Stars in the Night Sky

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“Therefore we do not lose heart…For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 2 Corinthians 4:16, 17

“Light and momentary?” I want to ask Paul. “Do you have any idea what we’ve been through this week? It isn’t light! The past 18 years? That’s longer than a moment!”  But then I remember I’m yelling at Paul who endured thirty-nine lashes on five occasions, who was beaten with rods three times, stoned once, shipwrecked three times, spent a night and day floating in the sea, facing constant danger, persecution, sleepless nights, without food, water, or clothing – all for the gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 11:24-27). He may not know the specifics of my life – or yours – but the man has known suffering and hardship and pain.

My next question then is, “Why, if we are God’s children, do we have to endure so much difficulty?” Paul never stopped serving the Lord; even in prison, he shared the gospel with the guards (Philippians 1:13). I’m trying to be faithful to God’s call to study and write and teach. You’re trying to stay faithful to what God has set before you in your family, work, church, and community. Shouldn’t that get us a pass from troubles? Yet not even God’s perfectly faithful Son was exempt from suffering.

But I think I found a clue to our struggles and sufferings. So that we may “become blameless and pure children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation in which you shine like stars in the universe” (Philippians 2:15). When are the stars the brightest? When the night sky is at its blackest. When is God’s glory most visible? When things are at their darkest. Like now –in my family, in our nation, and in the war-torn country of Afghanistan.

Friend, believe me when I say, I understand. Just because I’m a Bible teacher doesn’t mean I am exempt from the harsh things of life. In fact, I feel like it puts me constantly in satan’s crosshairs because he would love nothing more than to beat me down until I quit. But I won’t. Paul didn’t. Jesus didn’t. Because this world needs shining stars to bring light into the darkness. The world, Beloved, needs you.

The Power of One Light

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In our continuing study of the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7, we’ve learned through the Beatitudes the characteristics of the citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. In verses 13-16 Jesus taught about the influence Kingdom people have on the world. These are the “Salt and Light” verses. Jesus declared: “You are the salt of the earth . . . You are the light of the world.” I have previously written on verse 13 – the salt verse. I will add a link to that post in my blog in the comments. Today we will look at the Lord’s teaching about being “the light of the world.”

From creation, light’s purpose is to shine in the darkness (John 1:5a). Light has power over darkness (John 1:5b) because darkness is nothing more than the absence of light. When light is introduced into the darkness, darkness no longer exists. When I was a kid we took a trip to the Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna. There are caves for exploring all through the park and our group was standing in one of the caves when the tour guide turned off the electric lights. It was pitch black, the darkest darkness I’d ever experienced. You literally couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. Several of us became afraid and started whimpering (and not just the girls). Then he flicked on a lighter and the darkness was gone. One small light overcame the darkness. And every eye was drawn to that light. You couldn’t miss it.

Jesus said that we are the light of the world. This directly identifies us with Him as He declared “I AM the Light of the world” (John 8:12). That means you and I have power over darkness – not our own power, but Christ’s. The world is a very dark place. Evil is everywhere. But you and I have the His light to overcome evil and darkness. When we shine with His light, the darkness has no choice but to flee. And when we shine with His light every eye will be drawn – not to us – but to the Source of the Light.

Don’t hide your light. Don’t bury it under sin and worldliness. You have the Light that overcomes darkness. Shine, Beloved. The world desperately needs to see the Light of Christ in you.

Hope in the Night

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Several years ago I went to a jewelry party. The hostess promised that I could be the model but the salesperson chose another girl instead. I was wearing a light-colored top and the other girl had on a dark top.  The jewelry showed up better against the dark backdrop.  My light top would have made the pieces appear washed out.  Hope is much like those gems, it shows us best against the dark seasons of our lives. I know this from the Word of God and my life.

