Wishing Big

Wishing Big

How old were you when you learned to wish big?

I was a child growing up in Mississippi. My dad worked at Sears & Roebuck. Each September he would bring home the new catalog. It pictured everything Sears sold. I was instructed to circle everything I wanted for Christmas. So I did.

Sears Silvertone Guitar, Lionel Train Set, Ted Williams Baseball Glove, Remington 12 Gauge Shotgun. I sat on my bed for hours wishing—imagining what might appear beneath our Christmas tree. That’s when I learned to wish big.

Several years ago, our daughter Ashley sang in a wishful song (“Grown-Up Christmas List”) in the church Christmas program. The lyrics move us from a childhood listing of toys to an adult imagination of a better world:

Do you remember me? I sat upon your knee,
and spoke to you my childhood fantasies.
But I’m all grown up now and still need help somehow;
I’m not a child but my heart still can dream.
So here’s my lifelong wish, my grownup Christmas list
Not for myself but for a world in need –

No more lives torn apart, that wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts,
Everyone would have a friend,
And right would always win,
And love would never end.

This is my grown up Christmas list.

As children we believed the grandest sight to see
Was something lovely wrapped beneath our tree.
Well heaven only knows that packages and bows
Can never heal a hurting human soul.

No more lives torn apart, that wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts,
Everyone would have a friend,
And right would always win,
And love would never end.

This is my grown up Christmas list.

Do you find yourself wishing big for a world made right? We know how broken our world is because today:

  • Syrian refugees are being decimated
  • ISIS is plotting violence, chaos, and destruction
  • Children are being terminated in the womb because they are inconvenient, and soon the elderly may be euthanized for the same reason
  • The poor are seduced by glitzy lotteries
  • The earth is being pillaged and polluted
  • Government is gridlocked, expensive, and ineffective
  • Mental illness is everywhere you look
  • Humans become pornographic playthings
  • People are trafficked like products
  • And justice is hard to find.

So we wish big.

But these global wrongs are not the only things that trouble us. If we all narrated our stories of the wrong and injustice that we have experienced, we’d create a catalog thicker than the Sears & Roebuck one I remember from childhood.

But, one day in time, God wished big.

He sent a vulnerable child, his son, into a world gone wrong. Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.

He was Spirit–anointed, Spirit-baptized, Spirit-filled. One day in time, he stood on a mountain and announced the coming of a kingdom that would turn the world upside down, making it right-side up. He said that in his presence, his life-death-resurrection, the kingdom of God had come, making everything new.

And this Jesus made an announcement that may well be the best news this tired world could imagine – “Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who are passionate for the world to be as God intended it, who wish big for things to be made right. You will be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6)

I’m not sure we understood what he said. I think we heard a deal being made: If we’ll work up a spiritual growling in our innards and conjure a powerful thirst, then God will move. If we’ll try a little harder, God will lift a divine finger to help.

But I think this is a wrong interpretation of what was happening. I think Jesus was looking into eyes like ours – eyes full of Paris and Syria, and our own injustices – and he was saying to us, “This is your lucky day! Heaven has noticed. And God has come in flesh and blood to engage the evil in the world by participating in its suffering. And this God will not stop until all things are made new.”

I think this was a blessing, a gift; not a deal being cut. This is not a command for us to do anything, but a divine announcement of good news that God has seen our troubled world and is on the move in Jesus to set things right. This is our reason for wishing big.

The operative biblical word in the Sermon on the Mount is righteousness. If holy is who God is, righteousness is what God does. This word is peppered throughout Matthew 5-7:

  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…
  • Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees…
  • Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness..
  • Do your righteous deeds in secret…

Righteousness is an interesting word in the Bible. It has first cousins like justice and judgment. These words are connected to prophetic announcements in the Old Testament of the coming Day of the Lord.

