First Reading – Acts 9:10-20
10Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21All who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem among those who invoked this name? And has he not come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” 22Saul became increasingly more powerful and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Messiah.
We are closing in on the end of our series about dreaming with God. Just this week and next, and then we’ll be cruising into Advent! Last week, Pastor Carol helped us be faithful to God’s unfathomable dreams.
And we are still writing down our dreams and pinning them to the dream board by the elevator. This week, we encourage you to share your dreams for this church’s leadership. What are your dreams for the elders of the church? What are your dreams for the church staff? What are your dreams for the deacons? What are your dreams for the people who are leading committees and ministry teams? Write those down and pin them on the dream board.
The sermon series has had a bit of a direction to it, and we’re going to try to land the plane over the next two weeks. If you are seeking God’s dreams, noticing God’s dreams, committing to God’s dreams, and choosing to be faithful even when God’s dreams are unfathomable from your vantage point, then, according to the GI Joe cartoons I watched growing up, you are half-way there. At the end of every episode, they had a public service announcement, followed by, “Knowing is half the battle! GI JOE!”
So everything we’ve talked about up until now is really the first half of the process of dreaming with God. Once we know God’s dreams and commit to being faithful, we have to actually do it. Knowing is half the battle, but knowing is only half the battle. Putting it into practice is just as hard – or harder.
Last week we heard about Joseph, but that was New Testament Joseph. That was Jesus’ Joseph. This week, we are confusingly going to hear about another Joseph. This is Old Testament, book of Genesis Joseph. This is “sold into slavery by his brothers” Joseph. Joseph was known for his ability to interpret dreams, and the Egyptian Pharaoh couldn’t find anyone else to interpret his strange and haunting dream. Since no one else could be found, Pharaoh called for Joseph.
Sermon Text – Genesis 41:15-40
15And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” 16Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not I; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”
17Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “In my dream I was standing on the banks of the Nile; 18and seven cows, fat and sleek, came up out of the Nile and fed in the reed grass. 19Then seven other cows came up after them, poor, very ugly, and thin. Never had I seen such ugly ones in all the land of Egypt. 20The thin and ugly cows ate up the first seven fat cows, 21but when they had eaten them no one would have known that they had done so, for they were still as ugly as before. Then I awoke. 22I fell asleep a second time and I saw in my dream seven ears of grain, full and good, growing on one stalk, 23and seven ears, withered, thin, and blighted by the east wind, sprouting after them; 24and the thin ears swallowed up the seven good ears. But when I told it to the magicians, there was no one who could explain it to me.” 25Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “Pharaoh’s dreams are one and the same; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 26The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one. 27The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, as are the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind. They are seven years of famine. 28It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 29There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt. 30After them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt; the famine will consume the land. 31The plenty will no longer be known in the land because of the famine that will follow, for it will be very grievous. 32And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about.
33Now therefore let Pharaoh select a man who is discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. 34Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land, and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plenteous years. 35Let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and lay up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. 36That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to befall the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.” 37The proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants. 38Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find anyone else like this—one in whom is the spirit of God?” 39So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 40You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command; only with regard to the throne will I be greater than you.”
From Dream to Plan
As you could probably guess, I have had many, many Zoom meetings over the last year. Can anyone else relate? And Zoom has the ability to cut out the background and replace it with an image – kind of like a weather person on a green screen.
If you have Zoomed with me recently, you were treated to a satellite’s eye view of the planet Mars. More specifically, it’s a view of Olympus Mons – the largest volcano in the solar system. It makes Mt. Everest look like a toddler.
And when we do those “get to know you” games sometimes in new groups, I like to ask where you would vacation if there were no obstacles. My answer? Olympus Mons! I have wanted to go to Mars since I was a wee little lad, and I still do. It’s a dream.
But we’re going to take a poll here. Think about my dream of visiting Olympus Mons on Mars. Here’s the poll – raise your hand if you think that’s going to happen. Raise your hand if you don’t think it’s going to happen. Yeah – I agree.
It’s a dream, but there is no conceivable plan to get me there. Maybe Elon Musk will actually build his Mars colony, and maybe they’ll need a chaplain who can program computers, too. That’s the best I got. But Becca’s not on board with this dream, so it’s not looking good. Maybe Caleb, but not Becca.
For a dream to become a reality, it has to have a plan. And that’s what Joseph gives to Pharaoh in our text today. Because Joseph could have stopped at verse 32. He could have stopped after giving Pharaoh the interpretation of his dreams. In fact, that’s all Pharaoh asked for. But Joseph kept going in verse 33. “No therefore let Pharaoh select a man who is discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt.” And from there, Joseph set forth a plan. The dream became a plan.
What if I told you that I dream of losing fifteen pounds, but I don’t have a plan for my eating or exercise or sleep? Without a plan, there’s no way that’s going to happen.
That’s easy to see with losing weight. But do you have any dreams? Have those dreams become plans? If not, they’re just as likely to happen as me losing fifteen pounds with no plan.
For a dream to happen, it has to first become a plan.
From Habit to Intentional Action
And when you have a plan, it then has to turn into action.
When I was a spry young freshman at the University of Texas, I lived at the largest dorm on campus – Jester. I think it drew its architectural inspiration from prisons and old Soviet tenements. But it had one very big perk – since there were so many students in one place, there were shops and food places – no restaurants, food places – that catered to the “needs” of students like me. One of those places was Jesta-Pizza.
My daily routine took me right by the savory aroma of Jesta-Pizza. Twice a day, actually. And basically by habit, by routine, by rote, I stopped in to grab a personal sized pepperoni pizza. Every day. Twice a day, actually. Sometimes three times. It took me until December before I tired of pepperoni and switched to sausage. And I had to grab a Dr. Pepper to go while I was there, too. On a completely unrelated note, I gained fifteen pounds in my first semester of college.
