Sermon Given at the 34rd Anniversary of West Baguio Baptist Church (January 28, 2018)
Now glory be to God, who by His mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of – infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes. Ephesians 3:20
This is an amzaing promise. I know people who like to “claim promises” in the Bible. Often I find that annoying because commonly they are claiming promises that are not really promises. Other times they are claiming promises that are for someone else. In essence, they are trying to steal a promise from another. But this verse is different. This really is a promise, and it really is to us. We can claim this promise.
But how does this promise work? How does God work, accomplishing more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of?
Usually, God does this through Us… His people. God generally uses people. Sometimes we like to talk about God’s Omnipotence… His all-surpassing power. But perhaps even more impressive, is God’s Self-Constraint. His desire to demonstrate His power through us. In fact, sometimes God will go to fairly ridiculous lengths to demonstrate His power through His servants, rather than doing it directly. An amazing example of that is the story of Cornelius, the Centurian. God seeks to redeem Cornelius… a Gentile, a Roman soldier, in Acts 10. First God sends an angel to speak to Cornelius.
4“Your prayers and your acts of charity have come up as a memorial offering before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa and call for Simon, who is also named Peter. 6 He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.”
So God sends an angel to talk to Cornelius to give him instructions in how to find Peter. Then God gives Peter a vision that helps him understand that God is the God of all people, not just the Jews. And then Cornelius’ servants find Peter, invite him to visit Cornelius. Peter goes there and then shares the Gospel message to a Gentile– perhaps for the first time. Cornelius responds, accepting Jesus as His Lord and King. His household also responds, and then God gives the Holy Spirit in a manner that reinforces the message that God is the God of the Gentiles, as well as the Jews.
We say Praise God for this… and rightfully so, since we are all Gentiles here. But think about this… God sent an angel to Cornelius. The angel could have given the Gospel message. Most likely the angel would have done a better job. It would have been much much simpler. But God wanted to demonstrate His power through through His servant Peter.
It’s kind of strange but that is how God tends to work. In fact, when thinking of the great miracles of God how many of them were done without directly involving His servants? Few if any. Jesus fed 5000 Jews, but only after one person provided fish and bread. On a different occasion, he fed 4000 Gentiles, but again waited until one first gave. In Jesus’ first miracle, He asked servants to fill some jars with water… just so He could turn it into wine. Frankly, involving the servants, actually slowed things down. But Jesus wanted them to be involved.
Speaking of slowing things down, God had Noah make a big boat… waiting 120 years for all of the logistics to get worked out. God didn’t need Noah. He could have done His work in a much more efficient way without Noah’s help. The Bible, God’s special revelation to us, came through His prophets and apostles. It did not come by gold tablets, or by dictation/recitation. God worked in and through and with human authors. Taking over 1000 years to do it. A much more slow and awkward way to do things. But that is how God does things. He works through His servants.
The incarnation… God with us, was done using His servants. God pulled in a lot of people into the Nativity story… more than is necessary, and frankly God could have done it completely by Himself if He wanted to. The atonement/crucifixion utilized His servants… and even His enemies. Could God have done it a different way? I wouldn’t know. But this is how God chose to do it… working in and through and with us.
Even the Creation of the Universe. God makes the Universe. How could God possibly make us part of that miracle? God creates Adam. But then in God’s last miraculous act within the 6 days of creation, He actually takes a rib from Adam to make Eve. Even in a miracle where it is almost impossible for mankind to have a part of, God found a way to get human involvement.
But if that is the case, then let’s go back and rethink Ephesians 3:20.
This verse is part of a Benediction that stands as a bridge between two sections of the Epistle to the Ephesians. The first three chapters talk about all that God has done for us… and the second one tells us all that we are supposed to do through God’s empowerment.
It is the bridge between God’s actions and our actions. But how do we read that verse? Some people read the verse like this: Now glory be to God, who by His mighty power is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of – infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes. Did you hear the part that is missing? That is not what the verse says, but many prefer to look at it like this. They pray, and God does what we ask and even more. This is sometimes known as magical thinking. I can get God to serve me.
