Dare to Dream God’s Dreams for You!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGenesis 37

Peter Marshall… chaplain to the US Senate in the 40’s once preached about the faithfulness of God and made the following statement:

 No one yet has ever set out to test God’s promises fairly, thoroughly, and humbly, and had to report that God’s promises don’t work. On the contrary, given a fair opportunity, God always surprises and overwhelms those who truly seek, with His bounty and His power.

Marshall’s words cannot be illustrated with a clearer example than the biography in which we are about recount.   The story of Joseph is a story for the ages. Whether remembered as a child on a flannel graph board in Sunday School… or as an adult while enjoying the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolored Dream Coat. His story touches and fascinates us. He is a man that was tested to the absolute max… and exercising faithfulness he caught a glimpse of the absolute faithfulness of God.

Now Joseph’s story is often described as a “rags to riches” story… it is actually a “riches to rags to riches” story. Although things go south for him rather quickly in this chapter… his story begins with him in a relatively good place. He was a son of a prosperous man… and also had the good fortune of the father’s favorite.  In fact father Jacob gives Joseph a special coat. The NIV calls it a “richly ornamented robe…” The NASB calls it “a varicolored tunic.” We remember its as being called the “coat of many colors.”  What we might not know is that this coat meant that Joseph was in a privileged class. The fact that it had long sleeves would make him exempt from participating in menial farming tasks.  This did not sit well with his brothers.

Beyond that, he appears to have the favor of his heavenly Father. God spoke to him in dreams. And in those dreams images of grain sheaves and dazzling stars bowing in honor to him, made it clear to Joseph that his life would matter. Even his father and brothers would one day honor him.

As we look at Joseph’s life over these next few weeks I challenge you to look at what God has caused you to dream about. What is in your heart and head that is to wonderful to tell? What has God called you to?

Let me give you a warning, however.  There are forces at work that would prefer you stop your dreaming and take your place in the throngs of faithless humanity. Joseph’s brothers jeered: “Bow down to you, you little pipsqueak? Not in this lifetime!” “Let’s get rid of this dreamer and see what becomes of his dreams!”  By the end of this chapter they at first desire to kill him… and then seek to prophet from his demise by selling him instead.

If YOU dare to dream you will not often be met with enthusiasm. More often you will face condescension, laughter, a dose of cold water or even animosity.

And yet, God calls you to dream His dreams…in full technicolor. And He wants to paint with your life a portrait of His love and His faithfulness.   But how does a disciple cooperate with the dream giver? How does one learn to dream God-sized dreams?

Joseph in the next few weeks will learn some important lessons that will move him towards his dreams:

He will learn the lessons that only comes through hardship.

He will learn to trust when all evidence of hope is gone.

He will learn to forgive when he would rather forget.

He will learn to lead men and yet stay humble to his roots.

But these lessons will take time. And it is his attitude along the way that make all the difference and help him reach his goal.  Perseverance will not be something optional for his path to his dream.

James S. Hewett shared the following story in his book Illustrations Unlimited:  “Years ago a young black child was growing up in Cleveland, in a home which he later described as “materially poor but spiritually rich.”

One day a famous athlete, Charlie Paddock, came to his school to speak to the students. At the time Paddock was considered “the fastest human being alive.” He told the children, “Listen! What do you want to be? You name it and then believe that God will help you be it.” That little boy decided that he too wanted to be the fastest human being on earth. The boy went to his track coach and told him of his new dream. His coach told him, “It’s great to have a dream, but to attain your dream you must build a ladder to it. Here is the ladder to our dreams. The first rung is determination! And the second rung is dedication. The third rung is discipline! And the fourth rung is attitude!

The result of all that motivation is that he went on to win four gold medals in the 1936 Olympic and World records for the 200 meter. His broad jump record lasted for twenty-four years. His name? Jesse Owens.  (Illustrations Unlimited, pp. 26-27.)

Dream the dreams that God has for you!  Others may try to silence them… but He who has called you will not disappoint.

Blessings!

