Monty Roberts is a man who owns a horse ranch in San Ysidro, California. He likes to tell a story about when he was a senior in high school. He was given an assignment to write a paper about what he wanted to do when he grew up.
That night, he wrote a seven-page paper describing his goal of someday owning a horse ranch. He wrote about his dream in great detail and he even drew a diagram of a 200-acre ranch, showing the location of all the buildings, the stables and the track. Then he drew a detailed floor plan for a 4,000-square-foot house that would sit on this dream ranch.
Monty put a great deal of thought into this project and the next day he handed it in to his teacher. Two days later, he received his paper back. On the front page was a large red F with a note that said, “See me after class.”
Monty went to see his teacher and he asked, “Why did I receive an F on this paper?”
His teacher said, “This is an unrealistic dream for a young boy like you. You have no money…You have no resources. Owning a horse ranch requires a lot of money. You have to buy the land. You have to pay for the original breeding stock and later you’ll have to pay large stud fees. There’s no way you could ever do it.” The teacher said, “If you will rewrite this paper with a more realistic goal, then I will reconsider your grade.”
Monty went home and thought about it. Finally, after about a week, he turned in the very same paper, making no changes at all. And he said to his teacher, “You can keep the F and I’ll keep my dream.”
Today, Monty Roberts owns a 4,000-square-foot house in the middle of a 200-acre horse ranch. And he still has that school paper framed over his fireplace. He refused to allow his teacher to crush his dream.
When you look back in history, or even around us in this day and age, at those men and women who are considered outstanding in their fields, there’s one quality they possess that sets them apart from everyone else – they’re people with a dream. Look at the inventors, the explorers, those who have truly accomplished great things. These are people who at some point in time were captivated by a dream. There was an idea that moved them in the direction of a certain goal.
And whether you call it a dream or a vision, it becomes the driving force in their lives so that they have the ability to accomplish goals that seem just out of reach by others who are just as talented.
Helen Keller once made the statement, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight without vision.”
As I said last week, I want to preach about Joseph over the next several weeks, and one of the key themes of Joseph’s life is the importance of having a dream, the importance of having a vision of what we hope to accomplish in our lives or, more accurately, what we hope to allow God to accomplish through us.
As we look at the life of Joseph in the book of Genesis, we see that he was a young man who quite literally had a dream for his life. And over the weeks ahead, I want us to look at how Joseph’s brothers and Potiphar tried to crush that dream, but Joseph was determined to live out his dream and remain faithful to God.
We’re going to look at how Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce the dream away from him, but Joseph was determined to live out his dream and remain faithful to God. And we’re also going to take a look at what may be the most important lesson to be learned from the life of Joseph as we see how Joseph was able to forgive those who tried to destroy his dream.
But we begin this morning in Genesis chapter 37. We talked last week about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and we left off with Jacob’s dysfunctional family – Jacob with his two wives, two concubines, 12 sons and one daughter. This was definitely not a “Little House on the Prairie” kind of family.
In verse 1, we read, “Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan…Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives.
And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel [that’s another name for Jacob] loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.” (Genesis 37:1-4)
Right off the bat, we see that, of all his sons and daughter, Joseph was Jacob’s favorite. You would think that Jacob would have learned from his own family, where his father Isaac had a favorite son (Esau) and his mother Rebekah had a favorite son (Jacob). You would think that Jacob would have seen all the terrible things that came about in that family and that he would have said, “When I grow up and have a family of my own, I’m not going to make that mistake. I’m going to love all my children the same.” But, as so often happens in dysfunctional families, the dysfunction gets passed on from one generation to the next.
And you can almost excuse Jacob for having a special place in his heart for Joseph, the firstborn son from his favorite wife Rachel. The beautiful Rachel that Jacob fell head over heels in love with from the very beginning. But, if Jacob’s first mistake was having a favorite child, the second (and much bigger) mistake was making it so obvious. He didn’t even try to disguise the fact that Joseph was his favorite. In fact, he gave him a special coat.
Some translations say that it was a coat of many colors. Other translations say that it was a coat with long sleeves. What’s important is not what it looked like but what it signified. This was a coat that was given to the son who would be given the birthright. It was not a coat designed for working, because this son would not be expected to work as much as his brothers. Rather, it was a coat signifying that he was taking over his father’s position.
It was a coat that should have been given to the firstborn son, Reuben. But Jacob had no intention of giving the birthright to Reuben, or the second son, or the third. He intended to give the birthright to his 11th son. And so here we have almost the baby of the family wearing this coat which signifies that he’s the one in charge when dad’s not around. When you understand that, you can see why Joseph’s brothers “hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.”
As we continue in verse 5,
“Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.
“Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.” (Genesis 37:5-11)
Joseph was a young man who was known for his dreams. So much so, in fact, that later on, in verse 19, his brothers will say, “Here comes this dreamer!” and then they made arrangements to kill him saying, “We will see what will become of his dreams!” (Genesis 37:19,20)
Now, I think it’s important to mention at this point the obvious fact that I have changed the use of the word “dream”. When I started this lesson, I used the word “dream” to refer to a vision of our future, an aspiration, a goal. And with Joseph, we’re using the word “dream” in the sense of what you see when you close your eyes and go to sleep at night. But, when you look a little closer, I think you’ll see that there wasn’t that much difference between the two for Joseph.
Joseph had dreams while he was asleep. But because those dreams were so strong and so vivid, they became the compelling vision of his life while he was awake. Basically, it was a dream of God’s blessing upon his life, a vision that Joseph would be put into a place of leadership and authority.
And, like Monty Roberts, even though his dream seemed utterly unrealistic, so much so that his own father rebuked him for talking about it, Joseph never abandoned his dream. And even when it seemed to be completely shattered by his brothers who sold him into slavery, even when Joseph suffered terrible humiliation and injustice by being thrown into prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Joseph was always comforted by the dream which he held in his heart. He saw what God had in mind for him, and that gave him the motivation to keep moving toward that goal. It filled him with the confidence that God was always with him and was somehow working through him to bring about its fulfillment.
This morning, I want to make three points.
1. We All Need to Have a Dream
Someone has defined a vision as seeing beyond current circumstances into the possibilities of the future. Vision means knowing where the ship is going, even if the captain is not completely sure how to get there. Even in the midst of the storm, the vision of the captain is not on the wind and the waves, but rather his port of destination. Vision enables the captain to maneuver through the obstacles on the water because he knows where he is going.
And so, this morning, I ask the question, What’s your dream? What is your vision of where you personally want to be five years down the road, ten years down the road? Maybe your dream is to become more knowledgeable in God’s Word, to spend more time reading and studying the Bible. Maybe your dream is to be more outgoing, to talk to more people about Christ and to invite more people to worship with us. Maybe your dreams center on your family and the need to be a better husband, a better wife, a better father or mother. I would hope that all of us have a dream that includes the desire to become more and more like Jesus Christ, to increase our level of service, sacrifice and submission.
I don’t know what particular dream you have for your life, but I do know this — that if you don’t have a dream, if you don’t set goals for yourself, then you can pretty much count on being the same next year as you were this year. Nothing will ever change, you’ll never mature, you’ll never grow unless you first have a vision of what you want to become.
On a broader scale, what is your dream, your vision for this congregation? What would you like to see us accomplish here five or ten years from now?
I heard about a Sunday School teacher who asked her students to go home and count the stars in the sky as part of their next lesson. As you would expect, they all came back with different numbers. One of the students said he counted 100 stars, other said 1000 stars, still another said a million stars. But there was one little boy who sat there quietly, so the teacher asked him, “How many stars did you count?” He said, “Three”. The teacher asked him, “How did you only see three stars?” He said, “I guess we just have a small backyard.”
I think a lot of us have a small backyard, spiritually speaking, because we don’t see much, we don’t have much of a vision.
Several years ago, there was a church consultant (Win Arn) who took a survey of nearly a thousand churches. He asked them all the same question, “Why does your church exist?” And I have to say that I found the results of that survey extremely discouraging. Because of the thousands of church members surveyed, 89 percent of them said, “The church’s purpose is to take care of my needs and my family’s needs.” Only 11 percent said, “The purpose of the church is to win the world for Jesus Christ.”
Folks, let me tell you, if our goal is just to keep house and keep everybody here happy, then I suppose we could do that. But I don’t believe that’s what God intends for us to be. But unless we have a dream of reaching this community with the good news of Jesus Christ, it’s never going to happen.
I love the story about two shoe salesmen who were assigned by their companies to sell shoes in Africa.
The first salesman arrived in Africa and immediately began his assessment of his new market. Less than an hour after his arrival, he phoned back to headquarters and told his boss that he wanted to take the first flight back to the States. He said, “I can’t sell shoes here! Nobody wears them, everyone is barefoot!”
The second salesman got off the plane anxious to see what awaited him in Africa. And, very quickly, he got excited at what he saw. He phoned back to headquarters and demanded to speak to his boss. He said “I can’t believe what I’m seeing, send me an assortment of ten thousand pairs of shoes immediately! Everyone is barefoot over here!”
Both of those salesmen saw the same thing – a nation filled with barefoot people. But what a difference there was because of their vision.
So, let me ask you — What do you see when you look around at a country of people who don’t believe in Jesus Christ? Or a city of people who don’t believe in Jesus? Or even just a neighbor who doesn’t believe in Christ? When you see people whose lives are ripped apart by alcoholism, or divorce, or immorality, how do you react?
Do you say, “I don’t need to waste my time talking to them about Jesus because they don’t even think God is important?” Or do you see it as an opportunity and say, “Wow, there’s a lot of potential here because these people don’t have God and they need him”? What do you see? Because what we see will determine to a large degree what we do.
