Advent 2022: Christmas Light

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”  Isaiah 9:2

My granddaughter loves Christmas lights. Anytime we drive at night, even in the middle of summer, she is on the lookout for them. We tell her that the Christmas lights are not out yet but she always says, “Maybe we’ll see some.” I love that Joy is always searching for light in the darkness.

When I was a kid we visited a park with beautiful caverns. In one deep, dark cave the park guide turned out all the artificial lights and the room was plunged into total darkness.  For a moment I was overcome by a sense of despair and fear.  In that pitch-blackness, I lost all orientation. I had no idea where the exit was, or where anyone else was.  If my friend had not grabbed my hand, I would have thought I was completely alone – that I had been abandoned.  Then the guide lit one small match.  All eyes were drawn to the light. With that single flickering flame, the darkness was overcome. Darkness is nothing more than the absence of light – but where there is even the smallest light, darkness has lost its power.

Adam and Eve plunged this world into sin and we are disoriented in spiritual darkness.  It is the kind of darkness that makes you feel completely alone and abandoned. Oh, the world offers a distorted light that is all glitz and glitter and flash. But it’s not the kind of light that helps you find your way.  Yet we are not to despair. God had a plan from before the creation of the world – before He called forth the light (Gen 1:3). He sent His One and Only Son to be “the Light of the world” (John 8:12).  His light overcame sin and evil and death. His light has the power to overcome the darkness and despair of living in this sin-sick, evil world with all its struggles and heartaches, and pain. He is “the true light that gives light to every man” (John 1:9).

Paul wrote, “God, who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).  This Advent season, as you enjoy the lights of Christmas, let the light of the Christ Child come in and dispel the darkness.  Beloved, come live in the Light of Jesus Christ.

In The End

I wrote yesterday about God’s pre-knowledge of the ups and downs, blessings and tragedies, and Joys and heartaches in our lives. The question then comes, “Why would He allow us to go through these very hard things?”  “Why does He set us on a path when He knows it leads to hardship?” I confess, I’m far from an expert and I certainly can’t read God’s mind, but I can read His Word and glean some things that might help us to understand.

When the Israelites escaped Egypt they rejoiced, yet “on the fifteenth day of the second month [figure about 6 weeks] after they had come out of Egypt . . . the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron” (Ex 16:1,2). They missed the plentiful food of Egypt. So God sent them food – manna. It was their daily diet for forty years (v. 35). After a long steady run of the stuff, they complained, “we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Num 11:6). It became a source of contention for the Hebrew people.

But God knew all this. He knew when He sent Joseph to Egypt to save his family they would become enslaved for four hundred years. He knew that Pharaoh would oppress and abuse them. He knew Moses would be born at a time when Hebrew baby boys were killed. He knew that Mama would make a basket to float him down the river just as Pharaoh’s daughter would bathe in the same river. He knew that Moses would run after he killed an Egyptian for abusing a Hebrew slave. He knew right where to send him where a bush waited. He knew Pharaoh would forbid the Hebrews to leave. He knew they would be pinned between the river and the enemy. He knew they would rebel. He knew they would wander. He knew they would make a golden calf. He knew they would get hungry. He knew they would eventually grow sick of the manna.

He knew all this. Yet He worked in it all. And Moses declared, “He gave you manna to eat in the desert . . . to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you” (Deut 8:16). All of it, from Joseph to the manna was part of God’s plan. God used the manna to humble them and test them and bring them to a place of blessing. And that’s what He’s up to in your life too. In the good, the bad, and the ugly, He’s working to make you useful and usable in His kingdom. He’s working for your good. That season you’re questioning is part of His plan. And His plans never fail. Be encouraged, Beloved, God is up to something. And in the end, it will go well with you.

In God’s Hands

Have you noticed that the Scriptures call us “sheep?” I’ve heard people say that sheep are dumb, and I don’t think that is entirely fair. Sheep just get focused on one thing – filling their bellies – and don’t pay attention to what they are doing or where they are going. A sheep will put his head down to graze and keep it down as he moves from one succulent tuft of grass to another. He doesn’t look up to see where he’s headed or how far he has gone from the shepherd or how close he is to the edge of a river bank. One more step and he is tumbling down, down, down, and into serious trouble. If the shepherd doesn’t find him soon he’ll fall prey to a predator and sheep are helpless in a fight.

