In situ

“Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in Him… (Philippians 3:8-9a, emphasis mine)

Lost in Him

I find that the real test of life, er, tests of life, are bought with time. With years. We spend what we have (and all we have is time and ourselves) and we gain something that can be obtained in no other way. This is how.

I drove back from a vacation about a month ago, you know how it is. As the valley from which I hail slowly came into view, I began to ponder. Prior to that it had been alternately a memory and then a realization, the rolling, evergreen hills up and down the state of Oregon had done their part to temporarily erase my somewhat humdrum existence. The time in a big city had effectively cleansed me of that grit and grime. I felt new. But again, driving back into what I’d escaped from, I had this epiphany: Dear God, I’ve been doing the same thing in the same area for so long. And it struck me anew. It was actually quite poignant, if saddening. I saw the area as a sort-of gray wash—dry, boring and a dead end. But how does God see it? That question was my saving grace for this moment.

“And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.” (Jeremiah 29:7)

Think about the place where God dwells. Assuming all He does is sit on a throne all the livelong day, what do we have to complain about when we feel we’ve been in the same place for too long? I suppose I should add that the Lord isn’t affected by time like we are. But if He’s wherever we are by His Spirit and also in Heaven, bodily, what’s the problem? In other words, He’s not going anywhere. This is good news, with reference to God. For us though? It can be a harder thing to wrap your mind and heart around.

“For the transgression of a land many are the princes thereof: but by a man of understanding and knowledge the state thereof shall be prolonged.” (Proverbs 28:2)

What do you know about this? Referencing Jeremiah above and then linking that scripture with the one here from Proverbs, it would seem that there are things in the spiritual realm where you’re at—that don’t belong. Think about it: “the transgression (i.e. sin) of a land”. And Jeremiah says to “pray for the peace of the city”. In other words, lacing these two verses together—and taking them out of context, admittedly—it looks as if God is calling you to help affect the area for His glory. To watch and pray and forgive. And love. Jesus didn’t say “Thy Kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10) for nothing. When He left (He’s coming back, you know), He left us the power by the Holy Spirit to bring about change on a global scale. But it starts where you are. Let it bloom where you’re planted.

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” (1 John 2:16-17, emphasis mine)

Found in Him

When I was a kid, maybe twenty years ago, I dreamed I was riding an inner tube down a local creek, fishing as I floated by. I pulled up a small yellow puffer fish I knew was poisonous. While it resembled said puffer fish in real life, it was sans spines and had the appearance of a sizable globule of fat. I remember its oversized and silly-looking lips (it was a fish with lips so I threw it back). Interesting. I never sought an interpretation because I didn’t sense it had any meaning behind it. Fast-forward to a week ago and I dream again. While the scene I’m about to describe was merely one part of the night’s oneiric entertainment, it stood out in stark contrast to the rest of what went on. In the dream, I find myself in the back of an SUV going over a bridge that runs lengthwise over a river. Either there was a break in the bridge or else a wide open space between the two tracks over which we drove, because I looked down and saw a massive yellow monster battling another, in the water. The first monster (I won’t describe the second) looked, for all intents and purposes like it could have been the yellow little fat-lipped puffer fish from my childhood—all grown up. It was grotesque. I should add that this insight came after I journaled upon waking what I am describing. The monster in my dream had a long snout, fat lips intact at the end. And instead of fins, it was bipedal but had extraordinarily long arms with long, slender, clawed fingers. The other monster didn’t stand a chance (or did it?). Either way, it was horrifying. Though I was removed from the action down below and as such, the feeling that proximity to the fight would afford. I wasn’t scared, looking on. What does it mean?

“Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish.” (Psalm 73:7)

Don’t think for a second that we as Christians don’t encounter, and therefore walk in, the aforementioned sins that John lays out in the passage above. “The lust of the flesh”. “The lust of the eyes”. “The pride of life”. I’ve felt these things seek to take root in myself and I know any Christian looking to follow God throughout their life is tempted the same. And we meet Jesus (and see Him as sufficient) when we choose to obey Him in these arenas. Are you having a struggle with “the lust of the flesh”? Talk to Him. He’s right there with you whether you feel it or not. Lust of the eyes? Are your eyes “stand[ing] out with fatness”, or as the New King James words it, “Their eyes bulge with abundance”? God knows. Nothing wrong with a little minimalism for His sake (in other words, when you’re tempted with more than you can handle, throw it back—don’t let it become full grown, it’ll destroy you). This would be the lesson the Lord had me learn while I’ve been here for so long. And the “pride of life” doesn’t hold a candle to the joy God gives you as walk with Him.

“When the Lord shall build up Zion, He shall appear in His glory.” (Psalm 102:16)

See, if you believe in God, He has lessons for you to learn. When you accepted Christ as your savior, you enrolled in a course of study that will last your whole life long. One of Jesus’s titles while here on this earth was Rabbi, or teacher. He’s the same today. And while the Holy Spirit is the power of God on this earth “to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:10), He’s also your teacher as well (see John 14:26). And He’s mine. I’ve been where I’m at for a long time and while I can attest to being stubborn and slow in certain curriculums, the stuff that God’s had for me to learn has been more complex than I could ever assume on my own. It’s just that way. Thank God I get a vacation every once in a while.

“And now little children, abide in Him; that when He shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” (1 John 2:28)

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Living the Dreams

“Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands? For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God.” (Ecclesiastes 5:6-7)

Oneiric/Laconic

Words, vows, dreams. Vanities. The previous verse says “Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.” God takes the stuff of our life, i.e. the means of expressing what’s on our heart and mind (and subconscious) very seriously. God tells Job:

“Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.” (Job 38:2-3)

When we endeavor to bring out what is on our heart but do so in a frivolous or idle manner and don’t take seriously that we are speaking in the presence of the God of the universe, we are, as the previouser verse says, acting the “fool”.

