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What is a God Dream?

Read this message transcript from the "God Dreams" message series

Harold Bullock: In your folder is a list...a set of notes that you can use if you’d like. We’re going to be talking about God Dreams, and I want to give you a definition. A God Dream is a vision of the future that starts in the mind of God and then is given to us. Long ago...I think of Star Wars...long, long ago in a state far, far 1970, I went to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. I went there in graduate school; I was working on my PhD in chemistry and as a teaching assistant at the university. It was during that year that the Lord really brought changes in my life. I was a Christian already; I got there in January 1970, but I had been straying from the Lord. Several things had happened; I had a lot of questions, and I was just straying from the Lord. During that spring semester from January to May, I met some people who helped me learn how to actually learn to walk with Christ; I didn’t know how to do that. Boy, my life began to change.

Real change in your life, by the way, if you’re here and you’ve been wanting to see change...real change occurs as you connect with the Lord Jesus and then begin to cooperate with Him. Where I grew up, further east from here, you’d frequently hear people say to someone who’s really having struggles, “You just need to straighten up and go to church.” Well, both of those statements are true, but the problem is they’re not enough. You have to meet the Lord Jesus Christ first. When you connect with Him, then there’s actually power available for real change. Otherwise, you’re sort of running on your own batteries, and you keep running down. But if you do connect with Him...I was need to learn how to cooperate with Him. It’s different from what you might think, and my friends began to help. I began to see the Lord work in my life, and my life began to change significantly.

Over the several months, I was really getting my bearings and discovering how to do what Christ said. I got into the Bible for myself. Toward the end of October of that year, 1970, I was reading my Bible, and I had an experience with the Lord that set my life in a very different direction. I had gone to USC to study chemistry. I was in my fourth year of graduate school, and I had finally come to the point that I was really serious about God’s will and my vocation. I had planned on going back to Kodak and making a lot of money, but I realized I needed to be open to God. I had had a job with Kodak in research, and I needed to be open, so I was praying, “Lord, if you want me to teach college and not make much money, I’ll do it. That’s noble; I’ll do it. If you want me to go back to Kodak and make a lot of money, I’d really enjoy that, but I’ll do either one you want.” What came that morning was that I was going to do neither. 

I was reading the Bible, and I had a strong, strong sense that God was speaking to me and telling me that I was not going into chemistry. I was going into the ministry, and that was a shock because in my mind to go into the ministry meant making no money. But it was very, very clear, and God had been preparing me. My life had been changing. It seemed like the Lord said I was going to be working in the realm of renewing the church and that I would be in Los Angeles three to five years, then He was going to move me...and also that He would show me more about what this meant. That was a dramatic change for me in direction, so I prayed for confirmation and sought counsel from my pastor. By the end of the spring of the next year, everything had lined up; this was from God. 

That experience changed my vocational direction. It began a journey toward what God wanted for my life and then what my work over the years ought to be. It also led us to Fort Worth, and it resulted in Hope Church. In 1971...let me show you a picture...this is me roughly in the timeframe that this occurred...very well-dressed. That’s my father by me; Deborah, my wife, with me, and we’re...poignantly, we are standing in front of Adventureland at Disneyland in L.A. This is where I was at personally; I was 24, and Deborah and I, we tried from that point to aggressively take advantage of opportunities to learn and then to actually get involved in what God was doing in ministry.

In 1972, a couple of years later, I took a job in college student ministry in the Los Angeles area. Picture of can’t see it because the picture’s old, and it’s a little “whited out,” but that’s a very elegant shirt. I worked leading people to Christ, helping Christians grow, and starting ministries. God used that time basically to train me in how to do to...and then He showed me issues that He wanted me to focus on later. I didn’t realize it, but what I was doing in student ministry, I learned a lot about how to tell people about Christ. A number of people came to Christ. I learned a lot about how to train Christians and how to grow in their walk with God, which turns out to be useful later on in helping other people. I also learned how to start ministries; I started eight over a two-year period and trained people to take them over.

