Keeping Your Dreams Alive

Recently I’ve found myself humming “I Dreamed a Dream,” a song from the Les Miserables musical. If you haven’t watched the YouTube video of Susan Boyle singing this on Britain’s Got Talent, I encourage you do so. It’s inspiring!

But I’ve never given much thought to the lyrics of the song until today, when I did a Google search. It turns out that the chorus says this:

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving

Yet, to my surprise, much of the song is actually a downer, recounting dreams that ended long ago: “Then I was young and unafraid, and dreams were made and used and wasted.” By the song’s end, the circumstances of life have torn the dreams apart, and the author comes to this gloomy conclusion: “Life has killed the dream I dreamed.”

What a bummer!

As Joseph was labeled by his brothers (Genesis 39:19), I’ve frequently been described as a “dreamer,” so this whole matter of “dreaming dreams” has always been important to me. However, dreaming is a hazardous activity, and I’ve often struggled to keep my dreams alive. (Someday I’ll tell you the story of when I dreamed of planning the “Perfect Church.” It didn’t take long for “reality” to erode my lofty dreams…)

What about you? Are you still dreaming dreams, or do you speak of your dreams only in the past tense?

A Lesson From Abbie

A personal story from two decades ago illustrates the challenge of keeping our dreams alive. It was bedtime at the Buchan household, and I asked my two young daughters, “What do you want to pray before you go to bed, girls?”

Molly, seven years old at the time, prayed for the Dubles, some good friends who were missionaries in Kenya.

Then Abbie, who was four, chimed in, “Lord, I pray I don’t have any bad dreams. No! I pray I don’t have any dreams at all!”

At first I thought it was humorous that someone would not only pray against bad dreams, but against having any dreams at all. But then God pointed out the surprising fact that I often had similar feelings toward my own dreams.

As you’ve probably already discovered, it’s painful when our fondest dreams turn into nightmares. Although we may not be as honest as Abbie was in her prayer, at times it would seem a great relief to eliminate our dreams altogether. Wouldn’t it be easier to just become a zombie or a mind-numbed robot…putting your life on autopilot and eliminating any new initiatives or risky adventures?

Becoming a Dreamer Again

If you’ve become a disillusioned dreamer, you’re not alone. Yet it’s important to see that not all “dis-illusionment” is bad, for we all have “illusions” in our lives that are not from God. (Remind me to tell you that story about the Perfect Church sometime…)

Jesus’ death on the cross was the most disillusioning event in history. His closest followers were devastated, going from their grandiose expectations at the triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (John 12:12-19) to hiding out in a locked room for fear of the Jews (John 20:19). Peter and some of the others even sought comfort in turning back to their old occupation of fishing (John 21).

And the pain of disillusionment can be felt in the words of the two disciples walking to Emmaus, “We had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). How sad! These men “had hoped” they could count on Jesus to fulfill their dreams, but now their hopes were past tense.

However, at the very time these discouraged men were feeling this way, the resurrected Lord Jesus was walking right beside them! What a great lesson. When our dreams are dashed to the ground and all hope seems lost, the Source of ALL hope is right there with us, ready to open our eyes again to new possibilities.

You’re Never Too Old

Perhaps you think you’re simply too old to dream. My generation of fellow Baby Boomers was perhaps the greatest generation of dreamers to ever live. But now we’re getting OLD, as my kids can attest to.

So is it time to admit defeat and simply stop dreaming dreams? No way! In fact, God has a prophetic word just for us: “In the last days…your young men will see visions, your OLD men will DREAM DREAMS” (Acts 2:17). Let it be, Lord!

No matter how old or young you may be, I encourage you to keep on seeing visions and dreaming dreams. Yes, as Abbie recognized, dreams sometimes are scary or even painful. But we’re entering into days when we’ll need God to raise up a new army of dreamers—taking bold action to impact the world for His kingdom.