“For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool’s voice is known by multitude of words. When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it: pay that which thou hast vowed.” (Ecclesiastes 5:3-4)

Iconic/Moronic

Dreams are symbolic representations of events–either forthcoming or that which you’re already treading–distilled into easily digestible images and sound-bites. This doesn’t mean that we automatically understand everything going on therein. Nor does it mean everything coming across our screen is from God. I would say that some dreams are a mix of both influences. And then there are those dreams that don’t mean anything and best not to bank on what’s contained within. In much the same way as a dream, an icon is (supposedly) a symbolic representation of the qualities inherent to the person depicted and represented. For instance, you would have the patron saint of such-and-such and their icon represents those qualities. Does it really? Does any one person or institution have the power to imbue through magic or some other artifice this idea that a physical object is something greater than the sum of its parts? An icon is that which I’ve described. Aniconism, however, is the opposite. It’s a framework of worship and belief and practice that eschews the physical representation of intangible, if spiritual qualities. And iconoclasm is the bridge between the two, just so you know. But what does all this have to do with dreams? Because, as Solomon says, “in the multitude of dreams, there are many words.” The opposite of laconic, I should add. When we opt for, not the lucid detailed and utterly overwhelming exposition of that which we experience, but the “fear of the Lord” (Proverbs 1:7), then we’ll get somewhere with God. I believe He wants to explain and detail everything that raises a question in our mind and heart. I believe He delights in doing so. But He’s also wise beyond imagining. He knows that we won’t be able to handle all this knowledge if we’re not “rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 3:17).

“For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct Him. But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:16)

I find that information can be wound tighter and tighter until we have no idea what’s going on. After God demands of Job an answer, He goes on to describe the knowledge and wisdom with which He used to create the world and all therein. Job answers much later on with “I will lay mine hand on my mouth.” (40:4b) I can tell you from personal experience that if you seek to both explain away yourself and also everything going on in your head, you will soon lose track of both your thought process and also the line out of which you sought to peer inside your own mind. We have “the mind of Christ” but sometimes, all God asks is that we trust Him. His peace and the knowledge that He has our best interests at heart and also His love are all we have to guide us through the oneiric (dreams), the conscious and the subconscious. I suppose it’s a comfort that I can’t explain myself away a-hundred percent. That would make me God and only He is. And He owns me and understands me backwards and forwards.

“And to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled with all the fulness of God.” (Ephesians 3:19)

My Oneiric Development—and Yours

Where do you think some of the deep-seated undercurrents of confidence, or the lack thereof, spring from? As a child, we believed we could do anything. Obviously the laws of nature helped to temper that boundless confidence, but what about the realm of imagination? Of fantasy and adventure? Of trust and daring and courage? Maybe that confidence has been unshaken throughout your life. And if that’s the case, more power to you. What will you do with it? But if you struggle (as I sometimes do) with hopelesness in the face of the unknown and with circumstances that look less than promising, then take a look at your dreams. Without sounding too pop-psychological…

Oneiric is an adjective of or pertaining to dreams. It’s one of my favorite words in all of the English language. Dreams have been a big part of my life and my spiritual walk. God gives them to everyone, I believe. Before we continue, let me cite a scripture from Ecclesiastes (5:7): “For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God.” (emphasis mine) In other words, as varied and bizarre and otherworldly and…weird as dreams can be, we should be focusing on God as our spiritual lifeline. And as with anything spiritual (there is a spiritual component in dreams), our guidance in these matters should come from the Holy Spirit only.

Referring again to the first paragraph, whenever you have a dream, think about the atmosphere created within. How does it make you feel? This is one of the most practical and pragmatic words of wisdom that my dad ever shared with me. If you’re wondering where your dream came from or you’re not sure what it means, ask yourself that simple question: how does it make me feel? And with reference to the slow erosion of childlike, childhood confidence, ask yourself this question: Have you ever had a dream where you were so excited over the proposed outcome of whatever was happening only to find out that it was different in a less-than-uplifting way? What about when your dream contains an element of excitement or beauty only to experience loss and sorrow upon waking and realizing it was only a dream? I could be wrong, but I believe neither type comes from God. “With God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26) God’s not going to raise your hopes in a superficial way only to dash them when you wake to reality. I don’t mean to sound new-agey or weird, but our reality can be changed for the better with our faith.

This is what Solomon was referring to in Ecclesiastes when he spoke of “divers vanities”. That word divers has nothing to do with diving or the ocean or the sea or anything. It means numerous. And vanities refers to lies, basically. What I mean here and what I think he’s saying is that it’s very easy for us to be led astray by some ethereal notion that we receive while we’re asleep and helpless. Understand that God watches over us while we sleep. David says in Psalm 4 (verse 8): “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety.” Yet why does God allow dreams that are detrimental? Nightmares even? I believe it has a lot to do with our input during the day. And God does make a “way of escape” as Paul mentioned in his letter to the Corinthians (10:13). His next letter contains an important maxim when dealing with intangible and atmospheric feelings and emotions. Whether from dreams or perceptions or thoughts. “Casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;” (2 Corinthians 10:5) If the dream in question has anything that clashes with the way you know God is. Then reject it. Cast it down.

God speaks through dreams. And the more we stay focused on Him, the more we’ll have a mirror to reflect what we experience on our insides.

“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.” Cool! (Joel 2:28)

Sweet dreams.