Mark Batterson - Dream, Even Now
On the occasion of his 51st birthday, Jackson Brown decided to take inventory of his life by jotting down some life lessons. That exercise, a healthy exercise, by the way, turned into a little book called "Live and Learn and Pass It On". It's a compilation of life lessons from people ages 5 to 95. And here are a few of my favorites. Age 42: I've learned that if your life is free of failures, you aren't taking enough risks. Age 38: I've learned that I shouldn't go to the grocery store on an empty stomach. Anybody else? Age 18: I've learned that your ACT score doesn't determine the rest of your life. Can I get an amen?
Age 11: I've learned that if you want to get even with someone at camp, rub their underwear and poison ivy. Age six: I've learned you cannot hide a piece of broccoli in a glass of milk. Hold on. You can, however, hide it unalleged underneath your dining table until you move at which moment hundreds of fossilized florets will fall to the ground and your sins will find you out. I've heard. Age 46: I've learned that the dashing young knight on a snow white horse who is going to ride into my life and sweep me off my feet got lost in the forest. Age 51: I've learned that if you keep doing what you've always done, you'll keep getting what you've always gotten. And that'll preach.
One of my favorite authors, Frederick Buechner passed August 15th, 2022, 96 years old. He wrote this book "Listening to Your Life". And here's what he said. If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say, both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: listen to your life. Now, the way I listen to my life is journaling. The shortest pencil is longer than the longest memory. For me, journaling is a spiritual discipline. It's the way I take thoughts captive, 2 Corinthians 10:5, "And try to make them obedient to Christ". And so I journal, and then at the end of the year, I go back through my journals and I remind myself of things that were underlying, things that were circled, lessons learned, gratitudes I can't afford to forget, prayers I prayed. And those things that I circled actually make it into my double journal and that double journal, oh, those are things I wanna keep in my spirit.
Keep in my mind, in my heart. Why? There's a lot of people who have been following Jesus for 25 years, but they don't have 25 years of experience. They have one year of experience repeated 25 times. Listen to your life, in the spirit of live and learn and pass it on. Can I just share one life lesson from last year? Is that okay? And I'll give it to you. You can jot it down and then I'll give a little bit of context. Here it is. Walk one inch taller. Here's the context. Every year I try to plan a personal challenge, something that's going to stretch me often physically. And so last year it was a bike century. Now, I did a bike century the year before, but I didn't do one in Colorado. And the elevation was like, okay, this is a little different game, right?
And then two months before that bike century, the race organizer who had kind of recruited me and said it's gonna be a pretty flat course, decided to change the course and added 4,000 feet of altitude gain. I second guess my decision. I almost, ah, no, ah, hmm. And so for six weeks I live with a low grade anxiety. How many know what I'm talking about? And it's the situation that even when you're not thinking about it, you are thinking about it. It just kinda lives at this level of subconsciousness. And you, whatever you're doing, even in the greatest moments, like you just snap right back. Oh, but I gotta bite this century and I don't know if I can do it. And I don't like doing things that I can't do. And so I'm low grade anxiety because God healed my asthma July 2nd, 2016. He healed my lungs. But you have to understand that when, for 40 years, you never go anywhere without an inhaler, you can't catch your breath.
That's your first memory. That's your reality. It's like a default setting that even all of these years later, I still have to, do you know that sometimes I dream of taking my inhaler, in my dream. Because it's so embedded. Long story short. Bless her heart, Tina McIntosh, part of this church, breath coach said, give me an hour of your time. So we meet at Ebenezers and she starts taking me through these exercises. And there are lots of people at Ebenezers. And so this is a little embarrassing, but she has me get up and says, I want you to stretch your lungs. You want me to do what? You can't stretch your lungs. Your lungs are in here. Oh yeah, you can. Said now breathe through your left nostril. Oh. Hmm. Why don't we try it the other way?