Advertisements

When the Command is GO!

GOGenesis 12: 1-9

In the book What Good is God? author Phillip Yancey tells the story of Stephen Alfred – a believer he met in India.  Yancey writes:  “[Stephen] had studied in England, married an English woman, and built up a thriving surgery practice until one night he had a kind of vision. He heard God ask him three questions: Why did I make you Indian? Why did I make you good? What are you doing about it? Haunted by those questions, he left his practice, moved his family to India, and opened a hospital that focuses on serving the poor.”

I imagine that Stephen could have lived out the rest of his years in comfort and contributed to the needs of his homeland with dutiful checks sent out each month.  But God sent out the command:  Go!

I sat in a small country church in rural Tennessee one morning and heard the same call.  I had always been unnerved by the Great Commission.  If God called me, would I go?  I wasn’t even sure I wanted to.  I finally struck up a bargain with God that brought me some peace.  I reasoned with God that my primary barrier to missions work was money.  If I only had the means to go… I would go.  But I was just a struggling college student with a part-time youth ministry position… I knew such a call would never come.

Then came a Sunday morning in East Tennessee when the pastor from the pulpit announced a mission trip to Venezuela.  If anyone felt the call to go, the church would pay all the expenses.  I was caught… and I knew it.  I went forward that morning at the altar call.  A few months from then I was on a plane to South America.

Back in Chapter 11 of Genesis, we are introduced to  a man named Terah.  Terah had the radical idea of moving his entire family from the large city of Ur to a sparsely populated region known as Canaan.  So his clan pack up their possessions, put their families on camels and set out.  But they didn’t get very far.  They ended up settling in a town called Haran.  Haran was a flourishing caravan city in 19th Century B.C. and was heavy into the worship of the Moon-God.  Terah, we learn in Jos 24:2, was an idolater and would have felt right at home in Haran.  Genesis 11:31 reads: “When they came to Haran, they settled there.”  We then learn in verse 32 that Terah died in Haran.

It is when they are in Haran that Terah’s son, Abram, receives a unique call from God:  Go forth from your country, and from your relatives  and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you;  And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse.  and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

Yahweh’s first command of Abram is: Go.  It is a radical, life altering, exciting, and mind-blowing command.  Such is the call of God!   It is the parent bird kicking the baby bird from the nest.  And that is why it can be so hard to to obey when God calls. We get ourselves nestled in here on earth.

Look at Abram.  He was tied in to Haran!  His family was there.  Family back then was everything.  He was being called from his family’s homeland… to march out to no-where-land.  Haran was an up and coming city.  Abram had lots of possessions.  He could take a lot with him… but he would leave behind a lot… primarily land.  And he had flocks and herds… they aren’t the easiest things to travel with.  Then he had the model of Terah.  Terah made big plans to conquer the unknown and then settled.  He would live in die in Haran… not in the Promised Land.  Bucking one’s family’s tendencies takes some strong resolve.

Face it: Pulling up roots is hard.  But when the clear call of God comes, the call out of our comfort zone and into the unknown, what are we to do?  We don’t get to see the inner struggle within Abram at the calling (if indeed there was one).  The next verse in Scripture reads:  So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him…

Perhaps today you are wrestling with a calling… God is calling you out.  You feel you don’t have the resources (I certainly felt that way about missions as a young man); you feel too old and settled (so did aging Abram); you feel uncertain about the details of such a decision (so has anyone that has ever stepped out in faith).

Just answer these three questions:  1)  Why did God make you?  2)  Why did God make you good?  and 3)  What are you going to do about it?

The answer to those questions might just send you packing… to a new career, to a new city, to a new mission.  But that’s okay… the one who commands is the One who provides, the One who makes young, the One who fills in the details.   Ours is to listen; ours is to obey.  In the words of Oswald Chambers:  “A life lived listening to the decisive call of God is a life lived before one audience that trumps all others—the Audience of One. The caller is God.”

Blessings!

