Visions and Dreams

“‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.

– Acts 2:17-18

Visions and dreams. Visions and dreams. Pretty powerful stuff to be talking about.
Sometimes God speaks to us through dreams. Not all dreams mean something, but
some dreams can be almost like messages from God. A vision is sort of like a dream,
but we experience visions while we’re awake. A vision is a waking dream. God speaks
to us in both ways – when we’re awake and asleep.

Visions and dreams are important, because we grow much more when the church is
driven by visions and dreams.

I’m going to tell you a big secret. Are you ready for it? This is something I’ve never told
anybody before: you can’t drive forward if you spend your whole time looking at the
rear-view mirror.

That’s it. You can’t drive forward if you spend your whole time looking at the rear-view
mirror.

Yes, you have to have a rear-view mirror in your car. But it you look at it all the time,
you’re going to be driving backward, nor forward. You won’t see things in front of you.
You won’t see what your future is. If you’re always looking back, the only thing you’re
going to see is all the other people passing you and leaving you behind.

Visions and dreams are important, because they don’t just show us what we want. They
show us what God wants.

God plants visions and dreams in us to make us hungry for the future, to make us
confident that we have a future because God has said that it’s going to happen.
I believe that God wants us to grow. A growing church is God’s prayer, not just our own.
When we pray to grow, we’re praying for what God wants.

In the same way that we need to be praying for growth, we also need to be praying for
vision. We need to pray for God to show us a new and bright future. It’s important for us
to remember the past. There are lots of good lessons there for us to learn. But we can’t
repeat the past. God doesn’t do the same thing twice in exactly the same way.

Today is always different. It has different needs. The situation is different today than it
was previously. We need to look around us and see what today’s needs are.

Let me give you an exmple of what I’m talking about. When this meeting started, it was
just a few dozen families. They didn’t have much money. They were frontier settlers.
They were starting from close to zero.

They built our first meetinghouse, our first house of worship, all by themselves. They
cut down trees which were here on the spot. They hewed them into shape. They got
together on work day, and they raised the logs into place one by one. They did it
themselves.

When the logs were raised, there were probably a lot of gaps in between them. It must
have been pretty breezy in the winter time! They went down to the little creek at the foot
of the hill, and mixed up some mud and straw and filled the gaps, and made the place a
little more weather tight. They built rough benches to sit on, and they placed big stones
out front so people could ride up on horseback and dismount more easily. Those stones
are still there.

That was the need then. It was a simple place, where families could come and worship.
They built it themselves, from materials that they cut and gathered right here. This isn’t
a made-up story – our first meetinghouse stood right out front there, and it served us for
75 years.

They had a vision for a place where God’s people could gather. They knew they had to
do it themselves, with God’s help. They had all the skills they needed.

Fortunately, land was cheap. I looked it up, and they bought 12 acres of land for just 5
shillings. That wasn’t very much money, even then. Five shillings was about the cost of
an axe and a shovel.

We still have those same 12 acres that they bought and built on. Our house is bigger
and better now, thanks to the work of people who came a few generations later.
But it’s the same thing. They prayed to grow. They thought about what they needed.
They asked God for help. They prayed for a vision. And they worked together to make it
happen.

We need to be praying to God for a new vision for Springfield today. We’re not going to
go back to the past and build a log meetinghouse again. That’s not what we need now.
We need to be praying for God to help us see what the need is now in our own day.
I’m not worried about the future. I know that God wants us to grow. I know that God
wants us to be blessed, and to be a blessing to the community around us.

I know that God isn’t in the business of defeat and decline and death. God is in the
business of life and growth. Didn’t we talk about that a few weeks ago, at Easter?

When I was praying and preparing for this morning, I came across these verses from
one of the prophets of the Old Testament. This is what the prophet Habakkuk said:

I will set myself on the rampart,
I will watch to see what the Lord will say to me,
And what I will answer when I am corrected.
Then the Lord answered me and said:
“Write the vision
And make it plain on tablets,
So that when the herald reads it, they may run with the message.
For the vision is waiting for the appointed time;
But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie.
If the vision tarries, wait for it;
Because it will surely come. . .” (Habakkuk 2:1-3)

That’s so beautiful. Vision comes at the appointed time, when we ask for it. Visionaries
are messengers, who run ahead with the vision, and share it. Visions that are truly from
God don’t lie. It may take time for a vision to arrive, but wait for it. It will surely come!