Others will read it and notice an important phrase in the middle: at work within us. Why is that important? Because it is saying that God’s mighty power to do far more than we can even dream… He is seeking to do in us and through us. This is sometimes described as religious thinking. Our primary goal is not to figure out how to get God to serve us, but for us to humbly serve God… empowered by God.
That’s why in Ephesians 4:1, responding to that benediction, it says “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” The word “then” is important. Because of His power working through us, we are then to live worthy of God’s calling for us.
But think about this for a moment. This works forwards and backwards. God empowers us to live according to what God has called us to do. But also, if we are living a life worthy of God’s calling for us, we have the empowerment of God to accomplish it. That is quite a promise.
What is “living a life worthy of God’s calling”? That is the essence of faith. It is believing in, trusting in God, and acting on that trust. That round about path brings us to the motto:
Faith Turns God-Given Dreams into Reality.
God empowers us, working in and through us, to accomplish God-given dreams. That’s a comfort.
The example I always like to use regarding taking God-Given Dreams into Reality is Nehemiah. I have probably preached on Nehemiah here at West Baguio before, so I apologize… but I believe it informs us in many ways in how God works.
If you want to open to Nehemiah chapter 1, please do. But for the sake of time, I am going to simply summarize it.
Nehemiah is a cupbearer for the King of Persia. As such, he was an important person in some ways, but also a servant, or a slave, of the king.
Acquaintances of his come by to the capital city, all the way from Jerusalem, and Nehemiah asks how things are going for the Jews who have returned to Jerusalem. They say that the walls are broken down with the gates burnt, and the people are in a shameful disgraceful state. It says that Nehemiah was very disturbed by that report. But what was he really upset about. A lot of people will say, “Oh Nehemiah was so unhappy because there were no walls at Jerusalem.” But that was not what he was bothered about. That news did not bother him a bit. How do we know this?
He already knew that the walls were broken down. The walls had been broken down for over 100 years. This was not news to him. Additionally, there was a law passed years before that made it illegal to rebuild those walls. Nehemiah was not bothered about the walls of Jerusalem. He was bothered about the people living inside of those broken walls.
God doesn’t care all that much about walls and gates. He cares about people. When Nehemiah was burdened about God’s people struggling, he was starting to become in tune with what God is concerned about.
Nehemiah then did three things. He mourned, he fasted, and he prayed. Mourning is an activity demonstrating strong emotions— particularly related to a loss. Fasting is a physical response. It is also most commonly in the Bible used to express response to a loss. It can also be used to express devotion to God. Praying is communication with God, an act of the mind to express worship and longing to God. It can also be done as a response to loss. If you think about that. He was responding emotionally with mourning (heart). He was responding physically with fasting. He was responding cognitively, or with the mind, in praying.
Nehemiah prayed, fasted, and mourned for four months. And God gave Nehemiah a dream… a vision. But to receive that dream, I believe that in those four months, Nehemiah did a fourth thing along with mourning, fasting, and praying. Nehemiah listened. Nehemiah listened to God.
I believe listening to God is an area that we as Baptists, or as Evangelicals in general, don’t do very well. When I was young as a child we would sing. .. Read your Bible pray every day… …..
We emphasize reading God’s word… and that is good. We need that. And along with Nehemiah, we focus on prayer. And that is important to. Some Evangelicals focus on fasting, but I don’t know of any that place importance on mourning. That’s strange, because several places, the Bible states that God will bless and comfort those who mourn.
But we aren’t really good at listening to God. Some might say that we listen to God in our Quiet Times. Ideally, that is true… at least for those who have Quiet Times. Unfortunately, far too often, our Quiet Times are not Quiet Times— They are Clutter Times.
Maybe you read a chapter of the Bible… or maybe two or three chapters if you want to make sure that you read the whole Bible in one year. Is it good to read the Bible. Of Course. And maybe you read one page of a devotional… such as Our Daily Bread. Is that a good thing? Sure. Maybe you journal… writing down a few thoughts from your readings. Is that great? Absolutely… I love journaling. And then maybe have a few minutes for prayer… talking to God. Is that important… Clearly that is important. So maybe that all takes 20 or 25 minutes. Suppose you have more time to spend “With God…” what else might you do? Maybe turn on the TV and watch a TV preacher, or turn on the radio and listen to a radio preacher. Is that a good thing? Well… I am not so sure about that, but if you find value with that, I am not going to complain. If you don’t want to hear preaching, maybe you would listen to some Christian music and “soak” in it. Is that good? Again, it’s not really my thing, but I know many people that find it valuable.
