CLOSE YOUR EYES

In my last post I wrote about the spectacular fall I had at OU during a football game.  It was one of my more attractive moments!  Since then I have been getting some physical therapy for balance, and part of the therapy involves proprioception, that I also mentioned in my last talk.  Briefly, our bodies have specialized nerve endings in our joints and muscles that send messages to the brain about the position and movement of our body parts.  For example, close your eyes and extend your arm out to the side so that it is parallel to the floor.  Now, with eyes still closed, bend your elbow 90 degrees toward the ceiling.  You were able to do that without looking because your proprioceptors were able to tell your brain the position of your arm.  Your brain was then able to move your arm properly without the benefit of sight.  

Part of my balance therapy requires standing on a squishy foam board and performing movements with my feet, head, and arms with my eyes closed.  These movements challenge all of my lazy balance systems at the same time.  This is more difficult than you might think.  Apparently balance is a “use it or lose it” mechanism.  And one of the best ways to strengthen it is to confuse it by making it unstable and then removing eyesight.  I can tell you…I don’t like it!  I want to be on firm ground with my eyes open.   

As I was performing these movements yesterday I was thinking about how much life is like that.  We want to be on firm footing and to be able to see where we are going.  We want to know what is ahead and figure out how we are going to handle it.  When life removes our familiar supports, when things are unsteady and the future is uncertain, we don’t like it.  At least I don’t.  And this is where walking by faith comes into play.

Walking by faith means we trust God’s promises even when we can’t see where we are going.  It means we trust in the goodness and purposes of God even though we may be going through severe and frightening trials.  The Bible encourages us to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7).  We keep our eyes fixed on the eternal things that we cannot see now, and not on the temporary things that we can see (2 Cor. 4:18).  We have hopenot hope as a wish, but hope as a secure anchor that we can trust when we are going through stormy seas.

Here is my true confession: I hate trials and I would rather not have to walk by faith.  I want to be able to look ahead and see good things…many more years with my husband, happy lives for my children and grandchildren, a good report in My Chart, a lower number on my bathroom scales and a higher number in my bank account.  But I often say, with all the moving parts in our large family, if everyone is at a good place…don’t breathe.  Because life can change in a moment.  Trials happen, and those trials require faith.  And walking by faith through those trials develops my trust muscles. 

This much I know: God is a good God…all the time.  Even when things don’t look good, I know I can trust my good God.  His purposes toward us are always for good, not only for my good, but also for His bigger plans down the road that I cannot see right now.  And not only is He good, he is a way maker, and a promise keeper. He makes a path for me, and goes before me and behind me.  He is my anchor.  

Your road led through the sea, your pathway through the mighty waters— a pathway no one knew was there! Psalm 77:19 NLT

ABIDING

Most dogs are loyal, and my Max and Ruby are no exception.  They are my constant companions.  As I write these words, they are right here beside me.  If I leave the room, they will follow.  If I go upstairs, they go upstairs; when I come down, here they come after me.  And when I get comfortable to read or watch television, Max especially wants to be cuddled up with me.  He takes his job of lap dog seriously.  As you can see, his favorite position for a car ride is right behind my neck.  There are times when I think, “Could you get any closer??”

Occasionally, Ruby will go off on her own.  Usually it’s to go take a nap in a new location; she has her favorite spots.  But the other night while Jerry and I were watching television I heard a strange noise coming from the bedroom.  Ruby had gotten into the wastebasket and had strewn the contents all across the floor.  When I found her she was happily chewing on a small piece of cardboard.  She hasn’t pulled a stunt like that in a long time, and she knew she was in trouble.  They both know what they are allowed to do and what is off limits.  But sometimes the temptation to do what they want is too strong.  When they are staying close to me they stay out of trouble.