So I stretch my lungs. I'm like, I didn't know you could do that. Then she said, now I want you to get up and I want you to walk to the stop sign right there at the corner of second NF street, but I want you to walk one inch taller. Wait, what? And so I start walking. No, no, no, no, no. Don't look down. If you look down, you're compressing. Look up, stretch it. Look up. Now walk one inch taller. And I feel like a fool 'cause I'm at Ebenezers and I'm like, literally. you know, I mean, it feels a little foolish. Listen to me. I've been walking one inch taller from that day to this day. I would suggest that we walk into 2023 walking one inch taller. What do you mean mean? I mean standing on the promises of God. The promises of God are platform shoes. Right?
Wait, I can see a little farther on the promises of God. When I say one inch taller, I mean operating in the authority that you have in Christ. Not your authority. Not even your mistakes. No, in the righteousness of Christ. In the authority that he has given to you. I'm talking about stretching your faith. The way you steward a miracle is by believing God for bigger and better miracles. And so I think we walk into 2023 walking one inch taller. And it doesn't mean prouder. It actually means humbler. Because oh, the more you kneel, the taller you stand. The more you kneel, the taller you stand, you get down on the, you are never taller than when you are kneeling in the presence of God, on the promises of God at an altar next to your bed, whatever, wherever. You are never taller than when you're kneeling. Oh. Imagine what God could do in our lives individually and collectively, if we fulfill our destiny as a house of prayer. Can I get an amen?
Well, this weekend we begin our annual Dream Series. It's time to dream again. Again. Without a vision, the people parish. Show me the size of your dream, I'll show you the size of your God. God is too big to dream small. Can I get another Amen? If you have a Bible, you can meet me in the Book of Joel. Joel is one of 12 minor prophets. Minor doesn't mean less important. It just means shorter for which we're grateful. They were actually written on one scroll. So the 12 minor prophets are considered one book and if I had to summarize the minor prophets for that matter, the major prophets in three words, it would be this: return to me. Come back, come on, come back. I'm here. I'm waiting. I'm watching. Because the people of Israel had this tendency to drift. We wouldn't know anything about that. Squirrel. Shiny idol, right? Same difference. Like we get so distracted and God returned to me, returned to me.
And so for three weeks, we're just gonna live in three verses. Joel 2:12-14. Here it is. "Even now", would you say it with me? "Even now, declares the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, weeping and mourning. Rend your heart, not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love, and He relents from sending calamity. Who knows"? I love this question. Who knows? I don't know, it's past my pay grade. Who knows? "He may turn and have pity and leave a blessing behind".
Would you let that get into your spirit this weekend? Leave a blessing behind. Lemme give a little bit of context. We're not sure exactly when Joel is writing this, but he's writing during a pandemic, we'll call it Locus 19. There are so many locus that they have devoured the land. And the land was their livelihood. Their lives are destroyed. Everything they've worked for is at risk. But God sends the prophet Joel with a promise. Even now. Even now, even now, those two words are so full of hope. Aren't they not there? So full of possibility, even now. But you don't know my circumstances. You don't know how many times I've messed up. You don't know how long I've waited. You don't know how many times I've prayed. I don't know. Even now. God doesn't give up on you. Don't give up on God.
Two simple thoughts to begin a new year. One, it's never too little. Two, it's never too late. When we talk about four words, two fish, six yards. In the science of hermeneutics, there is a concept called interpretive horizon. It's the opening line of a book that sets the tone and sets the table. Call me Ishmael, right? Moby Dick. It gives us a place to stand. This is the interpretive horizon for that book. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Charles Dickens, "Tale of Two Cities". Interpretive horizon. These opening words give us a place to stand. They give us a vantage point. There is no crater interpretive horizon. Genesis 1:1. In the beginning, God created Bereshit Elohim Bara. Bara, Hebrew word for create, but not just create, create ex nihilo, outta nothing.
