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Nothing happens until first a dream.
Every bridge that has every been engineered; every painting ever painted; every great church ever built, existed first in the mind and heart and imagination of a single individual before it ever existed in reality. Nothing happens until first a dream.
Nehemiah's completed wall existed in his mind before a stone was lifted. The great churches in Ephesus and Thessalonica and Galatia existed in Paul's imagination before they existed in reality. Paul dreamed and churches came to be. Nothing happens until first a dream.
How did this book come to exist in your hands? It is because of a dream, isn't it? You saw the title of the book and it sparked something within you that said, 'Yes, that is something I want. I could dream of a church that is consistently doubling every five years or less. I could dream of a church where God is worshiped, where lives are transformed, where people love each other, where people come to bless the Lord.' If that is why you bought this book, keep reading. This book is about that dream. We must dream first because nothing happens until first a dream.
I have a dream. I have a dream of churches becoming authentic, Acts 2 churches. I have a dream of the people of God being and believing and behaving and becoming like the people they are. I have a dream of churches loving like people have never loved, worshiping like people have never worshiped, helping like people really need to be helped, telling the good news because they are excited and happy to tell good news. In short, I dream of the church being the church. I believe churches like that will become magnets--Velcro churches I like to call them--and will easily double every five years or less. I believe the human soul hungers for what only the church can provide. And dream I must because nothing happens until first a dream.
On one occasion, Jesus found himself being chased by two blind men. They followed him indoors. The first thing Jesus said to them was, 'Do you believe I am able to do this?' (Matthew 9:28) Strange way to start a conversation. There seemed to be an understanding that everyone knew what he was talking about when he said, 'Do you believe I am able to do this?' Jesus went on to explain that this was not a rhetorical question. He really wanted to know. Everything depended on whether they believed--really believed--that Jesus could touch their eyes and they would look out the window and see their first-ever sunset. 'According to your faith it will be done for you,' Jesus said flatly. 'You make the call,' Jesus was saying. If you want to be healed, you can be. But you must believe it to see it. It will be done for you according to your faith.
I believe the eyes of the Lord are moving back and forth across the whole earth (2 Chronicles 16:9) to find a people of faith, because nothing happens until someone believes. I believe God would still say to his people, as he said to those two blind men, 'It will be done for you according to your faith.' You will see it when you believe it.
Dreams are about faith. They are about seeing what is invisible until it becomes visible. Dreams and faith are the conduit of all God's activity of earth. God is not limited to our faith, but he often chooses to limit his power to match the faith of people. Jesus did not do many miracles in his hometown, 'Because of their lack of faith.' (Matthew 13:58) Notice it does not say he could not do many miracles, just that he did not. He can do anything. God often chooses to trace along the lines of our faith.
Last year, my in-laws gave me a beautiful new car. Not brand new, mind you--it was actually a hand me down. But it was a far better automobile than the car I was driving which was a beat-up economy car with 275,000 miles on it. I paid $600 for the beauty. It was probably overpriced. This new car had all the creature comforts of a fine luxury car: electronically adjustable seats, cruse control, power windows and lights. Everything worked beautifully. Everything except one thing: the gasoline gauge. This was not a problem. My mother-in-law explained that she simply reset the trip meter every time she filled up and then refilled every two hundred miles or so. I check the gas milage this car was getting--nearly 30 miles to the gallon--and concluded that this was way too conservative. I wasn't sure the size of the gas tank, but if it were a normal tank of 20 gallons, I should be able to go about 500 - 600 miles on a tank of gas.
The actually number was 406.
I found out one day as I was driving to El Paso--about an hour from my home--to preach on a Sunday morning. At precisely 406 miles it sputtered and came to a halt. I was glad I had purchased a cellular phone.
During this time, I was preparing a sermon serious on "Becoming a Person of Faith and Confidence." One of the sermon titles that I had written weeks before was, "How to Get Regular Fill-Ups of Faith and Confidence."
As I sat waiting for my wife pick me up so I could fill up my gas tank, I thought about the parallels between my situation and the need to get regular fill-ups of faith and confidence:
Regular fill-ups of faith and confidence are necessary. Whatever else you have going for you, if you do not have regular fill-ups of faith and confidence, you are dead. Attitude is everything. Confidence is everything. Faith is everything.
The car that I was driving when I ran out of gas was a new car for me. It had more creature comforts than any car I had ever driven. It had power windows and power seats and power locks. There was even a his and hers settings for the seat so you could program it to remember the settings for each person. All you had to do was press one button and 'presto' it went back and forth. It had climate control so you just set the temperature and leave it alone. It had a night sentry so you could leave your headlights on long enough to get into the house, then it would turn off the lights for you. It had everything. Everything but a gas gage that works. On this Sunday morning, everything but gas. But without fuel, all those fancy creatures comforts meant nothing.
