Dreaming with a Bigger Lens

vangogh-stars-quote1           (PC:  Rebecca Barray)

Dreams are often wishes unfulfilled.  Our longings take concrete shape as our minds explore endless ways to create what our visions for justice, push for discovery and desires for beauty beg for.  Made in the reflection of the infinite, God wires us with aptitudes and investigative minds able to innovate, design, build, create, examine, explore and solve; and it would seem humanity is a tireless and thrilling resource for more of whatever our restless mind can imagine.  Because dreams are not easily navigated, the formidable limitations that hold us back, whether our own inabilities or weaknesses, or the less controllable ones like being born in the wrong century or the wrong neighborhood, can kill our dreams.   As poor, destitute Fantine would sing, “But the tigers come at night, With their voices soft as thunder, As they tear your hope apart, As they turn your dream to shame.”  Dreams often remind us of what we are not.

Dreams were never meant to define us.  All people everywhere are defined by their relationship to God.  Because we were intended for oneness with God, God is to be central in all things; and the inspiration of our dreams must be motivated by the realization that our longings will only find a satisfying reality when they are in correct alignment to Him .  Hundreds of years ago, the apostle Paul spoke in the meeting of the Aeropagus in Athens saying, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’”  The reality of whatever we are hoping for is made a real hope in the resurrection of Christ, the glorious central figure in all of reality.

Another interesting aspect about dreams and hopes are how they shift and morph along the sands of time.  What you dreamed about as a kid probably is not your current big dream.  slide_442010_5844780_freeSimilarly, as our culture has shifted its focus on what matters most, we discover  it is reflected in our own aspirations.  Dr. Tim Keller states, “In ancient cultures what mattered most was honor and making your community proud by fulfilling your duty. The world was conceived as a testing ground to see whether you would be faithful to truth, beauty, and causes higher than your own emotions and interests.  Today, however, our cultures are highly individualistic. There is no duty higher than plumbing the depths of your own desires to find out who you want to be. In modern narratives, the protagonist is usually a person who bravely casts off convention, breaks the rules, defies tradition and authority to discover him or her self and carve out a new place in the world. In ancient tales the hero was the person who did just the opposite, who put aside inner dreams, aspirations, doubts, and feelings in order to bravely and loyally fulfill their vows and obligations.”  So it is that our lofty goals often mirror our world’s changing reflections.  (PC:  Rhiannon Logsdon)

The coming of Jesus brings hopes to our dreams.  What do you dream about?  What keeps you up at night pondering and planning?  Each part of our life is to be laid in submission to the King’s command, and yet the eagerness of the King is for his people’s eternal joy.  Do we dare to place our susceptible aspirations and most secret, heartfelt longings into the hands of the one who breathed life into us, offers rescue from our sinful destitution, and assures that in Himself is life full of love and acceptance?  Is it hard?  Are we afraid of disappointment? The beloved preacher Charles Spurgeon said, “If you reject Him, He answers you with tears. If you wound Him, He bleeds out cleansing, if you kill Him, he dies to redeem. If you bury Him, He rises again to bring us resurrection. Jesus is love manifest.”  In an individualized society, do we dare to turn over our dreams?

Jesus offers an alternate way of living human.  Jesus asks us to have the same mindset that compelled him to completely empty Himself and become a human.  Though completely equal with God, Jesus did not grasp after it.  Though a king, he became a servant of all. manger2013 Jesus deliberately gave up the biggest, living dream ever, lost it all, in order to gain something greater–the redemption of his people.  Now Jesus tells his followers to do the same, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?  For what can a man give in return for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” The Word became flesh and lived right here among us, and we saw his grace and glory.  This glory is life overflowing, and it spills over onto us to give us what we need; grace and truth is spilled out, ever-present, ever-holding on to us, overflowing like a river in us, giving us grace, over and over, grace upon grace.  828fdc9db1c33ecb221f6a7dc7bed7c5

Jesus also provides us with a new filter for the longings of our heart.  Jesus leaves us with His Spirit, the power of the crucified and resurrected Christ.  The Lord tells us that we may ask anything in His name, and He assures us that He will do it with every desire and every dream processed through that precious name for the glory of God.  We ask for His fame, not ours.  Our desires and dreams are put through that filter–His fame, His worth, His wisdom, His honor, His glory.   And we find that our dreams were never really big enough, our lens were too small to capture the story of glory that is now ours through Christ.  