I became familiar with what was going on in the church. I got to work with a lot of churches due to the position I was in, and I found in them really good people, but over and over again so many of them were sort of stuck. I began to the challenges they were facing, some of the struggles, and the challenges and struggles made me and Deborah ask questions. Why is it like this? Why? I mean, what’s going on? How could it be different for these people? The questions kept piling up. In 1974, the Lord led us to Fort Worth; we wanted to complete our seminary education, a master’s program. We had a this time, we had a lot of questions; we had a fair amount of experience, but we had a lot of questions that we wanted answers about why things were like this and how they might be different. 

So we worked hard, and in 1977, after three intense years of work, we graduated. Picture of the graduation...this is Deborah’s folks who are by her, my folks who are by me, and it was a high time. By the time we graduated, we had some clarity on what the Lord wanted. We had the outlines on the kind of church we thought we needed to start...a church that would be this renewal type mode. We had also studied when we went through seminary; we studied what it might take to create a movement that might last for 150 years. There are movements like this in history; there are a lot of them that started and blew up; a lot of them that started and just went nuts; a lot of them that started and lasted a while and then just...psst...were gone. We had come to some conclusions about that. 

By this time, the calling in 1970 finally had outlines to it...some clarity. We wanted to start a church where members would actually learn to walk with Christ. Most churches want people to do this, but like me, I’d been in church for years; I still didn’t know how to do that until the Lord brought me across some people who could teach me. A church where people would treat each other like Christ said to...there are all kinds of sermons done in churches about how people should treat each other, but very often church life ends up in squabbles or sort of a rehearsal of what goes on in society. People exalting themselves, and people envying the ones who got the attention. Not because churches try to do’s just because that’s how people are; they’re like you and me...but where people would actually treat each other like God said. A church that would help outsiders come to Christ and a church that would help start new churches with the same kind of spiritual DNA...the calling in 1970 had finally become a clearer dream...a God Dream actually that had come from the Lord. 

In January 1978, we began Hope Church here in town. If you were with us last week, we celebrated our 41st anniversary. We started in January, and we always celebrated in the middle of snow or a storm or or ice storm or something, so there are fewer storms and ice storms in August. So, we moved our celebration to there. We celebrated 41 years, but we took a brief look back and then a look forward. I’m going to take...we’re taking more of a look back today to help you understand some important things about where we’re going. The dream had clarified, so we started Hope. Here’s a picture of our early meetings in the Southside LIons Club long ago. 

Over time we developed ways to make the church life work. We developed some different ways. If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, what do you get? Huh? Same thing you always got. The way that..most of the tools used in church life tended to produce the same kind of stuff. We wanted to figure out how to get people to walk with the Lord, not just recite things about it but actually learn this and then treat each other differently. We developed some ways to do that to help people actually learn to walk with God, to walk with Him personally, and actually to treat each other like God had said. We call those ways of treating each other the Heart Attitudes. If you’re a member of Hope, you know what those are. If you’re new around, they’re basic commands in the New Testament about how we treat each other, so we put them into practice. 

Then we helped outsiders come to Christ. Many people have come to Christ over the years; some of them are you. Some of the people from the early days came to Christ, grew in Hope, and have become a key part of our church life. Hope became over time the church that we had intended; it wasn’t perfect because first of all, it had me as the pastor. I’m not perfect. Secondly, it was full of people like you, and we know about you. Right? We’re just people; we’re just people, and we’re working on it. We’re all working on it, but we were working on it. The church that we had envisioned developed. Leaders trained here have planted over 200 churches, and Hope people have served as missionaries in over 38 countries. Last week, we had three different sets with us, serving in the far East and serving in Europe. They just happened to be in town on the anniversary Sunday. It was fun to see them. 