Paul said, “Hope that is seen is no hope at all” (Romans 8:24). There is a reason that the stars are only visible against the night sky. They fade away in the bright sunlight.  There’s a reason that hope is most powerful when we are at our weakest. My hope in God grew the most when I needed Him the most – when anxiety was high, when I couldn’t see the road ahead, when it looked like everything was falling apart.  I had to hope in Him to survive.  I had to stay on my knees. I had to remind myself of God’s goodness and faithfulness. Those lessons in the night made my faith more real to me than sunshine ever could.

I know some of your stories – you’ve talked with me or private messaged me and asked for prayer for your situation, which I am honored to do.  Most of you I do not know personally, but I know that when the night seems to go on forever, you need hope.  Beloved, hope shines brightest in the dark. And hope is our assurance that the night will eventually give way to the morning.

I love these words from Charles Spurgeon, the great preacher and writer of the nineteenth century who knew a lot about hope in the darkness.

“Hope itself is like a star–not to be seen in the sunshine of prosperity, and only to be discovered in the night of adversity. Afflictions are often the black foils in which God sets the jewels of His children’s graces, to make them shine brighter. How can you know that you have faith until your faith is exercised?”

Trials make the promise sweet;

Trials give new life to prayer;

Trials bring me to His feet,

Lay me low, and keep me there.

I am a Christian – and I am Depressed

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“You, LORD, are my lamp; the LORD turns my darkness into light.” 2 Samuel 22:29.

I don’t want you to think I am some super-Christian through the words I write.  I am just as prone to the struggles and hardships of life as anyone.  I love Jesus with all my heart – but I struggle often with depression. And this week has been very hard. The truth is, I always write to encourage myself as much as to encourage you.  Someone reading this is in the dark place of depression. I don’t know your name, but I am writing to you today.

You are doing your best to be a good, faithful Christian.  But you’re questioning your faith because of the darkness.  And the enemy is using that to his advantage.  I hear the accusations too: “If you were really a Christian you wouldn’t be depressed.  God is so disappointed in you.” I hear the reminders that Christians are supposed to be full of joy, joy, joy!  But you’re not.  I am writing this so that you, my weary and hurting friend, will know that there is no shame in depression – even for Christians.  The Bible shows that we are in very good company in this cave – Moses, Elijah, David, Jeremiah, and Paul all expressed similar emotions and seasons.  Many of the great men and women throughout Christian history struggled with depression.

I am also writing this to let you know that God loves you – even in the pit or desert or cave of depression.  He is not angry or disappointed with you.  He has not written you off.  He has drawn near to you like a caring parent does when their child is hurting.  He speaks gentle whispers of love and encouragement, and He tenderly wipes away the tears on your face. Let Him love you – it is His greatest delight.  Let Him minister grace to you.

Beloved, there is hope for you and for me in the face of depression.  God is too good to leave His dear child in pain. He will turn the darkness into light.  We have His Word on it.

You Don’t Have to be Miserable

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I love to read the Old Testament prophets, especially the minor prophets (meaning their contribution to the Scriptures are shorter in length, not in importance). This week I’ve been in Micah. There’s a lot here that speaks to me.

The first several chapters detail the nation’s sin against God. They have worshipped every idol instead of the Lord. They plot evil and reject the commands of God. Their leaders are wicked and have no concern for the people under their care. The people take offense and declare war when they don’t get what they want. (That sounds familiar.) Men “lie in wait” to attack one another. Despite all of God’s goodness to them, they shun His laws and turn their backs on Him. The people cheat and lie and abuse their neighbors and their own family. In the seventh and final chapter, God’s bounty and blessings have disappeared and Israel is in misery. Food is scarce. Evil, wickedness, and sin are rampant throughout the land. It is dark and hopeless.

Yet – God’s good promises are sprinkled throughout the book. Promises of gathering together the scattered flock. Promises of peace. Promises of holiness and rescue and redemption. Promises of a righteous and eternal Ruler. Promises of being lifted out of the darkness and into the light. Promises of the enemy’s defeat. And best of all, promises of pardon and forgiveness and mercy and compassion.