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A Tale of Two Rivers

rivers_title_0There is a tale of two rivers told to the reflective heart.  There is glory in the story and great and gentle a reprieve from all that overwhelms.  This story is set oh so long ago, but the heart of the story never quits thumping loud.  Listen, my friend, and hear hope’s story.  Better yet, it is a true story.

Long ago, the powerful Assyrian Empire reached outward expanding westward.  The surrounding nations were nervous, and Syria and Israel sought to compel Judah to form an anti-Assyrian alliance.  King Ahaz, with arrogance of heart, was unwilling and refused to join.  The prophet Isaiah advised the weak, but prideful, king, “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands…thus says the Yahweh God:  ‘It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass.'”  But, King Ahaz also foolishly refused the counsel of Yahweh God.  Gathering silver and gold from the temple’s treasuries, King Ahaz eagerly offered gifts to the forceful Assyrian king asking him to come to Jerusalem’s aid against the mounting Syrian and Israeli forces.

Judah’s king was jubilant!  Yes, the king’s own strategic alliance had worked! King Tiglath-pileser had defeated Israel and Aram just as he had envisioned.  He had been right to reject the prophet Isaiah’s warnings and to enlist the help of the formidable Assyrians.  Ah, but the ambitious Assyrian had no motivation to stop.  Tilgath-pilneser king of Assyria came against him and afflicted him instead of strengthening him.  2 Chronicles 28:20.  So, the rage of the rushing River swept over Judah heeding no bounderies.

Once again Isaiah speaks using beautiful imagery to paint on the canvas of the heart:  The Lord spoke to me again:  “Because this people has refused the waters of Shiloah that flow gently, and rejoice over Rezin and the son of Remaliah, therefore, behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the River, mighty and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory. And it will rise over all its channels and go over all its banks,  and it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.”  Isaiah 8:5-8
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The small perennial fountain situated in Jerusalem was called Shiloh, and from it flowed a little river that ran gently through the city.  God reminded his people, “Do you not realize that I am in your midst?  I am a gentle brooklet softly meandering with placid, untroubled waters of life.  I invite life and refreshment.  Will you not come to the well of your salvation?  My everspringing fountain of life was meant for your joy.”

But, their hopelessness and poverty made their hearts envy; and their weakness made them desperate.  Their restless hearts were dissatisfied in God; so they gave their confidence to human aid and worldly powers.  Mad with desire, they sought to control their future by trusting in the resources of a mere mortal king.  How stern the lusts that ravage the soul dictating rejection and contempt of holy salvation only to rejoice in the strength, wealth, and assistance of the false and the fickle!  Euphrates the most celebrated river in all the east is an impetuous river that heeds no boundaries.  If you enter this rapid river you will be plunged into the deep; its rushing powerful waters will overtake you.  This river will rise to your neck and you will be caught in its powerful grip.  In its strength, you will perish.
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So, the tale of the two rivers was told, but the lesson was not learned.  A few years later, the Assyrians completely beseiged Jerusalem fulfilling all that that the Yahweh God had spoken.  The River rose spreading like wings over the land engulfing all into its strong currents.

If only you had listened to My instruction,  then you would have been flooded with peace; Your righteousness would have risen and crested like waves on the sea.  
Isaiah 48:18 (VOICE)

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There is yet glory in the story, for the land belongs to  Immanuel; and though violently wasted, the true king will not abandon her.  He would bring massive righteousness to her, rising strong with power and peace.  But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. … The people who walked in great darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. …For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase ofhis government and of peace there will be no end.  
Isaiah 9:2, 6.

