no, I’m not a piece of whatever

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…

Ephesians 3:17b-19b

I’m a believer in dreams and visions from God, and it just might be that I received one recently. I so easily nod off no matter what I’m doing if I’m sitting down. Recently I was opening our new Mennonite hymnal, Voices Together, and thought I saw a song, or perhaps one of the readings simply stating that God calls us good, that we’re his beloved children, that we are not what we call ourselves. Really to the point, and actually better than what I expressed it just now. And just at a good time for me, because I was berating myself under and over my breath as I have off and on over the years. But after searching for it days before, and going through the entire hymnal today, I failed to see it. So maybe it was a dream, clearly to me, a dream from God.

That touched me deeply, and I knew it resonated with what we learn from Scripture, just how much God values each and everyone of us. And calls us to be close to him in his very family in and through Jesus. This is so helpful, to have this truth dawn on us, to begin to really believe that God loves us, yes “loves me.” Even when I have a hard time liking myself for many reasons. God’s love is wide and deep, and never lets go. We see the truth of that in Jesus, God becoming human in him, and doing what he did for us. God’s love in Jesus will pursue us.

We need to accept what God calls us. And quit calling ourselves what is nothing less than a lie from the pit of hell. God is helping me this way. In and through Jesus.

Jesus buried

It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.

Mark 15:42-47

Jesus dead and buried meant to the disciples that whatever it was that was coming, that they were anticipating, even if they would acknowledge that they had more questions than anything else, was now dead and gone. Ended. Period.

Unlike the Eleven, Joseph of Arimathea (along with Nicodemus in another gospel account) felt far enough removed from Jesus to not feel threatened by his sentence and execution. He did what needed to be done in honoring Jesus.

Metaphorically, I would like to think that whatever dreams I might have, or have had in my life are to be dead and buried with Jesus, so that what can arise is nothing short of God’s will in the new life raised with him. Baptism is a picture of that (Romans 6). It’s not like God doesn’t give us dreams, but the point is that they need to come from God. So much of the flesh, not to mention the world and the devil can get in.

I wonder if something like that wasn’t happening even to Jesus’s disciples on that day. Their dreams were dead and gone. They didn’t get what Jesus had told him at least three times: that he would suffer, be crucified, and on the third day rise. That made no sense to them. So they were surely in despair. It is hard to put ourselves in the disciples’ place, even impossible since we can’t escape the knowledge of what followed, and all that has come from that.

We need to be ready to let go of whatever dreams we have for the dream and vision God would give us. We are to offer ourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life (Romans 6). For nothing less than God’s good will in Jesus. In and through him: his death, burial, and yes, his resurrection. Amen.

accepting limitations in good faith

We dream big, then life happens. There’s a certain sadness in that. I like our Pastor Jeff Manion’s thought, the title of his new book:

dream big,
think small

This is the title also of a sermon series starting in February, of which we got a card, with a further explanation on it: “Exploring the power of daily faithfulness.” In fact he gave a message yesterday at our weekly chapel service on this very thing, citing Samuel of old as an example, along with Fred Rogers (of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood“) as pristine examples of faithfulness over many years, resulting in something profound, exponentially beyond the many moments of being present and doing the ordinary, mundane things of life daily.

I titled this post, “accepting limitations in good faith,” because I see out of faithfulness over time, God can do remarkable things, not necessarily obvious to the naked eye. We in Jesus see with the eye of faith; “we live by faith, not by sight,” not just in regard to the life to come, but also with reference to this present life. So that we accept all its in and outs, ups and downs, and the fact that it is only so long, and we look for God in all of that.

There are some traditions which accentuate the miraculous, and great experiences, what we often call great highs. For example people go off to some weekend event, are pumped up, and then primed as they go back home to change their world, to at least do better. That could have its place, but by and large all of life happens mostly in the boring, and sometimes even frustrating, often thankless tasks of everyday living.

And more important than the things we do, as important as that is, is who we are, and our faithful presence. I realize that often I really have nothing much if at all to offer, except to be present and listen and participate in that way, as well as do whatever needs to be done in that place and time. In the process of all of this, God is at work in Jesus, to make a world of difference, us playing our small yet important part in that along with others, in and through Jesus.

 

dreams of what could have been, or what could be?

