Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church; Message on Luke 1:5-25 and Expanded Dreams; Date: 10 January 2010

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Expanding Dead Dreams

 

What is God going to do in 2010? What do you want him to do in 2010? What are your dreams? God is bigger than you think and his plans are often bigger than what any one of us thinks is possible – or even allowable. Right now – most of us are conditioned to think about God and church and personal faith in certain fixed categories and behaviour patterns.

Let me test this. 1) What comes to your mind first when you think about personal devotions? Answer: Bible reading, prayer, video & audio sermons, worship music. However, how open would we be to incorporate a segment of tongue praying in our personal devotions or fasting or waiting on God to give us a prophetic experience (e.g.: word of knowledge) or prayer walking or declaring God’s promises over our families or having a second – even third – devotion time on the same day?

2) What comes to your mind first when you think about church? Answer: Sunday morning worship (length 1.5 hours, sermon length 0.5 hours), a separate building in town, a good size is more than one hundred people, there is an ordained pastor (only he can preside over Holy Communion), … However, how open would we be for church to look and feel different from what we have come to expect? For instance, in Korea and many other Asian and African nations they have prayer meetings in church which are directed by a bell. When the bell sounds, everyone at the same time prays aloud in tongues or their native language and the cacophony of prayers continues until the bell sounds again. Would we be open to that? Many people across the world have worship meetings which last for more than three hours. Would we be open to that? They expect their children to pray in tongues and prophesy. Would we be open to that? [Hudson Taylor was an amazing missionary in China but he was scorned by most other missionaries and Christians because he was the first missionary that cut his hair and dressed like a Chinese person. Yet, this opened so many doors into so many Chinese homes.]

Rick Warren is one of the most influential pastors in the Western world with more than half a million pastors and church leaders attending his seminars over the years. His church – the Saddleback Community church in California – grew from zero attenders in 1980 to about 15,000 attenders in 1998, which is an impressive growth spurt. So many in fifteen short years. This is why we study him and his church. More than one hundred doctoral dissertations have been written about Saddleback to dissect the secret of doing and being a successful church. Therefore, this is what we think (many of us): The ideal is to grow from zero to a few thousand people. We need more and more staff and more and more programs to cater for everyone so that everyone gets what they want – served on an attractive platter.

Now a woman in Vietnam – let us call her Sarah – felt lost and abandoned when the Western missionaries left her country after the socialist takeover in 1976. For many years, she and a few other women prayed for the salvation of their nation and asked God what he wanted them to do. After much praying, the women began underground house churches. In only four years, Sarah rejoiced in about 18,000 new converts whom she baptized herself. Then, more house church networks followed in Vietnam which have now spread throughout the entire country with thousands of new churches planted in a very short time (Wolfgang Simson: The Starfish Manifesto).

How open would we be about that? I give you a smorgasboard of objections: Sarah had the wrong gender. She was not ordained and therefore must not baptize converts. House churches are too small and therefore secterian. House churches require too many leaders. They cannot all be trained in sound theology. Small churches cannot offer enough programs.

What is God going to do in 2010? Maybe his first task is going to be that he continues to expand our minds. God wants to do so much but he does not always have permission to be bigger than we think. He’s not always welcome. Even at Living Grace we had to come to grips with raising hands in worship, people falling under the power of the Holy Spirit, the gift of speaking in tongues and right now gold dust seems to manifest out of the glory of God. Is God welcome to make us sparkle in worship? Yes, he is.

God is not to be reigned in by any human conventions and limited visions based on limited experiences. He created the entire universe – with such amazing variety – and he remains creative. He loves doing new things (cf. John 14:11). Therefore, expand your mind for 2010 and even start having some dreams. What is God going to do? In the Bible – on purpose (so it seems) – God demonstrates his freedom of creativity (and his expanding scope of operations) in the persons and work of John the Baptist and Jesus. Both lived at the same time – in the same country – serving the same God – but they were chalk and cheesein almost everything, which must have been very confusing for the people who were to embrace both of them.