The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.
Proverbs 14:27

Hear real hope meant to comfort the heart.  Hear the lesson of the two rivers, and choose life.  Turn and trust in the Prince of Peace to still your heart and give the lasting rest your heart stumbles after.  He is gentle and kind softly wooing your heart with his goodness; for in Christ alone will you find sanctuary.

 

Infinity Emptied into Infancy

The people were scared, terrified actually.  Strong forces were joining to wage war against them, and their hearts trembled like the great trees in the forest bowing to the wind. 1383498429_4-640x477 Isaiah, the prophet, is sent with a very simple message: “Do nothing-be careful, quiet, watch your heart, and don’t let it be afraid.” God gave the message of hope to his people, because God knew what they could not know.  His warning was clear: If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.  

This way of faith seemed inadequate to the people.  Isaiah didn’t budge.  “I will wait for the LORD who is hiding His face…I will hope in Him.”

But, the people wanted to control the future.  Their hearts sought the false & the futile.

hope-world

God promised joy to come.  Would they believe? or would they choose to only hope in what they could see?  God promised to give a royal son. His zeal would bring peace, joy, justice and righteousness without end.

 

 

 

The people who walked in darkness have see a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has a light shined.
You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy
at the harvest…For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.
isaiah-9-6-for-unto-us-a-child-is-born
For unto us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful,
Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.  The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Isaiah 9:2-3, 5-7

Seven centuries would pass before the birth of Christ.  God masterfully designs His promise to span across the centuries and tells His people, “Do not fear; I will do it.”

Between 2 FINITE things there still remains some degree of proportion; for example, a drop of water exhibits some proportion to the ocean. But between the finite and the infinte, it is IMPOSSIBLE; the Psalmist writes, “Who is like Yahweh our God—the One enthroned on high, who STOOPS down to look on the heavens & the earth?”

Amazingly though, infinite God becomes a finite man–on purpose–in order to reconcile a very messed-up child back to a hallowed Father! The humiliation is mind-boggling!! Apalling wonder…God sends His own Son Jesus, who STOOPED, making voluntary descent from His elevation, “who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He EMPTIED Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men.”

jesus-in-manger

Infinity
e  m  p  t  i e d
into infancy…

 

The promise fulfilled.  And so we wait again in calm assurance and quiet hope for our Lord Jesus to return.  If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.  

The Royal Rotted Root

The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
    and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
-Genesis 49:10

The promise of a royal line had been a blessing given to Judah uttered solemnly in faith by his aging patriarchal father Jacob.  The blessing of the kingdom expanded as God promised the throne to the lineage of King David, “Then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’” (I Kings 9:5).

But, the royal root rotted.  JudahEmblem.png

The throne was not good, evil was the new counterfeiter.
The king’s glory no longer gleemed, for darkness shrouded light.  
His reign put bitter for sweet and sweet was now bitter.
His rule was only shrewd in his own self-centered sight.
Heroes at drinking wine, life was wasted to fritter,
Acquitting the guilty, depriving the innocent of right.

God no longer defended and protected the land.  He allowed the enemy to conquer. The kingdom was gone and the people were exiled.

So their root will be as rottenness,
    and their blossom go up like dust;
for they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts,
    and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
-Isaiah 5:24

But, what about the royal root?  Did God forsake his people and the promise?

fulfilment-of-scripture-root-of-jesseSilent royal root.  Not forsaken, the royal root waited unseen.  The time was coming…a wee babe would be born.

Then it will come about in that day that the nations will resort to the root of Jesse, who will stand as a signal for the peoples; and His resting place will be glory.
Isa. 11:10

In days to come Jacob shall take root,
    Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots
    and fill the whole world with fruit.
Isaiah 27:6

