Monthly Archives: March 2011

When your dream dies

This week I am preaching on 2 Samuel 7, where David wants to build a temple and God says, “No.” My outline comes from an unpublished article I wrote a couple of years ago, using the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 17. I hope it is an encouragement to those whose life has not turned out as you hoped.


When your dream dies

A young couple spent 10 years planning, preparing, and praying to become missionaries. After a year of sharing their vision with people and churches, only 5% of their needed financial support came in.

A young man longed for the companionship of a wife. As he exits his 40’s, “Mrs. Right” is not even on the distant horizon.

A woman dreamt of being called, “Mommy,” even as she listened to her biological clock ticking away. Now, her doctor informs her that she needs to go under the knife for a complete hysterectomy.

A young man dreamed that he would be the pastor of a 1,000 member church, write best-selling books, and be invited to teach at a prestigious Christian college or seminary. As he edges closer to 60, the attendance in his small church is declining, the publishers send, “Thanks, but no thanks” letters, and he has never been asked to speak in chapel at a college or seminary, let alone join the faculty.

What do you do when your dream dies?

Some people mourn the dream. They sink into the depths of depression and remain stuck. Their lives are divided into B.C. (Before Crisis) and A.C. (After Crisis). The death of the dream becomes the defining moment of their lives. Every conversation revolves around the day that . . .

Some try to force the dream. Numbers 13-14 tell the story of Israel’s rebellion following the account of the 12 spies. Because of the people’s lack of faith, God sentenced them to wander in the desert for 40 years (14:43). Greatly disappointed, some people tried to force their way into the Promised Land, only to be defeated by the enemy (14:39-45).

In 1 Chronicles 17-22, King David provides us with a healthier example of how to respond to the death of a dream.

David’s dream was to build a temple where people could worship God (1 Chronicles 17:1-2). David, the man who knew more about worship than anyone outside of the priesthood, wanted to honor God and tell others about him by building a magnificent worship center. How could you go wrong with a God-honoring goal like that?

God said, “NO!” to David’s dream (1 Chronicles 17:3-6). Even though David’s dream was a lofty one which would benefit others, it was not part of God’s plan for David’s life.

God said, “Someone else will fulfill the dream” (1 Chronicles 17:10b-14). God’s answer was not rejection, but rather redirection. His plan for David was to be the King, not architect, city planner, or construction foreman. Instead, God chose David’s son, Solomon, to build the temple.

God spoke and did not stutter. As good, lofty, honorable, and God-glorifying as it was, David’s dream is dead. The story now hinges on how David will respond. Will he whine and complain? Will he sit in a corner and pout? Will he grudgingly give in? Will he close himself off from God?

David worshipped God and accepted his answer (1 Chronicles 17:16-27). He thanks God for his blessings in the past (17:16) and for the promises that await him in the future (17:17). He worships God for his character (17:20), and for what he has done in choosing Israel (17:21-22). Because he recognizes who God is, he can then accept God’s answer (17:23-27).

I have to admit, David is a better man than me. Rather than thanking God for his answer, far too often my first reaction is frustration, anger, and selfishness. My focus is on me and my wants and desires rather than on God’s plan and purpose.

Keeping our eyes focused on God and his character allows us to mourn appropriately and then move forward with acceptance and renewal. This becomes the key to surviving the death of a dream.

David submits to God’s plan and finds other ways to serve (1 Chronicles 22). Rather than be selfish and possessive (“It’s MY dream”), David passed the dream on to his son, Solomon (22:6-13), and provided for him to carry out the dream (22:1-5, 14-19). Though he would never live to see the dream fulfilled, David still set aside the resources (22:14) and the skilled personnel (22:15-16) to make the dream a reality. He also challenged Solomon and the leaders of Israel to keep the big picture in mind (22:19). The project was not about a building; it was about seeking God and honoring his name.

What do you do when your dream dies? Do you give up and quit? Do you try to force your will on God? Do you turn inward? Do you remind yourself that God knows what he is doing? Do you trust that he has both your best interests and his plan in mind?

The couple who could not raise enough support to become missionaries became actively involved in the outreach ministry of their local church. They found fulfillment by helping further the dreams of others.

The young man who longed for a wife met a woman through the internet and rushed into marriage. He and his wife have struggled since the wedding.

The couple who wrestled with infertility adopted three children. Their parenting dreams were fulfilled, though not in the way they expected.

The pastor who wanted to make a name for himself is me. Rather than focus on building a growing ministry, God taught me the lesson of building deeply into the lives of people and letting him determine the breadth of my ministry. He also allowed me to train pastors in Russia.

What do you do when your dream dies?

1 Comment

Posted by on March 9, 2011 in Character, Personal growth, Preaching, Scripture


Glorifying God in this and that

Author Brent Crowe has written a helpful book on how to make wise choices in areas where Scripture may not be clear. The book is titled, Chasing Elephants: Wrestling with the gray areas of life. As Brent explains, one of the guiding principles in dealing with gray areas is to use our freedom to bring glory to God.

