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.

A Light in the Darkness

I don’t want you to think I am some super-Christian through the words I write.  I am just as prone to the difficulties and hardships of life as anyone.  I love Jesus with all my heart – but I struggle often with depression. It has been my constant companion since I was young. I see you nodding your head. You understand. Depression is a bully. One that is hard to escape. That’s why you and I need encouragement and hope. 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.” You 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. David said, “You, LORD, are my lamp; the LORD turns my darkness into light.” 2 Samuel 22:29. And He will.  We have His Word on it.

Deeper Roots or Deeper Rots

When I post my daily devotionals on the web, I add an introductory statement that always invites readers to my blog, “Deeper Roots.” But if I’m typing fast – as I tend to do – “Deeper Roots” often becomes “Deeper Rots” (and sometimes “Deeper Toots,” but I’m not going there). When I did that the other day I realized that those two words – Rots and Roots – described the spiritual condition of humanity.

Those who do not know the Lord Jesus have rotten spirits and are marked by all sorts of evil – evil that goes down deep and affects the heart and the mind and spills over onto the lips and the eyes and the feet and the hands. Rotten spirits produce rotten fruit: “sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery: idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and the like.” Paul noted that “those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:19-21). I realize that this is not warm and fuzzy, but it is the truth from the Word of God. And we have to confront the darkness inside us before we recognize our need for Light.

But those who have taken hold of the Light, who belong to and live for the Lord Jesus have different spirits – spirits that “take root below and bear fruit above” (2 Kings 19:30). Fruit like “love, Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). Their roots are set deeply in the Word and Spirit of God. They are “like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither” (Psalm 1:3). Their roots draw water from the never-ending stream of God’s love. These are the sons and daughters of God who will inherit the Kingdom. And just as we saw with those who have rotten spirits, the condition of the heart affects every part of who we are– how we think, how we feel, what we say, what we look at, where we go, and what we do.

So which is it for you? Deeper Roots or deeper rots? Lush fruit or rotten fruit? The Kingdom of God or the kingdom of darkness? Jesus or the world? The choice you make today determines it all. Choose well, Beloved.

This Little Light of Mine

The power went out at our house for five hours during a very strong storm last week. We immediately started grabbing flashlights. There’s something about darkness that is unnerving. Maybe because the Bible equates darkness with sin and evil and emptiness. Before God created all that exists, there was only darkness (Gen 1:2); the first thing He did was call forth light (v. 3-4). But He didn’t create the sun and moon and stars until day four (v. 14-19). So where did that first light come from? From Himself. It was His light breaking through the dark, empty void.

When men were lost in darkness and sin, and could no longer see the light of God, He brought His light down to us. John said that Jesus, the very Son of God, is “the true light that gives light to every man” (John 1:9). John also said, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it” (1:5). When we turned on the flashlights and lanterns the darkness dissipated. It was driven away because darkness is nothing more than the absence of light. Wherever light shines, darkness cannot exist.

The same is true spiritually. Consider this – Jesus declared that He is “the light of the world.” He added, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Did you catch that – “will never walk in darkness?” That is both a hopeful promise and a statement of character. Jesus brought the light of God so that we won’t stumble in darkness and sin. But John also said, “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth” (1 John 1:6). Simply put – Christ-followers WON’T walk in darkness. And if we do we should recheck the validity of our claim. If we have the light of Christ, there should be no place for darkness in our lives.

Paul says that we are “sons [and daughters] of the light . . . We do not belong to the darkness” (1 Thess 5:5). We belong to Christ. Darkness and all it implies have no authority over the believer. Our testimony in the world is the light of Christ. Jesus said that now “we are the light of the world” (John 5:14). That means that you, Beloved, need to let your little light shine.

The Valley

This morning I was thinking about something I needed to do, something I didn’t really want to do because it often raised up a temptation I’ve been trying to put down for a long time. I prayed for help and a verse came to mind. It comes out of Psalm 23 – The Shepherd’s Psalm. Verse 4 says “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Now, what does that have to do with temptation?

This valley is not a pastoral scene of gentle slopes between the hills but a steep, narrow gorge where the sun never reaches. The valley most attributed to this passage was the Valley of Hinnom outside the walls of Jerusalem. It was a horrible place of death as bodies of criminals and animals and the town’s rubbish were thrown there and fires burned continually to consume them. The ”shadow of death” is a place of extreme danger and thick darkness – an apt description of the valley. It was also a place where kings and priest sent their own children to be burned alive to appease the gods – a horrible sin.