Beautiful Branch Born to Give Life

In that day the Branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious, and the Fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel.  Isaiah 4:1

newjer_01Alexander Sorsher, New Jerusalem

God’s creative, regenerating hand moves miraculously redeeming His people and raising life from a hopeless, dried-up stump to a flourishing canopy of divine presence and defense.  God and sinners reconciled, Zion will glory in her Redeemer; and in that day, peace, security, and glorious communion will be enjoyed, for the Fruit will be the pride and honor of Zion’s land. The great reversal that was promised exceeds our wildest dreams, for all is too small for the soul, except for the glorious and beautiful Branch with healing leaves spreading in grand deity over the nations.  The true Shekinah is Jesus Christ glorified among His people.  Beautiful, lovely Branch, we long for your boughs of deity to reign in power, glory and honor!  Christmas gives space, a pause to reflect and remember. Do you ever get a tear in your eye?  Remember the root of Jesse who comes to rule!  Do you ever feel overwhelmed?  Ask the God of hope to fill you with joy and peace in believing the promise this Christmas.

O Root of Jesse, Thou on Whom
The Holy Ghost shall rest;
Whose boughs through all the world shall bloom
With healing virtue blest:

True Vine, in Whom we must abide
To bring forth plenteous fruit;
Whose branches, when by tempests tried,
Are firm in Thee their root:

Thou art a shelter from the heat
That burns the thirsty ground:
A hiding place when tempests beat
Upon the plain around.

O Root of Jesse, day by day
To Thee out prayers we send:
Come now, and through the world, we pray,
Thy healing leaves extend.

We wait in faith, we wait in prayer,
Until the happy time
Wherein Thy branches fruit shall bear
Through every distant clime.

To God the Father glory be,
In majesty adored;
To Jesse’s Root, the Son; and Thee,
O Holy Ghost; One Lord. Amen.

(O Radix Jesse, Abbot Prosper Louis Gueranger, O.S.B.)

full-adven1A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and of might,
    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord
    and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.  Isaiah 11:1-3

Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord.  It is he who shall build the temple of the Lord and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne.
Zechariah 6:12-13

The Light that Cannot Be Extinguished

be-it-unto-me

 

His tiny face sucked in that first draught of bitter, chilled air into his lungs, and the babe entered into the life of a dark world with one purpose for his existence–to bear the injustice and to shine as the one true Light in a very, very dark world.

 

 

(Liz Lemon Swindle, “Be It Unto Me”)

Atheist John Gray makes an interesting observation on the evil and suffering we experience: “In comparison with the Genesis myth, the modern myth in which humanity is marching to a better future is mere superstition. As the Genesis story teaches, knowledge cannot save us from ourselves. If we know more than before, it means only that we have greater scope to enact our fantasies. …The message of Genesis is that in the most vital areas of human life there can be no progress, only an unending struggle with our own nature.”

But, that is not true.
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The power of darkness cannot overcome the Light of the World who has come to release us from the dominion of the soul’s midnight.  There is no darkness in His Light.

“You surely realize that even in the presence of color
Sight will see nothing, and the colors will remain unseen,
Unless one further thing joins them…”

What thing do you mean?”

“The thing you call light.”

-PLATO , The Republic

light-of-the-world-arise

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“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord shines over you.
For look, darkness covers the earth,
and total darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will shine over you,
and His glory will appear over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your radiance. …
Your sun will no longer set,
and your moon will not fade;
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and the days of your sorrow will be over.
Then all your people will be righteous;
they will possess the land forever;
they are the branch I planted,
the work of My hands,
so that I may be glorified.”
(Is. 60:1-3, 20-21)

Dancing in the Darkness Bringing Joy!

Lord of all creation is Himself born.
Indeed, a God of wonders bursting forth as divine light,
the rising sun coming to us from heaven,
dancing in the darkness bringing  joy to the world.

Dawn breaking
(Photo Credit:  Mikko Lagerstedt)

Born to save his people, he is a bridge groom in the manger coming for his bride.  The babe wrapped in swaddling clothes dresses his bride in white linen, with love wrapping her in his holiness, pure and bright.   The old hymn begins, “Man of sorrows what a name for the man of God who came…”  Man of sorrows, enduring sorrows with so much joy, suffered even the shameful death on the cross to obtain the embrace of his bride in oneness.   Known by his scars, those astonishing wounds are now healing for the nations, joy to the world.  “What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul…” are staggering words of joy that millions join to sing in endless hallelujahs.

