When you are working your way through a crowd or at a busy restaurant and you need to get past someone, but it is a bit of a squeeze:
- We push past a little bit and say ‘Excuse me’ and then there might be a bit of a rub against the chair or something, a little contact somewhere, but it’s not really a big deal
- Contact happens then we both excuse the contact and get on with whatever we are doing.
Let’s compare that with someone grabbing you with intent (contact with purpose):
- Perhaps grabbing your shoulder with bad intent or reaching out to hold you back from oncoming traffic or something
- Grabbing your wife and planting a kiss on her lips!!
- But the contact requires response!
- It is intended to engage and exchange communication.
At the beginning of 2020 we wanted to give some Vision for what we are heading into this year, what we are believing God for and taking steps of faith forward as a Church.
- As I prepared my heart and this message (with Tegan’s help) we felt that the key to everything we do, is ensuring we ‘grab a hold of God this year’ and be deliberate in not just bumping past Him with an ‘Excuse me God’
- Be intentional on Expansion birthed out of Encounter.
We don’t want to just repeat last year! Last year was great, we broke ground and saw miracles, but God has new things!
If we continue to Encounter God, He will lead us and guide us to Expansion.
Let’s engage with God. This requires a response from us and God. It will bring breakthrough and we can forge a new season of God’s plan for us and our city.
Luke 1:5-22 (NIV)
5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. 8 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. 11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years (very polite man).” 19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” 21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.
After this encounter – we see Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth give birth to John the Baptist! This is a huge change and all of a sudden Zechariah is now going to be the father of one of the greatest men in history! A forerunner of Jesus Christ! A man who would be preached about for the rest of days of this earth! Zechariah had an encounter with God and his world and influence expanded!
There are some things here that are so significant and pertinent to us as a Church for this year and further.
I want to continue this theme and idea a little for our anointing service tonight where we want to:
- Pray for every person. Anoint them with oil – which is symbolic but powerful in being set apart for God’s purposes in 2020
- Believe with every person for miracles and breakthrough
- Commit together to not just be around God but engage with His power and purpose together.
We see here a man who has an encounter with God in the midst of a bunch of circumstances that we would do well to understand.
Firstly Zechariah was an old man with no kids. He was married, but he and his wife had been unable to have children. Yet despite this he was still faithful in his service to God! There is a temptation to allow disappointment or things we don’t understand, to pull us back from serving God and drawing near Him.
Everyone who has been in Church at some point has reason to: be disappointed, get disillusioned, be hurt, etc. I personally have had all of those things. But what I love about Zechariah is that he refused to give up, refused to stop serving, refused to stop praying, worshiping and trusting God. He refused to let those negative things win!
I have no doubt that the reason Zechariah has a God encounter is because he continues, despite things he wishes were different or doesn’t understand, to press into God and serve Him.
He was an old man, yet hadn’t ‘hung up the boots’ for the young ones, but continued to be a part of what God was doing.
There will be people here today and you might have things that haven’t worked out like you thought. This is disappointing and you don’t understand, but choose to serve God with intent this year!
Of even greater significance, is the fact that Zechariah had both a revelation from God and also received a promise from God while he was in a particular place.
There were possibly hundreds of people around the temple that day and they were all praying to the same God, part of the same celebration, yet one man had a revelation and received an incredible promise that expanded His world! Why?
To understand the point of this, it is first important to understand that within the Temple the Jews worshiped in at this time there was:
- An outer court – where anyone could enter
- An inner court – where only priests who had done certain things could enter
- Inside the inner court was the Holy of Holies – where God’s tangible presence was – the Ark of the Covenant.
There was an outer court – where anyone could go into.
- Anyone can come to God! We don’t need to have jumped through hoops and have cleaned up – we come to Him as we are!
In that outer area were two other symbolic things:
- A Brass Altar – for a sacrifice
- A Brass Laver (Bowl) – for washing.
These two things required no prior preparation or work and you could even be in the outer court without having used these two things.
It is easy to be around Church and God, come and go as you feel or please and add Him to our list of parts of our life.