This week our Community Bible Study focused on the 15th chapter of John, and the concept of abiding in Jesus.  We had to look up the meaning of the word abide.  I thought it means “to dwell” and that is actually one meaning.  Another definition is “to accept or act in accordance with,” as “I will abide by your decision.”  But I really like the way Rick Renner explains it in his book, Sparkling Gems from the Greek.”  The Greek word for abide is meno, and it means “to stay, to remain, or continue.”  It conveys the idea of being “rooted, unmoving, and stable.”  The Bible tells us in 1 John 3:6 that anyone who abides in Jesus will not sin.  It’s when we wander away that we get in trouble.  The temptations of the world become too much for us to resist.  

This problem of temptation goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden, but Jesus has given us the remedy: abide in me (John 15:4).  When we abide in Jesus, He also abides in us, permanently and steadfastly.  There have been times in my life when I felt that Jesus was holding onto me while I was losing my grip on Him.  I guess Jesus is better at abiding than I am.  But what a wonderful promise! “Remain in me and I will remain in you” (NLT).  It’s like an extra layer of protection.  He knows I will not be able to abide without His help, because He also tells us in the next verse that apart from Him we can do nothing.  He doesn’t just issue commands and say, “Good luck!”  He comes to dwell in us to help us obey His commands.  What a wonderful and gracious Lord we serve.     

POWER OUTAGE

The winter storm we have been experiencing all across the nation has led to widespread power outages.  We woke up this morning thanking God for our power, and as I write these words we are still on line.  But there are many who have lost power, and others whose power is unstable.  We are currently sitting at a temperature of -4 degrees with a wind chill of -21.  At those temps it doesn’t take long for a house to cool down.  And for the homeless it is a life or death situation.  It is dangerously cold!  I was supposed to have an important Zoom call this morning, but others on the call have lost power, so we are changing plans.  We are so reliant on power and an outage changes things quickly.  

As I was thinking about the importance of power this morning, my mind shifted to spiritual power and what it is like when we lose that kind of power.  In the first chapter of Acts, Jesus promised the disciples of a power that would come to them after He departed.  And in the very next chapter it happened, just as Jesus said it would.  The Holy Spirit came in like a rushing wind and filled them with power.  This power enabled them to do the work they were called to do.  Likewise, when we receive Christ, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us and empower us, instantaneously and permanently.  While we can never truly lose this power, we can, in a sense, become disconnected from it.  The Bible calls this the quenching of the Spirit.  It can flicker and dim, just like what some of my friends are experiencing this morning. 

What would cause a power “outage” in the life of a believer?  1 Thessalonians 5 gives us some instructions. The first thing that comes to mind is sin.  Disobedience.  While we are secure in our salvation, we still live in a sinful world with trials and temptations.  And we still have that pesky free will that often yields to temptation.  That is why the apostle Paul admonished us in Romans 12 to present our bodies as a living sacrifice (not giving in to the temptations of the flesh).  He went on to tell us that we are not to follow the behaviors and customs of the world.  Instead we are to let God transform the way we think.  

And that brings me to the second reason we might lose our power: we neglect God’s word.  For me, this is where that transformation of thought occurs.  Where I have my “aha” moments.  I need to think God’s thoughts and see the world through His eyes.  The only way I can do this is through studying the Scriptures.   The bible is where God reveals His heart to me, where He tells me how He sees others and me.  In order to put on the mind of Christ we must know the mind of Christ.  God’s word guides me.  David said, “Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” Ps. 119:105 NLT.  There is nothing like a power outage to revel how much we need light!

The other way we can lose our power is through prayerlessness.  Prayer is where I meet with God and get my spiritual batteries charged.  Oh, the mistakes I have made when I have gone off alone without consulting God.  My car is not going to get out of the garage unless it has gas in the tank.  When I run low on gas, it is time to get to Quiktrip and fill my tank.  In the same way, Christians will soon venture off God’s path and run out of spiritual gas without the constant filling of the Spirit we receive through prayer.  I’ve heard it said that power failures are prayer failures.  

Finally (and this might have gone first), is pride.  When we start getting real with God we will see what a problem pride is and how it keeps us from being all we can be in God’s kingdom. We get so full of self there is no room for the Holy Spirit.  And we lose power.  We are told that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5).  Life is tough enough.  I certainly don’t want to go up against opposition from God Almighty.           

