This sermon was preached on Sunday, February 27, 2011.
[Pastor Grabill is very congested today and is clearly not feeling well.]
Please turn to Ephesians, halfway through the New Testament, chapter 3. We’ll be finishing out chapter 3 today. A favorite passage, often quoted, one of the most positive statements that we find in the Epistles. Please stand with me as we look together to God’s Word. Ephesians 3, verses 20 and 21. By the way, thank you elders for last Sunday evening, of having my favorite ice cream called Blitzburgh, right? [Full name is Blitzburgh Crunch Premium Ice Cream from Turkey Hill Dairy in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Pastor was a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan and the ice cream was created to commemorate the team. I believe last Sunday evening the church met for a time of prayer for Pastor.] I highly recommend it, if you haven’t tried it yet.
Ephesians 3, verses 20 and 21: Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever, amen.
[Prayer] Father, we recognize that’s who You are. You are able to do far more than we can imagine. Lord, we come to You; we are a needy people and there’s so much that we can imagine but Your ways are higher than ours. So Lord, we need to hear from You. We need a word from You today. I thank the Lord that Your people are going to hear Your voice today, everyone in this room, spoken to by Your Holy Spirit, individually, personally, customized Word. Thank you, Lord, for that. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, speak to my heart, change my life, in Jesus’ name. Amen, amen. You may be seated.
There’s a lot of things in life I would enjoy if I had the opportunity. One thing, I almost wish I had the opportunity to do what Pat Robertson [born 1930, the founder and chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network, hosts “The 700 Club, a daily television show] does, and that is comment on the news from a Christian perspective. I agree with him many times; many times I don’t, but from a spiritual perspective of what’s going on in the world. And this week was no exception at all, with what’s happening in Libya—you’re familiar with Muammar Gaddafi. [He is referring to the Libyan Civil War, which began with protests in Benghazi on February 15, 2011 and lasted through October 2011.] Colonel Gaddafi is being rejected by his people, as the turmoil in the Middle East is so important to the world and from the Biblical perspective, of course. But one of the reporters said that they say in Libya that he has “Jinns” which he [the reporter] said is their way of saying he’s crazy. Well, in Islam “jinn” means demon and they are saying, in Arabic, he is demon-possessed, but in the West we don’t like that kind of language, so they just kind of interpret it as “crazy”. Well, Colonel Gaddafi, you may have also seen, has a group of 40 women of different ethnic backgrounds who are trained to be his bodyguards. Ostensibly they are virgins, at least when he hires them [he laughs], and they surround him and protect him, and they are named the Amazon or Amazonian Guard. See the link to Ephesus? It’s like everything goes back to Ephesus. The Amazonian Guard, protecting him.
Well, the world kind of dismisses him as crazy, and sometimes we see someone like Colonel Gaddafi, and we say, “Wow, he’s so crazy. How do people put up with him?” And yet, we miss, sometimes, the craziness in our own culture. It’s embedded in our culture. Now, one thing that came out this week that is, ah—well, let’s see how you react to it. This week, National Geographic [“Small Nuclear War Could Reverse Global Warming for Years” by Charles Q. Choi, published February 23, 2011] and Time Magazine are reporting that a group of NASA scientists who’ve been working on this believe that they have found the solution to global warming. They said if we had just a small nuclear war—[when congregation reacts with astonishment, he says] I’m dead serious—with about 100 bombs; if it could be limited to 100 going off, that that would stem the tide of global warming, and the nuclear winter that would be, you know, temporary would turn the tide. Now Time Magazine is to report this week that they say there are problems with, maybe, that approach. [Congregation laughs, uncomfortably.] This is your tax dollars at work.
There is craziness that’s just part of our society. There is one report—you see, I was sick enough not to do any work, but I could sit there and move my finger on the computer [he chuckles], as you can tell. A report just came out; the average British man spends 11 years watching television, 11 years of his life watching television, [he pauses] and 8 years being reminded of it. No [and he laughs]. But I don’t know what the American man would be; it would probably be about the same. That’s crazy that we would waste that much of our life doing that, isn’t it? And yet we accept that. So, you know, we have enough craziness of our own.
Let me submit one more thing. You say, “How are you preaching from the text?” We’re getting there [and he laughs heartily]. This is called the introduction. Have you ever heard a guest speaker? They’ll go for 45 minutes, talking about whatever, and then they say, “Okay, now let’s turn to our text.” [implication of congregants’ thoughts] “I already thought you preached the sermon.”
