Sunday, December 4, 2016

Advent 2016: A Vision for Tomorrow

What dreams do you have for your life? In their book, The Leadership Challenge, James Kouzes and Barry Posner write:
Every organization, every social movement, begins with a dream. The dream or vision is the force that invents the future.
I think that is true. All great movements began with a dream. And the same it true with great companies. That is why so many companies have taken the dreams of their founders and boiled them down into one clear, concise statement.
  • This is why we are here.
  • This is what we do.
  • Let’s not get off track, because this is so very important!
Think of some of the most compelling dream statements:
  • To be the earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online. (Amazon)
  • To share great coffee with our friends and help make the world a little better. (Starbucks)
  • To put joy in kids hearts and a smile on parents’ faces. (Toys ‘R’ Us)
These statements help the employees of these companies keep a clear focus. We may be tempted to go in many directions, we may be tempted to broaden our horizons and do many other great things, but we will not do anything that keeps us from fulfilling this dream, this vision. Our church has boiled down our mission into one clear statement:

We are here to graciously help a fallen world stand up again.

It’s possible for a business’ mission statement or a church’s mission statement to amount to nothing. They can simply be words on a page, a plaque on a wall that nobody sees or pays attention to. Or, that statement can paint a picture of a future reality. This is who we want to be; that is where we are going. Those dreams or visions can be a lighthouse that guides a ship at sea.

Let’s shift gears a bit: Do you have a clear vision for your future? Dreams and visions are not restricted to movements or companies or churches. What is your vision for your life? Why are you here? What is your mission in life? Surely, life is about more than getting up and going through the routine, surely, there is something else that is driving you. What are you trying to achieve or accomplish in your life? This may sound a bit simplistic to put it this way, but, if you do not have a clear vision for your future, you will never become who you want to be. In other words: If you don’t know where you are headed, you will stay lost. You know, some folks look out into the future, and they see it clearly! Others do not. Does anyone remember this scene from The Great Outdoors?

Some folks look out into the future and all they see are trees! But, in case you are wondering, God has a clear picture of our future.

God wrote a mission statement: I bet you didn’t know that! Well, it’s not a concise statement. It’s more of a picture of His dream for us. Let me encourage you to close your eyes and hear these words. Allow God’s dream for us to take shape in your mind. First, God tells about the ruler that will come to make the dream a reality:
A shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse;
    a branch will sprout from his roots.
The Lord’s spirit will rest upon him,
    a spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    a spirit of planning and strength,
    a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.
He will delight in fearing the Lord.
He won’t judge by appearances,
    nor decide by hearsay.
He will judge the needy with righteousness,
    and decide with equity for those who suffer in the land.
He will strike the violent with the rod of his mouth;
    by the breath of his lips he will kill the wicked.
Righteousness will be the belt around his hips,
    and faithfulness the belt around his waist. (Isaiah 11:1–5 CEB)
Then, God tells us what the world will look like when the dream becomes a reality
The wolf will live with the lamb,
    and the leopard will lie down with the young goat;
    the calf and the young lion will feed together,
    and a little child will lead them.
The cow and the bear will graze.
    Their young will lie down together,
    and a lion will eat straw like an ox.
A nursing child will play over the snake’s hole;
    toddlers will reach right over the serpent’s den.
They won’t harm or destroy anywhere on my holy mountain.
    The earth will surely be filled with the knowledge of the Lord,
    just as the water covers the sea. (Isaiah 11:6–10 CEB)
It’s hard to imagine a world like that, isn’t it? A World Without Fear—that is really the main theme in God’s dream, isn’t it? The reasons wolves do not lie down with lambs is because lambs are afraid of wolves, and rightly so! The reason children do not put their hands into snake dens is because they are afraid, and rightly so! Our world is a scary place. All you have to do is turn on the news channel to see how scary and dangerous our world is! Fox News will tell us how radical Islam will destroy America; CNN will tell us that our new President will destroy America. We live in the world of: ISIS and terrorism in other countries and even in our universities. Crooked politicians, crooked religious leaders, race riots, child predators, divorce, suspicion and mistrust. We live in a world dominated by fear. And the world in which these words were first written, it also was a world dominated by fear. In that time, war was normal. When we think of war, we think of planes dropping bombs on cities. We think of smart bombs or missiles being fired from ships. A long distance, don’t-have-to-look-your-enemy-in-the-eye kind of war. In those days, war was different. The army would come surround your city. They would wait for days, weeks, or even months, until you ran out of food. Then you would run out of water. People would do unimaginable things just to stay alive. And then the enemy would break down the walls of your city. When you were too weak to fight, they would rip families apart. They would march you hundreds of miles from your home to a new, strange land and make you into a slave. Isaiah is likely writing these words just after Assyria captured the northern kingdom of Israel, and they were marching toward Jerusalem. Their world was different, but it also was a world dominated by fear.