One of the things about visions is that they usually show us something different. If
things are just going to go along and be the sam e, who needs to change? But if God is
doing a new thing, if God is leading us to be different people, if things aren’t going to be
the same way as they were in the past, then God needs to show us.

Visions are about our future, not about our past. A vision is about what God wants, not
the way things are.

God doesn’t say things are impossible. God doesn’t say things can’t be done. God
says, “Here are my people. Here are what the needs are. Here are the blessings I want
them to have. Here is my vision for you.”

In the books of Acts – Acts chapter 10 – Peter had a dream. He dreamed that God let
down a huge net from heaven. It was like a giant fishing net, and the net reached down
and scooped up all kinds of creatures.

It scooped up creatures which Jews had always understood for hundreds of years to be
clean and OK for them to eat, but the net also scooped up creatures which the Jews
had always understood to be disgusting and unclean and offensive to God.

Wow! Peter had this same dream three times. It kept coming back to him. Peter didn’t
understand it right away. But as he prayed about it together with his friends, Peter came
to realize that the dream meant that God accepted all kinds of people, and not just
Jews like himself.

The new church that God was building was going to be open to everyone – to
foreigners, to people who hadn’t been raised in the Jewish tradition, to people from
backgrounds that wouldn’t have been considered acceptable before.

God used a dream to show Peter and everyone else that the new church was being
born, and that the new church was going to be different. It wasn’t going to be the same
as it was in the past. It was going to be open. New people were going to come in. The
past wasn’t going to control the future. God was showing them what the future was
going to be.

The Bible is filled with stories of people who had dreams and visions. Some of those
dreams and visions probably seemed pretty strange to them at first.

The apostle Paul had a dream one night of a man dressed up in foreign clothing. In the
dream, the man said to Paul, “Come over here and help us!”

Paul woke up, and he told his friends about the dream he’d had. Because of his dream,
Paul changed his travel plans. He cancelled his reservation for Rome, and he went over
to Macedonia in Greece instead.

Paul found people there who needed his message. He spent a couple of years starting
new worship groups, praying with people, telling them about Jesus, sharing his dream
with them about a church that accepted people from every background and every
nation on earth.

Did you know that all of us are here today because of Paul’s dream? If Paul hadn’t paid
attention to it, none of the churches that we’re descended from would ever have
existed. We are here because of Paul’s dream.

The prophet Isaiah had a vision of God sitting high up on a throne in heaven. The
situation of Israel at that time was desperate. They were losing battles. Their enemies
were strong. People were wandering away in every direction. The rulers were only
interested in their own power, and things were crumbling fast.

But Isaiah saw a vision that God was still in charge. God wanted messengers to go out
and bring His word to people. God said, “Who can I send? Who will go?” and Isaiah
said, “Here am I, Lord! Send me!”

Joseph, Jesus’ father on earth, had many dreams – dreams which saved his family
from violence and death. Jesus lived to grow up because Joseph paid attention to the
dreams that God sent him.

Joseph could have ignored his dreams. He could have rolled over and gone back to
sleep. But Joseph got up in the middle of the night, and he woke up his family, and they
gathered all their things, and they fled for safety. Jesus lived because Joseph paid
attention to his dreams.

In Acts chapter 9, Ananias had a vision – God told him to go to Saul, who was one of
the most violent persecutors of the church. “Go to your enemy,” God said, “and heal
him.” Ananias thought that was a crazy thing to do. But God told him to do it anyway.
Ananias must have been shaking in his sandals, but he obeyed. Because Ananias was
faithful, his enemy Saul was converted and turned his life around.

Do you see what I’m saying?

We are all here because people were faithful to their visions. They didn’t do things the
way they had always been done in the past. If they’d stuck with the past, we wouldn’t be
here today.

The people who first came here had a vision of a place of worship that was set on a hill
like a lighthouse, raised above the community surrounding it. It was a pleasant place
they saw, with seven springs of fresh water – that’s why this place is called Springfield.
I wonder if maybe we need to go searching for those seven springs that are on our
property and look till we find them. I’m sure they’re still there. They’ve probably been
covered over, or channeled, or hidden. But deep down, the living water is still nearby.
I know, I know – it’s a crazy thing to do. But I think maybe we need to do it. I think we
need that hidden, living water again.