Death and sin go hand in hand. From the very beginning, God told the first humans that when they sin (disobey God) they “will surely die” (Gen 2:17). Paul said that “The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). The valley was a terrifying place of sin and death. But it was also a place people had to pass to get to the gates of the city. Here’s where this all comes together. You and I will be faced with sin and its consequences as long as we are on this earth. We can’t escape it. But we don’t have to fear it. God is with us. If we walk closely with Him we can traverse the sin and death of this world without falling into it. That’s what God was saying to me this morning. “Don’t be afraid of what you need to do. I am with you. I will not let you fall.” And He didn’t.

Beloved, the world is filled with sin and death, but if you belong to Christ you can face it with faith in your Shepherd. Your very Good Shepherd who died to save you – His precious little lamb.

Spiritual Math

My favorite way to study the Bible is to slowly chew on small bites of Scripture to get every bit of flavor from it I can. But there is also great value in looking at the bigger picture. I was reminded of that when a memory popped up on my Facebook feed this morning. It said: Light + Truth = Life 1 John 1.

John made several proclamations in this first chapter. He proclaimed Jesus as “the Word of life” (1 John 1:1), much the same way He called Him “the Word” in his gospel (John 1:1). He was the “Word made flesh” (Jn 1:14). The walking, talking Scripture who came to deliver the message of the Father in person.  What is that message? “God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all” (v. 5). Wherever God is, light exists; not just a lamp, but a floodlight. That’s why John said we can’t claim to be a Christian and walk around in the darkness. It’s impossible. That’s also why, when a light-filled believer enters a place where there is spiritual darkness, one of two things happens. Either the light changes everything it touches, or the darkness and the ones living in darkness flee. Light illuminates, it reveals, and it forces us to confront the things that were hidden or take them and slink farther into the dark recesses.

Because light shows us things – including ourselves – as they really are. That’s the “truth” part of our equation. Light says, “If you run from me it’s because you don’t want to know the truth.” I’ll admit, sometimes the truth is hard to take, but who wants to live by lies? I know I don’t. The truth is, I was born a sinner and lived like it. Then the Light came and I saw what I was. I saw the lies that said I was “good enough” and my wrongs were too petty to keep me out of heaven. I saw how the enemy and the culture said that my sins were just “lifestyle choices,” “addictions,” “illness,” “personality quirks,” and “errors in judgment.”  And I saw the corollary to the 1 John equation. If Light+Truth=Life, then Darkenss+Lies=Death.

Beloved, I pray you will choose Life. I pray you will choose light and truth. I pray you will not run away from the sin you see in the light, but will put it all in Jesus’ hands. The darkness is no place for you.

The Lord spoke to me

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“The Lord spoke to me with His strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people. He said, “The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, He is the one you are to fear, He is the one you are to dread, and He will be a sanctuary” (Isaiah 8:11, 13-14). The Lord commanded Isaiah – as He commands us – to reject the way of the people and to fear Him alone. To stand firm against ungodliness and unrighteousness. To stand courageously when all around you bows to the gods of this world. That same command has run through the history of Christianity since the resurrection of Christ. It is the heartbeat of the saints through the ages till today who faced beatings, prison, exile, stonings, lions, burnings, beheadings, and all manner of persecution for their faith. It has always been the rallying cry of the people of God.

But for Isaiah and the martyrs of the faith – and for you and me – this word is not a call to arms, it’s not a call to protest and public rebuttal. It is a call to personal holiness. Notice that the prophet says “The Lord spoke to ME, with His strong hand upon ME, warning ME . . . the Lord Almighty is the one YOU are to regard as holy . . . the one YOU are to fear . . . the one YOU are to dread . . . This is first and foremost a command for the individual to stand firm in the faith in the solitary moments of our lives when no one else sees or hears. Who we present to the world is rarely who we are in our private moments. Which should give us pause before we speak. Before I call out the sins of the world, before I confront the ungodliness around me, I must call out the sin in my own life and confront the ungodliness within me.

Beloved, we have a command to shine the light of Christ wherever there is darkness, but we must first let it shine in the darkness of our own hearts. The message we carry is too valuable and too important to bury it under our own sin. The Lord spoke to ME . . .

Beloved

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If there is one consistent theme throughout the Bible it is that God loves people. From every tribe, nation, and tongue God loves human beings – the pinnacle of His creation. He doesn’t love one gender more than the other. He doesn’t love one race more than the other – in truth, there is only one race – the human race – and He loves them all. I love Psalm 107 because it is all about the love of God for mankind. The first verse says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, His love endures forever.” The last verse says, “Consider the great love of the Lord” (v. 43) and in between the Scriptures speak of ”His unfailing love” four times (vs. 8,15,21, 31).