Many of the churches that were started out of that 200 were more usual...oriented toward more usual church life...but several of the churches that were started were very similar to Hope Church. They had the same spiritual DNA in training people how to walk with Christ, treat each other righly, reach outsiders. In the first decade of the 2000’s, we started...we pulled together with churches with a similar DNA and created the 17:6 Network. We started with another name; it took us figuring out took awhile to figure out what it ought to be. We wanted to help each other move forward, and we settled on 17:6 for Acts 17:6 where a fellow opposing Christians says the men who have changed the world... turned the world upside down...have come here also. We’d like to be that kind of people, so the 17:6 Network began. It currently has 12 churches in it; more will be started during this coming year. The pace of the church starting is picking up as more people get training and experience. 

Over the years Hope itself has become multi-generational, which is one of our goals. What often happens in church life is a group of people will start a church together; they tend to be younger and have younger kids. The kids grow up together, then the kids graduate high school and move off to other places. The home team gets older and older and older, and the church dies. We had wanted to see different generations together and that has happened for us. Thank the Lord.

Right now, we’re at a very key time. We are poised in a rapidly growing population center. Fort Worth has been a city for a long time, and it’s been a good place to live. In the working of God, this area now is one of the key growth areas in the country. Where cities are growing people are a whole lot more open to the Gospel. That represents tremendous opportunity for us and for the Lord. We’re located there, poised; it’s amazing this has happened. And as I shared last Sunday, this is going to be the year of transition for me. I’ll be moving out of the senior pastorate, Lord willing, by the end of June 30 next year, and I will be a part of Hope at a lower staff level. The Lord has spoken to me very clearly about this. It’s going to be a year of transition right in the middle of all this opportunity. What that means is this is a key time for us to focus clearly on the future and to be able to move into the future being true to what we have been and being faithful in the mission that the Lord has given us. 

As we move into the future, we’ve been working on staff on some key things, and you’ve heard me talk about this briefly at different points. We’ve been working to nail down what are the key facets of our church life. Over time we’ve produced a lot of materials; we’ve produced...I personally have done 34 three-day conferences on life and on ministry because it seemed like the Lord said I needed to do that. That information is together. I did it because if I went to be with Jesus that information was going with me. It needed to be here for others to use. However, that’s a lot of information. What parts of it are key? We’ve done different kinds of things over the years to learn. Which one of those are really important? And then all kinds of possibilities lie in front of us. Which one should we choose? 

On staff we’ve been working really hard to help us understand who we have been and what is important to us. How can we just nail this so that it can be easily communicated? Then how do we keep moving forward in the direction that the Lord...that we’ve been going through the years in evangelism and starting churches? How can we actually keep moving forward with that? Our concern has been this: how can we intelligently and faithfully and accurately take the God Dream into the future? I’m going to be talking to you about these important things as we move into the fall. We want to consider what God wants for us as a church and what He wants for us in the future. 

A couple of things about God dreams that I want to share with you though because these are going to shape how we move into the future. The dream has been clarified; it’s to be the people like we are and to see many, many, many of these churches started. Churches are actually in decline in the U.S. There needs to be a whole lot more church starting. We don’t need to go round up other people’s church members and start a church. We need to see all kinds of people that need to come to know Jesus become followers of Christ and band together to do His work. This is where we’ve been going, but God dreams occur inside a frame. There’s a frame on this thing. As the Lord directed us, me, in 1970, there are all kinds of things I had to say “no” to. A friend in the region wanted me to team up with him for a lifelong commitment to work together to do some things. He’s a great guy, but the Lord said I was leaving in three to five years. I couldn’t do that. 

As we’ve moved forward in church life, there have been all kinds of ministries we’ve not been able to do. There’s a frame; you can’t do everything. You discover this, I think. You can’t do everything. If you try to do everything, at some point you’re going to sleep. It will happen. You may not want to, but you will because we have limits. We have to select. God Dreams occur inside of a frame. 2 Corinthians 10:13 says something interesting. This was...Corinth had a church started by the apostle Paul, the Corinthian church, and they were going gangbusters. I mean, they were really moving, but they also ended up with a lot of dissension. Paul writes to them in this verse. “We…” ...talking about himself. There are some other people who’ve come in bragging about how big their ministries were. He said, however, “We will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting the field God has assigned to us, a field that reaches to you.”

