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1 Samuel 3:1-11
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. 2At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 5and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. 6The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
11Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.
We are starting a new series for the next six weeks. And credit where credit is due – I asked Carol if she had any ideas and this was her excellent idea. So for the next six weeks we will be dreaming with God. What are God’s dreams for this church? What are God’s dreams for your life? What are God’s dreams for this city? And how can we intentionally dream with God?
Today we’re going to talk about committing to God’s dreams. And that’s two different parts. Committing. To God’s dreams. I’ll say that again – committing…to God’s dreams.
Our main text today is from the Old Testament book of Nehemiah. In a curious case of timing, we’ve been using the Life Journal devotional reading plan for Sunday school and my men’s Monday evening Bible study. And anyone using that reading plan just finished going through the book of Nehemiah. And no, I didn’t look that up before picking these texts.
Nehemiah is all about rebuilding – figuratively and literally. This takes place 70 years after Jerusalem and the Temple of God were destroyed by the Babylonians. By this time, the Persians have taken over, and they are more keen on returning the conquered peoples rather than keeping them all in Babylon. So Nehemiah is granted permission and resources to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city wall so people can live there in safety once again.
The first half of Nehemiah is all about the challenges they overcame while rebuilding the wall. And then it turns from “can they build it” to “can they keep it.” And then, in the parts we’ll read today, the text asks, “what’s the next dream after the wall?” What kind of people will they be now that they’re safe? After hearing some of the most important scrolls that would later become what we know as the Old Testament, Nehemiah and the people starting writing down and committing to the things they heard in the scrolls.
Nehemiah 9:38, 10:28-29, 32, 35-36
9:38Because of all this we make a firm agreement in writing, and on that sealed document are inscribed the names of our officials, our Levites, and our priests.
10:28The rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the temple servants, and all who have separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to adhere to the law of God, their wives, their sons, their daughters, all who have knowledge and understanding, 29join with their kin, their nobles, and enter into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord and his ordinances and his statutes.
10:32We also lay on ourselves the obligation to charge ourselves yearly one-third of a shekel for the service of the house of our God
10:35We obligate ourselves to bring the first fruits of our soil and the first fruits of all fruit of every tree, year by year, to the house of the Lord; 36also to bring to the house of our God, to the priests who minister in the house of our God, the firstborn of our sons and of our livestock, as it is written in the law, and the firstlings of our herds and of our flocks
Ask anyone, “How’s your church doing?” and they’re going to respond with an evaluation of three things. Ask almost any person about almost any church, and these same three things will dominate their evaluation of how the church is doing. Let’s see if you can guess the three things, and here’s a hint: they are the ABC’s. Any guesses on the ABC’s of how your church is doing?
Attendance. Building. Cash. ABC’s – attendance, building, and cash.
Now, I’m not disparaging those three things. Attendance is good! Every person who is attending church is choosing that over a thousand other things they could be doing. Attendance is good!
And the building is good! This building, and this sanctuary in particular, is a witness to God when people from our community come in for the Quilt Show or something else. And this building is used as a gathering place for our community – Boy Scouts, painting groups, AA, and others. When the Arapahoe County family services needed a temporary home while their building was being renovated, we were able to host them. The building is good!
And cash is good, too! Cash pays for the staff who enable our many choirs, pastoral care, leadership, stewardship of the building, discipleship for all ages, technological outreach to the community, and so many other things. Cash is needed to run the Community Dinner, or tutor with Whiz Kids, or the Samaritan’s Purse boxes we’ll be sending around the world in a few weeks. Cash helps ministry happen. A church having cash is good!
But if we’re going to dream…with God…we need to focus – not just on good things like the ABC’s, but on God things. To dream with God, we need to focus on God things, not just good things. And God things are often very different than just the plain old ABC’s.
What do you think? What’s a God thing, not just a good thing, for First Pres Littleton? What is God dreaming for us right now? What is God dreaming for your personal life right now?
