Sunday, August 20, 2006

Let's Talk about God-sized Projects

Text: Gen 6:11-14, 18-20; Exo 3:10-14; Matt 1:21-23; Luke 4:18-21

Throughout history, God has commissioned certain people with God-sized projects, projects that can only be accomplished with His help. Noah has been tasked to save all living creatures from the flood, Moses in emancipating God’s people from slavery in Egypt and Jesus from saving the spiritually and physically lost.

About 20 years ago, I was a member of the Rotary Club of Johor Bahru. Every year, the club will organise an Installation night dinner. That is to for the outgoing office bearers to step down and to install the incoming board. In Rotary, the term of office is one year. The Sultan of Johor is the patron so he was invited and he always came for all the Installation dinners. I remember one dinner in particular. The Club was reporting on what they have done that year which is in building a bus shelter for Fong You (Two) school. Suddenly during the report, Tuanku indicated he wanted to stay something. This was unprecedented because he usually attends but do not make a speech. Tuanku said, “You are a Rotary Club. Do not be so proud that you have built a bus stop shelter. That’s ‘chicken feed’. Do some bigger projects. Don’t do anymore ‘chicken feed projects’.” I remembered it created a commotion among the members. After that, our projects were bigger and more ambitious- a dialysis centre, a hospice and medical projects overseas. We did not do any ‘chicken feed’ projects anymore.

In 2001, our church has spent many months studying Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God by Henry Blackaby and Claude King. It has been a powerful experience on our church. We learnt that there are 7 realities of experiencing God:

(1) God’s work
(2) Relationship
(3) Invitation
(4) God speaks
(5) Crisis of belief
(6) Adjust
(7) Obey and experience

Henry Blackaby wrote, “Some people say, “God will never ask me to do something I can’t do.” I have come to the place in my life that, if the assignment that I sense God is giving me is something I know I can handle, I know it is probably not from God. The kind of assignments God gives in the Bible is always God-sized. They are always beyond what people can do, because he wants to demonstrate His nature, His strength, His provision, and His kindness to His people and to a watching world. That is the only way the world will come to know Him.”(p.116)

Let we talk about three God-sized assignment or projects from the Bible and see what lessons we can learn from them.

1. Saving all living creatures (Noah)
Genesis 6:11-14, 18-20
GE 6:11 Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, "I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 14 So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out.
18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark--you and your sons and your wife and your sons' wives with you. 19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20 Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive.

The people and the land was so corrupted that God has decided to destroy it and start again with Noah. In fact, if Noah was not around, God would have destroyed everything and restart again. Noah was around and the Bible said he was a righteous man (Gen 6:9). So God gave Noah a God sized project. Noah’s project was to save all living creatures! That was a massive project. God will destroy the world and its people by a Great Flood. Noah was to build an ark, a floating rescue ship. He was to put into the ark, a pair of all living creatures and keep them alive so that they can repopulate the earth after flood water receded. He was also to bring his own extended family on board and they will repopulate the human race.

God’s purpose: God’s judgment was to destroy all living creatures (including man) by a great flood.
Noah’s God-sized project: Save all living creatures.
Method: build an ark.

From Experiencing God we learn that:
1. God speaks when He is about to accomplish His purposes.
2. What God initiates, He completes. Isa 46:11

I did not know how Noah built the ark on dry land. The ark is a massive ship with three decks. It must have taken a long time and much effort. The narrative in Genesis did not give much detail of Noah’s ship building activities. It did record that he finished in time before the great flood came.

Noah was six hundred years old when the flood came. It rained for forty days and forty nights. The flood water rose and covered the mountain tops by more than twenty feet (Gen 7:20). The earth was flooded for 150 days. It took another 150 days for the water to recede. Then 70 days for the drying out of the earth. Here are some interesting statistics

One month equals 30 days.
Time lapsed in the ark = 1 year, 17 days = 360 + 17 = 377 days
Time waiting to go on land= 7 (days waiting) +150 (days of flood) +150 (days of water receding) + 70 days (earth drying) = 377 days
(Walton, John. Chronological and Background Charts of the Old Testament)

2. Saving God’s chosen people (Moses)
Exodus 3:10-14
10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt."

EX 3:11 But Moses said to God, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?"

EX 3:12 And God said, "I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain."