I grew up under judgment day preaching. The image was this global drive-in movie theater large enough to accommodate all the living and dead of all time. At the front was a tiny stage, a pedestal, where humans would take their place one at a time. Behind them on the global screen would be played the account of their life for all to see – every dastardly deed, mean word, and unrighteous thought bubble. Snooping angels had been collecting on us all of our days. At the end of the revelatory movie a booming voice would declare heaven or hell and we would go straight there, not even stopping to collect $200.

I’ve known Christians so smug in their righteousness that they would declare “Bring it on!” I’ve never felt that way. Because I know that God is still righting me. He isn’t finished yet. Does hungering and thirsting after righteousness mean wishing for judgment day to come now? Or does it mean something else?

I have held dear the words of an old friend, Reuben Welch:

I haven’t always liked the word judgment. It was too harsh, too condemning. But I am learning better. The judgment of God is our salvation. The word does not simply mean condemnation. God’s righteous judgment is his verdict, his evaluation, his decree. It is his order to bring things that are wrong to an abrupt halt and to let our lives be exposed to the eyes of God. Only such exposure to God’s definition of right can save us.”

Judgment isn’t God’s last move; it is God’s first saving move – to tell us the truth about our world, its ways, our lives, and our ways. Every day is righteousness/judgment day. Do we hunger and thirst for this? To know ourselves as God knows us? To see ourselves as God sees us? God has a gift to give us. He reconciles us to himself and imparts his righteousness to us so that we are empowered to participate in his right-making work in the world.

But I must warn you. It is unsettling to be righted by God. The best parable of this that I know is a story told by Barbara Brown Taylor. She writes,

Several summers ago, I spent three days on a barrier island where loggerhead turtles were laying their eggs. One night while the tide was out, I watched a huge female heave herself up the beach to dig her nest and empty herself into it while slow, salt tears ran from her eyes. Afraid of disturbing her, I left before she had finished her work but returned next morning to see if I could find the spot where her eggs lay hidden in the sand. What I found were her tracks, only they led in the wrong direction. Instead of heading out to sea, she had wandered into the dunes, which were already hot as asphalt in the morning sun.

A little ways inland I found her, exhausted and all but baked, her head and flippers caked with dried sand. After pouring water on her and covering her with sea oats, I fetched a park ranger who returned with a jeep to rescue her. As I watched in horror, he flipped her over on her back, wrapped tire chains around her front legs, and hooked the chains to the trailer hitch on his jeep. Then he took off, yanking her body forward so fast that her open mouth filled with sand and then disappeared underneath her as her neck bent so far I feared it would break.

The ranger hauled her over the dunes and down onto the beach; I followed the path that the prow of her shell cut in the sand. At ocean’s edge, he unhooked her and turned her right side up again. She lay motionless in the surf as the water lapped at her body, washing the sand from her eyes and making her skin shine again.

Then a particularly large wave broke over her, and she lifted her head slightly, moving her back legs as she did. As I watched, she revived. Every fresh wave brought her life back to her until one of them made her light enough to find a foothold and push off, back into the water that was her home.

Watching her swim slowly away and remembering her nightmare ride through the dunes, I noted that it is sometimes hard to tell whether you are being killed or saved by the hands that turn your life upside down.

God is speaking to 7 students/graduates from Trevecca Nazarene University about the Syrian refugee crisis. They are being sent by Nazarene Compassion International to work in the refugee crisis wherever it is located.

These students are not arguing about whether the refugees can come here. They are willing to go there. And God is turning their life upside down, which looks a lot like the kingdom of God to me.

I suppose they are hungering and thirsting for a world made right. They are wishing big, like a kid with a Sears & Roebuck catalog. And their Father blesses them.

Comments

  1. Prayers accompany these courageous students who seek to follow Christ into a world of uncertainty. Live Barbra Brown Taylor – great weaving of scripture into the relevance of our present lives! Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Great insight Pastor Dan! Thank you.

  3. This perspective was refreshing! Thanks for reminding me that God is still at work amidst all the activity of this world.

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