Paul reminded us how we can bring God glory when he urged believers, by the mercies of God, to present their bodies as a living sacrifice (see Romans 12:1). When we understand the phrase living sacrifice, we begin to understand what it means to do all for the glory of God.

Because of the time and audience of Paul’s letters, a sacrifice would have been understood to be an animal, maybe a lamb or a calf, which had been raised for the distinct purpose of being sacrificed in a temple by a priest. In the same way, a follower of God is to live as if the purpose for his entire existence is for the present moment. As living sacrifices we should seek to capture each moment of life to the glory of God as if that moment were the last opportunity we’d have to do so. After reading 1 Corinthians 10:31, we should ask, “Do I capture the moments of life?” I’ve heard it said, “There are only two days in life that matter: this day and that day.” This day is the day that is present at hand. That day would be the day we stand before the Lord and give an account of our lives.

Leave a comment

Posted by on March 7, 2011 in Books, Personal growth, Quotes


Tales from Tsibanobalka – story version

Instead of preaching a normal sermon this morning, I gave a verbal report of Carol and my recent ministry trip to Russia. If you’d like to listen to the tales or view the PowerPoint slides, you can find them at this link. It’s the message for March 6, 2011.


Who sets the agenda for missions?

Who sets the agenda for missions and missionaries? The mission agency? The church? The short-term ministry team leader? The pastor? The missionary?

When I lead a short-term ministry team, I want to accomplish something. I don’t want to sit on my hands. I want to see results. I want to be able to say, “This is what we did!” when I get home. By admitting that, I reveal my Western, pragmatic bias.

That is why I need to review Philippians 2:1-11 before I leave, and why I require my team to read and memorize those verses. When I get on the plane and leave for a ministry project, I have to pick up the towel of the servant. When I get home, I can put my “in charge” hat back on. In between, I need to repeat the phrase constantly, “How can I serve your needs?”

On our most recent trip, my wife and I traveled 43 hours to the Black Sea to teach a three-day course on the book of Joshua. Yes, it was a long way to go for a short task. But that is what was needed and fit the plans of House of Grace. It is what fit the schedule and needs of the students. I was reminded that the plans and schedule of a ministry trip must always be determined by the in-country missionaries, not by guys like me in the States. I was there to serve them, not the other way around. So, if it took us 43 hours to get there for only six days in country and a three-day course, so be it.

I was also reminded that ministry in a foreign country is different than in the states. US policies and procedures can sometimes hamper and hinder those on the front lines. As pastors and missions’ leaders, we should make sure that we do not let bureaucracy get in the way of ministry. We should streamline our forms and policies to what will help the missionaries rather than us. We serve those on the front lines, not the other way around.

One more lesson this trip reminded me of is that what the missionaries do and how they do it needs to fit their culture and context. As a result, it may be different from what we would do here in the States. We need to listen to them and perhaps allow them final say on strategy, policies, and procedures. In matters of question, we need to trust their judgment and give them the benefit of the doubt.


The best ministry is personal

Since returning from Russia, I’ve heard a couple of comments relating to the distance and length of travel, the cost of the trip, why we couldn’t do more while we were there, and why we couldn’t record the classes and offer a video course. In the past, I’ve heard people refer to short-term ministry trips as “boondoggles.”

From a purely Western, pragmatic viewpoint, ministry trips like our recent one are time consuming, expensive, and to some degree, inefficient. You could train people quicker and cheaper through a DVD series or a video conference.

On the other hand, short-term ministry trips are profitable and beneficial. They should be vigorously defended. The best and most fruitful ministry is always personal.

One of the best things Carol and I did on our recent trip was simply to show up. It is the ministry of presence. Granted, it helped that we have a long term friendship with the missionaries we were working with. That allowed us to pick up where we last left off. It helped that we used to be part of the same church and know the players. That allowed us to have some honest discussions. It also helps that we are not currently at that church, which means that we are safe and the contents of those honest discussions will not get back to the powers that be.

But none of that would be possible if we did not show up and be there. Some of our best discussions were in the car to/from the airport (provided I wasn’t asleep) or driving around town. We could build on our dialogue over a period of several days. Some of our questions and comments were based on what Carol and I saw and observed while we there. That is not possible if we were not there.

The best ministry is personal. Granted, I could have done a class via SKYPE or sent a video. There are boatloads of better teachers than me with DVD series. However, I would not have met Kostya, a new believer from a Buddhist family and heard about his desire to see his family come to Christ. I would not have had an hour-long conversation with Misha, my translator, about how to train and mentor emerging leaders in the church. I would not have heard Kolya’s story about how his church approved his choice of fiancé and is supporting his upcoming marriage. Had I not been there, I would not have been able to challenge the men about their commitment to Christ and then prayed with them about that issue.

This trip reminded me that the best and deepest ministry is personal. Relationships are built over time.