This is a very interesting passage because what he says is, “God gives us assignments, and those assignments have limits.” We’re not going to boast beyond proper limits. We have these limits, and Paul started churches. He started that church; other people started other churches. God gives us an assignment, so we focus on that. There are many assignments from God, different assignments, different people. He gives us ours; He gives other people theirs. To keep from wandering all over the ministry landscape, we have to focus, and actually, we have to keep refocusing on what God has told us. So we focus; we have limits. 

Question: If God gives different assignments to different people, different churches, which assignment is the most important? Hmmm...The church at Corinth had a problem actually with this question. The members were divided over which one of God’s laborers was really the best and the greatest. Paul started the church and had done a great job, and then a fellow named Apollos came through. Apollos was a very intelligent and highly skilled teacher/preacher. So because of him,  the church got really stabilized; people were really growing. Then some people in the church were actually familiar with Simon Peter, early leader among the disciples. So people were dividing up into groups…”Well, we think Paul is the greatest.” “Well, Apollos...Paul had nothing compared to Apollos.” Someone said, “Well, Simon Peter came first.” People do that kind of thing, so Paul writes them to clear this up. He says, “What, after all, is Apollos?” This guy is a very gifted fellow, but what is he? …”And what is Paul?” What am I? “...Only servants, through whom you came to believe…” That’s it; we’re just servants. “ the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.” 

We get into this thing of competing with each other, competing among ourselves, and churches get to competing. We’re doing this kind of thing, and another church has this direction in ministry, and another church has this direction. Which one is superior? Actually, the answer is God. There are two levels in God’s kingdom. There’s God and then the laborers. Apollos--he’s just a laborer. Paul--he’s just a laborer. It’s God who makes this thing go. Here in town we have churches that have a lot of different focuses. Praise God. Some are doing this ministry; some are doing that ministry. We’re doing this kind of thing. Praise God. God is the One who is really touching people through the churches. 

What we really want to be clear about is what He wants us to do...our field, our limits. Then, focus on that and get it done. The question is not “Which church in Fort Worth is the best?” First, they all have problems because again they’re full of people like you and me. Second, they have different assignments from the Lord, and they need to get after it. So we bless our brothers and press forward to what God has shown us. There are different laborers with different assignments. Each needs to play their role and do it well. God is what’s important. We want to be focused on our assignment and faithful in it. 

The frame--we have one up here. The frame of our God Dream can be summarized like this. We need to be clear on our mission. What is it that we’re doing? The mission tells us what are we doing. We want to be able to articulate that clearly. We’ve been doing what we’ve been trying to do; we want to be able to say it clearly. Values--values are your why’s. What’s important to you? Why are you doing this? We have some in Hope. We’ve had them for years; they tell us why we’re doing what we’re doing. Then, strategy--strategy tells us how we’re going to do it. You always have to have some strategy, and we have a strategy in Hope. We have one we’ll be moving into the future with. Measures tell us when. When are we going to be successful? We did this for a year. What indicates success for us, or how can we tell we’re getting off track? Because we’re not meeting any of the measures. Measures tell us when we’re successful. These things are important to us as we move into the future. I’ll be speaking to you about our mission next week. There’s a frame; we can’t do everything. It’s important that we do some things and do them in the way we’ve been mapped out. 

God Dreams--the second thing about God Dreams--they occur over time. They don’t happen fast. The Lord, for me personally, the Lord gave direction in 1970...October 28th actually. By eight years later, we had clarity on what that might look like. We still needed to learn a whole lot, so we started Hope with some… Sort of like a coloring book, we had the outlines, but we weren’t quite sure which colors ought to go where. We were going to have to learn this, and God had not given a paint by numbers chapter in the Bible so we had to learn. They develop over time. 

