Mark Batterson - Dream, Renaissance
On August 28th, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and he did more than deliver a speech, he delivered a dream. In the middle of that speech, there was a moment when the gospel singer Mahalia Jackson said, "Tell 'em about the dream, Martin. Tell 'em about the dream". Dr. King pushed his notes to the side of the lectern and he went off script.
That's when Clarence Jones, his friend and speech writer said, "These people don't know it, but they're about ready to go to church". "I have a dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal. I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character". Welcome to National Community Church in-person, online, we're in a series called "Dream".
Now, this weekend, we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King. But let me connect the dots. Every dream in the words of Edgar Allen Poe is really a dream within a dream. In 1934, Michael King, the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta sailed across the Atlantic ocean, his first visit to the holy land. Then on his return trip, attended a gathering of the Baptist World Alliance in Berlin, Germany. While in Germany, Michael King was so inspired by the Protestant reformer Martin Luther that he change his name from Michael to Martin? And he had a five-year-old son named Michael and his close friends would call him Mike. But the rest of us know him as Dr. Martin Luther king Jr.
You see, every dream has a genealogy. All of us stand on the shoulders of those who had the courage to dream and their brave is our breakthrough. Martin Luther posting 95 thesis on the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. And Dr. Martin Luther king Jr. standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial casting vision for civil rights in Washington, DC. They're separated by 446 years, but they are not unrelated. It's a dream within a dream. Legacy is not what you accomplish, legacy is what others accomplish because of you. Success is succession. Discipleship is growing fruit on other people's dreams. Discipleship is a dream within a dream. So I say, "God, raise up the next generation of dreamers, the poets, the prophets, the artists, the entrepreneurs". It is time to dream again.
If you have a Bible, you can meet me in Athens-Acts 17 and we'll get there in a second. We started this dream journey in Jerusalem, Acts chapter 2, this is when and where and how revival happens. And let me just say this, all it takes is 120 people in an upper room who are willing to pray the price. On that note, can I invite you to join us for our first ever revival? We're calling it "Dream 22," January 20 through 23. Now I know... I know you can't schedule a revival, right? It doesn't happen on our terms or our timeline, but you can set the table. How? By setting aside a little extra time to seek God. And so we've got Jon Tyson on Thursday night. We've got Jimmy Rollins on Friday night. KJ Schriven's gonna lead us in worship on Saturday night. We will stream those revival services, but love to have you join us in person at the Turnaround. Note the time: 6:30 PM and come with those sanctified expectations.
We are believing God for revival in the church. We're believing God for reformation in the kingdom. Acts 13 is the tipping point, the turning point in church history. This is where we were last week. God turns the church at Antioch inside out, and it turns the world upside down. Every church that Paul plants, every epistle that Paul writes is a dream within a dream. That is the church at Antioch. And so that brings us to Athens, Acts chapter 17. Revival is God's gift to the church, Renaissance is God's gift to culture. Let me set the scene, I'll show you a map. Paul is on his second missionary journey, it's around 51 AD. And Athens, it sits at the intersection of east and west. You can kinda see it over there by the Aegean Sea. And students of history are familiar with the Silk Road, which wasn't really a road, it was a network of trade routes by land and by sea that facilitated the exchange of goods and ideas across diverse cultures. Athens was a marketplace of ideas and the epicenter was this place called the Aeropagus on Mars Hill.
Now the Aeropagus was Coachella. The Aeropagus was south by southwest. It was the Burning Man Festival, fill in the blank. If you lived in Athens, a good chance you believe in lots of gods. Why? Because gods were imported from all over the ancient world. "It was easier to find a god in Athens," said the 1st century writer Petronius, "Than a man". Now, with that as the backdrop, Acts 17 starting at verse 16 says, "While Paul was waiting for them in Athens". What was Paul doing? Now, you remember last week in Aniak while they were worshiping. While they were worshiping, and so a little bit different story here while they were... "While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols".
