Can Dreams Come True?

A question often asked by people around the world is whether dreams can come true. I think they can. Of course, it depends on what kind of dreams we’re talking about.

When I was a kid, I often dreamed about finding buried coins in the front yard. Lots of money, usually quarters and dimes. When I was eight or nine, this dream was so real that in the dream I took all the loot, wrapped it up, and hid it in my bottom dresser drawer so it would all be there when I woke up in the morning. I was so disappointed when I woke up the next day, ran over to my dresser, opened it, only to find that there was no money. I used to have that dream three or four times a year up until I was about thirty. Now it’s only once every other year or so. It never has come true.

Then there’s the dream where I’m in school or at church or some other public location, and all I have on is my underwear. Interestingly, in this dream, even though I am totally embarrassed, nobody else ever even seems to notice. Fortunately, this dream has never come true.

After returning from the war in Iraq, I frequently had dreams and nightmares for the next two years or so. Explosions, or gunfire, or dangerous situations. What a relief when those gradually faded away. It’s been several years now. The only two aspects of PTSD that still linger are the claustrophobia and eating in a hurry. I can’t seem to overcome those.

But there are some dreams that really do come true. Let me tell you about three of them.

Several years ago, my wife and I were invited to teach a three-week intensive class at the Hungarian Bible College in Budapest. We taught the class every morning, then in the evenings and weekends, would preach in churches in Budapest and nearby towns.

One day, our missionary hosts had to go up to Czechoslovakia (now Czech and Slovak) for meetings with their regional supervisor, and told us how to get from their home to the college. The trip would require a bus ride part of the way, then the subway, and then we had to walk the rest of the way. Of course, the trip would be reversed after the class in order to get back to their home.

Up to this point, we had resisted taking the subway because the missionaries had told us about an American pastor who got lost in the metro. He had missed the station where he was supposed to get off and rode the train all the way to the end. Seven hours later, he called to ask them to come and get him.

When we got to the subway, there was a huge, long escalator that took us way, way down. Longest escalator I have ever seen. When we finally reached bottom and turned right, I stopped.  This was really strange, because the scene in front of me was familiar.

“Linda, I’ve been here before.”

“What are you talking about? We’ve never been to Budapest.”

“I know that, but I’ve seen this before.” It was a really eerie feeling.

“How could you have seen this before?”

“I don’t know. But if this is what I’ve seen before, the subway cars will come from the right, and they’ll be blue.”

In about fifteen seconds, the train arrived . . . from the right . . . and it was blue. We go in, the doors close, and the freaky experience continues.

“When we get to the next stop, the doors on the left will open, and the walls will all be yellow.” Sure enough, that’s what happened.

Even Linda was weirded out by now. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know! But at the next stop, the doors on the left will open and the walls will be orange. But when we get to where we need to get off, the doors on the right will open, and the walls will be blue.” It all unfolded exactly as I expected.

Then it dawned on me. Even though I had never been in a subway, a year-and-a-half before we came to Hungary I had a dream about being in this very subway, and the details in that dream were exactly the same as the reality we were now experiencing. That was a dream that came true.

Another dream I had as a kid was to be a Navy chaplain like my dad. But by the time I was ready to become a chaplain, the Lord redirected, I went into the Army instead, and had a wonderful career. Six years after retiring from the Army (which was thirty years after I became an Army chaplain) I was invited to serve as the Protestant pastor at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, working with the chaplains. It was a one-year assignment, but a fantastic experience. I felt like I had come full-circle back to my dream of being a Navy chaplain.

One more dream worth mentioning here, was the dream of growing up, falling in love, and marrying the woman of my dreams. That’s another dream that came true. Life with Linda has been everything I had hoped for . . . and then some.

The Risk of Faith

Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den because he prayed three times a day to his God. But the Lord protected him, and the ferocious beasts lay down and purred.

