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September 1, 2019 Genesis 45:1-5 "God Can Work Through Dreams"
September 8, 2019 Nehemiah 1:1-11 "Looking Backward to Move Forward"
September 15, 2019 Acts 15:1-12 "Following God Requires Keeping in Step with God's Spirit"
Here Comes That Dreamer
In one sense, dreams are those crazy flights of fancy that occur in our subconscious mind that we do not “control.” And, because we don’t control them, we’re endlessly fascinated with what they might mean (at least, when we’re able to remember them). In another sense, dreams are those things we actively hope for as we look toward the future. The patriarch Joseph was someone who experienced dreams in both senses.
When Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery (Gen 37:12-36), he continued to dream in an Egyptian prison that he might one day be released and perhaps even return to his family and country of origin. But also, in Joseph’s youth, he had detailed dreams that seemed to indicate his brothers were bowing down to him in obeisance (37:5-11). It wasn’t until years later—after he was released from prison, after he became second in command in all of Egypt, after seven years of plenty in the land and the beginning of seven years of intense famine—that things finally began to make sense. Because of the famine, Joseph’s brothers were forced to travel to Egypt to buy food for their families. And, when they bowed down to the Egyptian overlord, they had no idea they were actually bowing down to their brother, fulfilling the dreams from Joseph’s youth (42:3-9). But instead of responding in anger and retribution over what his brothers had done to him, Joseph explained to them, “God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God” (45:7-8). Joseph realized that his dreams had come from God, and God had been steadily working those dreams out, not just for Joseph’s good, but for the good of his family, for the good of Egypt, and for the good of the nations around them.
God can give people dreams, and he can give local churches dreams, and those dreams are always for the good of the people around them. The question is, are local churches in tune with the dreams that come from God? And, even if we don’t understand them yet, are we open to being the dreamers who follow God wherever he leads?
Carrying Forward the Dreams of the Past
In thinking about dreams, we have seen how they can sometimes come from God (Gen 37:5-10) and can often be used by God to bring about his purposes (Gen 45:4-7). The next thing to acknowledge about dreams is how they can be uncomfortable; that is, they require change, and change is scary. Perhaps our greatest fear with change is losing wholesale that which is familiar to us, as if change never retains anything about the past. But as we study Scripture, we see that God never discards that with which he began, he just reforms or renews it into something better.
A great example of this is found in the story of Nehemiah. Here, Nehemiah finds himself in exile—along with the majority of God’s people—as cupbearer to the Persian king (Neh 1:11c). While he is serving in this role, he is visited by some who have just returned from Jerusalem, the former capital of his nation. Nehemiah discovers that, even though exiles were allowed to return to their homeland decades ago, the walls around Jerusalem have still not been rebuilt and his countrymen are living in shame (1:1-3). Instead of desiring a completely different Israel that bears no resemblance to its former self, or giving up on the land of Israel altogether and starting anew in Persia, Nehemiah prays to the God of heaven that he might dream again—restoring the best of the Israel that was into the new Israel that is yet to be (1:5-11).
This is a good lesson for us to learn. When we change as individuals, we don’t become entirely different people with no resemblance to who we were in the past; and when we change as local churches, it isn’t meant to throw off all our history or traditions. No, we are stewards of the past. We shelter that which came before us and lovingly carry it forward into the future to see how God will reshape it and renew it to become something fitting for a different tomorrow.
So may we not be discouraged by change, but may we trust that God has many new dreams for his people to share in.
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