At one time, the need here was for education, and the people at Springfield built
schools – one school right out on our own front lawn, and many other schools all over
North Carolina. We put more effort into building schools than cemeteries – and you
know what? We grew tremendously!

The schools were supported by everyone, but the teachers were mainly young people.
A lot of them came from the North to serve as volunteers, but we also had a vision that
our own young people should be trained as teachers. We had a summer teacher
training program right here at Springfield for many years.

At another time, the need here was for more space to hold all of the classes and small
groups that were meeting here. The need was for a big, attractive fellowship hall – a
place filled with light and fun and laughter. We built that building. It served God well for
many years.

When I first came here, I had a vision of people singing praise to God, with glad hearts
and full voices – singing the songs they wanted to sing. People are hungry in their
hearts for music. People want to praise God and sing!

We had that vision. We knew we needed trained people to lead our music. We knew
we needed hymnals filled with new songs as well as old songs. We made that happen.
We’re singing some of those new songs today.

Last fall, Javier came to me with a vision. Javier sees lots of people in High Point who
don’t speak English very well, people who are strangers and don’t know our customs.
They don’t know how to get along or how to survive.

Javier asked if I thought there could be classes to help these people to learn the
language and where they would find a place to welcome them.

That’s something different. We’ve never done that before. But I told Javier that I thought
it was a true vision. I encouraged him to listen to what God was saying. I hope we can
give it a try.

COAT is a vision – a communityof churches and individuals, working together to feed
the hungry, to clothe people who need clothes. Not just giving handouts, but listening to
them and giving them advice and support and prayer.

The churches can’t do this work individually, but by working together, we can serve a
much bigger need. I think we need more of those kind of cooperative visions.

I have a vision of a place for worship that’s full; a place that’s exciting; a place where
people speak up; a place where I don’t have to speak or preach sometimes, because
everyone in the whole meeting is speaking about the dreams that God has given them.
I have a vision that this could be a place where we have many teachers, the kind of
teachers we need – people who are wise, people who know the Bible stories and how
to teach them and apply them, people who relate well to children and young people and
old people.

I know some people think that our Wednesday night Bible study is an exercise in
nostalgia. “Oh, we always used to have a midweek Bible study back in the old days. . .”
Nothing could be further from my thinking! I started our midweek Bible study because I
love the Bible and I want us to have more people who know it and love it. It doesn’t
have to be on Wednesday night – I will go anywhere at any time of the day or night to
meet with people who want to know God’s Word better.

It’s not about nostalgia for me. My vision is to raise up people to teach and lead. I want
a new generation of leaders and teachers. I want strong people, not dependent people.
If I die, or if I leave, I want to leave this place stronger, better equipped, more educated,
more inspired.

I serve the God of the present, not the past. My vision is for the future, not for yesterday
or 200 years ago.

I want to say one more thing. In today’s reading from Acts, it says that people will be
filled with the Spirit. Boys and girls will speak in God’s name. Young people will have
visions. Old people will share their dreams. Even servants and humble people will be
filled with messages from God.

That business of youth and age is really important, because most of the big changes
which have taken place in the Quaker movement have been started by our young
people.

Have any of you ever heard of George Fox? Who was he?

Do you know how old George Fox was when he started his spiritual search? He was
about 16. Quakers started out as a youth movement.

Elizabeth Fry, one the greatest Quaker leaders of all time, once wrote, “I can say one
thing – since my heart was touched at 17 years old, I believe I never have awakened
from sleep, in sickness or in health, by day or by night, without my first waking thought
being how best I might serve my Lord. . .”

Allen Jay was in his early teens when he worked on the Underground Railroad. He was
still in his thirties when he came here to work at Springfield Friends.

The reason that Quakers have pastors and sing hymns and have a message at worship
on Sunday is that the young people asked for them. They did. And one of the first
places those changes took place was right here at Springfield.

The church grows and moves forward when it’s driven by dreams and visions. The
church doesn’t grow if it tries to live in the past.

We need to listen to the dreams and visions of our young people. We need to build a
church for the future. We may not follow every dream, but we need to be bold and
daring and share those dreams aloud, and speak the visions that God gives us.

I want to close with a quote from one of my favorite writers, Henry David Thoreau. He
was a dreamer and a visionary. He wrote:

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. . .If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost;that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them. . . Only that
day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.”

Copyright © 2016 by Joshua Brown

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