Anyhow, I believe that in America, basically, almost all of us lost our minds in the 60’s, to some degree or other. I mean, it was a crazy decade. It really was, and the early 70’s—it was. Remember this song, “Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky. Imagine all the people, living for today.” Well, that’s what most of them do. “Imagine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for”—by the way, most people who are killing each other aren’t doing it for countries—“nothing to kill or die for and no religion too. Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will be as one. Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can, no need for greed or hunger, a brotherhood of man. Imagine all the people sharing all the world. You may say that I’m a dreamer. I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will live as one.” [“Imagine”, words and music by John Lennon, copyright 1971.] Folks, that’s crazy.
Now I know I’m going to offend about five of you who have soul ties to John Lennon. You know, people have soul ties to celebrities; they do. And that needs to be broken. It’s okay to watch [current popular singers] Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus, but you know, there’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed. Parents, be careful of that. You know, everyone’s looking for heroes. I know a celebrity. He wasn’t thought of as a celebrity in His day. His name is Jesus! [congregation applauds] His name is Jesus, and everything else is a substitute. It really is.
Well, this is madness. No possessions? Did John Lennon give everything he had away? The hypocrisy. You know that Bono has most of his possessions hidden away in the Caymans [Cayman Islands] or whatever, and he’s given very, very little himself to Africa. [This was reported in an article titled “Bono’s ONE Foundation Under Fire for Giving Little Over 1% of Funds to Charity” in The Daily Mail, 23 September 2010.] We elevate these people as if they’re paragons of something or other, and they’re not. So at best, this vision, this imagination, at best, is the Soviet Union; at worst it’s The Lord of the Flies [dystopian novel by William Golding, copyright 1954], if you read that in high school. That’s the truth.
So speaking of soul ties, this is one reason I drug myself here today. That’s going to be addressed in the Spiritual Breakthrough Weekend. [The church was preparing to host a weekend conference with Pastor Jeff Leake of Allison Park Church, Pittsburgh, PA.] I have a prophetic word for somebody here today, that there’s a soul tie that needs to be broken, and God wants you today to go home and throw away your DVD of the movie The Notebook [2004 romantic drama based on the 1996 novel by Nicholas Sparks]. Throw it in the trash, and see if you can sign up for the Spiritual Breakthrough Weekend, and break that soul tie for you. That movie has probably broken up more marriages than any movie that I know of in modern times.
Imagination is so important. That’s why the Bible says take every thought captive to Christ [see II Cor. 10:5]. That’s why, when people look at pornography, they’re imagining that that person would be interested in them. [spoken sarcastically] Yeah, right [then he chuckles]. You know, our imagination, what is it focused on? Well, it should be focused on the God who can go beyond what we can imagine.
I want to talk about the future and the present, the promise and the present. First of all, Heaven. God’s Heaven is far beyond what we can imagine, and one of the problems is we make Heaven out to be boring. We imagine Heaven: wake up—we’re not going to sleep, but as it were—you get up in the morning, breakfast; nine o’clock, choir rehearsal; ten o’clock, another choir rehearsal; eleven o’clock, choir rehearsal; lunch; then one o’clock, choir rehearsal; two o’clock, choir rehearsal; then on through dinner, and a choir recital in the evening. Next day, the same thing. You know, we have such a limited view and many times we portray this boring view of Heaven. And then you hear people say, “Well, I may be in Hell but it’s going to be a party.” To which I say, “Where did you get that idea? Where’d you get this? It’s not in the Bible. Where’d you get that idea that Hell is a party? You know someone who was there having a party? That imagination, that thought, where’d that come from?”
I want you to see something with me in Revelation. Turn with me in your Bibles to the end of Revelation. Let’s start with chapter 19. We’re going to go through the–I’m not going to wait for the series on Revelation to touch on Revelation [referring to last week’s sermon where he discussed that he might like to preach on the book of Revelation after he concludes this series]. Today. We’re going to start with 19. This is the end of the end, and the beginning of the new. Chapter 19 is all about bringing glory to Jesus, you with me? Chapter 20 is the Millennium, the 1000-year reign of Christ and then the dead are judged. Chapter 21 is the New Jerusalem, the City of God, okay? Chapter 22 kind of summarizes everything in the book of Revelation and John kind of signs out at the end, speaking of Jesus’s coming. Okay?