The Psalmist describes people who are poor and desperate, people who were imprisoned by their sin, people who have foolishly rebelled against God, and people who are “at their wits’ end” because of life’s storms. I think that pretty much covers all of us. I know I fit in at least a couple of those. The point is, God’s love is for everyone. No one is exempt or excluded. No one is cast aside or rejected.

In each scene, when they “cried to the Lord in their trouble,” He “saved them from their distress” (vs. 6, 13, 19, 28). He led the poor to “by a straight way to a city where they could settle” (v. 4). He brought [the prisoner] out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains” (v. 14). He “sent forth His word and healed [the rebel] and rescued them from the grave” (v. 20). He “stilled the storm to a whisper and hushed the waves of the sea and guided [the distressed] to their desired haven” (vs. 29-30). They all “gave thanks for . . . His wonderful deeds for men” (vs. 8, 13, 19, 28).

Where do you fit in these scenes? Are you desperate, bound by sin, rebelling against God, or distressed and anxious because of a storm in your life? God loves you. He who makes springs in the desert, who feeds the hungry, who lifts up the humble and desperate,  loves you. Yes you.  And now you understand why I call you “Beloved.”

Treasures in the Darkness

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I am currently a graduate student at the Baptist College of Florida. I won’t lie, it is hard. I am older and I think many of my brain cells have atrophied. Still, for reasons I don’t know yet, God said “Go back to school.” He even gave me a job right here so that I could do it for free. But I am also working on my doctorate. Surprised? My Masters will be in Christian Ministries with a concentration in Biblical Studies, but my Doctorate will be in Life Lessons and I’m studying at the School of Hard Knocks. The truth is, in one degree or another, we all are.

The ancient Psalmist declared, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word” (Psalm 119:67). He emphasized this in verse 71 saying, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” Though we’re not privy to the details, the Psalmist was clearly in some kind of distress – apparently self-inflicted (as are most of mine). From his struggles and the consequences of his actions, he came away with a hard-won wisdom and probably some battle scars as a continual reminder. I’ve got a few of those too.

While I wish I could just do the right things in life and not have to learn these hard lessons, I’m grateful that God doesn’t waste them. He said, “I will give you the treasure of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord” (Isaiah 45:3). He works in every difficult season with one objective in mind – that you may know Him better. What a treasure!

I don’t know what you’re struggling through right now. I don’t know how you came to be in this hard place. It may have been by your own hand or through the actions of another. But I know two things for certain: God is faithful and He will not waste a single tear. He will “bestow on you a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:3). Beloved, that’s the treasure in the darkness.  

This is Why I Write

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“Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs” (Matthew 10:27).

The truth is, what you see in me – or read in my words – is not all there is.  I may look wise and together on paper, but it’s not the full picture.  I wrestle daily with depression; it has been my constant companion since I was very young.  It has taken me to some deep, gloomy places.  It has cost me a great deal in my relationships, health, time, money, and hopes, and dreams.   I’ve tried many things to keep it at bay. Medication, Scripture, and prayer have all been effective and helpful tools. But they haven’t made it completely go away. 

Do I really believe the things I write about God breaking through despair to bring hope?  Yes – because those are the very same words that God speaks to me – His continual stream of goodness and inspiration that keeps my feet steady and my head lifted.  They are His constant reminders of love flowing through His Word and His Spirit and shining in my darkness.  He knows me.  He knows that I can’t make it one day without the hope He gives.  So He speaks to me.

Then He tells me to speak to you.  Because He knows you too.  He knows that some days are so hard you don’t even want to get out of bed.  He knows that you are lonely, grieving, hurting, fearful.  He knows that you have been disappointed, forgotten, rejected, passed over – and so He tells me, “Take the words that have spoken over you and speak it over them.”  That is why I write.  It’s so you can grab onto the same lifeline God threw out to me.  Because I can’t keep this comfort and encouragement to myself – it’s much too big and wonderful for just me.  It’s for you too.  It’s a warm blanket we can share in a cold world.  It’s a quilt of encouragement

Beloved, come join me in the sweet, blessed comfort of our Heavenly Father.  Hear His words of hope, peace, encouragement, and Joy.  Let the warmth of His love wash over you.  We’re in this together – you and I – and the God of Heaven and Earth.  We’re gonna make it—He told me so—and then He told me to tell you.