Darkness has become dawn,
and now sweet Lord of joy,
you invite us to enter the joy of Yourself.

Dawn
(Photo credit:  Joe Holley)

What Happens When the Author Disappears?

Pages rustle.  Turning.Pages.of.Medieval.Bible
The overhead fan blows the thin, opaque pages of the book causing them to flutter.  This book is like no other…for in it God speaks, revealing His story, every page whispering hope for the world.

 There is a remaining longing written in our hearts…our sorrows often refresh the deep ache…it reminds us of REAL LOVE and the pang of separation. In a way, it reminds us of the appeal of fairy-tales & fantasies which irk and annoy modern literary critics for as we well know people still flock to those kind of stories. once upon a timeYou know the stories…The Lord of the RingsThe Beauty & the BeastKing Arthur and His Knights of the Round TableSleeping Beauty…Pinocchio…they all stoke the flame kindled in our soul somewhere before the once upon a time.  The great stories didn’t really happen…BUT LOVE IS REAL and our hearts really do long for happy endings. But even though we know they really didn’t happen, there is an inescapable, emotional longing deep within us for the supernatural…
for true love that never fails and never, never ends…
a desire to triumph over evil, for good to always win…
for the possibility and wonder of never growing old.  The well-told stories laced with those essential ingredients enchant our hearts. Daughter’s eyes shine for their daddy’s open arms of embrace. We love heroes. The Lord of the Rings bristles with bravado. We weren’t meant to die, and Sleeping Beauty is freed from her eternal rest through the power of love sweetly posed as a kiss from a dashing prince. Beauty and the Beast causes our hearts to hope for a love strong enough to break the curse of our beastliness. And our hearts really wants the world to be free from its sadness. Our hearts never want to let go when the love reaches deep.
So, the beauty of Christmas reminds us again…of a Father who did let go…of the Father who sooooo loved that He gave His only Son…infinity to infant.

Yet, did you know? That in between the soft leather covers of your Bible, in between the Old Testament and the New, there is a large empty gap, a looming void in the historical record of God’s metanarrative. The main character is hidden.  Did they notice God’s leaving?  For 800 years, there had been no miraculous interventions of God in the story.    What happened?  For 500 years, angels sent by God had not showed themselves to men.  Worst of all, did the people hear God’s hush?   God went darkYou see, for 400 years, God kept deafeningly silent.  No spoken Word…no prophet to bring the Word to the people for so many, many years.  Did God change?  Did He give up on His people?  Did the Author of Life quit writing the story?  Would God really remember His promises to do only good? Shriveling to a shadow of what used to be, Israel remained with only two tribes and without any status; and men and women’s hearts were very cold and faithless.  They had no king, and their hopes were bitter now.  But what about the beloved King David, whose throne was promised by God to be established forever? Alas, your royal son reigning now seems inconceivable, even impossible. There was only thunderous, ear-splitting silence.

An old promise, a worn-out hope to some, would not be forgotten; God would finish His story, and nothing would ever be the same

The night is silent again.  Now all is calm.grotto nativity 2015
God comes.
Infinity to infant.
God comes quiet.
A kingly birth hails from a defeated throne.  The Branch of David, the rightful heir to the throne, is a banner of salvation to all of the world.  The babe is Lord at His birth.  Emmanuel.  God is here with us.

So, what is this story of Christmas? 
Is it nothing more than a made up fairy-tale?
This story is true for it is written by God Himself.  It isn’t “once upon a time”; for this story never ends which is why eternity is written on our hearts.  
Jesus is the promised Deliverer sent to set us free from all of the sadness, darkness, and separation.  He breaks the chains of our beastliness and reconciles us to the open arms of the Father.  The king reigns over the grave’s steely grasp and death’s venomous sting.  He has come.god-was-made-man-1024x576  The story didn’t end.
We wait knowing that God truly did intend for our good and that the King will return.  During God’s hush, Hope was born, & nothing would ever be the same.