It’s easy to be around God, enjoy His people and add Him to the social scene of our lives. No real commitment or change required.
People are free to come to God, but there is a difference between being around God and truly engaging God and receiving encounter and expansion in God.
Zechariah had been in the outer court, but now he came inside the inner court and he stood at something called the Altar of Incense.
The Altar of Incense was the only of all the parts of the temple that was described by God in function before directions and dimensions.
- That is because it is about worship and God’s presence before any method, style or answer
The place where God approached man to deal with his sin (the outer court), is many times larger than the place where man approaches God to give Him honour and worship (the much smaller inner court).
- It is much easier to get people to receive from God, than to give to God
- Many people respond to the Gift of Salvation and then have no desire to go on in God to a life of worship, sacrifice and praise
- They stay around God in the outer court, but never truly encounter Him
- In the outer court everything was done for the individual, but before he could come to the inner court, he had to be involved in his own cleansing, sacrifice and preparation
- Spiritual laziness is another factor which limits the number of those entering into a Christianity which leads to expansion through encounter of the Lord. Not just around Go, but encountering Him.
As a Church, we want people to discover moving beyond just knowing about God and being around God (a sort of ‘Excuse Me’ Christianity) or bumping into God.
- I want God’s presence, but ‘Excuse me God I am too busy to pray… Got too much going on…’
- I want God to be with me but, ‘Excuse me God I will just pop in and out of Church without really engaging in His presence.’
- I want your blessing God but ‘Excuse me if I just bump past this tithing or sacrificial giving thing.’
- I want to have God’s peace but, ‘Excuse me God while I just slip past your instruction on renewing your mind and not being transformed into the pattern of this world.’
- ‘Excuse me God while I just do my thing and you and the radicals do your thing.’
- ‘Excuse me God while I sit this uncomfortable challenge out and just tick the God box for a while.’
- ‘Excuse me God while I attend your Church, but not really commit or participate .’
As your Senior Pastors, those entrusted by God to encourage, motivate and challenge you, we want more for you.
- Our desire is that you encounter God in His fullness. We want your life and influence to expand because you were with Jesus Christ.
We dream of people:
- Being set free by the power of God
- Changing this city with the Gospel
- Winning people lost in sin to eternal life in Jesus
- Doing things together that will make our city see Jesus
- People stepping into God’s purpose for their lives
- People actualising the promises and plan of God for their lives
- The Word of God being an anchor and rock for people.
People who are not just milling around the outer court around God, but powerfully experiencing God in every part of our lives!
And even more, on Vision Sunday we want to say, C’mon, let’s all go in together and encounter God in 2020 and see what He can do with our hearts when they are truly surrendered and committed to Him! – Expansion!
So what’s our Vision for 2020? We believe the focus for 2020 is that through Encounter we as a people and a Church will expand.
When we encounter God, He will lead, guide, challenge and give us promises to hold to, but if we obey then He will expand our world together.
One of our first focuses for 2020 is:
OUR NEW FACILITY!
It should come as no surprise that this is a focus for 2020.
If we wanted just to be around God, with no need to work so hard, pray, believe God, sacrificially give, because we can just be content in this building, “It’s ok.”
- But it’s not our best, there is no faith in that, no miracle needed, no worship
- We are seeing a miracle unfold and everyone still has a part to play!
Our facility should be finished mid September – probably by Christmas, but we are doing it not just to build a building.
This is a battle ground for expansion in 2020!
- This is not just something that we are doing because we calculated the sums and it should work
- This is a God move
- A God opportunity
- A day of stepping into God’s expansion for our Church
- This is about a new and greater footprint for Jesus Christ in our city and regional Australia.
This current facility that we are using was birthed out of encounter and this new facility is a God move for our Church. The Faith Steps, the Favour, the Miracles, this is our battle ground for expansion birthed out of encounter with God!
To us it is so much more than a building it is about reaching more people! While ever there is a lost or broken person in Bendigo, we must remain committed to, and motivated by, God’s great commission.