Two questions up front. One, what do you do while you're waiting? And I mean that literally. What do you do while you're waiting to pick up your kids at school, while you're waiting at the DMV, while you're waiting for Door Dash to deliver your food, but they picked up two orders so they're going the other direction and so your food is gonna get cold by the time you get it? That's not a pet... I'm just putting that out there. What do you do while you're waiting? Do you redeem the time or do you waste the time? And what does that have to do with Renaissance? Well, listen, what you do at your downtime has a lot more to do with your destiny than what you think. Number one excuse people make when it comes to pursuing dreams is, "I don't have time". And you never will. You don't find time, you make time.
Average person spends 122 minutes on social media. Do you know what you could do with two hours and 22 minutes every day? A lot. A lot. I read 3000 books before I wrote one and I used to read 200-250 books a year and people don't believe me. They don't believe me. And they're like, "How in the world did you do that"? I didn't have a cell phone. I'm that old. I am that old, I didn't have a cell phone. That gave me two hours and 22 minutes back right there. But don't let yourself off the hook, everybody can read a book a month, just put one in your bathroom. And some of you have more potential than that. You gotta redeem the time. The problem is we check our phones on average 96 times a day. As someone who lives in the city, can I just... Would you at least look up when you're going across the crosswalk? Would you just do that? I'm just getting a lot off my chest this weekend.
Have you ever been at the table with a bunch of people and everybody's on their phone. You can pick your nose and no one would know. Why are we even here? We could have just stayed home in our phones. I'm having a little bit of fun and I'm not anti-phone, I promise you that. But we are so distracted by our digital devices that we're out of touch with what's happening inside of us and what's happening around us. And so I asked, what do you do while you're waiting? And two, what makes you mad or sad or glad? Now, Paul is waiting for his entourage. He has been run out of town in Berea about 250 Roman miles. It would have been a three-day trip by sea, a 12-day trip by land. And so little bit of jet lag could have kicked back, could have checked out, but his spirit is stirred, says he was greatly distressed.
I had a professor in my doctoral program that asked this question, "What makes you cry or pound your fist on the table"? In other words, what makes you sad and what makes you mad? Now, I add one thing to the mix. Let me see that smile. Let me see that smile. What makes you smile? What just brings pure joy to your heart? What makes you mad or sad or glad? What I'm getting at is I think those sanctified emotions are often cues and clues to the God given passions that are in our heart. And so may God sanctify our reticular activating system so that we notice the promptings of the Holy Spirit, may our hearts break for the things that break the heart of God. And it probably starts with people who have broken hearts and broken minds and broken spirits and they're all around us all the time. Everybody's fighting a battle that no one knows anything about.
And so there are all these divine appointments. The problem is that they usually present themselves as interruptions or inconveniences. "Well, Pastor Mark, when are we gonna talk about Renaissance"? We are. We're talking about what's happening around us. We all wanna do these big things for God. We all wanna change the world. What about the person next to you? That's where it starts. And you know what? You know what people need right now? They just need to be seen and heard and loved. And you can do that. I was on a plane a few weeks ago. I'll be honest, I'm on my plane. Leave me alone. I was like, wow, no phone. I'm bringing a book like uninterrupted time, just get me in my zone.
And so I'm being honest. Well, I sit down and a woman, she's a talker. She is a talker. Huh, that's a lot of information coming at me. But then I realized I need to listen to what she's saying. And she's talking about some of the health challenges, she shouldn't even be alive, had through surgery and was just kinda, I don't know. It just sure seemed like she needed someone to share this with and I happened to be the person next to her. And I'm just gonna tell you what I did at the very end. I said, "Would you be offended if I prayed for you"? She said, "No, I would appreciate it". Do you know hardly anybody will be offended if you, "Can I pray for you"? And that includes those who don't even believe in God. Because it's a gesture of love and compassion and care. And so what do you do while you're waiting? What makes you mad or sad or glad? You're the only Bible some people ever read. You're the only church some people will ever attend.