We’ve used a picture to symbolize this. Here’s one. We’re going to move toward what God wants. It’s like moving into this picture. Way back in the background there’s just blue sky beyond what you can see, and then there’s mountains. That’s the background. Then there’s mid-ground; there’s territory between...out there...between us and the mountain. Then there’s the stuff that’s right in front of us. If we don’t get rolling on the road that’s right there, we’re never going to get to the mountain. There’s the blue sky; there’s the background, the mid-ground, and the foreground. 

This is actually how we move through life. We have some idea of where we’re going or what we want to do, and then there’s stuff that we have to do right here in order to get there so that we can get out there. If I wanted to go to my car, my car is parked outside. The first thing I’d have to do is not teleport to the car. I couldn’t beam myself out there; I’d have to get off the stage. That would be very important. It’s right here, right now, and I’ve got to take care of that. Then, I’d make my way through the auditorium and out those doors. Then, I’d have to make my way through the hallways, and then I’d have to go outside and get to the car. This is how we move forward in life. There’s somewhere where we’re going and there’s stuff that we’ve got to do right now and stuff that we need to get to pretty quick and then stuff that’s back there. Then, there are things beyond the horizon that we can’t even imagine. This is how life moves.

We have a vision frame, but we also have a picture of where we’ve been and where we’re still going. We’re headed toward the mountains or evangelism and church starting. There need to be hundreds and hundreds, thousands of churches started actually. Other people are working on the problem. We’d like to see churches that have a similar DNA. We’re going to talk about our picture as we get further into the series and what that looks like...foreground and mid-range and background. The current Hope Church, what you’ve experienced, is built on 40 years, more than 40 years, of walking with Christ and more than 40 years of treating people rightly. If we mess up, cleaning it up and then moving forward rightly, which is a part of treating people rightly. If you mess up, you clean up. It’s been 40 years of it and reaching out to outsiders and developing God’s people and developing leaders to start new churches. This has been going on for a long time. 

We have a DNA that needs to move into the future. In the middle of this tremendous season of opportunity, it needs to move into the future through us and beyond us. In the coming messages, we’re going to be looking at key facets of our DNA as we talk about the God Dream. Next week, we’re going to look at our mission and break it down. I’d like to ask you to join me in a prayer for Hope Church as we move through this series and then for Hope on into the future. It’s a prayer that’s in the New Testament. It was prayed by the apostle Paul, and if you would join me, I would really appreciate it. Pray for us again and again. Here it is--Ephesians 3:20 and 21. Paul writes, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…” That’s a lot. “ him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever!”

We can see the mountain, but He can do blue sky beyond the mountain. He can do more than you and I can ask or imagine. I’ve always wished He would do it tomorrow, but my experience has been God Dreams happen over time. But this is the One who can do these things, and He does it according to His power that is at work within us. Sometimes as Americans we get the thought that this thing with God working in the world is sort of like a football game. There are people out there doing stuff, and man, it’s happening. And I’m sitting here watching. This is not the way the work of God happens. The work of God happens as He works within us while we work. We get into action, and He does things through us and beyond us. Then, glory to Him in hope.

It would be wonderful; this is just me talking. It would be wonderful if some of your kids and grandkids and maybe your great grandkids could be a part of carrying this thing forward into the future. We looked at 150 years; we’ve done 40 of them...a lot more work to be done. I’m probably not going to make it to the 150 mark. For some of you, you’re not going to either. Actually for a lot of you, you’re not going to make it, but what began with Christ Jesus on the cross and the gift of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem has spread throughout the planet to generation after generation. May God grant that happen out of us.

I want to encourage you. Ask Him to do immeasurably more than all we can imagine, and I want to encourage you; don’t simply sit in a chair and watch. Join in; let Him work through you. Throw in your lot with us, and see what God will do. God gave you your life and your resources for a couple of reasons. One of them is so that you can enjoy it. Another one is so that you might be a part of what He’s doing. You can put your energy and your resources to work in what God’s doing and see Him work within you. So, pray; pray for more than we can imagine.