Sometimes I start thinking about what might have been if this or that would have been true, maybe if we would have taken one certain course or opportunity opened to us, as opposed to another. And if one gets off on that track, then they might think of all the differences that may have been if they would have done this or that, starting from way back when. Of course one would very much like to take back and scuttle any major mistake or sin, which impacted life with likely lasting consequences.

Of course the thing is, we can’t take back a thing. We can’t change a thing. We are people in process and we are who, what and where we are due to all kinds of factors somehow worked together, or a part of the whole. It may not be a waste to take dream thoughts to God in prayer, but other than that, it seems to me to be a waste entirely, though only too human of us to do so.

Imagination can be quite fruitful within the context in which we live, but apart from that, it may even be harmful and certainly a waste of time. I can’t change even what I did yesterday, much less what was done years and years ago, my past orientation to life and the decisions which proceeded from that.

What might be fruitful in terms of dreams are dreams of what could be. If we can easily figure something out, then it’s hardly a dream. Dream, of course I use in a metaphorical sense here, though we might actually have a literal dream along the way which addresses this. Imagination can certainly be at play here, what has been called a “sanctified imagination,” simply thinking of what specifically God could bring about in days to come. This may be God’s way of leading us to see what he has for us to do, and to be.

Usually, and probably one could well say, always, the outcome will differ from what we dream, unless we have a literal dream which has something of the real future in it in some way that might be understood through interpretation in the realm of a certain kind of prophetic insight from God. But by and large we may have inklings which serve a good purpose along the way, even though what falls out ahead will likely be beyond or at least more than we could have possibly imagined.

And so, let us dream. For the purposes of prayer, for the good of others and of the world, our own world and the world at large. Let us see life through hope, yes the hope of the resurrection to come, but of resurrection in a certain, true sense in this life as well. But let the dreams be those which are hopefully the work of the Spirit, even if somehow, in some mysterious way our spirits are involved in that as well. For God’s good will to be worked out in and through Jesus.

imagination (prophesying, dreams, visions)

To one who likes to read scripture and books that emphasize scripture in terms of exegesis, theology and the life that is to flow out of that, I am not one given much to imagination as being a part of the life of faith, or a vehicle God may use in our lives by the Spirit. However if one wants to be biblical with reference to some details, I think one needs to be open to this.

Prophecy and related to that, dreams and visions all require at some point at least for many, some openness to imagination. A fundamental question might be: Does God speak only through the words of scripture, or does he speak in other ways as well? One gifted, godly church leader and academic I once heard say that God speaks only through the words of scripture. And I have no doubt at all that God spoke to them regularly that way. But that begs the question: What about the stories we read in scripture itself? Those things can’t happen today?

Symbols and interpretations, as well as ways the Lord may be encouraging and preparing to use us–we need to be open to all of that. Read the stories in scripture of the prophets and of the early church. We need to keep our eyes open to the details. And then be open to the idea that God can work in those same kinds of ways today. It is to the great loss of the church when we are not open to such things, for example, prophesying. The heart of the unbeliever or inquirer being made known, so that they exclaim: Surely God is among you! To see faith in someone. To lay hands on the sick and see people healed. To cast out demons.

The addition of these kinds of things in the power and love of the Spirit in and through Jesus does not make a full gospel. The gospel is much bigger than that. Nor are these kinds of things the end all. People need much more, in fact if it is only about such things, I’m afraid we’ve missed the point. They can be powerful pointers, and more than that, nothing less than a manifestation of the new life of the kingdom of God in Jesus here and now. But the whole counsel of God in terms not only of details, but of the big picture of God’s kingdom breaking in in and through Jesus and that the ascended Jesus seated at the place of ultimate power at the right hand of the Father is King over the earth now in fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel for the world–this is getting more at the fullness of the gospel.

Back to imagination. What I’m thinking I need to cultivate, and am experiencing a little of is simply the use of imagination in God revealing something of his will to me, not simply for me, but for others. Reading scripture, praying and being open is a simple place to start. All of us together in this in Jesus for the world.

“I have a dream.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., fifty years ago today, gave a speech which has rightly been eulogized and remembered for all time. It was a great speech especially for that day, and as such remains a great speech for all time. The push behind that speech goes on to this day, although much has been gained since that time with regard to the crux of the issue then: civil rights in America for Black people.