 

Gift Exchange

gift exchangeRomans 1:11-12

“I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong– that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”

Not too long ago, Saddleback Church in Southern California surveyed over 8,000 of their new members and asked them why they joined.  Their results:

#10 – Special Events and Activities
#9 – Location Near Our Home
#8 – Missions
#7 – Different Styles of Worship
#6 – Small Groups and Discipleship Classes
#5 – Pastoral Care
#4 – Children’s and Youth Ministry
#3 – Service Opportunities
#2 – Worship
#1 – Preaching and Teaching 

Interesting list!  There is a lot for church leaders to take in here.  But can I offer one more to the list.  One that might entice you to a church that doesn’t have half of the others:  a place to minister.  (I realize “service opportunities” might provide this.  But I’m trying to hone in on something more specific.)  Every person that joins a church must discover their God given “ministry.”  The purpose of their personal existence and their reason for being a part of that specific body.

I heard many years ago from a popular Christian leader that churches should have “human scaffolding.”  What he meant by this was that there needed to be some that just came and supported the ministry with their money.  I cannot find a Biblical support for this ministry strategy.  Everyone is called to bring their gifts to the body and to find a ministry in which to employ them.

And yet, what do people look for when they visit a church?  Good teaching, cleanliness, friendliness, something for the kids, etc.

In this introduction of his letter to the Romans, Paul informs them that he would like to visit them.  But he is clear on his intent!  He isn’t going to Rome to see the Forum or the Coliseum.  He comes bearing gifts!

What does Paul mean by this?  I don’t believe that Paul is bringing with him a certain spiritual gift that they had been lacking, such as tongues or another manifestation of the Spirit.  Paul never claims to “institute” a specific gift anywhere… that is the job of the  Holy Spirit.  By “impart,” I believe Paul refers to the benefit that they will receive when he exercises his own spiritual gifts among them.  Why does Paul want to do this?

1)     That you may be established.

The Greek word is sterizo (stay-rid’-zo):  “To make stable, firm and to strengthen or fix.”  This is the word that Jesus used in Luke 16:26.  He told Peter that he would deny him three times that encouraged him by saying:  “…but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again strengthen your brothers.” Luke 16:26

The Christian life is one of stability and strength.  But we need the help of others to get there.  Paul’s goal in life:  Colossians 1:28-29 – “to present every man complete in Christ.  And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.”

We tend to listen to experts on fitness, diet and health (sometimes) as authoritative.  Bur preachers, teachers and evangelists… not so much.  We get defensive.  We get that American pioneer spirit.  “If it is to be… it’s up to me!”

We are forever pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps.  But we need to receive the gifts that God gives us by way of fellow believers.  They are instrumental in our reaching God’s goals for our lives.

Would you have the humility to do that?  Paul did.

2) “…that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.”

NIV omits “both yours and mine”… maybe because it is repetitive… but Paul repeats it to make his point stronger.  This is a gift exchange… not a one way receiving.  Paul says:  “I learn from you as well as you learn from me.”

We need to be encouraged by the gift others bring to the body.  We shouldn’t get jealous or envious… or critical.  We must mutually encourage each other!

So what are you looking for in a church?  We should see if their doctrine is sound and if they are strong in outreach, etc.  But we should also ask… do they need the gifts that I would bring there if I joined? 

Remember, Jesus told us to pray that the Father would send more laborers into the vineyard… but not once did he request any “human scaffolding.”

Set Your Sail!

sailboatPick up the Phone:  God’s Calling on Your Life

Part 4 of 5

______________________________

Acts 17:10-12

10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.  11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.

Now what did Paul and Silas do next?  They set their sails and when to Macedonia.  This will determine whether or not you will ever discover the will of God for your life.  God more often calls the willing.  If He knows that in calling you to Macedonia you will spend forever reading travel brochures and learn native customs and read articles about how Macedonians think… and never get around to booking passage to the country… He would rather call someone else.

Amazama Ministries

Amazama Ministries

I concur with Katie Davis, the 20 something missionary in Uganda in her book, Kisses from Katie:

“I don’t always know where this life is going I can’t see the end of the road, but here is the great part.  Courage is not about knowing the path.  It is about taking the first step.”