Dallas Willard said, we think people are smart who make light bulbs and computer chips and rockets outta stuff already provided. He made the stuff. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God. And the Word was God. He was with God. In the beginning all things were created through Him and nothing was created that has been created without Him. Bereshit Elohim Bara. If God made everything outta nothing, help me out this weekend, it stands to follow. It's never too little. To the infinite, all finites are equal. We have categories possible, impossible, easy, difficult. No categories when you're omnipotent. I just, you watch this year, here is my sixth sense of what God is gonna do. And it comes out of another defining moment. It was actually honor retreat with Dick Foth with some other pastors. And he said this defining moment in his ministry was, he was frustrated because he was pastoring this young new church and he was telling people what to do and they weren't doing it.
Surprising. And Foth said, there was this moment where the still small voice of the spirit said, Foth stop telling them what to do and start telling them who I am. Am I concerned about your circumstances? Yeah, even saying it. The collective pain and grief and loss and heartache that so many of us have walked through in the past year is heartbreaking. Am I concerned about your circumstances? Yes. I'm more concerned about the character of God. Who he is and what he can do? God said, let there be light. Those four words are still creating galaxies at the outer edge of the universe. The universe is God's way of saying, look at what I can do with four words. And if God can do that with four words, what are we worried about? Perspective. Four words. Two fish.
Now John's Gospel. Seven signs. And each one. Oh. Now I love this miracle, the feeding of the 5,000. Remember this, and I'll tell you what, 'cause I love food and I love miracles. So you put those two things together. Little boy, five loaves, two fish. But Andrew, the economist, the mathematician. It's like it would take eight months wages, right? And it's not like there's a Panera around the corner. So it doesn't add up. How many times does it not add up in our lives? Like almost every other day. It doesn't add up. You can't feed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish. As long as it's in your hands. Because in your hands, five plus two equals seven. You put what you have in your hands into the hands of God. Five plus two doesn't equal seven anymore. Five plus two equals 5,000, remainder 12. There's more left over than you started with.
Wait, what? That's kingdom calculus. Are you living your life just playing this math game where everything has to add up? It has to make sense to you. You know what? Maybe now is the moment to start tithing. Wait, wait, wait. But when I have more, I'll give more. Love you. I'm not buying what you're selling. Given will be given unto you. Good measure, pressed down, shaking together, running over will be poured into your lap. Or with the measure you use, it will be measured unto you. I just think there comes a moment where am I gonna live by my math or am I gonna stand on the promises of God? Man, you take those two fish, right? Put 'em into God's hands. See what happens.
Six jars. Can I talk about six jars? It's the first miracle in Cana and it almost seems like, really? Like this was poor planning on the part of the wedding party. They ran outta wine. This is not your fault, this is not your responsibility. But in Jewish culture it was shameful. It was a disgrace. And it's so, the dialogue is just so dense. It's almost like, because Mary says they ran outta wine and why are you even saying that to Jesus? He's just a guest at a party. It's a mother's intuition. Can we just praise God? For mother's intuitions, she knows everybody needs somebody that believes in them more than they believe in themselves even if you're Jesus. She knows what her son is capable of. Jesus says, this is so fascinating. My time has not yet come. Mary doesn't let it go.
I love miracles that don't fit into nice, neat categories that you can't just reverse engineer X, Y, Z, and you get, you know, Jesus doesn't think it's time yet. The truth is, if you're waiting till you're ready, you will never be ready. I think there comes a moment. I think Mary knew, it's time. Time for what? Are you ready for this? Let this get into your spirit. It's time for miracles. Let's go time. Let's go. Let's go. I know what you can do. Jesus changes the molecular structure of water and turns it into wine and it begins these unbelievable miracles that all, I think all of them say the same thing. It's never too little. It's never too little. Would you give it to God, however little it is and see what he does?