A society free of racism continues to be a good goal to pursue in the public sector, one that ought to be lived out Sunday after Sunday in our churches, and in our daily lives as followers of Jesus. Today the push for civil rights includes gays and the LGBT community. Many either want or are open to gay marriage, at least accepting it. And of course there are many causes being pushed, some good, some not so good, and some probably indifferent to many of us.

Do we have a dream? As followers of Christ is that legitimate? I think of dream here as a vision of what is good, what we would like to see, even what we hope to see in this world. Such a vision will depend on one’s theology to a large extent. And I include those who hardly know the definition of “theology.” Theology I am thinking of in terms of what one thinks is possible as well as good in this life. Something to which individuals, communities and society at large ought to aspire. The aspiration for the world at large will vary, again depending on one’s view of what is possible as well as good in such.

For me I simply see the fulfillment of God’s kingdom, come in Jesus, in the church, and out from the church into the world, as central to any dream I would have. This includes an emphasis on the gospel of King Jesus in terms of redemption from evils, wrongs, sins done. And reconciliation through that gospel across the board. And that is in terms of the offer of the good news of King Jesus to all, to the world. On the basis of Jesus’ cross- of his death, walls of separation, even hate can and will come down, as people both accept that cross objectively, as the focal point and mover and shaker for change, and subjectively as the way in which life is lived as followers of Jesus. Such a change is to come from the heart in relationship to God in Jesus by the Spirit. It cannot strictly speaking be legislated. And yet such an example from followers of Jesus, from the church shows a standard that perhaps is new to many of what humanity ought to look like, yes, even in this tragic, sinful world.

The other part of the dream I would have would be in terms both of the fruit as well as gifts of the Spirit. We need the Holy Spirit. We don’t just need right thinking or right theology. We need the experience no less than God’s love being poured out in our hearts by the Spirit whom God gives to all who believe in Jesus. We need the experience of the power and presence of God by the Holy Spirit. Yes, we need the faith to heal people, to cast out demons, to prophesy, to live in the movement of the Spirit in ways in which by and large most of us are not accustomed to. We need openness, but more than that we need to put this faith into practice. To grow in it.

I am of the persuasion according to my theological understanding that response and change within the world at large to God’s kingdom come in Jesus will be mixed. We can expect some persecution. Yet we can also hope for some good, some change. Only when Jesus returns will justice really prevail. The church should be an expression of God’s will for the earth. And that expression is not only localized, to itself, but missional. Although the expression as an example in itself, is missional.

And so I have a dream. God can give each of us dreams, perhaps on a smaller scale to contribute to the whole. God’s good will for the earth. We are in that good will together in and through Jesus for the world.

Scot McKnight on wise daily living

Wise daily living will lead to the dream God has written into our hearts. If you neglect your daily assignments, if you fail to show up for work each day, if you fail to spend time with the one (or ones) you love, if you fail to do the ordinary task in the right way, you will get what you deserve and it won’t always be good. But if you do the little wise thing daily, you will achieve the dream your life was designed to accomplish.

It works both ways:
Focus on the daily instead of the dream, but…
Let the dream shape what you do daily.

Scot McKnight, One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow, 90.

pictures

I was once a part of a “charismatic” fellowship of believers, and to have pictures as in visions, or in one’s mind’s eye was familiar to us, in our home group meetings. I think the Lord can do this for us, giving us a glimpse of his will in some way in terms of his working in and through our lives in this world, or in terms of something we need. Of course always with reference to scripture.

I recently received strictly in my mind’s eye, not an actual vision, but a picture of myself and how I could be through a difficult situation. In fact I think I applied that to more than one difficult matter in my life. Something which can end up characterizing me along the lines of faith and the Jesus Creed  of loving God with all my being and doing, and loving my neighbor as myself.

Of course I don’t imagine I can live that out perfectly, or that it is not a matter of continued growth to the end. But it is encouraging to get a sense of what God can and wants to do.

In this comes imagination, to be sure, sanctified imagination. Imagination which hopefully is lined up according to God’s word and the way in Jesus. And I would hope as well, given by the Spirit. Imagining what we can be in Jesus as individuals, and in community, in mission in Jesus for the world.