2. We Must Believe that God Has the Ability to Accomplish Our Dream
Remember the story of the twelve spies that went into the land of Canaan? God had given the Israelites a vision. He told the Israelites that the land of Canaan was theirs. All they had to do was go in and claim it. So, twelve spies were sent into Canaan to check it out. When they came back, ten of them said, “There is no way we can enter Canaan. It’s full of huge men with lots of weapons and we don’t stand a chance.” But there were two men and only two men — Joshua and Caleb — who believed that the vision God had set before them could become a reality.
“They spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: ‘The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, “a land which flows with milk and honey.” Only do not rebel against the LORD, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the LORD is with us. Do not fear them.’” (Numbers 14:7-9)
The Lord is with us. We can do this. We can conquer the people and the land will be ours. This isn’t just some pipe dream. This can be a reality if we will just put our faith in God. You see, when we develop a vision of what we want to be and what we want this congregation to be, we need to believe that our vision is a reality – not because of what we can do, but because of our faith in what God can do through us.
And then that vision, and that faith in God which leads us toward our goal, motivates us to get to work.
3. We Must Commit Ourselves to Do Everything We Can to Make Our Dream a Reality
The story is told of a dean of admissions in a school of agriculture who was interviewing a prospective student. He asked the student, “Why have you chosen this particular career?”
The student said, “I dream of making a million dollars in farming, just like my father.”
The dean was quite impressed. He said, “Your father made a million dollars in farming?”
The student said, “No, but he always dreamed about it, just like I do”
Dreams are good, and dreams are necessary. But we’ve got to take steps to make those dreams a reality.
In Acts chapter 16, “A vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’” (Acts 16:9).
Paul had a vision – a vision of people who needed to hear the gospel, a vision of people in an area where the gospel had never been preached before. It was a grand vision. Paul could see it. He believed it was possible through the power of God. But then he actually had to do something.
Verse 10 says, “Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.” (Acts 16:10).
Paul’s vision was a great vision. But as long as that vision was just a vision, nothing would ever be accomplished. Paul had to say, “I’m going to do what I can to make that vision a reality.” And the vision of what Paul wanted to accomplish through the power of God led him to take action.
We need to be able to envision where we want this church to be, we need to believe that God can take us there, but then we need to be willing to fully commit ourselves to doing everything in our power to make that vision a reality.
You show me what your vision is and I’ll tell you where you’re headed. We’ve been here at Cruciform for a little over five years, and I have a vision for this church.
I have a dream that Cruciform can be a place where all people are welcome – people of all races and all social standings. A place where people who are hurting or depressed or frustrated or confused can find love, acceptance, help, hope, forgiveness, and encouragement. A place where’s God’s grace is present, a place where you can be accepted “just as you are”, but a group of people who love you too much to leave you where you are.
I have a dream that Cruciform can be known as “those people who help people in their time of need”. But I also have a dream that we can be a church that goes beyond meeting physical needs and shares the good news of Jesus Christ with the people of Spring Lake, with the people of Cumberland County, with surrounding counties and even across the globe.
I have a dream that all of the members of this congregation can live together as the family of God – loving, laughing and learning together.
I have a dream that we can grow spiritually through sermons, Bible classes, and home Bible studies, coming to know God’s Word better, but more important than that, allowing our study to shape us all into the image of Jesus Christ, learning the principles of sacrifice, service and submission.
I have a dream that each and every member of this congregation can be equipped to participate in a significant ministry by discovering the gifts and talents that God has given you. I dream of a church where the question people ask is not, “What are you doing for me? but “What can I do for you? I want to serve.”
When we started Cruciform five and a half years ago, we came with that dream. And now five and a half years later, I think we’re closer to fulfilling that dream than we were when we started. But it is essential that we don’t lose sight of that vision.
About 350 years ago, there was a shipload of travelers who landed on the northeast coast of America. The first year, they established a town. The next year, they elected a town government. The third year, the town government planned to build a road five miles westward into the wilderness.
In the fourth year, the people tried to impeach their town government because they thought it was a waste of public funds to build a road five miles westward into a wilderness. Who needed to go there anyway?
How ironic! Here were people who had the vision to see 3,000 miles across the ocean and overcome great hardships to get there. But within just a few years, they weren’t able to see even five miles outside of town. They lost their vision.
And I pray that we will not lose our vision here at Cruciform, that we can keep our eyes focused on where we need to be, that we will trust that God will get us there, and that we will remain diligent to do all that we can to move in that direction.
If we are ever going to accomplish great things for God, either as individuals or as a congregation, it has to begin with a dream. So once again, I ask: Do you have a vision for your life and where you want to be? Parents, do you have a vision for your children? Do you have a vision for this congregation and what God can do through us? Do you have a vision of how the lost in this community can be reached for God?
I am convicted by a quote from Bobb Biehl, who once said, “Losers…don’t focus on losing; they just focus on getting by.” Folks, it is important that we do so much more than just “get by”.
So what are you dreaming about? Do you truly believe that God can accomplish those goals through us? And what are you willing to do to help get us there?