This describes my life. Sin, rebellion, rejecting God’s ways and demanding my own brought about misery, fear, physical, emotional, and spiritual poverty, gloom, and darkness. Then came hope. Light. Rescue. Forgiveness. Redemption. Mercy. Grace. Compassion. Restoration. Peace. Joy. The power of sin was broken and I was set free.

Friend, you don’t have to live in the misery of your sin. You don’t have to stay in the darkness. Life doesn’t have to be hopeless. There is a Savior. His name is Jesus. He comes in the name of God with an outstretched hand of mercy and compassion. Beloved, take that nail-scarred hand. Receive His forgiveness and redemption. There is life and light and peace and Joy in the Lord. All for you.

Not Your Warm and Fuzzy Devotional

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There is a lot of hero-worship in the church. There are “rock-star” pastors with thousands of followers and Bible teachers who sell out auditoriums around the country. Jesus had quite a crowd that followed Him and hung on His every word. Take the fellow in Luke 9: “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you where you go.’” (v. 57). He wanted to be part of Jesus’ entourage. But Jesus didn’t encourage this would-be fan. His response: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head” (v. 58). I believe Jesus was saying, “This is not going to be the high-life you’re expecting. I don’t have a multi-million dollar mansion to put you up in. I walk hot, dusty roads and sleep where I can.”

What did you expect from Jesus when you chose to follow Him? A solution to all your problems? A good reputation in the community? A full life with heaven thrown in after it’s all over?

Just a few verses before this scene, He told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (v. 23) Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem and the cross. He might have also told the man, “Don’t hook your wagon to me unless you’re prepared to die.” There is a war going on between good and evil, between light and darkness. Evil and darkness have the upper hand at the moment. God’s people are the enemy of the present ruling authorities who are bent on destruction. If you choose Jesus, you need to know that you are also choosing self-denial, persecution, rejection, and suffering. That is what Jesus endured. Why should we expect any less?

But then, I look at the modern church, so comfortable in our air-conditioned sanctuaries. Where is the suffering? Where is the persecution? Where are self-denial and the cross? Maybe the enemy’s strategy against the church today is not a full-on battle, but just to make us relaxed and contented. Just before he hits us with an all-out assault.

Here’s a thought: If Christianity is comfortable, maybe we’re in more danger than we know.

When the Way is Dark

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I come from a long line of crafters. My mom was an extraordinary seamstress – I loved the handmade clothes she made for me. My grandmother created beautiful designs with a needle and tread. and I found much comfort laying in bed and tracing the stitches on my “Sunbonnet Sue” pillowcase. When I was about 7 or 8 years old, Mom decided it was time for me to take up the family tradition, starting with learning handwork. She bought me a simple embroidery kit and taught me the up-and-down pattern, and the daisy stitch and how to fill a piece of fabric with color. The kit she bought was a design with an old fashioned oil lamp, a Bible – with a real velvet bookmark – and the words of Psalm 119:105. As I stitched the letters, the words were “sewn” into my heart: Thy Word is a Lamp unto my feet and a Light unto my path.

I’ve lost my way a few times since then and found myself in dark scary places. But I would trace the words on my heart, just as I traced the pattern on my pillowcase, and I knew where to find the light. I still go back to that verse often and remind myself that the Bible has the power to dispel darkness and show me the way home.

The Word of God is Light and Life to me. It is stitched on my heart.

Christmas Hope: Light in the Darkness

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“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

When do we most need hope?  In the darkness, in the season of pain and heartache and despair.  When it is hardest to find.  Our 3rd day of this Advent series focuses on the hope we must have to survive those seasons of darkness.  The hope in the promise of the Light of Jesus Christ.

I recall a trip to the Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna, and a room deep within the caverns where the park guide turned out all the artificial lights – the room was plunged into total darkness.  For a moment I was overcome by a sense of despair and fear.  In that pitch-black darkness, I lost all orientation, had no idea where the exit was, or where anyone else was.  If my friend had not grabbed my hand, I would have thought myself completely alone. There are seasons of our life that are like that cave adventure when it seems that we are lost in a deep, black darkness.  We are overwhelmed with despair, confused and disoriented-not knowing where to turn or how to escape, and we feel completely and utterly alone.