So is all of this good? Sure it’s good… but it can clutter up our time with God. Instead of meditating on God’s message for us, and listening to His leading… we spend our whole time reading, or talking, or listening to everyone and everything except God. We will not have God-given dreams unless we listen to God.
Nehemiah took four months… and He received a God-given dream. And it was huge. Nehemiah would be the one to go back to Jerusalem— rebuild the walls, repair the gates, and restore honor and prosperity to His brethren. That dream was CRAZY. Sheer madness!!
Nehemiah did not have time. He served the king at breakfast. He served the king at lunch. He served the king at dinner. He served the king at special events. He did this 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. Year after year. Nehemiah did not have time.
Nehemiah did not have authority. He was essentially a slave. An important slave, but still basically a slave. He not only can’t build a wall himself… but he can’t tell others to do it either. He has no authority to tell others what to do. He is a slave with little to no authority.
Nehemiah did not have money. He did not have enough money to buy his own freedom… to say nothing of funding a construction project in Jerusalem.
Sheer madness. Nehemiah could have prayed to God… “Do something about it. I can’t do anything… but God I am sure you can can.” But that is not what Nehemiah prayed. Nehemiah prayed asking how He could be God’s instrument to do the miraculous.
According to George Barna, Vision, or God-given dream, “is a clear mental image of a preferable future imparted by God to His chosen servants and is based upon an accurate understanding of God, self, and circumstances.”
Even though Nehemiah did not have time, money, and authority, this vision was based on an accurate understanding of his circumstances. Nehemiah was trusted by the king of Persia. The king’s life was literally in the hands of Nehemiah. Nehemiah understood that the king could give him the money, authority, and time to rebuild the walls. I believe he also had an accurate understanding of himself. As cupbearer, he was most likely at a lot of meetings where the king would have meetings with his counselors, his satraps, his generals. He knew the paperwork, the law, logistics and procedures to get things done. This is certainly evident as one reads the book further. Nehemiah understood administration. Nehemiah also had an accurate understanding of God. He understood God’s heart for His people. Nehemiah also understood that God, and only God, could sway the heart of the king to grant Nehemiah’s request. And as one reads further into the book, we find Nehemiah’s great reliance on God in all that he did.
Nehemiah had a “ clear mental image of a preferable future imparted by God to himself based upon an accurate understanding of God, self, and circumstances.”
And through Nehemiah, and Ezra, God did amazing things. Not only did they build a wall, but through them, God transformed a faithless idolatrous people, to a people committed to live according to God’s word. It is miraculous.
But let’s move forward almost 2 and a half millenia. Here we are in West Baguio Baptist Church. Does God have a vision for this church. Is God able to give “a clear mental image of a preferable future imparted by God to His chosen servants here at WBBC based upon an accurate understanding of God, self, and circumstances.”
Today, West Baguio Baptist Church is 34 years old. Is that a good age for a Church. Is that too old for God to use to turn God-given dreams into reality? Or perhaps it is too young? Is it too young for Him to use to turn God-given dreams into reality.
Truthfully, I am not sure, but I think I know the answer. My family is presently involved in two churches. One of those churches is our sending church. It is 164 years old. We are also involved in another church, and that church is 4-weeks old– literally, as I am speaking, they are holding their fourth worship service.
The 164 year old church is not too old for God to use for amazing things. In fact, its greatest visionary growth started when it was about 140 years old. And I don’t believe that the four week old is too young. Don’t know the future. It could grow or it could wither… but at the moment we see amazing things already happening.
This is your year. This year, I believe that if you listen to God, He will give you a new God-given dream, a vision of a preferable future, based on a clear understanding of your church and your circumstance… a clear understanding of what God can do with your church and your circumstances because you know what God can do.
God, who by His mighty power at work within you is able to do far more than you would ever dare to ask or even dream of – infinitely beyond your highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes.
May that be so, even today.