Now, notice—I want you to see something. And this was not spoken of. There was one more thing in the news this week. A young man, you’ve probably heard of the book called Heaven Is For Real [by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent, published 2010 by Thomas Nelson]. And it’s number one on the New York Times Best Seller List right now, and number one in Amazon. And his name is Colton; he was four years old and his appendix had burst. For several days, they thought it was a stomach virus, and when they got in, they lost him for a while. He had an NDE, near death experience. He observed some things happening, as we often hear in near death experiences. He could tell what was going on in other rooms around where he was laying, totally out of it, but he went to Heaven. And Colton described to his parents meeting his great-grandfather who had died 30 years before, but meeting him as a young adult. He said everybody in Heaven is a young adult, [congregation laughs and he says] praise God. He talked about encounters with Jesus and the Father, and different things about Heaven. One of the most startling things was he said, “I met my other sister” to his parents. He had a living sister. They said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Mommy, did you have a baby die in your tummy?” She said yes, that she had had a miscarriage. He said, “Well, I met her in Heaven as a young adult.” Just startling things that he could not have known at that age otherwise. Heaven is for real.
Now, when I talk about that, let me ask you, what is that in you that rises up and says “Yes.” What is that–you with me—when you hear a story like that? I put it on my Facebook page if you want to see; he was on different TV shows. What is that that rises up and says “Yes!” I’ll tell you what it is. We are built for eternity. We are built for eternity. We’re not built for this life. That’s why when we live only for this life, living only for today, it’s crazy, because we’re built for eternity. And we need to live like that.
Well, the Bible doesn’t give us a whole lot of detail about Heaven. But in this New Jerusalem, there is a city and we’re told this city has measurements. It is 1400 miles square and then cubed. So 1400 miles, maybe about the size of east of the Mississippi River, and then cubed. Well, how much space is that? Jesus said, “I go away to prepare a place for you. In my Father’s house are many—most scholars say now the best translation is rooms or like condos. [He is quoting John 14:2-3, not necessarily in that order.] You like to have a nice condo for eternity. So I tried to calculate, if the New Jerusalem were a high-rise condo–and 1400 miles would be high-rise for sure–if it were a high-rise condo, how many condos would it hold? Well, let’s imagine that you had a condo of not 2,000 square feet or 3,000, but let’s say 5,000 square feet condo. That’s a pretty good-sized condo, and that only half of Heaven was condos. The other would be open space, a place for people to gather, and rivers, and all that stuff, okay? I calculated that if it were a cube, that it could hold—if everybody had their own condo individually, it could hold–at least 5,000 trillion people. Now, that’s more people than there is in California. [Congregation laughs, and he says] I mean, that’s a lot of people. That’s a lot.
Some say, the New Jerusalem could be a pyramid because we’re only given the base and we’re given the height–all the same size, 1400 miles–but we’re not told it’s a cube. It could be a pyramid, then you cut that by a third. You still have plenty of space. But I think a lot of us think in this Heavenly City, we’re going to be in there all of the time. The city has 12 what? Gates. And what were the gates about? Well, they’re beautiful and we talk about the beauty of them, and that’s wonderful, and what’s written on them, and that’s wonderful. But I want you to see verse 25, Revelation 21:25, just one verse: On no day will its gates ever be shut. What does that mean? It means we’re moving inside and out of the city. We’re going in and out just like ancient cities. They didn’t do agriculture inside the city, right? There were lots of things that were done outside the city. The city was for safety; the city was for gathering; the city was for governing, and all that sort of thing. But they moved inside and outside the city.
So what are we going to do for eternity? I want to throw out a speculation. I can imagine too. And maybe I’ll write a song, and see if it becomes as popular as John Lennon’s. Imagine that we complete the universe. The universe seems such a stark place, almost like Genesis 1, the earth is just void and kind of lifeless. Imagine if we complete the universe in eternity. Wouldn’t that be something? That would be your project. You know, Jesus talked about those who are faithful with five cities are given five more, and that may apply to the Millennium, or maybe it’s just an illustration. I don’t know but I know it’s not going to be boring! Amen? It’s not going to be boring. More than you can imagine. He’s able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we can ask or think for eternity, for eternity. [That refers to the King James translation of Ephesians 3:20.] So maybe you have a portion of the universe that you are in charge of, to kind of bring it to life, garden it, steward it, I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not, maybe it’s beyond that because it is more than we can imagine.
