the day when there is going to be a Christ Fellowship Cuba. In fact we just had some guys over there spreading the gospel. I envision the day when there is going to be a Christ Fellowship El Salvador. I envision the day when there is going to be a Christ Fellowship Venezuela. I envision the day when there is going to be a Christ Fellowship Honduras. I envision the day when there is going to be a Christ Fellowship Brazil.

Folks, listen, here is my point. This is going to be a powerful movement of God that is going to enable us to change people’s lives, not just in Miami, but all around the world. What I want you to get is that this opportunity to do this is unique to you. There is no other church that I know of in the world, I don’t know of another one, that has eighty different nationalities of people. In other words, we have a direct connection in this church to eighty different countries. Christ Fellowship, do you realize the opportunity that God is placing at our feet. What I am saying is let’s don’t let the sugared water of this world cause us to miss out on this opportunity.

Nehemiah cast a big vision to the people. Listen to Nehemiah 2:17: “Then I said to them: ’Do you see the trouble we are in? Jerusalem lies in ruins. It’s gates have been burned with fire.” That is the way things are. “Let us rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.” That is the way it can be. Just in case you don’t know, this is what is called vision casting. Vision casting is getting people to see the way things are. The walls are down. The city has been destroyed. That is the way things are. But then getting them to be able to envision the way they can be, Nehemiah was saying: ‘This city can be rebuilt. These walls can be rebuilt.’ He cast this big vision to them. What I love is this: People embraced the vision. Listen to verse 18. “They replied. ‘Let us start rebuilding.’ I like that, so I am going to say, “Let us rebuild.” And you say, “Let us start rebuilding.” “Let us rebuild Miami.” “Let us start rebuilding.” The people went to work on the vision. They replied: “Let us start rebuilding”, so they began this good work. They went to work on it. Christ Fellowship, this is what I love about you. You have said, “Let’s do this”, and you have gone to work on this vision. That is why this church is reaching so many people, and we are going to reach them not only here but around the world. Watch this; this is my favorite part. The people completed the vision. The people finished the vision. Nehemiah 6:15: “So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul in fifty-two days.” They finished the vision.

I’m no Nehemiah, but three years ago I cast this big vision to Christ Fellowship. The vision statement was also extended by JFK. Here is the vision that we cast to you. I said this: ”I believe this church should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of reaching 100,000 people for Christ.” Now that is a twenty-twenty vision in that it is near and far. In other words, we want to reach 50,000 people here in Miami and 50,000 people globally. It is also twenty-twenty in the sense that we want to finish this vision by the year 2020. We want to reach 100,000 people by the year 2020. You might be saying, “Rick, aren’t your eyes bigger than what you are really able to do? Blackwood, you had the heart attack not too long ago. You keep ramping this thing up.” People come to me and say, “Rick, tone this thing down. You’ve putting too much into it.” Let me tell you folks, God can take care of this thing. God can take care of my heart, and what God keeps doing is putting in this heart of mine to keep going, to keep reaching out, to be aggressive, and to fulfill this vision that He has put at our feet and our feet alone. We can do it! We can do it! Do you know why? Because you have embraced it. Because you are working, and it can be completed.

Nehemiah didn’t forget names. I love this. Nehemiah didn’t forget names. Listen to these names. Nehemiah has a whole chapter of the people who worked this vision. He named them. He took names and wrote them down. Listen to this: Nehemiah 3:1: Eliashib, the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate. Zaccur, son of Imri, built next to them. Meremoth, son of Uriah, repaired the next section. Next to him Meshullian made repairs. Next to him, Zadok made repairs. The The Jeshanah gate was repaired by Joiada and Meshullam. Next to them repairs were made by Mizpah and Melatiah. Uzziel, one of the goldsmiths, repaired the next section. Hananiah, one of the perfume-makers, made repairs next to that. The names go on and on, but the point is this. Just ordinary people like you and me did this extraordinary work for God. What I love is that Nehemiah wrote their names down. In fact, God had them write names down in the Word of God so that those names will never be forgotten. Those names are memorable forever. Put another way, Nehemiah didn’t forget who worked the vision.