While we stood in the darkness inside that cave, the guide lit one small match.  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 the darkness of sin, and so we are disoriented in spiritual darkness.  Rather than the sun and moon and stars, we walk in the distorted light of the world.  And so God sent His Son, Jesus to be “the Light of the world” (John 8:12).  His light overcame the darkness of sin and evil; His light can overcome the darkness and despair of living in this world with all its struggles and heartaches and pain.

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.  Live in the Light of Jesus Christ.

God in the Darkness

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It was thirteen years ago, but I remember it like I am still there. My season of great darkness. To this day I don’t understand why, but the enemy came down on me with both feet. It was an emotional breakdown and it was spiritual oppression. It manifested physically in sleepless nights and body aches with no medical explanation. I could not stop the tears and the constant thoughts of self-destruction. I truly believed I was losing my mind. I had been writing for several years, and I threw all my notebooks in the fireplace because I didn’t think I would ever have normal, sane thoughts again. And I thought God had abandoned me. The enemy kept telling me so. One day my then 12 year old son came through the kitchen singing, “Jesus loves me,” but he stopped short of the chorus. I said, “please keep singing” but he said, “you finish it Mom, I’m going out to play.” But I couldn’t sing “Yes, Jesus loves me,” because I didn’t believe He did.
One morning in the very wee hours, I sat on my back porch, wrapped in a blanket with my Bible in my lap. The only thing I knew for sure was it I had any hope of survival, I had to stay connected to God, even if I wasn’t sure He wanted to stay connected to me. I was reading Exodus 3 and the story of Moses and the burning bush. When Moses asked God’s name, I “heard” in my heart, “Child, who am I?” “You are God,” I answered, “who else could you be?” “Oh, there is so much more to me than you ever imagined. Know me.” I remembered a little book I had picked up for five bucks at a women’s retreat a few years before, that had a list of the names of God with Scripture references. I started at the first name and day-by-day worked my way through that list. God met me and revealed Himself to me every morning, name by name. I researched more names and for three years I studied until the fog dissipated and I could breath again. He saved my sanity and my life.
Now I know that He is El Emunah – the Faithful God and He is Yahweh Sali – the Lord my Rock and He is Yahweh Gibbor Milchamah – the Lord Mighty in Battle. But most of all I know that He is El Hayyay – God of my life. And He’s proven it over and over and over again.

Advent Day 1 – The Word and the Light

“In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions” (1 Samuel 3:1).

To the ancient Hebrew people, silence from the Lord was like living in a world without sunshine.  God spoke with power and purpose and if He were not actively speaking they groped in spiritual darkness.  In Samuel’s early days the Lord had withdrawn His word and with it, His light.  The prophet became the mouthpiece of God to the nation.

At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Lord had been silent for some 400 hundred years.  It had been such a long drought that the people had grown accustomed to the silence.  Oh they did all the right rituals and followed the letter of the Law, but they were just going through the motions.  They failed to see how hollow their devotion was because they were living in darkness.  They needed to hear from God and they needed His light to help them see the truth.

John opens his gospel declaring Jesus as the Word that brought Light (John 1:1,4-5).  He came as the Logos of God – the living, breathing Word of truth who not only spoke God’s words but lived them before men.  He came not only to bring light but to be Light – the Light of the world.  Through that light He “has made God known” (John 1:18) – “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) and the “exact representation of His being” (Hebrews 1:3). And through that Light He is the One who “rescued us from the dominion of darkness” (Colossians 1:13).

The world we live in is a very dark place filled with sin and hate and rebellion.  Jesus is the Word and the Light of God for the world.  He is mankind’s only hope.  Maybe today your own little world is cloaked in darkness – grief, trials, uncertainty, health concerns, financial hardships, depression and despair.  Dear one, Jesus is the Word and the Light of God for you today.  He is your hope, your peace, your joy, your comfort.

As we start this Advent season, may you hear the Him speaking God’s love into your heart and see Him shining God’s grace into your life.

Read: John 1:1-18