Vivid, Not Generic
In my household, I am the official designated online researcher. I am skilled at ferreting out the issues with products, so we can then determine if we care about those issues. For instance, we got a good deal on a grill several years ago because reviewers said it was very difficult to assemble. I can handle that! No big deal! Of course, it was over 100 pages of instructions, assumed you had 2-3 people helping, and the wiring diagram was clearly wrong. So yes, it was very difficult to assemble. I wouldn’t want to do it again, but it’s done now and it’s trucking along just fine.
One of the big questions when researching products online is whether you can go generic or if you need the brand name. For example, charging cables. If you just need to get some juice into your phone, you can probably get by with the generics. But if you have a laptop that can be powered with a special type of USB cable, you might want to spring for the brand name and avoid the potential for a fire. Trust me on this. You’ll thank me later.
When Nehemiah proposed his plan to the Persian king, he didn’t give a generic answer. He didn’t say he wanted his people to be safe. He didn’t say he wanted his people to be happy. No, he said he wanted to go to Jerusalem and rebuild its walls. Very specific. Very vivid. Not generic at all. That’s a vision.
Do you want a generic vision? Or a vivid one?
We have two baptisms next week – very exciting! Anyone here ever have kids? Anyone? When they were young, did you think to yourself, “I hope my son or my daughter grows up to be a blandly generic person”? Did you want your kids to grow up to be bland and generic? Probably not.
Do you want this phase of your life to be blandly generic? Or do you want a vivid dream – a God dream?
Almost every church in history has had three things in its mission: love God, love people, serve others. The words might differ, but those three themes are pretty much the same for every church everywhere. So if we’re all trying to love God, love people, and serve others, why do we need First Pres Littleton, Littleton United Methodist, Ascension Lutheran, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Littleton Baptist Church, and who knows how many others just in our area?
If our church is generic, does Jesus really need this church in this building in this moment?
Will Mancini wrote in his book God Dreams, “The church of God doesn’t have a mission as much as the mission of God has a church.” The mission of God doesn’t change. But it gets lived out in a particular time in particular people in a particular place.
That kind of specific, vivid, Nehemiah rebuilding the walls-style dream? That’s what we need moving forward.
But unlike Nehemiah’s time, I don’t think our dream is about a major, visible project like a wall. I think our God dream needs to be about people. God dreams about people, not bricks and stained glass and cash. The bricks and the stained glass and the cash can help realize God’s dreams about people, but they are rarely the dream itself.
There are some things that I believe are God things, not just good things. Let me know if you think these are God dreams for this place with this people at this time.
My God dream is that you would be inspired to have God dreams. My God dream is that you would be inspired to invest in your faith, in your soul, in your very being. My God dream is that you would be inspired to make this church and this city look a little more like heaven – and that starts with each of us personally.
My God dream is that we – all of us – would see each other as sisters and brothers in Christ even if we can’t stand where someone else gets their news. My God dream is to see relationships grow and flourish across every age and stage in our church.
After church today, I’m going to share some of the big ideas in the budget request. These God things can only happen with some of those ABC’s, so the scale of our ministry is determined by your inspiration and your generosity. To help foster relationships across our whole church, we have some God dreams in the budget for 2022.
We dream of 4-5 all church catered meals in 2022. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but I do believe it needs to be catered so everyone can enjoy it instead of having the same 20 people volunteering to make it happen. And if we get to do that in 2022, I encourage everyone to sit with some people who have at least twenty years of age difference from you. Several of our Sunday school kids would be happy to catch you up on the latest news in Lego land. What can you catch them up on? Start thinking!
We dream of the interim properties manager position becoming permanent. We’ve had a cadre of able volunteers, but that cadre has shrunk too low to keep up with the building. We also spend a lot of our Elders’ energy every Sunday opening and closing the building. What could we accomplish if we had a properties manager handling that, freeing up time and energy for our church leadership? And part of that dream is finishing several projects we’ve had on our back burner for years – creating and then following a full preventative maintenance plan, restarting the renovation team and prioritizing dreams around the building, creating a process where people in the church or even outside groups can easily pass along any issues they see while they’re here, being able to handle a wider variety of room setups. That dream unleashes energy for our leadership and helps us leverage one of those ABC’s for ministry without burning out our volunteers who have been going above and beyond for so long.