The fact is: this world has always been dominated by fear. Fear of the unknown—and fear of the known! And that is why this vision, this dream of God is so compelling! God says imagine a world where: There is a righteous judge. This ruler doesn’t base his judgments on hearsay or fear. This ruler judges based upon what is right, all the time, no exceptions! And imagine a world where enemies become friends. Imagine this perfect community that begins on this holy mountain. A community that folks hear about from all over the earth. And because they live in a world of fear, they just cannot believe a place like that actually exists! So, folks from everywhere come to see. And the entire world gathers on God’s holy mountain. And there is peace! Now, that is a vision!

Like all great leaders, God didn’t simply throw the vision out and say, “Wouldn’t that be nice?” God made this dream into a reality. This text has been read by Christians for centuries as one of the first prophecies of Jesus’ arrival. Jesus is the righteous ruler described in Isaiah 11. The world described here is the Kingdom Jesus came to establish. Jesus established the Kingdom on earth with His first coming. But that Kingdom will not be fully realized until His second coming. Now here is why this text is so important for us. In between those two comings, God’s people have a mission, and during this Advent season, we, God’s people, are called to remember the defining vision of that Kingdom. Just like employees of a company, here is the vision! “Do not let anything distract you from the vision. Do not let anything stand in the way of the vision.” Here it is:
God’s vision is a world dominated by peace, not fear.
So, church, how can we partner with God, helping to make His dream a reality on earth as it is in heaven?

Years ago, an ad in the New York Times read:
The meaning of Christmas is that love will triumph and that we will be able to put together a world of unity and peace.
In other words: We have the light within us so we are the ones who can dispel the darkness of the world. We can overcome poverty, injustice, violence, and evil. If we work together, we can create a "world of unity and peace."

Can we?

One of the most thoughtful world leaders or the late 20th century was Vaclav Havel, the first president of the Czech Republic. He had a unique vantage point from which to peer deeply into both socialism and capitalism, and he was not optimistic that either would, by itself, solve the greatest human problems. He knew that science unguided by moral principles had given us the Holocaust. He concluded that neither technology not the state nor the market alone could save us from nuclear degradation. He said:
Pursuit of the good life will not help humanity save itself, nor is democracy alone enough. A turning to and seeing of … God is needed. The human race constantly forgets he is not God.
Yes, our world is in need of a clear vision, a new dream. But no amount of human ingenuity will fix the world. The Advent season reminds us that the only remedy for our broken world is Jesus Christ. We do not have to invent a new way to save the world. We do not have to think our way out of poverty or racism or political corruption. The answer to the problems of our fallen world has always been Jesus. And the surest way we can partner with God in making His dream a reality is to give the world Jesus. Yes, through our words: Tell the story! But also through our lives: Live as Jesus lived. Love even when it is not comfortable. Trust even when you have no reason to trust. Speak words of life and peace into conversations that are filled with gossip and slander. In these ways, we will join the multitudes who have already traveled to the mountain of God. And the more we allow Jesus to live through us, the more folks will join us on the holy mountain!

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