John was to prepare the way for Jesus. According to Jesus’ own words in all of the time until his own coming there was none greater than John the Baptist and thus, John impacted the entire nation in preparation for Jesus. Both were preaching a similar message – John: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2), and so also Jesus – Matthew 4:17: “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’”

Yet, apart from the core message they seemed to have very little in common. 1) John never touched alcohol [God had told his dad – Luke 1:15: “ … He is never to take wine or other fermented drink …”] – Jesus did and even turned water into wine (his very first miracle). Jesus then said to the crowd – Luke 7:33-35: “ . John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of … sinners.’ … ” 2) John seemed to be more confined to one location – “the country around the Jordan” (Luke 3:3) – and the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him” (Mark 1:5). People came to him while Jesus – on the other hand – was traveling around and meeting people where they were. For instance, he took leave from one town by saying – Luke 4:43: “ … ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.’ And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.” Two entirely different mission strategies – “chalk and cheese”: let people come to you ó let people stay where they are and you come to them. Which strategy applies today?

3) John was from a respectable family of priests – the son of the nation’s senior pastor. Jesus was born out of wedlock and into a poor peasant family. 4) John exercised power in preaching without performing a single miracle or sign (in start contrast even to Moses, Elijah and Elisha). Jesus – on the other hand – relied on miracles to confirm his message – John 20:30-31: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples … these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God … ” [Billy Graham ó Benny Hinn].

[In like manner God’s presence is not always the same. Sometimes God is in the “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12) but at other times he comes with much noise and thunder: Ezekiel 43:2: “ . I saw the glory of God … coming .. His voice was like a roar of rushing waters … ” Revelation 1:10: “On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet … ” Revelation 4:5: “From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder … ” Are we open to that kind of variety?]

This is fun because we are confronted with freedom. We can let go of small visions – human limitations – worn-out traditions. God is big and his plans are big and he is creative and he is always expanding our – little – human minds. What are God’s plans for 2010? What do we dare to dream about? The Bible says – Ephesians 3:20: “ … [he] is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us … ”

This completes the first segment of our message. We are now open for God to do what he wants – not what we prescribe to him. The slate of our minds is wiped clean (to some extent at least) and we even get a sense of excitement. What is God going to do in 2010?

At this point the surprise is that God himself is not that interested in having the slate of our minds wiped clean. He is going to be bigger than we think but – and this is his wonderful nature – he loves us so much that he actually cares about what we think and dream about. With amazing grace he works with our passions and desires. God loves you. [Tell those that do not know Jesus about the cross and how God proved his love for us on the cross. God took the initiative and is offering us peace with him through the sacrifice of Jesus.]

What is further true about the love of God is the patience and forebearance with our rather immature desires and dreams. One day a certain priest had the honour of performing the highest religious duty in the nation of Israel. I read to you the account from the Bible – Luke 1:8-10: “Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.”

Here we have a picture of a nation in worship under the leadership of Zechariah, the priest, who was the only one permitted in the holy place of God’s temple. Then – I read more from the Bible: “Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard … ’” (Luke 1:13).

Looking at the setup – the national place of worship (the temple in Jerusalem), the highest ranking priest offering sacrifice, the people praying outside – what prayer do you think has been heard by God? What do we think that Zechariah – the top religious leader – was praying about? What prayer was so important that an angel responded to it at the most important time of worship? Was it the revival of the nation, freedom from foreign occupation, a plentiful harvest across the land? No – Zechariah did not seem to burn for the big picture (at least it did not come up at this time). His most passionate prayer was about a personal matter – not something of national significance. He and his wife wanted a child. This was and is a valid prayer request but for the senior pastor of a nation – who was commissioned to bear the burdens of a nation – the preoccupation with his own – by comparison small – circumstances was disappointing (in a sense).

Yet, God worked with the heart of Zechariah. He may not have been the greatest visionary but he and his wife – according to the Bible – “were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly” (Luke 1:6). God loved Zechariah and therefore this is how the angel continued – Luke 1:13-17: “ … your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you … he will be great in the sight of the Lord … filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God … to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” God took Zechariah’s small personal dream and made it big. Not only would Zechariah receive a son who would bring joy and delight to him, this son would preach to the nation and prepare them for the coming of the Lord. God satisfied the desires of Zechariah – all of them – but then expanded his mind. God worked with his small plans to bring to pass his own bigger plans.

This is what God does. Therefore, pay attention to your dreams. Be clear about what you want because God cares about your heart’s desire. He wants to delight you. Only – let me say this straight away – what applied to Zechariah frequently also applies to us: God makes your dream come true (one day the angel will come with good news) – even makes it bigger – but not before you have died to your dream. Zechariah had long given up on his prayer for a son. In fact, it was now so out of the question that he challenged the angel – Luke 1:18: “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” God is in the habit of doing this to us. The dream comes true – and more – but late – when we no longer even care about our past desires.