 

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Strangers in a Strange Land

God’s plan for believers amid America’s

frustrating cultural war

Many of my Christian friends are in despair over the results of the recent election, wondering if America will ever be the same as the great and godly nation they grew up in. The cultural winds are increasingly blowing against Biblical values, and today’s political correctness is clearly at odds with God’s view of correctness. Only half joking, some believers talk about starting a revolution or perhaps just leaving the country.

As much as I understand these concerns, I think our frustration largely stems from forgetting that there’s an inherent difference between God’s kingdom and the kingdoms of this world—even the American kingdom. Having been seduced by the myth of cultural Christianity, we forget that we are “foreigners and exiles” in this world (1 Peter 2:11). Other translations say we’re sojourners, pilgrims, aliens, or temporary residents.

Is it possible that God will use the election results to remind us that, as His Word has always taught, we are basically called to be strangers in a strange land? Could it be that we had grown too comfortable living in America?

If you’re like me, Jeremiah 29:11 is one of your favorite promises in God’s Word: “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

However, as I pondered our current cultural situation recently, the Lord reminded me that we usually take this great promise totally out of context. No wonder we’re often caught off guard when His plans for us seem unexpectedly difficult.

Picture yourself in this frightening scene, which is the backdrop of Jeremiah 29:11: Your city is invaded by a fierce enemy army. You and many others are taken captive and forcibly removed to the capital city of the invading nation. But you are proud and independent-minded people, not willing to accept this fate without a struggle. Should you join together to try and overthrow the government that is oppressing you? Should you devise a plan to escape one night, either returning to your homes or finding some faraway land where you will be safe?

God has plans for His people, even at such times as this. But not everyone who claims to speak for the Lord has truly heard from Him.

In the distressing situation Jeremiah describes here and in the book of Lamentations, various people claim to have a word from God. Most advocate some form of rebellion or escape, but Jeremiah is the lone prophetic voice who offers this unthinkable advice:

Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper  (Jeremiah 29:5-7).

At such advice, you might have protested, “What! Are you saying we should just accept our captivity? And why in the world would we want to ask God to grant peace and blessing to our captors?”

Sensing that your complaints are getting you nowhere, you make one final argument: “But what about all the prophetic people who are urging us to overthrow this evil civilization we find ourselves in? They certainly seem to be in the majority!”

Again, God speaks through the lone prophet: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them” (Jeremiah 29:8-9). God goes on to say that His people might as well enjoy their time in the foreign land—for they were destined to remain there 70 years.

You see, we live our lives—our “70 years” (Psalm 90:10)—in a foreign land. Of all the nations on earth, I’m surely glad to live in America, but I need to be reminded that this country is not my true home. I’m a citizen of heaven and one of heaven’s ambassadors to a world that desperately needs to be reconciled to God (Philippians 3:20, 2 Corinthians 5:20).

So, what should be our attitude toward our leaders and the country where God has placed us to live? Will we be smugly aloof, trying to keep ourselves unstained by the evil values we perceive in our society? Will we be angry and condescending, projecting an air of superiority to unbelievers? Or will we just give up and surrender, trying so hard to be accepted by the world that we end up imitating its values?

Hopefully we’ll display the same attitude as Jesus displayed during His days on earth. Instead of staying aloof from unbelievers, He was known as “a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners” (Luke 7:34). He was able to be in the world without becoming absorbed by it. That’s why He prayed for His followers, “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).

Like the Israelites who were in exile in Babylon, we are living in a foreign land. But that should not be grounds for rebellion, escape or anger. Rather, we are called, as Jesus did, to take the posture of a servant. Laying aside our garments of superiority, we are to pour water into a basin and “wash the feet” of our society (John 13:1-5). And let’s not forget to pray for our nation’s political leaders—whether we voted for them or not (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Day the Twinkie Died

November 16, 2012 is a day that will forever live in infamy. Hostess Foods—producer of the Twinkie—announced it is liquidating its assets and going out of business.