Verse 17: "So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as the marketplace day by day with those who happen to be there". Now, we have a core value, the church belongs in the middle of the marketplace. A churches stays within its four walls isn't a church at all. We're not just trying to build a church, we're trying to bless a city and we wanna be more known for what we're for than what we're against. And that is the driving impulse for Renaissance. Verse 18: "A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with Paul. Some of them asked, 'Well, what is this babbler trying to say?'" Others remarked, "He seems to be advocating foreign gods". They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.
Can we just kinda dig in here for a second? This is fascinating to me. Now, Epicureans and Stoics were philosophical opposites. Epicureans were all about self-indulgence: eat, drink, and be married. Stoics were all about self denial: the goal is moderation. Paul is caught in the crossfire, if you will, between these competing philosophies. Newsflash: there will always be competing philosophies and ideologies. I love what Paul does here, he doesn't debate. I think we have to be really careful because I know some people who would rather be right than righteous. Who would rather win an argument than win a person. And so, yeah, we need to speak the truth unapologetically, but we need to do a gracefully. We need to speak the truth in love. Paul doesn't just get into a debate. I love this, he declares the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Can I remind us that this thing we call Christianity is not a philosophy. Yeah, we have an ethic, we have a moral code. Sermon on the Mount, Jesus way. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Bless those who curse you. Turn the other cheek. Go the extra mile. Give the shirt off your back. Forgive 70 times seven. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And yeah, that makes us pretty unique, especially the loving your enemies part. Which, let's be honest, most of us aren't great at. But that isn't what sets us apart. What sets us apart is an empty tomb. And the same spirit that raised Christ from the dead dwells in us. So this thing we call Christianity is not a religion, it's a relationship with a risen savior. And that changes everything.
Now, it's interesting that Paul says, "You are religious in every way". Did you pick up on that? And so, yeah, it's misdirected towards all kinds of idols. But I find it curious that he at least acknowledges the spiritual instinct. And I wonder if there's something there for us to learn. Now, according to the latest census data, those who identify as nuns, no religious affiliation, fastest growing demographic in America. And we know that, you've heard that. We may be less religious in the traditional sense, oh, but we are no less spiritual. Yes. We're less institutional and more intuitional.
We worship in lots of altars, including the altar to the unknown God. 72% of nuns believe in God, 17% and nuns belief in the God of the Bible. Interesting. 46% of nuns pray, 13% of them say that God talks back to them. 40% of nuns believe in psychics, 32% check their horoscope. What I'm getting at is this, all of us build an altar to something. Some of us build an altered education. Others build altars to politics. We build altars to entertainment. We build altars to science instead of the God of science. And so we pick and choose, cut and paste, mix and match. I don't think America is a whole lot different than Athens. It's this syncretism, this hybrid spirituality. And I said this last week, you can't not worship. Everyone worships someone or something. Either we worship God with a capital G or we substitute God with a lower case g and that's called an idol. It's anything you love more, trust more, desire more than God.
John Calvin said the human heart is a perpetual idol factory. We try to fill the God-shaped hole with something, with anything. And Psalm 1:15 says that, "Those who make idols become like them". And this is huge. If you worship money, you become greedy. If you worship the alter of materialism, well, then whoever has the most toys wins. If you worship yourself, you become a narcissist. And what happens is your world gets smaller and smaller and smaller until the only thing that fits in your tiny little universe is you.
Question: are you building altars to God or are you building monuments to yourself? I have a theory of identity, wrote a little bit about it in Soulprint. And it's gonna sound counterintuitive. The more you have going for you, the more potential you have for identity problems. Why? Because it's just a lot easier to base your identity on something other than the righteousness of Christ. It's so much easier just to base your identity, how much money you have in the bank. How many degrees behind your name. How good you look in the mirror. But the second you begin to find security in those things, it becomes your identity and it becomes an idol. I know right now the tendency is to think about all the people in your life that have idols.