Sometimes the storms of life cause power outages, just like the winter storm we are enduring now.  We need to be prepared because storms are inevitable.  Confession of sin, Bible study, prayer, and humility all serve as backup generators for the sudden storms of life.  I must always be on guard against the things that disconnect me from God’s power and I must continually rely on His grace.  

Thank you, Lord for the gift of your Holy Spirit.  Please give me the grace to stay connected to you.      

IT’S NOT SUPPOSE TO BE THIS WAY

We had an unpleasant incident in the back yard a few weeks ago and I am left with an image I can’t erase from my mind.  Before I relate what happened, I need to remind you of our ongoing battle with squirrels.  While I still think they are fun to watch as long as they stay away from my house, they have caused so much damage that I feel like I am at war with a cute, furry enemy.  I understand they are just doing what squirrels do and I really would like to peacefully coexist with them, but they are continually tearing up the cushions on my patio furniture in order to line their nests with the stuffing.  Pretty smart, but costly to me!  When they are not doing that they are trying to find ways to chew their way into my attic or antagonize my dogs.  As a matter of fact, Max and Ruby are sitting on the back of the sofa next to me, barking loudly at a squirrel who is sitting about a foot away, separated by a window.  I think the squirrel is laughing.

And this is where the story begins.  Max and Ruby have chased the squirrels since they were puppies.  I have always just laughed at it because those squirrels are way too fast and too smart.  Ruby especially pursues them.  As you can see from the picture, she has a long vertical leap and would climb the tree if she could!  Whenever I let the dogs out, she runs for that tree hoping to chase a squirrel.  

A few weeks ago when I let the dogs out, I watched Ruby run for the tree as usual.  Then I heard the scream!  I didn’t know a squirrel could make that noise, but I instantly knew what happened.  At first it looked like Ruby had nipped its tail, and I thought it would get away as it continued to climb.  But then it dropped to the ground.  I quickly screamed for Jerry to come out.  Max was barking and Ruby was shaking the squirrel like a rag doll.  Miraculously both dogs remembered the commands, ”Drop,” and “Leave it!”  

The next part is the part that haunts me.  I stood over the squirrel, waiting for Jerry to come and do something, watching it gasp for breath.  As it did, its eyes looked right into mine.  I remember thinking, “This shouldn’t be.”  Even as I stood there I recalled the verse from Matthew,

What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.  Mt. 10:29 NLT

 I saw the dying squirrel and so did God.  I wonder if He too thought, “This shouldn’t be.”  As I have ruminated over this incident, I keep going back to the Garden of Eden.  The world was perfect.  There was no death, no killing between the species and no murderous intent between humans.  There was no COVID, no riots, no dirty politics, no anger, and no hatred.  You know the rest of the story.  Satan came into the garden, and humans began doing what humans do.  They disobeyed God and sin came into the world, and with sin, death.  Before you put too much blame on Adam and Eve, let me tell you something I know to be true.  I would not have done better.  That forbidden fruit, those lies from Satan…they would have gotten to me too.

Sin and death.  We have seen and experienced so much of it these last months.  How blessed we are that God provided a remedy when He sent His Son to earth to pay the price for our sins.  If we accept this payment, we gain eternal life.  When our earthly life is over we just slip into our heavenly life.  Romans 6:23 tells us that the payment for sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ. 

The things I see on the nightly news?  They shouldn’t be.  And they grieve the heart of God.  If he cares about a sparrow (or a squirrel) that falls to the ground, how much more does He care about our human condition?  His answer?  Repentance.  That’s a churchy word that means we agree with God that we are sinners, we ask for forgiveness and accept the sacrifice of Christ as payment for our sins, and we turn away from sin and follow Jesus.  

Repentance is the only remedy I can see for our country.  It will not come from a president or any elected official.  It will not come from Wall Street, our universities, or our entertainment industry.  It can come only from God.  I invite you to join me in prayer, for both personal and national repentance, asking God to send a new Great Awakening.  