Kathy Lang heard such a calling.

“A veteran surgical nurse for over 25 years, Kathy was looking for a new job. An agency that staffs nurses offered her a position at a prison. Without hesitation, Kathy replied emphatically, “No!”

A few days later in the car, she was listening to a Keith Green CD when her ears were startled by the lyrics: “I was in prison, and I rotted there; I’d prayed that you’d come.”

Over the next ten days she was bombarded with prison references everywhere she turned. On the TV and the radio—prison news. Her devotion book had references to prison. Kathy finally relinquished: “Okay, God, I get it!”

When she arrived home, she called the agency, but the job had been filled. Undaunted, she visited a local youth detention facility to inquire if they needed a nurse, only to learn there was a hiring freeze. For the next four months she kept calling agencies to inquire. And she prayed.  One night, Kathy and her daughter Jessica were driving home from the store. As they passed the prison at exactly 9:00 p.m., she and Jessica prayed, asking the Lord to open the door if it was truly his will for Kathy to work there. She promised to never stop praying for those girls.  Exactly 12 hours later, at precisely 9:00 the next morning, the agency called to offer her that job. …

[As Kathy worked in the clinic,] she had the idea to give every girl a Bible. Through a small grant, Kathy was able to get a few hundred of them for the cost of shipping. …  At the end of each appointment [Kathy had with a female prisoner], she offered the girl a Bible, briefly explaining how to use it. Their responses were mixed between joy and refusal.  Kathy’s heart ached for these girls, most of whom were from difficult backgrounds with little hope for change.

After [Kathy] gave out the first batch of Bibles, her vision was expanded to do more. She contacted various prison chaplains and was able to place more than 6,000 Bibles in four years. …  Kathy’s goal is to see a Bible in the hand of every prisoner. And she has kept her promise to God—she never stops praying for them.  Kathy’s guiding verse for her mission with these troubled youth comes from Isaiah 9:2: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”  (Cindy Huff, “Taking Jesus to Jail,” Today’s Christian, July/August 2008.)

Have you heard a calling from God and then sat on it?  Earlier I said God more frequently calls those that are willing.  But he also calls a few Jonahs.  Maybe you are one of those.  I know where I am suppose to go… but I am unwilling to.

Get those sails up!  Take that first step.  Make that call.  Start praying.  You will be able to do more than you could ever imagine.

Their Cries… Your Calling!

Pick Up the Phone:  God’s Calling on Your Life – Part 3 of 5

____________________________

Acts 17:9prayer2

9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

Paul and Silas had never stopped praying on that second missionary journey.  Even after so many shut and locked doors.  Even when they reached Troas and what appeared to be the end of the line.  They kept listening for a specific call of God and eventually they heard it.  That is when things got interesting.  It is the same for us today… to keep asking and praying and listening always proceeds the most interesting moments in life.

Psychiatrist Gerald May wrote, “There is a desire within each of us, in the deep center of ourselves that we call the heart.  We are born with it, it is never completely satisfied, and it never dies.  We are often unaware of it, but the desire is always awake.”

Pastor Craig Barnes commenting on May’s quote, said:  “When the desire becomes too much, they can try to bury it beneath excessive work, another purchase, or another move to another place.  They can try to numb the desire, but that will only lead to addiction.  They can even spend most of life trying to tame the desire with respectability and the construction of a good reputation.  But the wild desire just keeps breaking out of the closed chambers of the heart in unguarded moments.  G. K. Chesterton has called this “the divine discontent” that incessantly reminds us we were created for something else.  – Craig Barnes (Searching for Home:  Spirituality for Restless Souls, p. 64.)

Blessed is the man or woman that has found that something else!   Blessed are those that have discovered their God given calling.

It is interesting that Paul and Silas’ call here comes in the form of an actual call from a specific group of people.  Their cries [the Macedonians] became the call of God for Paul and Silas.