Of course, part of the story is why the 18,000+ union workers chose to lose their jobs and go on Unemployment rather than take an 8% pay cut. Interesting priorities, don’t you think? But I want to delve into an even more fascinating part of the Twinkie story…

It has been more than 40 years since I’ve had a Twinkie, so you wouldn’t think I would be grieving its untimely death. But I am grieving, and here’s why: Like “mom and apple pie,” Twinkies were something you could count on in the American culture. Even though I hadn’t eaten one since I was a kid, I was comforted by the fact that they were available if I ever suffered from an unexpected “Twinkie attack.”

You see, the deeper issue is that many other icons of the traditional American culture are rapidly passing into oblivion. Newsweek magazine recently announced it is only going to be available online, no longer in print. Cassette tapes and 8-tracks were replaced by CDs, and now even my CD collection is at risk of being replaced by new technology. And how much longer will we have land-line phones?

Everything is changing. That’s the central message of the Twinkie demise. Even the definition of the American “family” is radically different than in the days when I faithfully watched “Leave It to Beaver,” “Father Knows Best,” or even “The Cosby Show.”

Twinkies reminded me of simpler days. It was a time when most Americans seemed attuned to the same cultural values. We all watched “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “Perry Mason,” and “American Bandstand.” But what are we left with now? “The Simpsons” and “Jersey Shore”? Is this progress or regress?

The death of the Twinkie is just one more sign that nothing is dependable in secular society. Many of the things we thought we could count on are no longer available. Everything is subject to change, and sometimes the changes come suddenly and unexpectedly. Instead of Who Moved My Cheese, the new bestseller will surely be Who Stole My Twinkies?

There’s a valuable lesson in all of this. The Bible long ago predicted “the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.” The good news for believers is that our lives can be firmly grounded on the eternal kingdom of God, “a kingdom which cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12:25-29).

Of course, this raises a whole new question: Will there be Twinkies in heaven? I’ll have to leave that answer for another blog post, but I’ve heard that Twinkies really do have an incredible shelf life.

 

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A Ray of Hope on a Dark and Cloudy Day

If you’re feeling bummed out about the direction of your nation right now, I can relate. And so can the prophet Jeremiah.

Yet as Jeremiah wept during the devastation of his beloved city, Jerusalem, his initial reaction was not to blame the Babylonian invaders for his agony. He blamed God, concluding that his nation’s afflictions had come “from the rod of God’s wrath” (Lamentations 3:1-20 TLB).

You have to admit, this was a very logical conclusion. The Lord had promised to defend and protect His people if they walked in His ways. So the Babylonians weren’t the real problem—it was an issue between God and His people.

As Jeremiah witnessed the troubling events befalling his nation, he reasoned, “[God] has turned against me…and surrounded me with anguish and distress.” And he also was baffled by the fact that “though I cry and shout, he will not hear my prayers!”

Jeremiah was having a very bad day. Perhaps you can relate.

To make matters worse, there seemed to be no quick or easy solution: “He has walled me in; I cannot escape.” Perhaps you’ve wanted to just leave the country in your frustration. But escape is not the answer.

And while Jeremiah knew that God promises freedom to His people when they trust and obey Him, he must have been horrified by the realization that “he has fastened me with heavy chains.” How traumatic!

But the chains of the Babylonians were not much different from the chains of debt we now find ourselves in as a nation. One estimate says that every baby born this year will immediately owe $250,000 as their share of the national debt. Chains of bondage, don’t you think?

Jeremiah probably once had a plan for his life, but now everything had changed. Instead of getting closer to his destination, just the opposite seemed true: “[God] has filled my path with detours.” Perhaps you’re one of the thousands of people who’ve had to defer your retirement plans because of “detours” in the economy. I can relate.

If you find your lamenting today, you no doubt feel a need for comrades who understand and sympathize. But Jeremiah wasn’t given this luxury. He felt very much alone, even rejected: “My own people laugh at me; all day long they sing their ribald songs.”

Hmmm…sounds like a cultural war is going on, doesn’t it? While Jeremiah lamented, the people around him laughed. Seemingly without a clue about the destruction they were facing, people mocked God’s prophetic message and chose to flaunt their worldly ways. Jeremiah must have faced opposition from leaders who, like some today, belittle godly people for “clinging to their guns and religion” instead of embracing cultural trends.