Lord, we are a nation in trouble.  The blessings we have enjoyed have come to us not from our own goodness or superior wisdom, but solely because of your grace.  We have turned our backs on you and followed our own desires.  We have gone after that forbidden fruit, and it has left us broken and dying.  These things should not be. Please forgive our land.  Return us to you.  Heal us and help us to fulfill our destiny as a nation. We ask and believe in the mighty name of Jesus Christ, Amen.            

GOOD DIRECTIONS

Anyone want a refund on those black-eyed peas yet?  We are only one week into 2021 and already we need a do-over!  It feels like we have already made a wrong turn and have ended up right back into 2020.  It is hard to believe the events of the last few days.  This is the year things were supposed to get better.  If we could just endure 2020, make it to the finish line, turn the calendar over on January 1, things would be better, right?  And yet here we are with the brokenness of our world smacking us right in the face every time we turn on the television or pick up a newspaper.  Many of us have been praying for a revival, a new Great Awakening, but the world seems more sinful than ever.  Where is God when the world seems so dark?  Did we miss His directions?  

First of all, God is not bound by our human calendar.  He operates on His own timetable and the fact that our calendar has flipped over to a new year does not obligate Him to anything.  Secondly, God has His own agenda, His own plan.  If you read the Bible all the way through (and I strongly recommend that you do), you will see that God is moving all of history toward an end to this world.  I am not saying the end is today.  People have thought that we are in the last days ever since Jesus ascended to heaven, and we are.  There is no doubt that we are getting closer to the end of human history. 

In my last post, I shared a verse of scripture that has really spoken to me in these early days of 2021:

Your road led through the sea, your pathway through the mighty waters— a pathway no one knew was there!  Ps. 77:19 NLT

Every year I ask the Lord to give me a verse or a word for the year.  I have been trying to hear from Him and settle in on what He is speaking to me.  The scriptures that have jumped off the page at me are ones that contain the word “path” or “way” or “pathway” so I have settled on “path,” understanding that it contains the meanings of all three words.  I am loving the idea of Jesus as a way maker, the One who creates a path.  When we think there are no good options, he shows us a way we have never considered.  

Jesus tells us that He is the way (John 14:6), and we understand that He is speaking about the way to the Father, the way to heaven.  But when someone tells you the way, there is still the journey.  I might ask the way to get from Tulsa to Dallas, but I still have to make the drive.  I need to know where to turn, what towns to drive through, and where the rest stops are.  I need to know the road conditions.  Is there construction?  Bad weather?  I need to stay on the path and trust that the directions will get me to my destination, even though I will drive through a long stretch of highway that doesn’t look like Dallas.  If the person who gave the directions truly knows the way, I can trust the drive.      

So that is where we are now.  We are beginning our journey through 2021, without much of a road map, but the One who created the road has the directions.   He knows the path.  We may not know what is ahead, what will happen next week or next month, but He knows.  He will show us the way, where to turn, where to stop.  And when it looks like we are at a dead end, when we are out of options, He will show us a way; a way we never knew was there.

Fasten your seat belts! The road ahead may be bumpy!       

Goodbye 2020, Hello 2021!

Today is New Year’s Eve and we stand at an intersection between a year we never want to experience again and a year of unknowns.  We will remember 2020 as a year that would be hard to believe had we not lived through it.  Think about where you were this time last year, what you were thinking and feeling.  I think most of us go into a new year with hope and optimism.  This is the year I will—-you fill in the blank.  I will lose weight, find a new job, read through the Bible, run a 5K, find love.  Most of us set off on January 1 with goals, hopes and dreams.  We kiss our loved ones, watch fireworks and drink a toast to send off the old and welcome the new. Never at this time last year could we imagine a pandemic was on our doorstep.

As I have thought back over the events of 2020, I think the most amazing thing that happened was the shutdown.  The entire world stopped, became silent.  Commerce came to a halt.  Doors were shut and locked, even church doors.  There was no traffic on the street or in the air.  It was strangely quiet.  Can we just stop and look at that one aspect of 2020, the global shutdown?  What a remarkable event!  I do not know of another time in history when something of this magnitude happened except the Great Flood of Noah’s day (yes, I believe that really happened).  God silenced us, put us in time out.  People, WHAT does God have to do to get our attention?