In my second semester of college, I realized this wasn’t the healthiest approach to life. And yes, it took me three months to figure this out. So when I decided to slightly improve my diet, I knew I needed a new routine. After three months of grabbing a wonderfully greasy pizza every time I walked by Jesta-Pizza, what were the odds that I would suddenly be able to resist the urge to stop by “just this time?” Zero! So I had to actually change my route to class.
I had to change my routine. I had to change my habits. I had to intentionally not walk by Jesta-Pizza.
Our routines, our habits, are like gravity pulling us inexorably back toward them. It takes intention to overcome routine. A 2014 study by Wendy Wood found that approximately 40% of people’s daily activities are performed out of habit. According to Wood, “an important characteristic of a habit is that it’s automatic…We find patterns of behavior that allow us to reach goals… While we often think of ourselves as independent thinkers, the research proves that we often don’t think much at all while undergoing regular activities throughout our day.”
How many of God’s dreams became reality by people’s existing habit and routine? What do you think? Will your existing habit and routine get you where God wants you to go? Will our existing habits and routines get this church where God wants us to go? I don’t think so. Freshman Cody would be more likely to resist Jesta-Pizza than we are to realize God’s dreams by our existing habits and routines.
In our text today, Pharaoh had the dream. Joseph interpreted the dream and gave a plan. And then Pharaoh took intentional action. “Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command; only with regard to the throne will I be greater than you.”
Consider the context. By this time, Joseph had been in prison for two years due to a false accusation against him. Before prison, he had been a slave. Is it in the normal routine for rulers to appoint imprisoned slaves as the second-in-command for the whole country? Is it existing habit to elevate an imprisoned slave to the point where “only with regard to the throne will I be greater than you?” No way! That’s not normal! That’s not routine! That’s not existing habit! No…that’s intentional action.
In response to God’s dream, Pharaoh had to take big-time intentional action. What intentional actions would God need from you to achieve his dreams for your life? What intentional actions would you need to get out of your existing habits and routines for the sake of God’s dreams? What intentional actions would our church need to achieve God’s dreams?
Existing habits and routines are useful because they’re mindless. They’re automatic. They’re like gravity holding you in your seat. But existing habits and routines are also holding us back because they are mindless and automatic and holding us in our seats like gravity. God’s dreams require intentional action.
From “I Can’t” to “Let’s Go”: Overcoming Obstacles
But the hardest thing in the world is moving from intention to action. Let’s talk about overcoming some of the obstacles that keep us gravity-glued to our seats instead of moving toward God’s dreams.
First off, a common obstacle. I’m too small to make a difference. Common obstacle between our intentions and our actions.
Here’s a poem by Edward Everett Hale, a minister and writer who lived in the 1800’s. “I’m only one, but I am one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something. What I can do, I ought to do. And what I ought to do, by the grace of God, I will do.”
You and I may be small, but we can do something. What’s that one next step? What’s that one small thing you can do?
Last Sunday we got a group of people from the church together who were interested in exploring what our church can do for Afghan refugees in our area. It was a small group, and we acknowledged we aren’t ready to take on the full care and support of a whole refugee family.
But we can do something. We’re meeting again after church today to check on our progress. Maybe our church can put together welcome baskets for incoming refugees. Maybe we can offer particular kinds of support like food or clothes. We can’t do everything. But we can do something. And we’re exploring what that tangible something is.
This is called shrinking the change. Don’t picture the mountain. Just take a few steps along the trail. Before long, you’ll look back and be shocked how far you’ve come.
Second common obstacle is when your mind wants to do something, but you’re just not feeling it. One of my favorite books on this is Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. They say there are three key components – our minds, our emotions, and our context. The image they use is riding an elephant. There’s the rider, which is like your mind choosing where you want to go. There’s the elephant, which is like your mass of emotions. And there’s a path ahead, which is like your context.
If the elephant doesn’t want to go somewhere, there’s only so much the rider can do to force it to move. Your mind can only will yourself toward something for so long if your heart just isn’t in it. But there are ways to find the feeling, to motivate the elephant to move.
My younger son has gone all the way in for Pokemon Go. You walk around the real world with your phone, and it puts video game characters around you. The historical marker on our church is actually one of the places people can come to get digital rewards. As you walk around the world with your phone, it will give a popping noise when a new creature is near.
It will play a sound effect when you’re near a place with rewards. It flashes with rewards. It gives you a ton of ways to customize your player in the game.
All of these are tiny rewards designed to motivate your brain. So if you’re not feeling motivated, what’s a tiny reward? What’s a small win? What’s the smallest possible progress you can celebrate? Small wins keep us moving.
I’ve been in some states where the mile markers are actually 1/10th of a mile markers. At that rate, they’re flying by your car every few seconds if you’re on an Interstate. It feels like you’re making progress way faster, even though it’s the exact same speed as states with mile markers. If you’re not feeling motivated, try to find a 1/10th of a mile marker instead of a one mile marker.
There are a lot more common obstacles, but we’ll stick with two for today. If you’re feeling too small, like you can’t do everything, just do something. And if you’re not feeling motivated, find the smallest possible progress and celebrate that – those 1/10th of a mile markers will add up to whole miles before you know it.
Sisters and brothers, God’s dreams require a plan. Those plans require intentional action. And sometimes we’ll have to work to overcome our mental or emotional or contextual obstacles.
Where does God want you to go? What’s standing between you and there? How can you get a step or two closer? That won’t happen if you’re gravity-glued to your seat. Let’s see where we can go together with some intentional action on God’s dreams. Amen.