Abbreviate and retell the following story:

 

Paul Yonggi Cho used to be the pastor of the largest church in the world, the Full Gospel Central Church in Seoul, Korea. His church numbered more than 750,000 people. In 1961 Yonggi Cho decided to build the largest church in Korea. He had a dream. He reasoned that if he could get 600 members in only three years, much more is possible. One day, without anyone else knowing, he took a measuring stick, went over to the Yong Nak Presbyterian church which was then the largest church in Seoul, determined the length and width of the building, counted the pews and said: “I will build a church larger than this, and the Lord will fill it.”

By 1964 the church was behind schedule, compared with Yonggi Cho’s request to God for 3,000 members. The congregation had grown to 2,400 but Yonggi Cho was already in big trouble. Rushing around from early morning until late in the evening, his nerves were beginning to wear out. He suffered from constant fatigue, yet continued to force himself to keep the church moving. He preached, counseled, visited the sick, knocked on doors – always on the move.

One Sunday following the second morning service they were scheduled to baptize 300 people. An American missionary was there to assist Yonggi Cho but believing that he had to do everything himself, Yonggi Cho told the missionary that he would baptize each new member personally: full immersion, helping people out of the water and so on. But the missionary saw that Yonggi Cho was tired and said: “Cho, you’d better let me give you a hand.” “No, no, I’m all right,” he protested.

That afternoon Cho was scheduled to meet a visiting evangelist and that evening he would be his interpreter. By the time they were about a half hour into the evangelist’s message, Cho began to feel terrible cramps around his heart. He couldn’t breathe. His knees were trembling. Then he simply began to sag, his knees collapsed, it seemed as though his eyes had suddenly been switched off. Everything went black. As he was going down, he said to God: “Lord, why are you punishing me publicly? You could have done this to me privately in my office.”

In hospital Yonggi Cho refused treatment because he felt humiliated. He was the pastor who prayed for the sick and the sick became well. What was he doing here? He did not get better. His heart continued to feel cramped and he struggled to breathe. The following Sunday he asked his deacons to take him to the church so that he could preach. He was so weak he couldn’t leave the house for fear of fainting, and he needed a housekeeper to take care of him, but he still insisted on preaching.

After the deacons helped him to the podium, he stood in front of the anxious congregation. He lasted for eight minutes before he fainted. He tried again at the second service. This time lost consciousness after five minutes. He felt certain at last that he really was dying.

But then something happened to him. God seemed to be trying to reach him, telling him he couldn’t go on claiming all those Bible promises of healing and do that blindly. He had never asked what God’s will was in his situation. In fact, until then he had never considered the possibility that God might choose not to heal him.

He prayed: “Father, you gave all of these promises to us. But I claim them and you don’t heal me. Aren’t you going to heal me?” Then he was startled by the very distinct voice of God: “Son, I am going to heal you, but the healing is going to take ten years.” It had not been an audible voice, but it was so clear that he knew he had not been mistaken. For the next ten years, from 1964 to 1974, he felt as though he was dying at every moment.

What happened here? God was indeed willing to grant Yonggi Cho the largest church in Korea and even the world. Today we can see that and Yonggi Cho had felt confirmation of that in his heart when he prayed. So – why this stumbling block of a ten-year-long sickness?

Yonggi Cho writes himself: “It has become clear to me that an arrogant man pays a very high price – a hardened heart is very hard to break. [If I had to be broken,] I had wanted to be broken in an instant; instead it took ten years to destroy ‘the Great Cho’, as I had come to consider myself.” He writes further: “In 1961 I decided to build the largest church in Korea. At that time I thought I was doing it for God, but today I realize that really I was doing it out of my own personal ambition … The Lord had to let me fail so that I would turn to him in my need and allow him to build his own church – in his own way” (Paul Yonggi Cho with Harold Hostetler: Successful Home Cell Groups, New Jersey: Logos International, 1981, p1-12).

More from the writings of Yonggi Cho: When God spoke to my heart in 1969, and told me to build a church that would seat 10,000 people, I was frightened … I talked with the board of elders, and all of them thought … it was impossible. When I talked with my 600 deacons, again I found every one of them thinking the same way. So I, too, … came to Jesus and told him I could not build that church. But in my heart Christ commanded me: “I did not ask you to confer with your deacons and elders. I told you to go and build.”