Raising Champions – Building for the future – Unlocking Generosity – Reflecting God to our community.
- Our facilities say something about God to every person before they ever come to a service, hear a worship song or listen to a message!
- We believe that as the Church we ought to reflect God’s Glory and Brilliance to not just our own people, but those yet to find Jesus!
We are still believing and need miracles of finance, to not just build it, but to fit it out ready to serve us and the Bendigo community.
If you have made a pledge, can I please ask you continue with that and to give in faith!
- If you haven’t yet been a part of this miracle we would ask that you go to God about your part to play
- We have had incredible generosity and giving
- For some their sacrifice was several hundred dollars – others have given 5K, 10K or 50K
- But we have heard so many miraculous testimonies of what that giving has unlocked and we as a Church are stepping into an exciting and amazing miracle for our city.
To us this is a total Encounter and Expansion opportunity!
- Right from the start we have always said – Go, encounter God and ask Him what your faith step is and simply be obedient to that!
Impact Recovery is a therapeutic community rehabilitation program that we run as a Church helping people find life and freedom from addiction!
We have had an incredible miracle with our Impact Recovery Rehab.
- Toni West (the CEO) stepped out in faith and with a wonderful partnership with Teen Challenge has seen us be able to move our program right into the centre of town into Temperance Hall on View Street, Bendigo!
- We now are in a building with historical spiritual significance and are right in the heart of our city!
- This has been something that would have been totally impossible, but God provided way more than just a facility. We have an incredible opportunity now to reach our city in new ways.
We see not only Impact Recovery operating out of Temperance Hall, but also
- Youth outreaches
- Community services all reaching our city from the new footprint right in the middle of Bendigo.
Please be praying for continued favour with this.
One of the challenges we’ve faced as we’ve grown is helping new people connect to our Church, find a place they fit, to serve, find friends and how to grow in their faith etc.
- You could say this is encapsulated by the idea of discipleship – go make disciples, not converts.
We have worked incredibly hard and sought God to put together Next Steps which works on the understanding there is always a Next Step for us as believers.
- The idea that we are static as a believer is false. We are either drawing nearer to God or further from Him, but never standing still.
So we want to encourage people to take their next step in their faith journey.
- It could be forming Godly friendships in a Connect Group
- It could be serving and finding a team to participate in
- It could be learning more about God’s word – through study or a course
- It could be helping teach others about the things of God or praying with people
- There are so many Next Steps, but everyone has one and we want every believer to keep taking faith steps and not settle and begin drifting from God
- Expansion through encounter.
As a part of this is Growth Steps which help people understand:
- Who we are as a Church
- Our Church culture, vision and our values
- How we work and how to find a fit.
This will be a huge part of unifying and getting all our Church in alignment.
- So from here for anyone who wants to serve will be required to do Growth Steps, so no matter what Church family they have or haven’t come from, they can know how this one works!
I would encourage everyone to do this.
- Even if you have been here for years – our Church is not what it was and we are increasingly headed into a clear and certain vision and culture
- So if you wish to be part of this then I would say find out who we are as a Church, and then it will help you engage and be part of the Church family.
So as a Church, I felt so impressed in my spirit to preach the message and also in regards to where we are going with Vision and I felt the two were disconnected.
- However as I prayed I began to see that they are together because as a Church we are not happy to just be around God and doing a few churchy things
- The ‘Excuse me God’ style of church.
We have been pressing into God, we have been praying, entering into fasting because these are not just ‘projects’, these are what we believe God is leading us into.
It will take continued pressing into God for miracles, breakthrough and His power to be upon us to do what is bigger than us.
Church our prayer is that together we encounter God and together we expand into all God has called us to do and be!
- We can’t do it with religious activity or obligation, but with people passionately having an encounter with God, having revelation and taking steps of faith together
- We can’t bring revival to our City, State and Nation with an ‘Excuse Me God’ Church culture – but with a culture that draws near to God, into His Holy place and has revelation from Him.
One of the amazing parts of when Jesus died on the Cross was that the veil in the temple that separated the Holy of Holies was torn from top to bottom so that everyone could enter it and no longer just the priests.