I won’t rehearse all the other hardships and sadnesses of 2020.  We all lived through them.  But before we completely close the book on 2020, I wonder if you have questioned why, of all the times in history, you are living now, during this remarkable, unprecedented time.  It is a question worthy of taking to the Lord, because He tells us in Psalm 139 that He ordained every day of our lives before we were even conceived.  So what is His purpose for us, to be living during these extraordinary days?

That question brings me right back to New Year’s Eve.  What is His purpose for you and for me as we cross into 2021?  What will we be facing?  I want to share a verse with you, a verse I found the other day that really spoke to me:

Your road led through the sea, your pathway through the mighty waters— a pathway no one knew was there!  Ps. 77:19 NLT

I think some context is important here.  The psalmist is referring to the events in the Book of Exodus, when the children of Israel stood facing the waves of the Red Sea with the army of Egypt bearing down hard on them from behind.  God was about to provide a path for them to cross over, a path no one would have ever dreamed could exist.  

Like the children of Israel, we too are standing at a precipice.  The year 2020 is at our rear, and no one wants to go back to that!  But the uncertainty of 2021 lies ahead.  We thought things would be better by now.  We thought life would be more normal, that this terrible virus would have run its course, that all the unrest of a contentious election would be settled.  These are our choices: the Egyptian army of 2020 and the Red Sea of 2021.  But God.

God has a pathway, a way we have not seen before, a secret way no one knows about.  Today, in these final hours of 2020, will you ask God to show you the path He has for you?  And if you do not know God, I urge you with every fiber of my being to invite Him into your life to show you the path.  You might wonder how to do that.  It is simple, but profound.  You agree with God that you are a sinner (we all are), you confess those sins and turn away from them and ask Jesus to forgive you and come into your life to guide you.  I would not want to go into 2021 without Him.

Jesus, I believe You are God and You died on the cross in my place because of my sin. Please come into my life, forgive my sin, and make me a member of your family. I turn from going my own way. I want You to be the center of my life. Thank You for Your gift of a forever relationship with you and for Your Holy Spirit, who now comes to live in me. I ask this in Your name. Amen.

PUTTING AWAY CHRISTMAS

Today I will begin the job of taking down all the Christmas decorations and getting the house back into its usual order.  This is a chore I always dread, and I have written about it before in my book Seasons.  I love Christmas and everything that goes with it: the lights, the presents, the music, the food… all of it.  I begin Christmas early, and this year I started earlier than I usually do.  I couldn’t wait to get the tree and all the lights up.  So what goes up must come down, and it is a backbreaking chore.  

I dread all the work that goes into putting away the decorations, but this year I dread it for a different reason.  More than ever before, Christmas has been a respite from the darkness of our world in 2020.  We have left our lights on all the time except for when we go to bed.  I have turned off the news and that has made me much more peaceful.  It’s been Christmas music and Hallmark movies, and thanks to YouTube, some wonderful messages from pastors I have discovered this year.  So putting away the decorations (and I sigh as I even write these words) seems to be a signal to return to what passes for normal this year.  An end to joy and a return to reality.

But every ending is also a beginning.  There is something energizing about getting the house all clean and free of the Christmas clutter.  It is a signal that a new year is just days away, and new years bring new opportunities.  Besides, returning to reality doesn’t automatically preclude joy.  That is a choice, and I choose joy!

I have been thinking a good deal about Mary and Joseph and all the characters in the Christmas story.  I have been especially thinking about the time they lived in.  That was a dark period for Israel as they were under Roman rule.  The government issued orders that were burdensome, especially the order to return to the place of one’s birth to be counted in the census.  So we also are under burdensome rules and recommendations in 2020.  Christmas was different for many of us, and travel has been difficult.  