I personally dream about this church having a discipleship plan. I’ve been in churches where the plan was small groups. I’ve been in churches where the plan was one day a week where everyone gathered for a meal and Bible studies. I’ve been in churches where Sunday morning had vibrant and extensive options for everyone to invest in their faith. I’ve spent time with church leaders who invested their time and energy in connecting everyone in the church with a devotional and making groups that helped that happen. There are a lot of different plans out there. I created one called Organic Discipleship on my sabbatical that has the basics for everyone and then connects people with a more personalized framework for spiritual direction after that. We have various groups and options, but no plan. Our options are driven by who’s interested in creating or maintaining something, not a plan. I dream about a plan for making deeper and broader and thriving followers of Jesus. We need something more vivid and specific instead of generic.
If you stick around after church today, I’ll share more of those big ideas that are in our 2022 budget request, and I’ll field questions as well. Those are some of the God dreams that have surfaced from our church leadership, from our church committees, and from our staff.
Those are some of the God dreams from church leadership, from staff, from me. What God dreams do you have?
The Power of the Pen
In the movie The Replacements, Gene Hackman is going to be hired to coach this football team full of has-been’s and never-was replacement players during a strike by the normal pro players. As he negotiates with the team owner, he says, “I get to do it my way.” The owner replies, “Yes.” “No interference!” “Of course!” Gene Hackman laughs and says, “I’m gonna need that in writing.”
Writing something down makes it a commitment. It’s more real.
Writing things down can also help us see how something is possible. For example, I’m going to give you some verbal directions. And I want you to remember them. OK? Now, I’ve simplified these to make it easier to remember.
So first, you’re going to get on 470 and head toward I-25. Follow I-25 South and US-87S for 379 miles until you reach Ranch to Market Rd 1061 in Boys Ranch. Follow signs to get on I-27 South in Randall County from FM2381 and W Hollywood Rd. Stay on I-27 for 51 miles. Then get on US-84E in Slaton via FM 400 South, and keep going for 56 miles. Now you need to follow signs to Austin for 369 miles until you can take US-183 all the way down to FM 1626 in Hays County. Now you’re only 3.2 miles from my parents’ house. Ready to drive? Or would you like a map and some written directions? Or better yet, a GPS. Or an airplane!
We have to write down directions unless we only want to go where we’ve been many times before. God’s dreams are far more difficult to conceive than mere directions. How much more do we need to write down these dreams and try to create a visual map together? If we can’t drive somewhere new without directions, how can we hope to go in new directions as people, as a church, as a community without writing it down?
I hope you will dream with me for the next six weeks of this sermon series. And I hope you will write down your dreams. You probably saw something new out in Chandler Hall on your way into the Sanctuary today. That’s our Dream Board. The idea is for the congregation to write down your God dreams and post them to that board. Over the next six weeks, I hope we fill it up with vivid, specific God dreams. These dreams can be about what God could do within you. These dreams can be about what God could do in our church. These dreams can be about what God could do in our community. If you have a God dream, write it down. Help us see the map to your God dream!
Here’s what the Israelites did after building the wall in Nehemiah. In our text today, they put pen to paper.
“we make a firm agreement in writing, and on that sealed document are inscribed the names of our officials, our Levites, and our priests…their wives, their sons, their daughters, all who have knowledge and understanding, join with their kin, their nobles, and enter into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s law…We also lay on ourselves the obligation to charge ourselves yearly one-third of a shekel for the service of the house of our God…We obligate ourselves to bring the first fruits of our soil and the first fruits of all fruit of every tree, year by year, to the house of the Lord.”
They had rebuilt the wall. Great job! But now they wanted to become a different kind of people. They wanted to become the people of God once more. So they made a firm agreement in writing. They placed a curse on themselves if they broke their agreement. They obligated themselves to fund this mission. And they put all of it in writing – a commitment to God’s dreams.
Do we want to renew our spirits and become the people of God once more? Let’s dream those God dreams together, and write them down. I wonder what God could do in our midst. Do you wonder? Do you dream? Amen.