If all this sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve wandered. Or maybe you know and love a wanderer. I’ve shared before that I have a prodigal – a wanderer. He grew up in the church and a godly home. But he’s grazing out in the world with his head down. I’ve prayed for him for many, many years: “God, please don’t let him fall away from You.” One morning the Spirit impressed on me to sing “He’s Got The Whole World in His Hands.” “Mama,” He said to my heart, “If I have room for the whole world in my hands then you can be sure my hands a big enough for him to roam far and wide without falling off.”

David said, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast” (Ps 139:7-10). Re-read that last sentence. Your right hand will hold me fast. God loves you too much to let you go. He loves your wanderer more than you do.

If you have wandered from the shepherd, just call out His name from wherever you are. He will leave the ninety-nine and come rescue you and bring you back to the flock. If you are praying for a wanderer, don’t give up. God’s got them, even while they roam. Jesus said the Father is not willing that any of his sheep should be lost (Matt 18:10-14). Beloved, He’s a big God with big hands.

Hebrews: A Sacrifice of Praise

Several years ago I had a serious mental and emotional crash. It was the most terrifying experience of my life. I descended into a pit of depression and despair that was so deep I thought I would never see the sun again. Oh, I continued to go to church every Sunday and stood with the congregation during praise and worship. But I couldn’t sing. I wept. One day as I was driving, Crowder’s song, “Oh Praise Him” came on the radio. I felt a nudge in my spirit, “Sing child.” “I can’t” I replied, as tears began to burn my eyes. “Sing anyway.” So I choked out the first chorus, “Oh, praise Him. O praise Him. He is holy. He is holy.” I kept singing – or croaking – to be honest. But by the end of that song, I was singing clearly, “Oh, la, la, la, la, la, la” with tears streaming down my face. That was the day my healing began.

The author of Hebrews wrote, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess His name” (Heb 13:15). I understand this verse. Sometimes praise is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. Remember, this was written to Jewish believers in Christ who were facing extreme oppression and persecution for their faith. Many were turning away from Christ and abandoning the faith because it was just getting too hard. The author implored them to instead offer praise to God in their suffering, even if it came at a high cost.

I won’t deny that life is hard and pain is real. But God is still worthy of praise. He is still good. He is still sovereign. He is still awesome in power. He is still holy. And He is with us in our pain. David said, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted . . .” (Ps 34:18). If that’s you today, let me assure you that God is near. He has not abandoned you in your heartache. He has tenderly drawn you close. If you’re still you can feel His breath ruffling your hair. If you listen you can hear His heart beating. Then you may hear Him say, “Sing, child.” I know. It’s not easy. But sing anyway Beloved, even if all you can do is whisper through your tears. He’ll hear you. He’s not listening to your words; He’s listening to your heart.

Jesus is in it for the Long Haul

Do you ever feel like a heavy weight on your family and friends? I know I have. In long-running seasons of difficulty, I have had friends turn away from me because they just couldn’t deal with me and my problems. It’s a hurtful thing, but honestly, I get it. They have their own struggles and responsibilities, and they can’t be expected to carry the extra weight of me. If I’m honest, I’ve done the same. We all have limited energy and resources, and we can’t allow one person to drain us dry.

I’m so glad that God has no such limitations. Isaiah said, “He will not grow tired or weary” – in fact, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (40:28-29). God’s compassion is endless. He has boundless energy and ceaseless love. “His compassions never fail. They were new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22,23). As the God-man
Jesus, He bore the whole weight of all your sins and mine on the cross. Surely, He can bear the weight of our “light and momentary troubles” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Charles Spurgeon said, “If Christ were only a cistern, we might soon exhaust His fullness, but who can drain a fountain?” He is a continual source of love and help in our time of need. His goodness toward you and me overflows and we will never use up His kindness. You can come to the well of His mercy over and over and over again. There’s no bucket big enough nor a rope long enough to drain His grace.

Whatever struggle you are in, He is in it with you – for the long haul. Others may not be able to bear the weight of your burdens, but He willingly carries you the full length and depth of it all. He is strong and He is compassionate. He is your Father, your Shepherd, your Forever Friend. He will never give up on you, Beloved. I’m living proof.