But what a blessing it is to be living on this side of the birth of Christ.  The Jews who lived before Christ worshipped in their temple and synagogues, but when they left to return to their homes, they left God there.  Because God came to earth on that first Christmas, we don’t leave Him in our places of worship.  He is with us all the time.  Emmanuel, God with us!  I don’t think we really stop to consider how truly remarkable that fact is.  When we receive Christ as Savior, He comes to live inside us.  Jesus said in John 14:23:

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

So when I put away the Christmas decorations I will not actually be putting away Christmas.  I am not putting God in a box.  Because of Christmas I can experience joy even in the darkest days.  And because of Christmas I can face an unknown 2021; God will be with me.  And so as I turn to this big chore before me, I resolve to keep Christmas.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

Remember when you were a child how it seemed as if Christmas would NEVER come?  Oh the days and weeks and months were so long!  When my siblings and I were growing up, Christmas was really the only time during the year when we got toys.  Oh maybe a little something on birthdays, but Christmas was it!  It was an ironclad rule at our house that we put up our tree (a real one in the early days) two weeks before Christmas and not one day earlier.  My father grew up in a household where the Christmas tree went up on Christmas Eve, so he thought two weeks was a generous compromise.  I loved the night we went to pick out a tree and brought it home to decorate.  And then we had to wait two weeks.  Oh how those two weeks drug on!  Now two weeks before Christmas goes by in the blink of an eye. 

Those were days of waiting. 

When I was a child my father worked for Western Auto.  During the Christmas season the Western Auto stores carried toys and put out a Christmas catalogue just full of things to delight children.  Oh how we would pour over that catalogue, circling our favorite toys.  Days of dreaming and waiting, wishing and hoping.  There was so much hoping as a child at Christmas.  By Christmas Eve the waiting would be at a fever pitch, making sleep so difficult.  But finally the waiting would come to an end, and Christmas morning would be filled with shrieks of joy and the sound of paper ripping.

Of course those toys are long gone now.  I barely even remember them except for a few: a Western Flyer bicycle, a Toni doll, and later, a bride doll.  They brought me joy, but only for a short time.

This morning in my quiet time I was reading about two elderly people who waited their entire lives for Christmas, Simeon and Anna.  They are two examples to us of how to wait with godly expectation.  And for me as I am well into my senior years, they serve as an example that God has a purpose and plan for us in every stage of life.  In fact, the Bible tells us in Psalm 139 that God has a pre-ordained plan for us written in a book, and that every day of our lives has a purpose.  We have a day to be born and a day to die, and the days in between are days of God’s intention for us.  When we are in tune with God, spending time in His word and in prayer, He reveals these intentions to us.  Simeon believed that he would see the Messiah before he died because He spent time with God.  We are told in the Gospel of Luke that the Holy Spirit assured him of this.  But well into his advance years, did he ever doubt?  Some of us wait a long time, even a lifetime for our prayers to be answered.  Anna was married for only seven years before she became a widow.  I’m sure that was not the life she expected.  She could have been angry with God, but instead she devoted the rest of her 84 years to serving in the temple, worshipping and fasting.  She too got to see the baby Jesus.  

Today at the close of 2020, I am waiting for some BIG things.  I wait for God to send another Great Awakening to America, that we can once again be a nation that fears and honors God, and that we will fulfill our destiny of spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth.  And I also wait for Jesus to come and rapture His church.  I too want to see Him face-to-face.  I wait to be reunited with loved ones who have passed on ahead of me.  I long for the Millennial reign of Christ on earth, to see this world as it was intended to be.  And I look forward to the wedding supper of the Lamb, and the new heaven and earth.  I can wait like Simeon, with certain expectancy, because God has promised these things in His word.  I am reminded of the words of John Wesley in the Christmas song, Come Thou Long Expected Jesus:

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

As believers we wait for the Hope of all the earth…Jesus.  He is the desire (and the need) of every nation and the joy of every longing heart.  It is a joy that cannot be found wrapped in pretty paper under the Christmas tree.  That kind of joy doesn’t last.  But the joy that Jesus brings lasts forever.  My Christmas wish for everyone is that they discover this long expected Jesus for themselves.  

