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Beyond the American Dream

by Bill Welsh

Beyond the American Dream

“When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, we were like those who dream.” Psalm 126:1

“O happy day … when Jesus washed my sins away.” – Edwin Hawkins Singers

Some things seem too good to be true.

My heart was pounding at 10:30 p.m. Friday, March 2, 1973, as I dialed the phone. There was no caller ID in those days, so she answered with a simple, sleepy but pleasant, “Hello?” I vividly remember that pleasant voice (which is just as pleasant today, as it was 43 years ago).

“Hello, Joy, this is Bill. Did I wake you?” I asked. I was pretty sure I had.

She answered “No. I had to get up to answer the phone.”

We laughed. Then I popped the question, worded rather strangely …

“Well, Joy, I’m only going to ask you this once … (insert deep breath and nervous pause) … Would you marry me?” Her answer changed my life.

“Sure. Yes. Of course.”

I was like those who dream. It was too good to be true. “O Happy Day!”

That’s the sentiment in Psalm 126, referring to the return of captive sons and daughters of Israel when their 70 years of bondage in Babylon finally ended. To their surprise, they found themselves finally settling down in the land which was still, as always, their land of promise. God had done what He’d prophesied. He had both purified His people of their idolatry and restored them to their homeland. They were indeed “living the dream.”

Read the brief psalm carefully, and you’ll discover these major themes.

God’s People Are Stunned At His Goodness

They had escaped a living nightmare after decades of misery. Of course, they were aware of their national 70-year sentence. Certainly, they’d counted down the years but, apparently, with little hope that the current king would agree to let an entire workforce of slaves slip through his fingers, simply because one of their prophets had a dream decades ago.

So how DID that happen? Daniel’s prophecy probably had something to do with their release. But also, since everyone knew the history of Abraham’s tribe when they escaped Egyptian slavery, perhaps this king decided he’d rather not be known as another stubborn ruler who brought deadly plagues upon his nation.

Whatever prompted their release, verse 2 tells us the returning refugees were laughing and singing, “O Happy Day,” as they walked out of a nightmare into a wonderful dream. We can all understand their uncontainable praise.

Good News Travels Fast

The surrounding idolatrous nations had to admit Yahweh, the God of the Israel, is real, present and powerful. As the Jewish people passed through their midst, those nations acknowledged, “The LORD has done great things for them.”

This is remarkable. Unheard of. What other tribe, people group or nation has experienced this kind of wholesale “revenance” (rising from the dead). When nations are conquered or consumed, they are gone forever, except in the memory of the few assimilated survivors or the pages of a history scroll. Not these Jews. They were BACK!

Hearing voices of bystanders declaring Yahweh’s goodness, the songwriter agrees, “The LORD has done great things for us, and we are glad.”

Then, there is a profound pause in this powerful psalm of praise. Though the rejoicing continues, there is now a sobering, passionate request as the tune perhaps turns to a minor key and we sing, “Bring back our captivity, O, LORD.”

Wait! Didn’t God just do that? Aren’t they already home? Yes! But not ALL of them. Many are still missing.

Somebody Takes a Head-Count

The second half of Psalm 126 is like a rallying cry for a search party. Family members and friends are still in captivity. It’s clear, someone needs to go seek them out and bring them home. Why didn’t they come with the others? King Cyrus decreed that all who wished to return to Israel were free to go with his blessings. Although it’s hard to believe, this “captivity” is voluntary slavery. For some reason, the bound choose to stay bound.

The liberated souls pray for the rest, understanding that only God can set captives free. Only God can turn hearts toward home … toward Him.

Notice that they do more than pray. They know this sovereign work of God is mysteriously entwined with the “Gospel work” of people like us who keep going forth, even weeping, carrying the precious seed of the Gospel and knowing that this simple “grain” of truth is indeed the “power of God unto salvation.”

Here’s the point of Psalm 126 for us pilgrims. We are on the way home. “We’ve got OURS.” Our hope. Our salvation. Our forgiveness. But what about those still living in voluntary bondage or those who return to old prisons of darkness. No true believer is content to sail off to heaven, hoping others will somehow make their way to heavens’ golden shores? Those who follow Jesus will begin to take on His heart for those He came to “seek and save.” In other words, our hearts become like His heart.

Jesus wept over those who refused His offer of liberation. Likewise, our hearts break over friends and family who have yet to discover His life and love, and we pray, “Lord, please set our loved ones free.”

It’s a beautiful thing when those, once found, set off to find those still lost. The story is told of the Margaret “Molly” Brown, who after the sinking of the Titanic, threatened to throw a lifeboat captain into the icy Atlantic waters if he did not turn that boat around to rescue those still perishing and crying out for help.

Are you “living the dream” of salvation?

Then make plans to reach more. Grab the seed bag of Gospel Truth and make some room in your lifeboat. Invite those living a nightmare into the dream of God’s love and prepare to hear them sing, “O, Happy Day!”

Bill Welsh

Bill Welsh is the senior pastor of Refuge Calvary Chapel. Follow Bill on Twitter @pastorbillwelsh