November 2011

When dreams are not meant to be!

“Are you seeking great things for yourself? Don’t do it!” Jeremiah 45:5 (NLT)

I find myself cringing when I hear people say “You can be anything you set your heart to be.” It is not true. It sets people up for misguided lives fraught with unfulfilled expectations and disillusionment. I understand the reasoning behind such a statement, particularly when it is directed at children and youth. It is important to instill a dare to dream mentality and a can-do attitude in every human heart. But dreams, like everything in life have parameters and exacting conditions that are necessary for their fulfillment. And it is not just a matter of faith and hard work.

A more accurate statement to inspire young and old alike is to say “You can be anything God has created you to be.” That maxim acknowledges the requisite talents and motivations endued at birth. And it also takes into account the times and seasons in which a person is living and the necessity of divinely ordained opportunity.

Michael Jordan is a great illustration. In 1993Jordan retired as one of the greatest basketball players of all time, after leading the Chicago Bulls to three NBA championships. He quit basketball to pursue a lifelong dream of becoming a professional baseball player.

He spent two years bringing his well-documented dedication and intensity to baseball, but ended up being a journeyman player at best with a .252 batting average and never made it to the big leagues. He returned to the Bulls for the 1995-96 season and proceeded to lead the Bulls to another three-peat series of NBA championships.

What was the cause of the disparity in the outcome of Michael Jordan’s pursuit of two dream careers? Obviously the measure of inherent talent was one. Another was the contrast in experience and time for skill development. But an intangible may have been his chemistry with his teammates and his coach. Dream fulfillment is complicated business.

In the waning years leading up to the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586 BC, Jeremiah the prophet was busy warning both the king and religious leaders of God’s impending judgments. He had a faithful scribe named Baruch to whom he dictated his prophecies and through whom a number of them were personally delivered.

Baruch, who’s name means “blessing” was hoping against hope that the recipients of these prophetic messages would repent and that his ministry would be successful. As a spokesperson for Jeremiah he had dreams and career aspirations of a position of influence in a reformed society. (Not unlike Jesus’ disciples.) It was not to be.

In what appears to be a parenthetical

No Problem

“No problem! No problem!” Ah if only it were true.

In some settings that phrase is a tip off that the person who utters it isn’t really telling you the whole truth. It is code for “I can do this, but it is more difficult than I imagined and as a result it could take more time and cost more money than originally planned.”

In other settings, coming from the lips of believers, it is a statement of faith and an assurance that God is in control.

Years ago I was on a ministry trip to East Africa. For me the most nerve wracking, faith testing aspect of my entire time there was traveling from place to place in my host’s small four door sedan. Every day before we climbed into the car I made it a practice in my mind to race down the aisle, fling myself at the foot of the altar, beg for God’s mercy and get saved all over again.

The driver, bless his heart, often became more engaged in conversation than in keeping his eyes on the road. The roads were narrow and flooded with traffic, especially huge road hogging, diesel exhaust belching trucks. Their only semblance toMinnesotaroads were that they were cratered with potholes like ours after a brutal winter. To top it off the car was old and had bald, threadbare tires.

Being the generous person that I am, I decided that I would buy my hosts a new set of treads. We found a place where they sold tires and at my urging sought to purchase the tires and have them mounted post haste. When the man at the shop said “no problem” I rejoiced. Inwardly I was feeling a tremendous sense of relief knowing that a major source of my stress was about to be eliminated. I should have known better. As we climbed back into the car my host explained to me that there was indeed no problem in getting the tires. It was just that they did not have them in stock but could get them within four or five days. Oh joy!

As it turned out we had a flat tire the next day while journeying out into the bush. There was no spare. No problem! Thankfully we were close to the home of my host’s parents. There we were able to spend the night and the next morning one of the men walked 20 miles carrying the flat tire to a place where he could get it fixed.