“Lord,” I replied, “you know that I don’t have anything to build with. It will take so much more money than I have now.” Then through the Holy Spirit Jesus spoke to my heart, “ What do you have that you personally could give?” In my heart I knew what he was asking, but I refused to recognize his request, saying, “Jesus, don’t ask me to do that. I married when I was thirty years old, and throughout the years I’ve saved my money so that I could build a beautiful home and give it to my wife. I can’t sell that house.”

But the Lord replied, “Give what you have.” “Father, it’s just $20,000,” I cried. “That can’t build the church and apartment complex. They cost $5 million. The amount my house would bring could not possibly be enough.” But God said: “Sell your home and bring that money to me with faith.” “Oh, God, this is terrible!” I responded. “How can I do that?” “If you are ever to believe my Word,” the Lord admonished me, “you must first be willing to give of what you have and what you own.”

To a Korean wife the home is everything. It is the place she raises her children, it is the place she builds her life, it is a precious possession to her. So I was afraid to tell my wife, and I began to travail in prayer. I prayed that my wife would consent about the selling of our home.

That evening I bought gifts of flowers and scarves home to my wife. “Why are you bringing me these gifts?” she asked. “Are you worried that I don’t love you any more?” But she was pleased, and she fixed the evening meal happily.

“Oh, praise God,” I responded. “I’m so happy that I’ve chosen you. If God ever wanted me to choose another girl, I’d still pick you. You are more beautiful to me each day.” After a time, when I felt the moment to be right, I said, “Honey, I have a big problem.” Concerned she looked at me, insisting, “Tell me.”

“We are going to build this big church which will seat 10,000 people,” I told her. “It will cost five million dollars and as I was praying about this matter, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and said that if I was to get the money for the church, I would have to start from my own household. God wants us to submit … our house!”

My wife turned pale, and then looking straight into my eyes she said, “This home is mine, not yours. Don’t you dare touch this house. It belongs to me and to my children. You cannot give up this house.”

Her reaction was just as I had feared. Then I went to the Lord and prayed, “Lord, now I’ve done what I can. The rest is up to you. Send your Holy Spirit to prick her heart, so that she will surrender.” That night as I prayed, I could see my wife constantly turning and tossing in her sleep. I knew then that the Holy Spirit was working. I said to the Lord, “Oh, God, keep on nudging her.”

And sure enough, the Lord nudged her; for almost a week she could not sleep, and her eyes became blood-shot. Finally she came to me, “I cannot stand it any longer. I cannot refuse what the Holy Spirit wants. I’ll give up the house.” So she brought the title deed for the house, and together we took that title deed and gave our home for the construction of the church …

Then the dollar devaluation came, and the contractor broke the contract. He said they wanted to renegotiate, and he increased the cost of building the church. Then the oil crisis came, and all the banks closed. My people began to lose their jobs, and even with my total [offering] income per month, I could hardly meet even the interest on the loans. Not only could I not pay my staff in the church, but I received no salary myself.

Then the company began to sue me because I could not pay the necessary increase. I would come to the church, and notice after notice came, filing suit: the electric company, the sewage company, the construction company. Papers were piled on my desk, yet I had no money to pay any of them. I didn’t even have the money to hire my own lawyer. I would sit behind my desk, and one by one the workers in my church began to leave because I could not give them their salaries. Nobody wants to stay in a sinking boat, and I was sinking fast.

Since we had sold our home and had no place to go, I brought my family to an unfinished apartment on the seventh floor of the unfinished apartment complex. There was no running water and no heat, and it was very cold. [From David Yonggi Cho: The Fourth Dimension, Florida 1979, p105ff.]

 

Yonggi Cho had a dream of building the largest church in Korea – which was an imperfect dream of personal ambition and pride – but God even worked with this kind of flawed dream and made it even bigger. Before long Yonggi Cho did become the senior leader of the largest Christian church on the planet but not before Yonggi Cho died to his dream – broke and beaten (living in an unfinished apartment with no running water and no heat in a cold winter). In his case, we see clearly why the dream had to die first before it could be restored in even greater glory than previously imagined. He himself writes: “In 1961 I decided to build the largest church in Korea. At that time I thought I was doing it for God, but today I realize that really I was doing it out of my own personal ambition … The Lord had to let me fail so that I would turn to him in my need and allow him to build his own church – in his own way.” God makes your dream come true, when you are no longer attached to your dream – when your dream is no longer stealing your heart away from God – when it is safe to trust you with God’s own enlargement of your dream.