You may have a lot going for you. You may be educated and articulate. You may be sharp. You may be smart. You may have a winning personality and a Colgate smile. God can use all these things. But without faith, you and I are nothing. Anything that does not come from faith is sin. (Romans 14:23)
You may not have a lot going for you. No matter. Where man looks on the outside, God looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7) When God finds a heart that he likes, he pours all the resources of heaven in that direction to strengthen it. "For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him." (2 Chronicles 16:9) A big part of what God is looking for is a person of faith.
We are never told that God is looking for sharp people. We are never told God is looking for articulate people. He used Moses in spite of the fact that he was not articulate. It is never hinted that a colgate smile is necessary for effectiveness. But faith is non-optional. Faith is as important to ministry as gasoline is to a car.
Regular fill ups of faith and confidence must be regular. There is nothing you can do today to guarantee confidence tomorrow. All you can do is stand in faith today. All we have is today. On a very regular basis we must be refilled with faith and confidence. We must seize the day.
Some recreational vehicles are equipped with gas tanks that enable them to travel thousands of miles. Most cars, however, must fill up very regularly. Everything else on the car can be in tip top shape, and it still needs to be filled up every 300 - 400 miles (in my case, every 406 miles!). Buying new tires, changing the oil, or installing new spark plugs will not change the reality that regular fill-ups are necessary.
We are all a little like that car. Regular fill ups of faith and confidence are necessary, and they must be regular.
This world has a way of draining the life out of us. Jesus told us it would be that way, "In the world you will have trouble." Boy, is that ever true. And without very regular fill ups of faith and confidence the pain of life has a way of draining all the energy from us. We forget that He has overcome the world. (John 16:33) We need regular fill ups of faith and confidence to get us past the bumps in the road of life.
What are you doing to keep your faith tank full? How does the gauge read right now? Set this book down for 90 seconds and ponder that.
The best time to get a fill-up is before you need it. I always try to get all I can out of everything. I confess I have waited till a tire actually just went flat before I bought new ones. I squeeze the toothpaste hard before I throw it away and I always dig the last deodorant out of the stick with my finger before I discard it. (This is a habit my wife finds disgusting but I figure I have saved several sticks of deodorant over the years using this technic.)
I confess I have the same tendency spiritually. I am tempted to not pull in for a pit stop and spiritual fill up until I have run the last lap possible on my available energy. I thought about this as I was waiting for Sharon to drive all the way down to deliver a gallon of gas so I could get to the gas station. I thought about it as I called to say I would be late, start the service without me and I would be there in time for the sermon. I thought, "How much better to get refueled before you really need to get refueled."
There has been many-a-time when I have found myself spiritually stranded for no better reason than I have failed to get regular fill-ups of faith and confidence. I felt good so I just keep right on going. Why do anything to fill up? I feel fine. A car will run exactly the same on empty as it will at one quarter full or three quarters full. But, when you run out of gas, the performance of the car drops dramatically.
I have spent a lot of time pondering how to get myself feeling good, confident and full of faith when I felt depressed and down. The best answer to that question is to stay filled up.
It is far easier to keep the car on the road than it is to pull it out of the ditch.
It is far easier to keep the plane in the air than to put the pieces back together after it crashes and burns.
It is far easier to keep a heart healthy than rebuild after a heart attack.
The best time to get fill-ups of faith and confidence is before you need them. Staying full of faith and confidence is really very easy. Just don't ever run out of faith and confidence. As long as you stay full of faith and confidence, it is easy enough to stay full. I have spent far too much time trying to figure out how to regain faith and confidence when I have none. There is no easy way. It can be cone, but not easily. Far easier to stay confident than to find confidence when you have none.
Fill up regularly, daily, several times a day. Pray without ceasing. Be like the Psalmist who worshiped God seven times a day. (Psalm 119:164) Put up encouraging posters on you wall--Bible verses like the ones below. Change your screen saver to Romans 8:28. Memorize faith building verses as you drive. Do whatever it takes to stay full of faith and confidence. Far easier to stay confident than to get confident.
One of the best ways to stay full of faith and confidence is to meditate on faith building verses. Here are my top ten faith building verses:
Mark 16:7 "But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'"
It has always been instructive to me that at a time Peter probably felt like the world's second worse failure Jesus singled him out to give him some encouraging news. Perhaps the only thing Peter could think about was, "At least I am not as bad as Judas." Jesus singles out people who have failed to give them good news.