So let me get a little bit closer to home. You need to be really, really careful. God has given each one of you a gift, but be very careful not to worship the gift over and above the gift giver. That gift can easily become an idol if it leads to pride and now it backfires. I would say the same thing about the dream that God's given you. This weekend, Laura and I celebrate 26 years, joy and privilege of leading this church. We love this church. We've invested a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, and we wouldn't wanna be any place else doing anything else. But I want you to hear me. I never use the first person possessive pronoun when I talk about this church, 'cause I am not the shepherd of this church, I'm an under shepherd. Jesus is the shepherd of this church, all I am is an interim pastor. Be careful that you don't put that dream on the altar.
And so I would suggest that consecration is literally putting your idol on the altar. Verse 22: "Then Paul stood up". Paul stood up. And it says, he grabbed a picket sign and he boycotted the Areopagus, idolaters inside. Oh wait, no, that's not what it says. My bad, I think this is how many people interpret it, right? No, it says that Paul walks into the Areopagus and he doesn't curse the darkness, he lights a candle. We have a core value, criticized by creating. What does that mean? It means we write better books, produce better films, make better music, draft better legislation, start better businesses. How? With the help of the Holy Spirit.
When I was in my 20s, I asked God to crucify my competitive streak because it was out of control y'all. I don't like losing Candy Land to my kids. Fun fact: fans of losing teams, I read this study years ago, experience a 20% drop in testosterone after a loss. I promise you if we checked, I would be 40%. I hate to lose, it's just the way that I'm wired. And so I asked God to crucify my competitive streak and He said He wouldn't do it. God doesn't wanna crucify your competitive streak, He wants to consecrate it for His purposes. He wants to use that for His... What did Jesus say to his disciples in their inaugural mission? "Be innocent as a dove".
In other words, check your motives. If you do the right thing for the wrong reasons, it doesn't even count in the kingdom of God. But goodness is not the absence of badness, you can do nothing wrong and still do nothing right. And so you can't just be innocent as the dove. You gotta be shrewd as a snake. You got to outsmart the enemy, the shrewdest of all creatures. You gotta beat him at his own game. I'm riled up because I just think God has called his church to walk into the Areopagus and compete for the truth. All truth is God's truth. Every ology is a branch of theology, I'll talk more about it next week. But I believe that that is when and where and how Renaissance happens.
Now, in the 1930s, producer at 20th Century Fox wrote a letter to presidents of several prominent Christian colleges, asking them to send to him screenwriters. His dream was to produce films with a redemptive subplot. One of those presidents wrote back and said, "He'd rather send his young people to hell than to Hollywood". I think that's a missed opportunity. But by the way, a couple of years ago, I heard TD Jakes say that if Jesus were to incarnate in today's culture, he would come as a filmmaker. I don't know, but filmmakers, songwriters, these are the poets and prophets... Andrew Fletcher, the 18th century Scottish thinker said, "Give me the making of the songs of a nation and I don't care who writes its laws".
Now, I'm be careful there 'cause we do care who writes our laws, right? And to that end, I would say, God raised up the Daniels, and the Esters, and the Nehemiah's and the Deborah's. We need the best and brightest in the darkest places. And so we commission you in Jesus name whatever it is that you do. We need to be in education and entertainment, technology and healthcare. We need to be everywhere. Here's a question Laura and I been asking for a couple of years, what about the 53% who will never come to church? Now, I'd say, first of all, let's keep inviting them, but some people aren't gonna dark in a church door. Well, here's the good news. You can't really go to church theologically speaking, you are the church.
So NCC is wherever you are. In his book "Roaring Lambs," Bob Briner reflects on missionary conventions he went to as a child. Anybody remember missionary conventions? I love them. I loved them and I praise God for traditional missionaries. But I also love what Bob Briner says. He says, "I envision a whole generation who will lay claim to careers like business, politics, technology, hospitality, education, entertainment, with the same kind of vigor and commitment that sent men like Hudson Taylor to China". And so we commission you in Jesus name. Let me close with this. We'll double back to Athens next week, I wanna share a message titled, "Field Seven" and I can't wait. Gonna talk about prophetic imagination and we'll get there next week. 26 years ago, 19 people gathered in a DC public school. It wasn't very glamorous. We have a picture and I'll be honest, this is actually like our highest attendance our first year.