Not far from there, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego were thrown into a blazing fire because they refused to bow down and worship a golden statue. Instead, they declared,

“Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18 NKJV)

Their faith didn’t depend on whether they escaped. They were fully prepared to risk everything, which meant they didn’t serve the Lord only during the good times. They didn’t trust God only to get their way. There was nothing selfish about their prayer, their life, or their religion. Their faith in God was genuine, even when it resulted in persecution. Even when it meant risking their lives. Death was certain, and they knew it—unless God did a miracle. Either way, they were determined to be faithful.

The fire was so hot that the soldiers escorting them to the flames died on the spot. But for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, not a hair on their head or their arms was singed, and not a thread of their clothing burned. They never even felt the heat. It was like they were taking a walk in the park on a cool, breezy day.

When the smoke cleared, King Nebuchadnezzar looked into the furnace, and to his amazement, there was a fourth man in the flames with them. The king couldn’t believe his eyes. Daniel 3:25 reports Nebuchadnezzar’s amazement.

“Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” (Daniel 3:25 NIV)

Daniel understood the dangers of breaking the law and praying to his God. Hungry lions can easily tear a man apart. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego knew the risks when they decided not to bow to the king’s statue.

However, God intervened, and Daniel survived to tell the King once more about the goodness and reality of the true God. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, encountered the Lord right there in the middle of the blazing heat.

The eleventh chapter of Hebrews makes it clear that not everyone who takes the risk of faith will escape pain or death. I would encourage you to read the entire chapter, but verses 32–38 show how the situations turned out for some of God’s people. And verse 39 adds,

“These were all commended for their faith.” (Hebrews 11:39 NIV)

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ always involves risk. Some will face ridicule. Others might lose their jobs. Some are abandoned by their family. Others experience physical torture. Some will survive. Others may die. What is God asking you to risk?

The bottom line is that your faith will cost you something. God is calling you to accept the challenge, count the cost, and take the risk.

Christians in many places around the world are experiencing persecution at this moment. In the same way, it might cost you something to follow Jesus. But like those men in the book of Daniel, you can be faithful regardless of the outcome, because the fourth man in the fire is going to be there with you.

This article was featured on CBN.org as the daily devotional reading on October 13, 2021. The link to the article is https://www1.cbn.com/devotions/the-risk-of-faith.

Should I Give This to a Friend?

I got this email through my website yesterday:

Hi,  Paul. A friend loaned me a copy of your book and I read it. I enjoyed it, so I bought a couple of copies. My pastors wants to read it. Here’s my question: I have a friend who served in Iraq some time ago, maybe 15 years ago or more. He did lose some friends and saw action that had casualties. Do you think this book would be appropriate to offer for him to read? Would it bring some perspective or healing? Or take him back to relive the horrors of war? I would appreciate your input.

And here’s what I wrote back to him:

Hello, friend. Great to get your email. Thank you. I think the book would be a good thing for your friend to read. While it mentions some of the painful stuff and the danger, it also shows how some of us processed the PTSD and got better. The Lord is a huge part of that, and I think it could be helpful for your friend. I’ve had a chance to talk with other veterans who went through some pretty horrible experiences, and they told me it was helpful. So go ahead and share it with him, and tell him he’s welcome to give me a call or an email if he wants to talk about his experiences over there.

The man’s pastor wants to read the book, which leads me to say this: Anyone looking for a book to use for a book group, a Bible study, or a home group discussion might consider using Safest Place in Iraq. There are discussion questions in the back. Plus, there’s a separate study guide. Consider using it in your group or at your church.

Running a Marathon

Nobody shows up the day of a marathon without taking the time, the effort, and the expense to get ready, because running a marathon will require months of preparation. The training has to include long distances several days a week. Eating habits need to be modified because nutrition can work for or against the body and the mind.

A marathoner will become an expert on things like foot care, clothing, and how to prevent chafing. Research will determine the best shoes for the particular shape of the foot and the unique way each athlete runs. Just as important is the training of the mind for the grueling ordeal of running 26.2 miles, because anyone who loses the mental game is already in trouble.

Another aspect of preparing for the race is being careful to stretch and warm up before every run. This is crucial in the prevention of injury. It also enables the runner to extend the stride for maximum reach, which equates to more ground covered each step of the way, and when running 26 miles, an inch or two per stride adds up, which means less time to complete the race, and a greater chance  of winning the race.