Luke 3:22 "And the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: 'You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.'"
Even Jesus need a lift from time to time. How many times have I prayed, "Lord, would you bring something into my life just to remind me that you love me, or even remember me." It makes me feel better that Jesus needed this too.
Genesis 50:20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
It is interesting that at the time Joseph was being hauled off to slavery he didn't have this perspective. His brothers admitted later he went kicking and screaming. (Genesis 42:21) We all tend to have the perspective that Joseph eventually obtained to see life from the vantage point of eternity. Not so; it took Joseph a lifetime to develop that perspective.
Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
All things are not good. All things are not God's perfect will. God does not always get his way. He doesn't always get his way in my life, and he doesn't always get his way in the lives of everyone around me. Sometimes people sin against you and me in ways that are not God's perfect will. I'll bet if you are honest, you will admit God doesn't always get his way in your life. We used to sing that hymn, "Let him have his way with thee." I never completely do. But he always finagles things to work out for His good. No matter how the devil or the world or our own disobedience may trump God's hand, he always has an ace up his sleeve. He always plays the last card. He always works it out for good.
Philippians 1:6 Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
I don't have to carry the whole wait of the dream on my shoulders. God will work it out. While I am working on the dream, God is working on me. He who began a good work in my will bring the work to completion. I don't have to do everything. I just have to do my part. If I don't do my part, there is grace.
Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
Contrary to how I sometimes feel, God is on my side. He is in my corner working things out.
Philippians 4:13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
What a confidence building verse! Get up and look yourself in the mirror every morning and say this verse with a Tony the Tiger (Grrrrreat!) accent. Say it ten times. I can do all things through Christ. I can do all things through Christ. I can do all things through Christ.I can do all things through Christ. Do if for 30 days and see if it doesn't change your life.
Revelation 4:2 At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.
When it sometimes feels this world is careening recklessly out of control, it is nice to know there is someone in the throne room of the universe and he is sitting down. He is not wringing his hands. He is not pacing the floor. The throne is occupied. Praise God. All is well. All is as it should be. There is a throne in heaven and someone is sitting on it.
Goal setting is the practical outgrowth of faith. People of faith dream of a great future and set goals that help to define that future. Goals need to be both soft ("To grow the church to be more spiritually minded disciples.") and hard, ("To double every five years or less.")
One of the most practical things any pastor can do to help his church to grow is to lead the church to vote to grow. The church needs to feel ownership of the idea that it is the church's goal to grow. It is not the pastor's goal. It is not a few zealot's goal. It is the church's goal. This, combined with a bench marking system discussed later will singlehandedly cause your church to grow. Setting a direction tends to move you in the direction of the goal.
How is your faith and confidence? Are you dreaming great things for God? Late in his life Dawson Trotman, the founder of the Navigators, posed this pointed question: What is the need of the hour? More money? Better literature? Better buildings? No. It is none of these. The need of the hour is for an army of men and women who believe that God is God and that he will fulfill every promise he ever made. That is still the need of the hour.
Doubling a church every five years or less begins with faith. It all begins with a dream. Nothing happens until first a dream.
1. At what point in your life was your faith tank the most full?
2. Tell us about a time in the last year when you faith tank neared the bottom?
3. Why is it important to keep your faith tank full?
4. What is the relationship between confidence and faith? Are they synonymous?
5. What is the relationship between faith and vision?
6. What is the relationship between faith and goal setting?
7. What was your favorite lesson from Josh's experience of running out of gas and how it relates to faith?
8. What are some things that keep you faith tank full?
9. What are some ways that drain your faith tank really fast? How can you avoid these things?
10. What are some of your favorite faith building verses?
11. What are some creative ways to get these verse deeply into your mind?
12. What are some creative things you do to replenish your supply of faith? Music? Good books? Writing poetry?
13. Is faith built gradually, brick by brick, or all at once in spurts? Tell about a time when your faith went through a growth spurt.
14. How can we serve to help each other keep our faith tanks full? Practically and specifically, what can we do to "spur one another on to love and good works."
15. What do you dream of God doing in your personal or family life in the next 5 years?
16. What do you dream of God doing in your church in the next five years?
17. Do you believe God could use you to double your church every five years or less?
18. How would you describe the level of faith of your congregation?
19. What are some things you could do to increase the level of faith in your church in the next 12 months. Be specific.
20. Is anyone going through a particularly difficult, faith testing time right now? How can we pray for you?