It’s interesting that man has always been reaching for the stars. In Babylon, they wanted to build a tower. Think of all the work that it took to build a tower to reach into the Heavens, all that work and you’ve got to look at that and say, “It’s kind of crazy.” I mean, you realize how high it is? What kind of tower do you think you can build? It’s crazy. But still today, [we are] reaching for the stars. Now I understand all of the benefits. I’m not anti-space exploration, but I’m wondering what’s driving it sometimes. Some people are all upset that the Russians might get to Mars before the Americans do. What’s that about? Is that about really discovering something that would be of great benefit to us? Are they trying to search for the origins of life rather than taking what the Bible says? Or is it national pride? Is it all of the above? Can you imagine, in Brazil, someone really concerned about who is going to get to Mars first? Who cares?
I think a lot of what we do is a substitute for what God has prepared. We’re trying to do it ourselves, and He can do more than we can imagine. Heaven is going to be greater than we can possibly imagine. Now let’s talk about here and now. Unto him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly—in the King James—above all you could ask or think, immeasurably more. This word [immeasurably] is a compound adverb; it’s a very rare word in the Greek, and it literally means “infinitely more”. He is able to do infinitely more than you can ask or think, according to His power that is at work within us. What is that power? It’s the Holy Spirit. If you know the Lord, you have the Spirit, okay? We talked about fullness of the Spirit, baptism in the Spirit last week, but if you are a Christian, you have the Holy Spirit. Amen? The Holy Spirit is in you; He’s regenerated you. He is in you, so we all have the Holy Spirit.
According to the power that is at work within us. Let me ask you. That power that is within you, is it at work? Or is it just there? Is it lying dormant? Are you working that power, are you working the faith that you have? You say it’s as small as a mustard seed, or smaller. Work it, use it, reach out, pray for somebody, do something, and it will grow. He is only able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine as long as that power within us is activated. Now, if you spent 11 years of your life in front of the television, you are unlikely to have that power very activated in your life, you with me? That’s a killer. That’s a killer. I’m not saying watching some TV is not appropriate to zone out sometimes, whatever, but my goodness, 11 years!
The power that is at work within us, what you felt when I told you Colton’s story, what you feel in this place today, that Holy Spirit should be at work in us every day, every day, every morning. Holy Spirit–the Holy Spirit’s a person—Holy Spirit, what do you want us to do today? Jesus, under your Lordship, what do you want the Spirit in me to accomplish today for Your glory? And when we think that way, God is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or think. You say, “Pastor, you are denying reality.” The apostle Paul wasn’t denying reality. Look at [Ephesians] chapter 4, verse 1, the very next verse. Notice in the Greek—now I’ve told you before, in the New Testament, there are no chapters, there are no verses, there are even no word division in the original. It’s just letters. Translators have to be careful, because you could say, “God is now here” or “God is nowhere”. It’s how you divide it, so there’s no division here between chapters. And verse 1, the apostle Paul says he’s a prisoner for the Lord. He was in prison all the time.
I was in one of the prisons Paul was in in Rome. That was an experience. There was a little water from a cistern that was available there, and then there was, near where the Senate met in Rome, there was another cut in the rock where the discharge would go out, and they would usually put the bodies in there from that prison, and it would hit this underground water sewer that the Caesars had made, and would carry it [sewage] out into the river. Paul was in prison all the time. Peter, it seemed like Peter had angels come to rescue him, and here Paul is. Of course, he didn’t have any TV to watch so he wrote letters. He wrote letters. He used his time for the Lord, redeeming the time. He is realistic, he knows what life is. He’s been battered, he’s been bruised. He’s been hurt, he’s been rejected. He’s been abandoned, he’s had everything bad that you could have happen to you, but he lifts up the One who is able to do exceedingly, immeasurably more than we can ask or think. That’s my Jesus. That’s my Jesus. That’s my Jesus, who said before He went to the cross, “I go away,” and He’s been working on this city for 2000 years. It’s goin’ to be sumptum, it’s goin’ to be sumptum. [In central Pennsylvania, the word “something” is modified to “sumptum”, almost as if you are swallowing the word, to indicate a very special, unique, exciting object or event, and you give a little shake to your head as well.] I look forward to be with Him.
Would you stand with me, please? I can only imagine what He will do then and what He will do now. When we focus on Him, when the Holy Spirit is at work within us, our faith is activated, we are seeking Him, we are praying, we are focused on Him, I can only imagine what He will do here as well. Let’s sing this song. [As the song begins, Pastor says, “Thank You, Jesus,” and the service ends when the song finishes.] “I can only imagine what it will be like when I walk by Your side. I can only imagine what my eyes will see when Your face is before me.” [“I Can Only Imagine”, words and music by Bart Millard, copyright 2001, and performed by MercyMe.]