I Can’t . . . But I Know Who Will

In our Scripture writing group, we are working our way through Genesis, specifically the story of Joseph. You know the kid who was sold to slave traders by his brothers, then to a powerful man in Egypt whose wife accused him of attempted rape and he was thrown in prison. While there, he correctly interpreted two of his prison mates’ dreams. When Pharaoh had a dream of his own two years later one of the men suggested Joseph could interpret the dream. He was brought before the highest man in the land who insisted that the prisoner do the same for him. Joseph’s reply is resonating deep within my soul this morning. “I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires” (Gen 41:16).

And that is the story of my life: “I cannot . . . but God will.”  I cannot save myself . . . but God will.  I cannot make a masterpiece out of the mess of my life . . . but God will. I cannot heal my broken heart . . . but God will. I cannot love others who have hurt me . . . but God will. I cannot speak wisdom and truth . . . but God will. I cannot produce the fruit of the Spirit . . . but God will. I cannot be strong in my weakness . . . but God will. I cannot be the wife, mother, grandmother, employee, friend, teacher, and writer that I was created to be . . . but God will.

I hear echoes of Jesus’ words in John 5:19: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by Himself . . .” If Jesus can do nothing by Himself then I should not be ashamed that I can’t either.  It’s what made Jesus human – He had to rely on His Father – just like me.

In this culture where all of our focus is on me, myself, and I, it’s time we shift our attention from what we can’t do and start declaring what God can – and will – do. And of all the things that God will do, the one I count on the most is that God will be faithful. He knows that I am fallible, He knows that I get weary and my shoulders are not strong enough to carry all my burdens. In all the things that I cannot do, God will be faithful to do it. In me. Through me. Despite me. And He will do the same for you. You cannot do it, Beloved . . . but God will.

The Display of His Splendor

I couldn’t understand why I was in such a difficult trial. I had committed no grave sin that warranted discipline. I was being obedient to what the Lord had called me to do. And unlike so many other seasons of suffering, I hadn’t caused this one. “What is up with this God? What am I missing?” Then, as He loves to do, the Spirit took me to the Word for a word.

I was in the gospel of John. Jesus and His disciples encountered a man who had been blind from birth. The disciples, like me, looked for someone to blame. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (9:2). Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (v. 3). Then the Lord healed the man. His eyes were opened and he could see.

When you read on in this account, the man’s healing drew a lot of attention. Many questioned the validity of the healing and the religious leaders pressed him for answers. They foolishly claimed that the healer was a sinner. The man proclaimed, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know.  One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see” (v. 25).

And that’s the point. People were talking about this miracle and about Jesus. The work of God was displayed in his life. From this account, I realized that I was not being punished or disciplined. I was being set up to display the glory of Christ Jesus, my Lord and Savior. And isn’t that the point of our lives – to be “A planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor” (Is 61:3)? When I was younger my Mom always warned me about my behavior because “We don’t want people to talk.” Well, I’m sorry Mom, but you’re wrong about this one. We want people to talk. We want them to ask questions. We want His name repeated all over town because of what He has done in our lives. “Did you see what God did? She had the worst reputation in town and now she shares Jesus with other women on the streets.” Or “He was so sick, no one thought he would survive that, but look at him now – so healthy and strong and praising God.” Or my own testimony: “She was such a negative, bitter, unhappy person and now she overflows with Joy!” I don’t know your story or your particular struggles but I know the Author of it, and I know that He is writing His name all over your life. You, Beloved, are the story of God.

Sin No More

When I read the Gospels, I marvel at Jesus’ patience and understanding with sinful people. No, He was not (is not) gentle with sin – He called it out for what it was. He didn’t excuse it or call it a disease or disorder. He didn’t accept it or tolerate it or celebrate it. Sin was and is appalling. It needs to be confronted – and Jesus did. Yet even while correcting sin, was always gracious to those lost souls caught in the devil’s snare. “He had compassion on them because He saw that they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:6).

While walking through Jerusalem one day, Jesus passed by a pool that was believed to have healing properties when the waters were stirred by “an angel.” A helpless invalid had laid by the side of the pool for thirty-eight years, waiting and hoping for his chance to slip into the waters at just the right moment. But he was alone and never managed to get there. Along came Jesus who healed Him. At a later encounter, Jesus told the man, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (John 5:1-14). He healed first, then corrected. We need to take notes.