And so I wanna be fair. As you see this picture, this is Easter Sunday of 1996. And yes, I used to wear a suit. Don't despise the day of small beginnings. Over the last quarter century, we have impacted tens of thousands of people. We've given tens of millions of dollars to missions, and we believe that the best is yet to come. And so on the anniversary of this church, we launched something called the Dream Collective, Dreamco for short. We're gonna be talking about it a lot. This is the tipping point, this is the turning point. This is the day when decades happen. We just feel like God is calling us to do more things that don't have our name on it. Does that sound about right? That God is calling us. We don't need control, we don't need credit. It's not about the name of the church door, it's about the name above all names, #sameteam. But what we are believing for are people with the courage to walk into the Aeropagus and compete for the truth.
Now, truth is this church is full of dreamers. I think that Tamika Mason, Building for Mission. Laura Osuri, Homes not Borders. Kate Schmidgall, Bittersweet. Noobstaa Vang, Foodhini. Lori Parkerson and Selah. I think is Sarah Bayot and Kicheko. I think Brittany Dunn and Safe House. Patrick Farrell, The Keystone Collective. I think of Jonathan Tate, Food on the Stove. Can I remind us, the miracles in the house? You're right here and you're online, okay? The miracle is in the house. Few weeks ago... I'll go fast. I got an email from Tracy Keibler. Tracy attended NCC for one summer, 10 years ago. She's the Founding Director of START Senior Solutions. And here's what she said: "10 years ago, I attended NCC when I was in DC doing an internship with the National Council on Aging. I prayed over a Google search and NCC came up".
Come on, anybody else, anybody online? Google search, that's how you found us 'cause I kinda love that. She said, "I doubled the average age of the church attendees at the time. My last day at NCC was the summer of 2011. And you were in a series called A18". Tracy went home to Minnesota. She started a nonprofit for older adults to help them solve problems like affordable housing when they outlive their assets. To help them find caregivers when they experience dementia. All of their staff retired individuals who donate their time. She said, "When a family comes to us in need of help and we're able to wrap them in human connection, a companion for the journey along with needed expertise, we change lives".
That sounds a lot like Matthew 25. That sounds a lot like James 1. When people ask them how much it costs, Tracy and her team get to tell them, "Nothing". Part of what I love about this is the sanctity of life from womb to tomb. It's caring for everyone from the unborn to those who are suffering from dementia at the end of life. True religion looks like orphans and widows and caring for them. Tracy ended her email this way: "START Senior Solutions was inspired by an A18 sermon a decade ago. I was blessed in so many ways by NCC. I wanted to share what had transpired in Minnesota in this older adult ministry non-profit followed by a summer at NCC". That my friends is a dream within a dream. That's the heart and soul of the Dream Collective.
And so the reality is we've been a Dream Collective for 26 years, but it's time to dream bigger, pray harder, and think longer. And so along with this dream collective, we will launch a Dream Fund. We have a common fund inspired by Acts 2, all about meeting needs, you have given so generously to it. The Dream Fund inspired by Acts 13, all about seeding dreams. We have this core conviction, God's gonna bless us and proportion how we care for the poor in our city and give to missions. Listen, we wanna give it all away. This is venture capital for kingdom causes. It's angel investing. It's gospel patronage. It's the women in Luke 8 who form a hedge fund and they get in on the IPO of Jesus ministry. Talk about an ROI, right?
And so we will take a dream offering next weekend. I'm so excited about this. Would you pray about being a part of this? This is a fill a dream moments, I'll be honest. 26 years ago, we would start service with six or eight people. It was like all we really had was a dream. All we really had was a dream and I kinda feel that way again. We don't know exactly what this is gonna become but by faith, faith is being sure of what we hope for. And so I believe that God is gonna raise up the next generation of dreamers and we're gonna have the joy and privilege of giving them a birthright and a blessing. And so may His kingdom come, may His will be done on earth as it is in heaven in Jesus name. Amen.