God doesn’t forget either. In Hebrews 6:10 the Bible says this: “God is not unjust. He will not forget your work and the love that you have shown Him as you helped His people and continue to help them.” What would God be if He forgot your work and your labor of love? What would He be? He says Himself, he says He would be unjust. What would God be if He forgot those of you who make sacrifices of your time, your energy? Some of those of you who cut sacrificial checks every week to this vision and it hurts you financially, but you cut it anyway. What would God be if He forgot that sacrifice? God says He would be unjust. But God is not unjust. God will honor your sacrifice.

I told you a few weeks back that when I was in Europe, I took a trip to Normandy. You know the story. The vision of D-Day at Normandy, the vision was to free people from a mad man. Europe was under siege by a devil of a man, Adolph Hitler, who was exterminating, genocide, of Jewish people. Millions and millions of people were being exterminated. But the vision was to launch this military movement that would go in there and storm the gates of hell in Normandy, push deeper into Europe and tear down the gates of hell all the way to Germany; all the way to Berlin; all the way to Hitler’s headquarters and advance freedom to people. Thousands of soldiers heard that vision and embraced it, and thousands of them gave the ultimate sacrifice to make that vision happen. In fact, I told you that I walked those beaches with the water red with the blood of their sacrifice. I walked down those beaches where young men were slaughtered; their body parts blown to shreds. They died because they were trying to advance freedom.

Listen, to say that it was moving to walk down that beach is an understatement. As I also walked that cemetery where thousands of those young men were laid to rest, it was even more moving. That cemetery was owned by America, and cared for by America was a garden paradise. It puts the Augusta Inter-national Golf Course to shame. I’m proud to be an American! It was a testimony that America does not forget those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. America remembers. America honors that. In fact, what I love so much is that the name of every soldier was written down. Just like Nehemiah wrote down the names. The name of any soldier who died. Great sacrifices written down to be forever remembered.

It was kind of sad because there were some markers that were written “Unknown”. In other words, some soldier had died. They found his body, dead, but they didn’t know who he was, so the tombstone was marked like this: “Here rests in honored glory comrade in arms, known but to God.” When I saw that, tears came down my face. Christ Fellowship, when I looked at that, I’m always thinking about you. When I looked at that I thought about you, because I thought of the thousands of Christ Fellowship people who serve God and nobody knows it. Thousands of you serve God behind the scene. Nobody sees you.Thousands of you at Christ Fellowship give sacrificially. As I said, you cut checks that hurt you financially. Nobody even sees you do that. Nobody knows that you do that. In other words, like the Unknown Soldier, your sacrifice, your work, your services is known but to God. Never forget this, it is known to God. In fact, Jesus made us this promise. Listen to what He said in Matthew 6:6: Jesus said, “And your heavenly Father who sees in secret, sees you serving when nobody else sees you – shall reward you in full.” Meaning this: One day those of you who are serving God so faithfully, and most of you are, you will be summoned before the bema seat of Christ. He is going to call you by name because He has not forgotten you. He is going to summon you forward. You will stand before Him and He will put on you a crown. I wonder what that crown is going to look like? Scripture says you will take that crown with you forever. That will be yours. Jesus will say, “This is from me to you personally. An angel is not going to put it on you. God is going to put it on you. He is going to say: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

You see folks, that is my vision. You see, I don’t just have a vision for people of this city. I don’t just have a vision in faraway places. I have a vision for you, and my vision that I can see in my mind’s eye is that one day I’ll be in heaven with you around God’s throne in that Kingdom of God, and I’ll be somewhere off to the side, and your name will be summoned, and I will be able to watch you come forward and I will see the Lord Jesus Christ put a crown in your hand, put a crown on your head, and then say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” That is the opportunity we have that few others have. What I am appealing to you to do today is don’t let the sugared water of this world cause you to miss out on an opportunity to change people’s lives forever; to change your own life. Don’t miss that opportunity. It is ours and uniquely ours in Christ Fellowship

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