On another occasion, Jesus was teaching in the temple and the religious leaders brought to him a woman caught in adultery. But just the woman – isn’t that interesting? He defended her against her accusers – but he did not defend her actions. When Jesus confronted the men with their hypocrisy they left in shame.  After assuring her that He did not condemn her, Jesus told the woman, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:1-11). I have no doubt that she did. Grace and correction always work hand in hand.

I often look up words to build a devotional and that is what I was doing as I was developing a different point when God turned this in a whole other direction. When I looked up “sin no more” I found these two stories – and something else. Those same words appear again in the Scriptures when the writer of Hebrews talked about the new covenant in Christ. The Lord said, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Heb 8:12). No more. No more guilt. No more shame. No more condemnation. Because all your sins are washed away by the blood of Jesus. The affair. The abortion. The sexual immorality. The lies. That sin you don’t want to remember? You won’t have to Beloved, because in Christ your sins are “no more.”

Praying for My Prodigal

I found a word today in the Old Testament story of Elijah vs. the priests of Baal that spoke such comfort to me. If you are so inclined, read 1 Kings 18:16-40. The people thought they could worship both pagan gods and the God of heaven and earth. Elijah called Israel to return to exclusive worship of God. When the Lord God is in the house – or the heart – there is no room for another god. Elijah said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal is God, follow him” (v. 21).

Elijah proposed a showdown between good and evil – between the Lord God and Baal the pagan god of the people. Each would be given a bull to be sacrificed by fire, but the fire had to be produced by the deity. The priests of Baal prepared their bull and called on Baal from morning till evening. They danced and shouted and slashed themselves in hopes of rousing their god to action. “But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention” (v. 29). Because there was no one there.

Then Elijah repaired the altar of the Lord, dug a trench around it, prepared the bull for sacrifice, and commanded the people to drench the bull and the wood until both were saturated and water filled the trench. Then Elijah called on the Lord, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known today that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant . . . [and] that You O Lord, are God” (v. 36-37). And of course, God answered in a mighty way burning up the bull and the wood and drying up the water in the trench. There was no question anymore as to who was the one true God.

Here’s what jumped out at me. When Elijah called on the Lord he prayed that God would “turn their hearts back again” (v. 37). And He did. And that is the prayer of this Mama’s heart. I have a wandering prodigal. I know many of you do as well. The thing is he was raised in a godly home and in church and he even goes to church with his family on Sunday, but he is drawn to things that are not of God Monday – Saturday. I have prayed and pleaded with God for many years with many tears. But now, this is my simple prayer: “Lord, turn his heart back to You.” And I believe He will. Heavy-hearted Moms and Dads, Grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and friends; keep praying. Keep believing. Keep hoping. God is still in the business of turning hearts around. Watch for miracles up ahead.

Consider it All Joy (part 2)

Yesterday’s devotional started a conversation about God’s purposes in our suffering. We’re going to continue today in part two. I’ll post a link to part one in the comments.

Sometimes trials are a means of discipline in our lives – I know this one well.  The psalmist declared, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your Word” (Psalm 119:67).  Hebrews adds, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).  Trials that come as a consequence of our sinful and foolish behavior are meant to teach us valuable life lessons.  Or as my mother said, “Bought lessons stay with you longer than taught lessons.”  If you can connect your trial to your actions, take that as a means of discipline and training. The writer of Hebrews also said that discipline identifies us as God’s true children. “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?” (See Hebrews 12:5-10). Discipline means that God is being a good Father to you.

Our trials reveal God to the world.  When Jesus and His disciples encountered a man who had been blind from birth, He said, “This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:3). When the Lord healed this man everyone knew it, and he became a living testimony to the power of God.  You and I are the canvas on which God paints His own portrait for the world to see.  Just as silver and gold show up most brilliantly against a dark backdrop, the power and glory of God are on vivid display in our trials.  Our difficulties become the means by which God shows up and shows off.

Beloved, I don’t know what trial you are facing today, but I know that God has brought you to it for a good purpose.  He is at work in your life, stretching your faith, moving you into His will, preparing you to minister to someone else, teaching you discipline, and making your life a display of His glory.  Every trial is an opportunity for you and me to draw closer to our Father, to walk by faith, and to point others to Him.  Yes, we can count it all Joy when trials come, because we know God has a purpose and a plan – and we will be the richer for it.

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).