"All the land you see I shall give to you forever." (Genesis 13: 15)
God will give Abraham not an acre for his house but a land for his nation. (Genesis 15: 5)
People sometimes say, "You can't do something that big!" They are correct, of course, to a point – but if it's not my dream but instead the dream that God put in me, then I don't have to do it alone. I am simply God's servant in making God's dream come true.
Back in the early 90s I spent a weekend in Pawling, New York. That was the first time I ever met Arthur Caliandro or Florence Pert. I shared this experience from the pulpit here several years ago, so readers may remember. But it’s a memory that has stuck with me and, I think, for good reason.
There was a man at the event in Pawling that weekend who was the pastor of a church in Missouri. Some years before, his church building had burned to the ground. He told me of how it felt to stand there, surrounded by so many of the good and decent people in that congregation, all in tears as they watched their spiritual home consumed in flames until nothing was left. All the memories that place held (all the weddings, all the funerals, all the baptisms, all the confirmations, all the special Sundays when they felt the movement of God's Spirit in a way that changed their lives) were reduced to dust and ashes.
The minister told me that sometime later on he met Norman Vincent Peale and poured out his story to him. He became very emotional in telling Dr. Peale about the trauma of that loss and how those lovely church folks were meeting in an elementary school, and how neither he nor they knew what to do. "We had the most beautiful sanctuary," he said. "It seated over three hundred people and had lovely stained-glass windows, and it was full every Sunday. Now it is all gone." Then he looked at Dr. Peale, and with emotion in his voice he asked: "What do we do?" He said Peale answered without a note of sympathy but instead with the sound of enthusiasm. He spoke just two words: "Build bigger!" Then, he walked away. The man told me: "I had never been so angry at anyone in my life. I felt hurt. I felt dismissed. I felt like he had not taken me or my church seriously. And I decided that moment that I would never have anything to do with him again. However," the man said, "I went back home and shared that experience with some of my church leaders. They said, `Maybe that's what we should do. In truth, as much as we loved our sanctuary, it had become too small. It was inhibiting growth. It was always full, so there was no point in inviting anyone new to come visit.’ So," he told me, "we built bigger. We built a new church with a sanctuary that was more than twice the size of the former one. And with all that additional space, we began a new invitational ministry. We started doing PR work in the community. Now, we fill our new sanctuary to capacity every Sunday morning and have actually begun a second worship service to accommodate those who couldn’t get in for the first one. So," he said, "that's why I have returned to Pawling for another of these weekends. Dr. Peale gave our church its dream by saying `Build bigger.’ I'm here to ask him what the next dream might be."
St. Paul wrote: "God does abundantly beyond anything we could ever ask for or imagine." The two verses at the beginning of this blog are testimony to that. The lesson says that God gave Abraham a dream so big it stretched out “forever.” In fact, God didn’t just give him a personal dream, but one that extended far past his own individual life. “God will give Abraham not an acre for his house but a land for his nation.”
There’s a familiar adage that says: "Aim for the stars, and should you fall short you will still reach the moon." In other words, our goals should stretch us beyond where we are. If our dreams are easily attainable, then they aren't really dreams at all. And, even though others may say, “You can’t do that!,” if our dreams are the same as God’s dreams for us, then we don’t have to accomplish them alone. "God does abundantly beyond anything we could ever ask for or imagine."