EX 3:13 Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, `The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, `What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?"

EX 3:14 God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: `I AM has sent me to you.' "

The second God-sized project was Moses’. As you remember, Moses was a Hebrew child who was brought up and trained as a prince in Pharaoh’s court. The Hebrew people were enslaved by the Egyptian. One day, Moses tried to lead the Hebrew people in a rebellion by killing an Egyptian overseer/slave driver. The Hebrews refused to follow him so he was forced to flee into the Midian desert. There he became a shepherd for forty years. Read Exodus 2. After that you may want to watch the movie, The Ten Commandments starring Charlton Heston or you may read the comic.

God’s purpose: To save His chosen people from slavery in Egypt
Moses’ God-sized project: To get Pharaoh to free his people
Method: Power encounter

Moses was understandably reluctant to go against the world’s only superpower at that time. Not only the Pharaoh was a political ruler, he was also worshipped as a god! It is interesting to that God sent Moses to Pharaoh with only His name, “I AM WHO I AM”. Names are powerful in those days because names reveal who you are. That’s why powerful magicians and sorcerers do not reveal their names. In Chinese tradition, one will name their children after animals to avoid the attention of their gods. Notice the number of children named ‘Ah Kow’ (dog) or “Ah Ngaw” (cattle). When God said “I AM WHO I AM”, He is revealing his name. He is the almighty God.

Moses’ God-sized project was basically a power encounter between “I Am” and the gods of Egypt. The 10 plagues were spiritual warfare. Moses would never have been able to defeat them on his own. It was only with God’s help that he prevailed.

(1) Nile turned to blood (Exo 7:14-25) against Khnum (guardian of the Nile; Hapi (spirit of the Nile); Osiris (Nile was bloodstream)
(2) Plague of Frogs (Exo 8:1-15) against Heqt (god of restoration)
(3) Plague of Gnats (Exo 8:16-19)
(4) Plague of Flies (Exo 8:20-32)
(5) Plague on Cattle (Exo 9:1-7) against Hathor (mother-goddess); Apis (bull of god Ptah-symbol of fertility); Mnevis (sacred bull of Heliopolis)
(6) Plague of boils (Exo 9:8-12) against Imhotep (god of medicine)
(7) Hail (Exo 9:13-35) against Nut (sky goddess); Isis (goddess of life); Seth (protector of crops)
(8) Locusts (Exo 10:1-20) against Isis (goddess of life); Seth (protector of crops)
(9) Darkness (Exo 10:21-29) against Re, Aten, Atum, Horus (all sun gods)
(10) Death of Firstborn (Exo 11:1-12:36) against Pharaoh; Osiris (giver of life)

In each encounter, “I Am” won. That is why the Pharaoh let the Hebrew people leave. Moses has a God-sized project in saving God’s chosen people. However, he can only do it with God’s help.

3. Saving the lost (Jesus)
Matthews 1: 21-23; Luke 4:18-21
21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."

MT 1:22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" --which means, "God with us."

Luke 4:18-21

LK 4:18 "The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,

LK 4:19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

LK 4:20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

Jesus came to earth with a God-sized project too. It is to save the lost, to bring salvation to all people, not only the Jews.

By quoting Isaiah, Jesus was very focused on what His God-sized project is:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me (empowerment)
because he has anointed me (action)
to preach good news to the poor.(poverty)
He has sent me to proclaim (action)
freedom for the prisoners (spiritual bondage)
and recovery of sight for the blind (spiritual blindness)
to release the oppressed, (political oppression)
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor (action)

Notice in these verses that Jesus’ project has a spiritual component and a physical component. Jesus is here to save the spiritual lost but also to help the poor and politically oppressed. In other words, spiritual ministry and community/compassion service.

God’s Purpose: To save those who are going to hell
Jesus’ God-sized project: To save the lost (spiritually and physically)
Method: Dying on the cross and obeying His Father.

Jesus has completed the first part of His project. He has died on the cross for our sins. Jesus is still continuing on the second part- freeing people from spiritual bondage and from poverty and oppression. You may argue that Jesus is not here, He is in heaven, beside God the Father. Jesus is still here. The Church is His body. The Church still carries on the work of freeing spiritual prisoners and community work. We are the church. That is also our project.