David Brainerd who won many thousands of American Indians to Christ, once said, “I cared not where or how I lived, or what hardships I went thru, so that I could but gain souls for Christ. While I was asleep I dreamed of these things, and when I awoke, it was the first thought that I had, the thought of this great work.”
He caught a vision hearing the American Indians crying, “come over here and help us!”

Hudson Taylor

David Livingston, the first man to take the gospel into the heart of Africa, said, “I must open a way to the interior or perish!”
It was do or die…and he caught that vision when he heard the Africans crying, “come over here and help us!”

J. Hudson Taylor, pioneer Missionary to China, said, “I feel as though I cannot live if something is not done for China.”  His life came alive when he heard the Chinese cry:  “come over here and help us!”

It is one of the saddest things in the world to miss or choose not to hear God and not to hear the call of those who cry for help.

The story has been told of the little church in Germany sited near train tracks that carried Jews to their death.  “Each Sunday Morning,” the German man telling the story said, “we could hear the whistle in the distance and then the wheels coming over the tracks. We became disturbed when we heard the cries coming from the train as it passed by. We realized that it was carrying Jews like cattle in the cars!”
“Week after week the whistle would blow. We dreaded to hear the sound of those wheels because we knew that we would hear the cries of the Jews en route to a death camp. Their screams tormented us.”
We knew the time the train was coming and when we heard the whistle blow we began singing hymns. By the time the train came past our church we were singing at the top of our voices. If we heard the screams, we sang more loudly and soon we heard  them no more. Years have passed, and no one talks about it much any more; but I still hear that train whistle in my sleep. I can still hear them crying out for help. God forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians, yet did nothing to intervene.”

What cry have you heard and chose to ignore?  The cry of the inner city?  The cry of Africa?  The cry of unwed mothers?  The cry of those caught in the sex trafficking trade?  The cry of the orphan?

Proverbs 21:13 reminds us:  13 He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be answered.

How dare we sit in our comfortable church buildings and sing our songs and eat our fill at our potlucks and enjoy our sweet fellowship, and then walk out those church doors deafened to the cries of the world?

Want to better understand your calling?  Let their cries become your calling.  And then things will start to get interesting.

Running Out of Real Estate

Pick up the phone 2

 

  Acts 16:6-8cliff

  “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phyrgia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.  When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.  So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.”

Paul is seeking and reaching and praying… and he isn’t getting anywhere.  The Holy Spirit stops him from preaching in Asia.  The Spirit of Jesus won’t let him touch Bithynia.

This is different from his first missionary journey.  It was wondrous.  Paul and Barnabas traveled through Asia, founding churches and setting people on fire for the gospel. But after returning home things cooled off a bit.  They come back to a less than rapturous welcome from a Jerusalem church, who wanted to know what they were doing baptizing Gentiles!  Then there was a fall out between Paul and Barnabas.  The dream team splits.  Barnabas heads off with Mark and Paul journeys with Silas instead.

Now this trip is not going so well!  Bouncing from city to city they can’t plant a toehold in any of them.  They were prevented… they weren’t allowed!  Whatever form this took, it sounds to me like a lot of angry faces and slammed doors.

Faced any rejection lately?  Impeccable skills and a flawless resume have not turned up one good job interview?  Your past experience in a certain ministry field is now turning out underwhelming results?  What gives?  What can you do to find where God can use you best?

In Matthew 7:7, Jesus said we were to “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.”  You have probably heard somewhere before that the verbs for “Ask,” “seek” and “knock” are all present tense verbs in Greek… meaning they should be translated:  “keep on asking,” “keep on seeking,” and “keep on knocking.”

That is what Paul does.  He can’t find the place he is suppose to serve… so he keeps moving.  He Troaskeeps going and going until he reaches the city of Troas.  Now Troas was a sea port.  That means that Paul and Silas plumb ran out of real estate!  In the next few verses God is going to open their eyes to a brand new mission field.  But first, imagine the two of them “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay.”  They are painted into a corner, at the end of the road… Troas!  Maybe that’s where you are right now…  out of options and very desperate.

