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The Spirit of God in Daily LIfe: In Our Dreams and Visions

August 21, 2011
Sermon:  The Spirit of God in Daily Life:  In Our Dreams and Visions
Text:  Joel 2:28-29


I invite you to turn to two verses from the prophet Joel, Joel 2:28-29.  Hear now the reading of God’s Word:

“And afterward,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people. 
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
     your old men will dream dreams,
     your young men will see visions. 
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”

We are coming near the end of our series The Spirit of God in Daily Life.  When I first started thinking about this series, some of the sermon topics were self-evident.  I knew I needed to address those particular issues in my sermons.  I added this message on how God’s Spirits works in dreams and visions, and I had second thoughts about it all the way up until two weeks ago.  At that time, I woke up in the middle of the night, got up, and pretty much wrote the entire sermon.  I knew then that I needed to preach this topic.  It is one that we all need to hear.  It has been so much a part of my life and a part of the life of this church.

We have excellent biblical evidence that God speaks to His people through dreams and visions.  Abraham sees a vision, and God tells him, “Don’t be afraid.  I am going to be your shield.”  Jacob has a dream at Bethel.  After all of his shenanigans with Labon, Jacob comes to the River Jabbok where he experiences a dream, a vision, or a very real life experience – wrestling with God.  Joseph, known as “the dreamer” in the Old Testament, has the poor taste of telling his dreams to his brothers before breakfast.  He is also an interpreter of dreams.  He interprets the dreams of the cupbearer, the baker, and even those of Pharaoh.  Samuel was a man of vision.  In the middle of the night, God spoke to young Samuel in a very vivid experience, telling him he would have a special assignment, a special task.  Isaiah was a visionary.  He had a vision of God, of the glory of God, in the temple.  That vision became his call.  Jeremiah also received his call in a dream.  Ezekiel’s visions are so strange that some have interpreted them as experiences with extra-terrestrial beings.  Perhaps the vision that we best know from Ezekiel, the vision of the valley of dry bones, tells of the restoration of the people of Israel.  Daniel, too, was a dreamer.  He could interpret dreams very much like his predecessor Joseph.

Dreams and visions are not as prevalent in the New Testament.  In the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph is told in a dream that he is to take Mary as his wife even though she is already pregnant.  Joseph is warned, through a dream, to take his family and flee to Egypt, just ahead of Herod’s troops that commit infanticide in the little town of Bethlehem.  In that same Gospel, we read that Pilate was disturbed by the dreams of his wife.

We read in Acts, Chapter 2, that on the Day of Pentecost, Simon Peter quotes the passage from Joel that serves as our text today.  Simon Peter was himself a visionary.  At Joppa at the home of Simon the tanner, he has a vision in which a large sheet is lowered from heaven.  Everything on the sheet is edible, even by a kosher-observing Jew.  I have tried to imagine what was on the menu.  I can only imagine shrimp scampi.  Nothing is unclean.  After that experience this Jewish disciple of Jesus spends several days at the home of Cornelius, an Italian Roman soldier.  Cornelius’ household accepts Christ.  While in prison, angels miraculously release Simon Peter and restore him to the early church.

Paul has a startling and dramatic vision on the road to Damascus.  This vision not only changed his life forever; it also changed the world forever.  Paul has other visions, as well: a vision of a man from Macedonia calling him to come to the European continent, a vision onboard a ship that was about to be wrecked, and a vision of angels that gave him reassurance.  In II Corinthians, Paul writes about a very strange vision of heaven.  Because he does not go into detail, we are left to wonder.

If you read carefully the book of Revelations, you will see that entire book is a vision John had on the island of Patmos, a vision of the last days on earth and a view of heaven.

Does the Spirit of God still speak to His people in dreams and visions?  That question is very dangerous.  The Scriptures tell us that question is dangerous and frequently warn against those who have dreams and visions that are not of the Holy Spirit.  We are told repeatedly that people will prophesy and claim to have had dreams and visions.  We are to be on guard for these false prophets.

The topic of the Spirit of God in dreams and visions is like a two-edged sword.  We should pay attention to the very positive reasons why we should look at dreams and visions, but we should also be very cautious of the negative reasons.  For example, a man in Texas has spent a good bit of time representing himself in court, telling about all the horrible, horrible things God has told him to do.  Just because people say that God has told them to do something does not mean that their behavior is of God.

How can we know that the dreams and visions are of God?  The most important way is by realizing that God will never tell us to do something that is contrary to the Scripture.  He will never violate His own Word.  If you think that God has told you to do something, if you have had a vision or a dream that you believe is from God, the best way to know is by checking it against the Word of God as revealed in the Scripture.  Everything that God will tell you to do is consistent with what He has already said.  God does not give us a mixed message; He gives us a clear and certain message.

When I was in seminary, I read the book The Journal of John Woolman, a remarkable diary written by a Quaker.  Let me tell you some of the statements John Woolman made before the American Revolution.