- It meant God’s tangible presence could be accessed by anyone
- We didn’t need to go through a person anymore – Jesus made the way for us!
But let me point out that it didn’t make it accessible from the outer court. A person would still need to go to the inner court in order to access this special place in God’s presence – the place of the tangible presence of God.
Great understanding there!
We come to God as we are, with no requirements or hoops, just simply come to Him because He loves you.
But then there is an opportunity not just to come to be around God, but to then meet Him in the Holy Place.
- Time with God
It is here we find a whole new level of a dynamic and powerful relationship with Jesus Christ!
This is why we are so committed to prayer and fasting.
- Truly pursuing God
- Not just bumping into Him at Church on Sunday and ‘excuse me God’ for the rest of the week.
Prayer and fasting is not about being hungry – it’s about setting other worldly things aside and reaching to engage with and encounter God.
- So we take two weeks early in the year as a Church to do this and set up our year surrendered to God.
What can you put aside or give up over the next two weeks to give something more into your relationship with God?
- Read your Bible instead of social media
- Spend your coffee time reading God’s word rather than the paper
- Take time praying instead of watching TV
- Fast meals on the weekends and give extra time to hearing from God
- There are so many ways to be involved.
Tonight is about coming to encounter! It is choosing to say “God set me apart for your service in 2020”.
Altar of Incense
This is the only item in the Tabernacle whose function is described before dimensions. This shows the desire of God, the urgent longing of God’s heart for His people to come into this ministry of worship unto Him. Too many have concentrated on analysing and examining and specifying this aspect without ever getting involved in worship in Spirit and in Truth.
There is significance in a comparison of the size of the Brazen Altar and the Golden Altar. The place where God approached man to deal with his sin (the Brazen Altar), is many times larger than the place where man approaches God to give Him honour and worship (the Golden Altar).
- It is much easier to get people to receive from God rather than to give to God. Many people respond to the Gift of Salvation and then have no desire to go on in God to a life of worship and praise
- There was no obligation to be clean in coming to the Brazen Altar. It was “come just as you are” – this is true of Salvation. However, before the priest could approach the Altar of Incense, he had to be cleansed. This is one reason why the place of worship is smaller than the place of redemption. Many are called, but few are chosen, Matthew 20:16. The straight and narrow way gets straighter with every mile, Isaiah 40:15
- At the Brazen Altar everything was done for the candidate, but before he could come to the Golden Altar he had to be involved in his own cleansing and preparation. Spiritual laziness is another factor which limits the number of those entering into the ministry of the Lord.
Horns speak of power and authority, 1 Samuel 2:110, 2 Sam. 22:3. This speaks of the power in Christ’s intercessory ministry on our behalf, Hebrews 7:25. Because of His present ministry He is able to save the uttermost all that come unto God by Him. There is also tremendous power and authority vested in the Church to intercede with God on behalf of sinful man, Job. 16:23-24.
The place of worship is the place of God’s favour.
The number of horns is not mentioned. We may assume that like the Brazen Altar there were four, Revelation 9:13 indicates that this was so. However the reason for this omission in the Exodus reference is to show that there is no limit to the power of prayer and praise. Jesus said nothing shall be impossible unto you, Matthew 17:20. No need is ever beyond answer.
Exodus 30:2 in both the Septuagint version and the Living Bible clearly show that the horns are actually part of the wooden framework of this Altar, they were not separate pieces added on.
The power in prayer and praise given to the Church cannot be divorced from the very person of Christ. Any attempt to cultivate an interest in any of the power aspects of Jesus ministry, such as healing or miracles, without maintaining a close relationship with Him, will result in a cutting off of that power.
Suggestions for discussion
- Discuss how you can ‘grab a hold of God this year’
- Zechariah refused to give up, refused to stop serving, refused to stop praying, worshiping and trusting God. Are you able to do the same?
- Kerrin and Tegan want us to powerfully experience God in every part of our lives. How can you make sure this will happen?