Now, a number of years ago, did you get some Lego bricks on the way in? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Pull those out. If you're at home, I bet you have some Legos. So this was a decade ago, I was invited to a gathering of entrepreneurs in Las Vegas. And one of the presenters was one of the architects of the Lego brand. They are not just bricks, they're brick and mortar. I think it's almost 400 retail stores. Amusement parks, right? Lego Land. A movie. Movies. And so he was talking about just the expansion of the brand. And then he gave all of us six Legos, kind of like what you're holding. And he asked us a question, how many potential combinations do you think there are with six Legos? Internally, I'm thinking, this is a trick question. So I'm gonna aim high and I'm thinking several hundred. And I was several hundred million short.
A mathematician, Soren Eilers wrote a computer program that modeled all of the potential combinations. Are you ready for the total number of possible permutations? And we're talking about six bricks with eight studs is 915,103,765. What? I think there are moments in our lives where we're just, all we see is six. It's just six. It's six. What do you want me to do? I want you to believe that he's able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine according to his power that's at work within us. Maybe there are combinations, permutations. this coming year. Listen, one decision can totally change the trajectory of your life.
Favorite piece of poetry, "I dwell in possibility." Emily Dickinson. Would you hold onto this this year? Would you hold onto it and just believe, just believe that maybe just maybe, it's never too little and it's never too late. It is never too late. So many stories in scripture. The subplot is too little, too late. Is that fair? Abraham and Sarah, too little too late. A hundred year old men don't get 90 year old women pregnant. Moses 40, ready to take the world by the tail. takes out an Egyptian taskmaster. Listen, when you try to manufacture the miracle, when you try to play God, when you try to do God's job for him, when you try to take matters into your own hands, yeah, it's gonna probably what you think will expedite is probably gonna cost you about 40 years. Trust his timing. At 80, Moses is throwing in the towel. There are no visions at grander. It's too late, I'm a fugitive. No, no, no. Now you're ready.
If you think it's too late. Listen, you never age out. You are never past your prime in God's kingdom. Kaylyn 85. Oh man. Missed his moment, right? At 40 because of 10 negative people. There's another sermon in here. Don't let 10 negative people tell you what you can't do. You remind them of who God is. You don't let 10 negative people bring you down. Keep holding onto that promise. And at 85, you may be as strong as you were at 40. That's amazing. He is bench pressing at 85 what he was bench pressing at 40, if I'm reading it right, and still has this vision, give me the hill country. May you dream until the day you die. I wanna die young. At a ripe old age. It's never too late.
Story after story. But what are we talking about this weekend? Even now, right? That little phrase pops up John's Gospel 11, Lazarus dies. Do you remember this? And Jesus says, "This will not end in death". I really had a hermeneutical issue with that for a long time because he dies. Jesus is wrong, right? Wrong. Because it doesn't end in death. Sometimes we are too shortsighted, said Oswald Chambers, to see what God is aiming for. And so there's this moment where Jesus and Martha have this dialogue. Martha says, if you had been here, he wouldn't have died. This is a deep well right here. 'Cause the way I translate it, she's getting passive aggressive with Jesus. It's not your fault, but it's, but it isn't, but it is. But it isn't. But it is.
If you had been here, wouldn't have died. Those are hard moments. Your second kiss, God. Tell me you've been there like I have. Many, many times. God, if you had done this or that or the other thing? But as soon as I'm omniscient I'll let you know. But I wouldn't hold your breath. I have a Deuteronomy 29:29 file. "The revealed things belong to us, the secret things belong to God". And that file is pretty thick y'all, There are a lot of things I don't understand, but I've learned to trust and obey for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey. If you had been here, wouldn't have died. Then she says something that to me is one of the most audacious, one of the most ridiculous sentences in all of scripture. But even now, but even now, God will do what you ask.
Oh. Don't put a period where God puts a comma. It's not over until God says it's over. Man is four days dead. It is too little, too late. Is that fair? No. Even now. Lazarus come forth and a dead man starts taking off grave clothes. Can I ask a question? Who have you given up on? Who have you given up on to the point of you're not even praying for them anymore? Maybe, just maybe we need to come to the altar for them and stand in the gap for them. It's never too little. It's never too late. Let me close with this. January 12th through 15, would you mark your calendar? Revival? But revival doesn't start on January 12th. It starts right here, right now.