First, he predicted that the institution of slavery would eventually cause great problems in the colonies.  He did not know about the United States of America at that time.  He said that one group of people enslaving another only leads to great conflict.  Because Woolman was literate, he was often asked to write a will for those who were illiterate.  He had such strong feelings against the institution of slavery that he would only write the will if the person agreed to one stipulation:  to release all of his or her slaves upon death.  If the person complied, he would write the will at no charge.

Second, John Woolman felt that the American colonists were treating the American Indians wrongly.  He predicted that eventually the two groups would go to war.

Third, Woolman saw Manhattan Island as a place of great promise.  He feared the area would encounter problems because the inhabitants were fouling the environment and polluting the waters.  He said that if people are going to live in close proximity to each other, they have to pay closer attention to the environment.

Woolman certainly was a devout Christian who saw things that others did not see.  He paid attention to the world around him.  He paid attention to what God had to say to him.

Does God still speak to us in dreams and visions?

I have read and re-read the wonderful book Altar in the World, by Barbara Brown Taylor.  I see in these writings a woman who has a real sense of vision.  She can see the presence of God in many of life’s experiences.  She sees altars, places of worship, all over the world.

Many of you know that I have been working on a book for the holiday season that will be available soon.  In the last section of that book, I talk about the experience of Epiphany on January 6.  I also use that occasion to write about some personal epiphany experiences that I have had through the years.  I have shared those with you, some from this pulpit on several occasions.  I came to know the Lord Jesus as my Savior at Croft Baptist Church.  Soon afterwards, I had an unsettling experience that brought everything into question with me, but I later resolved that issue.  I have told you about a time at Ridgecrest when I went to a Baptist Student Union conference.  My experience with the Lord Jesus that one time was so real, so vivid, that to this day I cherish it.  At times I have wished that opportunity would happen again, but it has not.  In many ways, once is enough.  I can wait now until I get to heaven to see Jesus face-to-face.

My call to the ministry, I believe, came from a dying man in a tuberculosis hospital in Kentucky.  He simply asked me a question:  “Sir, what is your mission?”  In that inquiry, I began to hear the voice of Jesus saying, “Kirk, why are you waiting?  Look where I have put you – in the middle of a hospital full of dying people.  You keep thinking about what you will do when you finally get to wherever you think you need to be.  Look where you are now.  Pay attention to the people around you.”  It was a personal epiphany experience.

In many ways, my decision to come to Morningside was an equally important experience.  I truly felt the call of God to come to this place.  Once I was here, I began to see that God had plans that went far beyond anything I had imagined.

The second Sunday I was here, Tom Grier, who then was one of the owners of the Reidman Building, came to me and said, “Kirk, your congregation is using our parking lot on Sundays.  That is fine.  We are glad for the people to park in our lot.  I want to talk with you about selling the building to Morningside.”  I began to see that God had a plan that was way beyond anything I had envisioned.  I began to see clearly that God wanted to do something that was far bigger than anything I could attempt, far bigger than anything we could attempt.  I tried my best to lead you through that experience, but God is the one that gave us not only the vision but also the courage to move forward.

When I look back on the fifteen years that I have served as Pastor here and see what God has done at Morningside Baptist Church, I am astounded.  My work in this place has been far beyond work.  It has been a great blessing in my life.  Morningside has had a large role in supporting the Spartanburg Community Church, the New Beginning Church in Clover, South Carolina, the Holly Springs Church in Carey, North Carolina, and a church in Crofton, Maryland.  We certainly financially helped a church in Southbend, Indiana, the Red Oak Baptist Church – an African American church – in Greenville, Hopewell Baptist Church in Anderson, New Day Baptist Church here in Spartanburg, Journey Fellowship, and the Hub City Church.

How have we done that?  God enabled this church to assist other churches and ministries because of the decision to tithe our building fund.  I want to share with you what has happened because of that vote.  We have helped build two seminary chapels, one in Warsaw, Poland, and the other in Beirut, Lebanon.  We have built at least four churches in Brazil and four in a country in Southeast Asia.  We have helped build one in each of the following countries and states:  Venezuela; Tambov, Russia; Namibia, Poland, Lebanon, Siberia, Nova Scotia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, and Alaska.  Morningside supports the Bradys, the McCormicks, and the Croslands.

Morningside, designated a global missions church, has the vision that if we, as a church, tithe, God will use that resource to spread His work far beyond 897 S. Pine Street.  This church is not the center of the Kingdom of God.  Morningside is only one small part of the Kingdom.  We are supposed to do our part with a vision of obedience to God.

During these past fifteen years, we have had twelve or more interns.  I actually lose count.  Many of those young people have gone on to seminary and into full-time ministry.  Some have decided to follow a different path.  A great value of the internship is that it gives a person enough clarity to know whether they have been called to go into ministry.