God may have you there because he wants to open your eyes to a whole new way of viewing your world.  And this often comes at the end of where your own ingenuity has taken us.  So don’t despair.  Keep asking!  Keep seeking!  Keep knocking!  God will grant a vision in His timing!

Many years ago, a young writer interviewed the legendary IBM president Thomas J. Watson.  He was given some unusual advice by the industrialist:  “It’s not exactly my line,” Watson said, “but would you like me to give you a formula for writing success?  It’s quite simple, really.  Double your rate of failure.”

Watson continued, “You’re making a common mistake.  You’re thinking of failure as the enemy of success.  But it isn’t at all.  Failure is a teacher—a harsh one perhaps, but the best.”

Then he looked at the young writer and asked him a critical question:  “You say you have a desk full of rejected manuscripts?  That’s great!  Every one of those manuscripts was rejected for a reason.  Have you pulled them to pieces looking for that reason?”

Arthur Gordon, the man who had interviewed Watson, went on to become a nationally known author and editor.  He had originally gone to Watson for an interview, but Watson gave him something much more precious.  He gave him a new perspective on failure.   (Gary J. Oliver in How to Get it Right After You’ve Gotten it Wrong, pp. 26-27.)

Failing?  Running out of ideas?  Do what Paul did… keep moving… keep listening.

God may be ready to completely blow your mind with what He has in store for you.

Did I Make the Team?

phone ringingPick Up the PhoneGod‘s Call on Your Life

(Part One of Five)

Philippians 3:13 & Luke 7:30

A few Sundays ago I began my sermon with an illustration regarding the NFL draft.  I started by saying that the story I was going to share would probably only reach the men that morning.  Then I asked who was following the draft.  5 women and no men raised their hands.  Go figure!

A story on Yahoo! Sports caught my eye that weekend:  “E.J. Manuel says he didn’t share the rest of the football world’s surprise when the Buffalo Bills made him the first and only quarterback selected in the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday night. The Florida State signal caller was in on the secret that the Bills coveted him highly and the two sides officially became a pair when the team selected him with the No. 16 pick after trading back from the eighth slot earlier in the night.   Manuel was taken offguard earlier in the night, however, when someone accidentally dialed a wrong number and gave him a slight rush of excitement over the possibility of top 5 money.

E.J. Manuel said his green room hotline phone rang at pick 3. He got excited, then the voice asked if they could talk to Dion Jordan.”

 That had to be a rude disappointment.

It reminds me of when my boys were involved in sports.  After a couple of days or sometimes weeks of practice, they would wait all day by the phone to see if they made the team.  It was a tense time for them… and us!

Some of you are like that athlete in the green room or one of my sons.  You have been waiting ever so long for that phone to ring… for it to provide the answer to your future.  You want to say:  “God, could you help me out here.  I feel like I’m pick #167 or something.  Am I even wanted?  Will I get picked at all?”saints logo

Well first let me say:  Relax, you made the team!  You were picked the day you accepted Christ!  He gave you a new team (the Saints), a jersey (a robe of white) and a team motto:  “If God be for us!  Who can possible be against us?”

But maybe you are more interested in the specifics… What position will you play on the team?  What areas should you be training?  When will you get a chance to score for the kingdom?

I want to start this series with a pair of my favorite verses regarding calling.   The first of these is at the end of Paul’s mini-testimony in Philippians, chapter three.  “…I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.”  There was a reason God had picked him for the team and Paul was in hot pursuit of that reason.  Are you?

The other verse is more an observation by Luke, than a complete thought.  In talking about the adversaries of Jesus in his Gospel, he write:  “But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves…” (Luke 7:30)

Putting these two thoughts together I come up with two principles:  1) God has a purpose for your life that He wants each of us to pursue.  (i.e. You made the team!) and  2)  You can either accept or reject that calling.

Who God calls as a higher pick than you should be of no consequence.  Just pick up the phone and get your assignment.  That could be Him calling right now!