I have learned to love the faith of Christians who take the “no problem” approach to life’s hardships. There is much we can learn from those believers who have learned to trust God, roll with the punches, declare “no problem” and then see what God is going to do

A Thanksgiving Meditation

There are dimensions of thanksgiving however, that transcend the plain of human reciprocity and move into the realm of the divine. How do we thank someone for something for which it would be impossible to repay? Perhaps it is a parent or other significant person who have invested their lives in benefiting ours. How do we thank someone for the provision of a critically dependent need which we ourselves could never meet? Maybe it is an opportunity, finances, wise advice or simply the emotional support that lifts you from defeat to victory.

Thanksgiving in such circumstances expresses itself best through a humble and grateful acceptance. In many cases it is appropriate to declare our heartfelt thanksgiving through a public affirmation of honor or esteem for our benefactor.

This realm of thanksgiving is of course most fitting in giving praise to God for all He has provided for us. We can never repay Him for the extravagant grace showered upon us as His undeserving and dependent children. But yet He delights to hear the expressions of our thanksgiving and praise for every thing He has done for us. And so with the psalmist it is worth making a commitment to constantly “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name.” (Psalm 100:4 NIV)

But there is yet one other dimension of thanksgiving that transcends them all. It might be called the highest form of praise. And that is thanking someone, especially God, for something you trust them yet to do. Saying “thank you” in advance is an expression of faith. That “thank you,” no matter what the circumstances, releases faith. “Thank you” becomes “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not yet seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) It communicates appreciation more for the person and their trustworthiness, than for the thing given. The Giver becomes the treasure more than the gift. That is the ultimate “thank you” any of us can give.

A Primer on the Discipleship Process

Problems, everybody hates them, but where would we be without them? From birth we all have had to face problems on a daily basis. In the process we have learned how to progress from flailing helplessly to rolling over to walking.

We can look back nostalgically on our childhood through young adulthood and say that despite the discomfort most of our problems and challenges were ultimately our friends. Without them we would not have developed the character and competencies so necessary for a mature and successful life.

We just wish the day would come when we could finally graduate and move on to a problem free life. But like everyone with a diploma knows, the real world and adulthood are laden with problems and pulling into the driveway at night can be no easier than backing out in the morning.

But the good news is that God uses problems in our lives to work His purposes. In essence, problems form the curriculum of the discipleship process. They are structured to be the stepping stones to spiritual growth.

In fact, if you read the Gospels with this in mind, you will notice that Jesus specifically and frequently engineered problems for His disciples. He was continually challenging them with problems. He sent them out on mission trips with no support or provision. (Luke 10:1-4) He feigned abandonment in a storm. (Mark 6:48-49) He asked them to feed a multitude on the spur of the moment with no resources. (John 6:5-6) He challenged them to try again, even in the face of prolonged and repeated failure. (Luke 5:4-6 & John 21:15-18) They were confronted by people with physical maladies and asked to heal them. (Matthew 17:15-16)

It is no different today. Anyone who wants to be a disciple of Christ must enroll in a curriculum with similar challenges and problems. But as in any apprenticeship process, to endure and even prosper, one must keep focused on the “why.” The ultimate goal of Christ’s discipleship is that we be transformed into His image.

Dealing with the Stain of Sin

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (ESV)

What do you do if you have confessed your sin and received God’s forgiveness but continue to be afflicted with the after effects of your transgression? The after effects are the stain of sin – the residual vexation in your soul over what you have done. The stain of sin often is the shame, embarrassment or feelings of failure that continue to plague you. It can be a self loathing and inability to forgive yourself for the stupid choices that you’ve made. The stain of sin can also be an obsessive preoccupation with reliving your sin, which dangerously can become the tool of the flesh and the devil to subtlety lure you back into sins lair.

The quintessential verse in the Bible promising God’s unmitigated forgiveness process for repentant sin is quoted above from the first epistle of John. As an apostle, John had been privy to Jesus’ many teachings on the forgiveness of sin. He had been a witness at the foot of the cross where Jesus paid its awful price through the shedding of His blood. (see 1 John 1:7) And after the resurrection, he had seen first hand Jesus’ merciful forgiveness completely restore his buddy, the repentant denier, Peter.

It is important to note from John’s verse that forgiveness of sin has two key aspects. They are the forgiveness and the cleansing. In simple terms, the forgiveness part is God forgetting our sin and the cleansing part is God helping us to forget it.

Scroll to Top