I am sixty-seven years old, and you have posed questions about my retirement.  Just listen, please.  I say that I am not ready to retire because I still feel as though I have a lot of energy.  I feel that I still have many tasks to accomplish.  The issue for me is not whether I have as much energy as I had fifteen years ago.  The issue is whether I can still be effective.  The feedback I get from most of you is that I can be.  Please do not let me pull a Brett Favre.  Please do not let me stay too long.  If it is time for me to go, tell me.  It will not take many people telling me that before I will leave.  I do not want to stay too long.  I know that is a danger.  Sometimes the person who is at that point is the last one to know.

We still have missions ahead of us.  I want to delineate some of those opportunities for the future that I have committed to prayer.

First, we have the huge task of the Extreme Makeover immediately ahead of us.  Ladies and gentlemen, we need to proceed and accomplish this task, doing the very best job possible.  The vision that God has given to His church needs to govern us, not fear.  I have every confidence that this makeover is not only something that we need to do but also something that we can do.

Second, we need to keep our focus on missions.  One of the great benefits of having no debt during this recession has been that we have been able to continue our mission support.  We have been able to continue to reach people for Christ.  This week alone, key figures in three non-profit organizations have come to talk with me because Morningside is one of only a few churches that have continued to support them through these very hard times.  We are trying to do our best to be faithful to the vision God has given us, to help as many people as possible in the name of Christ.

Third, we are definitely involved in the larger faith community.  The third Interfaith Connection weekend is scheduled for November 11-13.  Dr. Michael Cook, a professor of New Testament at the seminary that trains rabbis, will lead a session here on Saturday November 12 at 11:00 A.M.

Now, I am going to step on some toes.  We love those Sunday morning breakfasts and those Wednesday night suppers.  We now have a full slate of people willing to help with those two times of fellowship.  We do not, however, have a teacher for our second grade class.  We do not have a teacher for our third grade class.  We love breakfast and supper.  How about the kids?  Do we love them?  Is anyone willing to teach the second grade children?  Is anyone willing to teach the third grade children?  Someone here, someone within the sound of my voice, could teach those children and teach them well.  Please consider this opportunity to teach our children.  This responsibility requires one hour a week, but it is one of the most important jobs in the entire church.  Surely, God wants us to have Bible study for these young children.  Who will teach them?  Please let us know.

Sixty-one people were nominated for deacon.  At this point, not very many have accepted.  I am not sure why that is the case.  I have told the chair of the deacons that we are not going to worry about the number.  We are going to let God call the people He wants to do the job.  We will expect them to do the job if elected.

Every person in this church needs to be in service somewhere.  You might respond, “Well, pastor, I cannot do that.  My health will not allow me.”  Use that time to pray.  Church is not a spectator sport.  Get on board.  Everybody must be a participant.  God wants all of His people to be a servant of the Lord Jesus.

Let me call to your attention a part of Scripture at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Matthew 28:19:  “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations.”  I will just end my reading there.  When was the last time you made a disciple?  When was the last time you asked someone, “Let me tell you about Jesus” or “Let me tell you what Jesus has done in my life”?  When was the last time you invited someone to come to Sunday School, to sit by you in class, to hear the Bible taught?

Our emphasis for the coming year is outreach, reaching out to others.  I do not mean just inviting people to breakfast.  I mean getting them to stay with you for Sunday School.  Find out if they are Christians.  Bring people into relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is a simple matter of introduction.  If you do not know how to introduce others to Jesus, many people here can teach you how to reach out to others.  Every single one of us needs to do that.  Often a church can become complacent when things are going well and people are happy.  We think that we do not need to make any effort, that we do not need to include more people.  It is not a matter of whether we need people; it is a matter of what God has asked us to do.  Matthew 28:19 clearly tells us what our Lord wants us to do.  We must do it.

A pastor drove downtown and noticed the business owned by one of his deacons.  Streamers and balloons decorated the outside of the building.  Cotton candy and popcorn were available to the customers.  Many people were entering and exiting the store.

The pastor stopped, found the owner, and said, “Boy!  You have a booming business here!”

The deacon answered, “Pastor, that is not the case.  I am having a going-out-of-business sale.”

Generating a lot of activity is not important.  The good Lord knows that we generate a lot of activity.  We fill up a newsletter every week with activities.  Generating activity might mean that we are going out of business if we are not doing what is most important – sharing the love of Jesus Christ with each other, with our families, with this community, and with the world.  If we do not do that, we are not being the church God has called us to be.

We sang earlier in the service today the beautiful hymn “Be Thou My Vision.”  Get a hymnal and read the words to this hymn sometime.  If my count is correct, that 13th century Irish hymn provides God with seventeen different names.  Those words can be used as a prayer.  I also use the words of another hymn as a prayer: “Open my eyes that I may see Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me…Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit Divine!”  God’s Holy Spirit speaks to us through dreams and visions if we pay attention.

I ask you.  Do you know Christ Jesus as your Savior?  If not, could I invite you to accept him as the Lord and Savior of your life?

Kirk H. Neely
© August 2011

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