Lessons for us: our God-sized projects
God has been giving God-sized projects to His people- projects that are often so big that they can only do it with His help. Otherwise there is no way they can succeed. We have looked at the examples of Noah, Moses and Jesus. Now we shall look at some present day examples.

Rick Warren started Saddleback Valley Community Church also called Saddleback Church in Lake Forest in 1980. He has a God-sized project. He felt called to start a church for people who have never been to church and people who are not comfortable in traditional churches. He wanted to start a church for seekers- people who are searching for God. So without money, position or prospect but with faith in God, he drove with his wife to California in 1979. He settled in Lake Forest and started a seeker church.

In his first sermon on 30th March, 1980, Rick Warren shared his dreams for his church:
It is the dream of a place where the hurting, the depressed, the frustrated, and the confused can find love, acceptance, help, hope, forgiveness, guidance, and encouragement.
It is the dream of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with the hundreds of thousands of residents in south Orange County.
It is the dream of welcoming 20,000 members into the fellowship of our church family --- loving, learning, laughing, and living in harmony together.
It is the dream of developing people to spiritual maturity through Bible studies, small groups, seminars, retreats, and a Bible school for our members.
It is the dream of equipping every believer for a significant ministry by helping them discover the gifts and talents God gave them.
It is the dream of sending out hundreds of career missionaries and church workers all around the world, and empowering every member for a personal life mission in the world. It is the dream of sending our members by the thousands on short-term mission projects to every continent. It is the dream of starting at least one new daughter church every year.
It is the dream of at least fifty acres of land, on which will be built a regional church for south Orange County --- with beautiful, yet simple, facilities including a worship center seating thousands, a counseling and prayer center, classrooms for Bible studies and training lay ministers, and a recreation area. All of this will be designed to minister to the total person --- spiritually, emotionally, physically, and socially --- and set in a peaceful, inspiring garden landscape.
I stand before you today and state in confident assurance that these dreams will become reality. Why? Because they are inspired by God!

The church grew and grew and became a megachurch. It is a ‘purpose driven church’. They spent 15 years growing their church and another 10 years teaching other churches about being a ‘purpose driven church’. Thousands have come to know Jesus through their ministries. In their 25th anniversary Easter celebration, there were 45,000 people in attendance. Warren always felt that they were fulfilling only part of Jesus’ project, that of taking care of the breaking spiritual bondage of people. He felt they also need to meet their physical needs.

In 2004, Saddleback Church embark on a new phase of their ministry- to championing the eradication of AIDS, illiteracy and poverty with an ambitious project by defeating what Rick Warren calls the five “global giants”. These giants are spiritual emptiness, egocentric leadership, poverty, disease, and illiteracy.

The goal of his project is PEACE.
Plant (or partner with) churches
Equip leaders
Assist the poor
Care for the sick
Educate the next generation

Warren launched the project in Rwanda in 2004. The challenges are staggering. reported there are more than 40.3 million Africans suffering from AIDS. 4.9 million new HIV cases were reported in 2005. Since 2003, 13 million children had lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS.

Bill Hybels and his Willow Creek Community Church (20,000 members) and more than 100 Willow Creek Association churches has embarked on a racial reconciliation project. Willow Creek Community Church is in a mainly all white suburbs. It has reached across to the south side of Chicago to partner with James Meek and Salem Baptist Church. Salem Baptist is a mainly an African-American congregation. This first project was to co-organise a pilgrimage. A bus tour of key leaders were organised to revisit all the famous sites of the civil rights movement. They called it the Justice Journey.

Eric Reed and Tim Morgan, writing in Leadership Journal, Summer 2006 notes that, “Perhaps most important, these efforts are evidence that megachurches, the driving force in redefining worship and evangelism in the late 20th century, are reaching beyond unchurched Harry and Mary to redefine missions, urging churches of all sizes to get involved in causes larger than themselves.”

How about us here in Holy Light? Has God given us a God-sized project? I believe that He has. The project is not Hisland. The project is what you do with Hisland. That’s our God-sized project. Our God-sized project is to discern what God wants us to do with Hisland. Do we follow Jesus as His body to deliver people from spiritual bondage and bring them to know Jesus and also to help the poor and oppressed through community outreach?

Soli Deo Gloria

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