The same attention to detail must be considered when preparing for life, marriage, a career, or ministry. Putting in the time to pray, do the research, and count the cost will pave the way for long-term success. And in the same way a runner will stretch before running, the Christian will stretch and warm up spiritually every day. This is done by reading the Bible, singing a few worship songs, or spending time in the presence of the Lord. This daily “quiet time” enables you to reach a little farther each step of the way, just like stretching helps lengthen the runner’s stride. And it helps prevent spiritual or emotional injury, the same way stretching prevents physical injury. In the big picture, this daily practice will enable you to proclaim with the apostle in 2 Timothy 4:7: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (HCSB).

We never know what we might face in the future. That’s why it’s so important to continually add to our training, our learning, and our growing, both personally and professionally. The price of success is high, and we have to count the cost. Is it worth it? You have to decide for yourself. On your mark. Get set. Go!

Recommendation for Safest Place in Iraq

I pray that all of you are doing well after a week of glorifying God during Holy Week.  As I compose this email, I have a lingering awe over the profound power of Jesus’ resurrection . . . how that day changed everything for everybody for all of history and all of eternity . . . how it changes you and me every time we bow our heads in prayer!  God is so good!

Here is a recently released book by a chaplain:

“Safest Place in Iraq: Experiencing God During War” by Chaplain Paul Linzey, is an excellent resource for chaplains, as they consider how they might handle combat ministry.  Great vignettes throughout.  Honest and inspiring.  It’s widely available and costs about $20 in paperback.  It is published by Morgan James Faith.

From Rev. Jim Denley, Retired Navy Captain, now the military chaplain endorser of the Assemblies of God. The book may be purchased on this website, from the publisher, or ordered from any bookstore.

Forgive & Forget?

Lewis Smedes wrote a book about forgiveness in which he discusses some of the psychological, spiritual, and relational dynamics of being hurt and then moving towards healing and forgiveness. He wanted to title the book, Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve, but the publisher insisted on something catchier, something that might spark more interest on the popular level.

So the people at HarperCollins decided to name it Forgive and Forget, a title Smedes hated because as he says, “Forgiving has nothing to do with forgetting. In fact, sometimes the best forgiving happens because we remember.” The negotiated compromise kept the publisher’s preference, of course, and Smedes’s working title became the subtitle. This solution worked. It has sold more than a half million copies.

Of course, the book itself is excellent. It is interesting and helpful. Smedes starts with a European folk tale about a husband and wife who are unhappy. The husband is devastated when he learns that his wife had an affair. But they manage to work through their unhappiness, come to forgiveness, and experience personal growth. Their end state is better, despite the affair.

Of course, Smedes keeps it interesting all the way through with examples, information, and personal experiences of betrayal, pain, struggle, and triumph. Each anecdote in this nonfiction work reengages the reader, pulling her back to the author’s theme, and ways to more effectively handle her own struggle of hurt, hate, healing, and forgiveness. Each page reveals a little more of the complexities and dynamics involved. Each issue is common to every one of us.

Jesus knew how to forgive. He prayed “Father forgive them . . .” And he taught, “Forgive and your sins will be forgiven.”

The Apostle Paul understood forgiveness. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” He himself had been forgiven of some pretty ugly sins.

We’ve all been hurt. We’ve all felt the sting of betrayal in one way or another. But have we all learned how to forgive?

What’s Your Story

As a child, I loved whenever a missionary was guest speaker at our church. I still do! The missionaries always told great stories. You could count on it. I always perked up and paid attention when they started talking about what God did in the past and what He is doing right now: people getting saved, others healed, answers to prayer, the fantastic work of a sovereign God.

I loved those stories because they demonstrated the genuine power of God, portrayed a God who cared about and loved people, and brought to life the people in distant places. Their stories provided evidence of a God who is as active in the world today as he was in the days of the Bible.

Telling stories about what the Lord has done is a central theme of the Bible. In Joshua chapter two, two men are sent to investigate the situation in Jericho. When they returned, they told Joshua everything that had happened to them, and then concluded, “The Lord has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.”