There are things we can do to prepare ourselves for revival. And it certainly doesn't end on January 15th. The goal is sustained revival. You can't plan Pentecost, but if you pray for 10 days, Pentecost is going to happen. Now, you don't get revival on your terms, your timeline, but there are things we can do. So remember these Legos? Can I give you three Legos, just three spiritual disciplines. The only ceiling on your intimacy with God and impact on the world is daily spiritual disciplines. That's it. Scripture, prayer, fasting. Just wanna go back to basics. Scripture. If you wanna change your life, you have to change your story. Scripture is script cure. We are part of a bigger story. We'll talk about it next week.
We are part of something that is so much bigger and better and longer and stronger than my little universe that I live in. No, no, no. Bereshit Elohim Bara. You get to the end of the book. Ah, let's start over. I'm making all things new and in between God is working his redemptive plans and purposes, and you and I are a part of that. We're a part of heaven on earth. Scripture. That singular discipline, it's gonna make all the difference in the world.
In his book, "Eat This Book", Eugene Peterson talks about a conversation with a rabbi. Rabbi makes a fascinating observation: for us Jews, studying the Bible is the more important than obeying it. Now I read that and I was about ready to like heresy. Then the rabbi said this, if you don't understand it rightly, you will obey it wrongly and your obedience will be disobedience. We better study to show ourselves approved rightly dividing the word of truth. Now, last time I checked, failing to plan is planning to fail. You gotta plan the work and work the plan.
Daily Bible reading plan. I would really recommend it, maybe even on January one, just a thought. It can be the entire Bible, but if this would be your first time, I might even recommend, Megan, recommend just kind of the New Testament or New Testament in Psalms and Proverbs if you wanna get bold, like just, but a daily dose, a daily diet, a daily discipline is so critical. Two, prayer. Prayer is the way we write history before it happens. Thursday, January 5, we relaunch House of Prayer. So excited. House of Prayer, 7:14 PM Thursday night. It's gonna set the tone, set the table for what God wants to do in us and through us as a church. Can I encourage you to be here? And then finally, fasting. I don't know if I met anybody that like, fasting is my jam. That's what I'm really good at. Pastor Lyle, there's like one person. One person. Yes. If I had one prayer for each of us individually and collectively it would be this.
Oh God, give us an insatiable hunger for your word, for your presence, for your promises, for your goodness for those who are lost. Give us a hunger for who you are, God. If you stay humble and stay hungry, nothing that God cannot do in you or through you. Hunger. Hunger. That would be my prayer. The challenge is, it's so hard. Like how do you produce hunger in someone else? I don't know. It's really, really hard. But you can produce spiritual hunger in a way that I'm pretty confident it will happen. When I fast, it produces physical hunger pangs and I can't explain it. But physical hunger pangs produce spiritual hunger pangs. God, I need more of you. God can't fill you if you're full of yourself. What does it say? Return to me, not by rending your garments, by rending your heart with fasting.
How hungry are we for what God has in store for us? I'm telling you, scripture, prayer, fasting. Would you consider 10 days of fasting? Would you fast with me? And listen, it could be food, it could be a vegetable fast. Although I was just like, if you're a vegan, like that's just not fair. But it could be media. It could be like, is there something that you could, with intentionality, it consumes a lot of your time and energy, like social media, something that just, it's a distraction. Would you be willing to just 10 days? Nope. Delete the app, whatever it is, and replace it with more time in God's word. More time in prayer. Just a more intentioned returning to the Lord. And if we do that, listen, some amazing things are gonna happen. You believe me when I said in closing. can I just, our worship band has so much faith. John Tyson said it last year. "God goes where he is wanted". Revival is God's response to our hunger. Let's walk one inch taller as we walk into 2023 in Jesus name. Amen.