Recognizing peace and prosperity as two key pillars of every nation truly blessed by God, Jeremiah was disturbed to realize that both were slipping away: “All peace and all prosperity have long since gone, for you [God] have taken them away.”

As Jeremiah surveyed this dismal situation, he made another quite logical deduction: “The Lord has left me…All hope is gone.” And who could blame him for feeling melancholy, even bitter?

Fortunately, this wasn’t the end of the story. Jeremiah went on to describe how the Lord broke through the dark clouds of disillusionment and gave him a sudden ray of encouragement:

Yet there is one ray of hope: his compassion never ends.

It is only the Lord’s mercies that have kept us from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his loving‑kindness begins afresh each day.

My soul claims the Lord as my inheritance; therefore I will hope in himThe Lord is wonderfully good to those who wait for him, to those who seek for him (Lamentations 3:21-25 TLB).

What an incredible change in Jeremiah’s perspective! From his gloomy place of lament, he saw an amazing ray of hope. From the pit of despair, he saw the Lord’s compassion and faithfulness. From an attitude of blaming God for his anguish, he ended up praising God and declaring His goodness.

So what about you? If you are experiencing a time of lament today—concerning your own life, your loved ones, or your nation—may the Lord break through the clouds and give you a fresh glimpse of His faithfulness.

Like Jeremiah, the apostle John faced some frightening times when he wrote the book of Revelation. Yet everything changed when he saw “a throne in heaven and Someone sitting on it” (Revelation 4:1-2). Praise God, He is still faithful, and still on the throne.

 

 

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Restoring the Wittenberg Door

Tools for a New Reformation?

In 1517 a common Catholic monk named Martin Luther started a tidal wave in Christendom by nailing his Ninety-Five Thesis to the door of Wittenberg Church. Initially he got very little response to this bold challenge to ecclesiastical abuses, but within a year he was put on trial for being a heretic.

The door of the Wittenberg Church was sort of a bulletin board for the university, a place where people could post their events and expound on their views. It’s not too much of a stretch to say it was similar to today’s blog, Twitter, or Facebook posts, giving people an interactive way to express their concerns or share words of encouragement.

Luther’s message on the Wittenberg door challenged the status quo—and, of course, the status quo challenged Luther right back. But when asked to recant his message, he replied:

Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason, I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other. My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.

According to legend, Luther also said the famous words: “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen!”

We desperately need some “Wittenberg Doors” today. The church and the secular culture are again in need of major reformation. People need safe places to ask honest questions about whether the status quo is truly representative of God’s highest will.

Thanks to new technology and the rise of social networks, we have unparalleled opportunities for communication. But hopefully the truly prophetic messages of our day won’t be drowned out in the sea of personal trivia and chatter that social networking sometimes represents.

Today, as in Luther’s day, we need safe places to deliver “dangerous” messages. Of course, Wittenberg Doors present an inevitable risk. There is nothing godly or “prophetic” about personal vendettas or doctrinal axes to grind. The writer of Hebrews warns us not to allow a “root of bitterness,” which will defile many (Hebrews 12:15). Yes, we are commanded to “speak the truth” to one another, but Paul makes it clear that the motivation must always be “in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

This call for more truth-speaking will no doubt attract some disillusioned and disgruntled believers who simply want to firebomb the church. But that is a perversion of what the Wittenberg Door is all about. Even though we are called to challenge the status quo at times, it must be with a constant realization that the church—warts and all—is the beloved bride that Jesus died to create.

In the Jewish Talmud, the rabbinic teachers forbade people from mocking or jeering at anyone or anything except idolatry. However, idolatry in its many forms—sacred cows, to be exact—is a legitimate target for our inquiry or even our derision.

Luther saw the Reformation as something far more important than just a revolt against ecclesiastical abuses or petty doctrinal differences. He believed it was a fight for nothing less than the true gospel. In a similar way, may God raise up bold leaders today who will point the church back to the gospel—and to Christ as the church’s rightful Head.

Let a new tidal wave of reformation begin.

 

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