This is hard – and painful – and many Christians stumble precisely at this point because dying to your dreams can so easily make you take offense at God. Sitting in an unfinished apartment on the seventh floor without running water and heating can make you rather bitter. What is God thinking? He’s not so nice after all. Even Zechariah must have come close to wavering in his love for God. There he was – serving as a priest, blameless, obeying all of the commandments – yet, no results in something as basic as having children. It would have been so easy for him – and it is often so easy for us – to take offense and begin to shut out God from our devotion and heart.

This morning, if you are tempted in this way, please do not give up on God. When you are in the middle of dying to your dream, you may not feel great but God loves you and he knows best. You may shed tears every day – life seems so hard – but do not let your emotions dictate your actions. Let discipline pull you through. No matter how you feel – humble yourself before him, do not retreat from the church, worship him, read the Bible and serve him. Zechariah grew old in serving God as a priest. He knew that God is God and he has the right to make you die to your dream but then – according to his superior wisdom – when the right time has come – your dream comes true much bigger than you would have ever imagined. Trust in the goodness of God.

The bigger God wants to make your dream, the more you have to die to it. Otherwise it comes between you and God. Maybe I give you one more example of this principle. This is a smaller matter but the principle holds. Some people – when they hear about the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues – they receive the gift immediately but others – including my wife – they desire the gift but there is a frustrating delay. My wife Tatjana cried out for two years and nothing happened until she gave up – no longer cared whether the gift would come or not – and only then it came. She had to die to the dream (give up all ambition and striving) until God made it come true and – in her case – maybe it was so painful because the gift of tongues did open up the spirit realm in greater measure for her – far beyond what she would have imagined. Now she moves in prophetic intercession – with considerable power.

You may also consider the shepherd boy David in the Bible who was anointed to be the future king of Israel and – therefore – dreamed about becoming the next king but then – after initial promotions – even marrying the king’s daughter – had to flee for his life and spent years living in a cave. He spent many years dying to his ambitions before God moved to crown him king. [Cf. Joseph and his position over his brothers.]

[Further examples: When I was feeling absolutely exhausted – almost throwing up – the first convert was given to me (one evening in front of the Concordia College chapel). After a three day national prayer summit in Adelaide I was feeling the same exhaustion, when for the first time a person fell down under the power of the Spirit after I had laid hands on him. Peter Steicke prayed for a blind man in a state of exhaustion after a three hour service but when he was feeling “dead”, God healed the man of his blindness.]

In closing, I want to make another point. When God makes your dream come true – bigger than imagined – guard your heart because he will make you surrender it again. It will never be yours. It will always remain his. The angel told Zechariah to name his son Johnwhich later caused some consternation – Luke 1:59-64 – I read from the Bible: “ … they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, ‘No! He is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘There is no one among your relatives who has that name.’ Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, ‘His name is John.’ Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God.”

Zechariah saw his dream come true but he was not to take ownership of his dream by naming the child after himself. The child was to bear God’s name – the name and purpose that God determined: “John” – not any name from Zechariah’s clan. Then, this John was to be more than an obedient son. He was to preach to a nation and he would die in the service of God before the age of forty. Joy and delight would come to Zechariah but the child would remain God’s.

An even more extreme demonstration of this principle is when God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his only heir. All of his life Abraham had dreamed about a son and God had given him promises of many descendants but when the son finally came – again in old age – God commanded him to give up what he had received. Before the dream comes true, God makes you die to it (the old woman Sarah, Abraham’s wife, even laughed when they were told that now she would fall pregnant) and then he makes sure that you remain dead to its seductions (Genesis 15; 22). Nothing is to come between you and God. When Abraham passed this test, the son was given back to him.

Where does this leave us? What is God going to do in 2010? At any time he can outstrip any of our imaginations but – take this on board – God is paying attention to your dreams. You are important to him. He loves you. You can dream about personal matters – a child – your marriage – a job – and we can dream about community matters – an end to abortion – a city coming to the Lord. (We have been dreaming about ministering in the power of Spirit and penetrating deeper into the presence of God. We have been dreaming about an awakening in Toowoomba and the renewal of Lutheran churches across the world. We have been dreaming about breakthroughs in worship – being filled with the glory of God.) God is paying attention to your dreams. He says in the Bible – Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Therefore, your own dreams – what we dream about as a church – may be a gage for what is going to come in 2010 and beyond. Have a dream. Let it consume you. Then let it die again – die to any ambition – die to letting any dream come between you and God – and then watch God. He will make us happy – opening up a future far beyond our dreams. In 2010 God will amaze us. Amen.