Many of the Psalms are poems and songs about the goodness of God and what He did in the psalmist’s life. “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth.”

When Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman in John chapter four, her experience with the Lord made such a powerful impact that she left her water jar at the well and hurried back to town to tell her friends and neighbors, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could this be the Messiah?”

And in Luke’s telling of the Christmas story, after the shepherds encountered the angels out in the fields, they went and told people what they had experienced. “All who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said.”

Too many Christians think they have nothing to say to their friends and family. A lot of good people never talk to their neighbors or co-workers about the Lord, thinking they’re not qualified, not smart enough, or not eloquent. Others think it’s their job to convince, persuade, or condemn, but it’s not. All they have to do is tell their story. No arguing, no convincing, just tell the story.

There’s an interesting note in the Gospel of Mark: “And so the news about Jesus spread quickly everywhere in the province of Galilee.”

The news spread everywhere not because they had great preachers, widespread media coverage, and several megachurches in the area. No, the reason the news spread so quickly was because ordinary people simply talked about what Jesus had done.

While I was at the local bookstore the other day, one particular book caught my eye. I picked it up and glanced inside. It looked good and had a catchy title, but it was the subtitle that spoke to me: “Never Stop Sharing Stories.”

That’s what the Church needs to do today. Rather than arguing over politics, denominationalism, or theology, what if Christians just told people the story of what God has done in their lives, and what the Lord is doing right now. I think people would perk up and pay attention, just like I did as a kid when I listened to the missionaries tell their stories.

Leadership Podcast Interview

Dr. Richard Blackaby, of Blackaby Ministries International, recently interviewed me for his Leadership Podcast. The conversation is about 35 minutes long, and covers diverse topics such as what it’s like to be at war, responding to temptation, the power of prayer, the importance of unity in marriage, being an effective witness for Christ, why some people consider suicide, and effective leadership and influence. You can listen to the interview by scrolling to the bottom right of this screen.

Richard and I were discussing my new book, Safest Place in Iraq, where, I mention the impact that Dr. Blackaby’s devotional book Experiencing God Day By Day had on me while I was in Iraq, specifically how the Lord used one particular reading on May 8 to prepare me for an amazing encounter with one of our Iraqi interpreters.

You can hear this story by listening to the recorded podcast. And you can read many more stories in the book, Safest Place in Iraq, which is available on this website or at any bookstore.

Safest Place in Iraq is a collection of inspiring stories showing what God was doing in some people’s lives during the war in Iraq. It’s perfect for individual reading, small group, discussion, or even in a classroom setting.

Feel free to contact me through the Connect page above, or by leaving a comment below, and tell me what you think.

Fourth Man in the Fire

This past summer, Randy Zachary of Family Radio interviewed me on his radio show. He then edited it into three audio segments and one video. You can see the video of the interview by scrolling to the bottom right of this screen. The third audio clip is the shortest, and is titled the Fourth Man in the Fire. The focus of this segment is on being true to your faith and to the Lord, because wherever you are and whatever is going on, the Lord will be there with you .

Randy and I were discussing my new book titled Safest Place in Iraq. Towards the end of the book, I mention that Camp Echo was about 73 miles from the old city of Babylon where Daniel was thrown into the pit of lions, and where Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego were tossed into the flames.

The audio (mp3) is about a minute and thirteen seconds long. Feel free to contact me through the Connect page above, or by leaving a comment below, and tell me what you think.

Counting the Cost

This past summer, Randy Zachary of Family Radio interviewed me on his radio show. He then edited it into three audio segments and one video. You can see the video of the interview by scrolling to the bottom right of this screen. And right under the video is the second audio clip. The focus of this segment is on counting the cost of being a follower of Jesus.

Randy and I were discussing my new book titled Safest Place in Iraq, and one of the stories I wrote about was an encounter I had with an Iraqi gentlemen who served as an interpreter with our Army. When he became a Christian, he knew his life was in danger.

The audio (mp3) is about a minute-and-a-half long. Feel free to contact me through the Connect page above, or by leaving a comment below, and tell me what you think.

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