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Romans 15:13 NIV

THE SILENT YEARS

It had been four hundred years, four hundred silent years.  Four hundred years with no word from God.  We think of it as the intertestamentary period, that time between the Old and New Testaments.  In the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, we leave the remnant of Israel trying to restore Jerusalem, still under Persian domination and in a fallen spiritual condition.  For all practical purposes, Israel remained in exile.  The book of Malachi is an exhortation to return to the Covenant, with severe warnings for failure to do so.  And then, God quit speaking until the events surrounding the birth of Christ.  

Those were years with no fresh word from God.  It is hard for us to even imagine how that would be, with our access to so many different translations of the Bible and the presence of the Holy Spirit to breathe them alive to us.  But as we enter this season of Advent, let us try to put ourselves in the place of the ordinary Jew at this time in history.  In fact, my Advent challenge is to put myself in the place of all the characters in the Christmas story.  

Advent is a word I don’t hear very much in my Baptist church, but it is something I try to observe personally.  Oh I don’t do the wreath and the candles, but I do Advent readings in my quiet time.  For me, Advent is a time of preparing the manger of my heart for the coming of the Messiah.  Advent covers the four weeks leading up to Christmas, and this year, in 2020, Advent begins today, November 29.  We think 2020 has been a long and difficult year, and it has.  But try 400 long and difficult years!  And we have had the blessing of the Holy Spirit with us to help us navigate this year, to comfort us in our grief and to encourage us when we are afraid.  As we close this weekend of Thanksgiving, I am thanking God for access to His word and for the presence of the Holy Spirit, for the privilege of knowing Him.

Like many believers around the world, I have spent more time in prayer this year than ever before. And like many, I have clung to the words of 2 Chronicles 7:14:  

“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

We tend to hold on to the promise while glossing over the condition: if my people, who are called by my name.  We want God to heal our land, but surely it is those other people who need to repent.  This year I have repeatedly asked God to show me my wicked ways.  Don’t ask unless you are serious.  He has pulled off layer after layer of wicked ways.  It is a part of making room for Christ.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his Christmas sermons tells us that Advent “is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.”   I know I am poor and imperfect! 

So I put myself in the place of those post-exilic Jews who were waiting, because this has been a year of waiting.  Waiting for the virus to go away, waiting for a vaccine or a cure, waiting for schools to open, for jobs to return, for things to go back to normal.  But more than these things, like Bonhoeffer I am waiting for something greater to come.  I am waiting for a time when there will be no more death, nor more wars, no more hatred in our streets, no more broken families, no more children going hungry.  Though we strive to make these things happen (and we should), I don’t think we will see the complete realization until the Messiah returns.  While Israel waited for His first coming, we wait for Him to return in glory to establish His eternal kingdom.  Advent looks both back in time and forward.  We remember His first coming to earth as we celebrate Christmas.  But oh how we look forward to His second coming as we sing these familiar words:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel, 

That mourns in lonely exile here,

Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

WE NEED A LITTLE CHRISTMAS

If there has ever been a year when we need a little Christmas, 2020 is it!  We have dealt with COVID and all the fear, sickness, and death that come with it.  The unleashing of this virus then set off a cascade of events that have left us reeling: the lockdown, jobs furloughed and lost, schools in and out of the classroom, racial tension, riots and looting, fires and hurricanes, a chaotic election season, and oh!  Murder hornets!  Did I leave anything out?  So as soon as the calendar turned from October to November I began thinking about Christmas decorations.  We are always early, but this year is the earliest we have ever had ours up.  Last night we even turned on the outdoor lights.  Because we need a little Christmas.

I suppose it is the lights that I love the most.  In addition to our tree we have lots of lighted garlands and wreaths.  Oh how we enjoy drinking our morning coffee in the glow of the Christmas lights.  

I’ve been thinking about light quite a bit lately.  Our Community Bible Study groups are studying the Book of John this year.  I have read and studied John many times, but the verses have leapt off the pages as if they are brand new to me.  And in the first few verses John describes Jesus as the light.  Of course I have long been familiar with the concept of Jesus as the Light of the World, but it has grabbed me anew and I keep coming back to it.  Why is that title so important?  

Light itself is essential.  Without it we cannot have life.  The very first thing God did in the beginning was to create light (Gen. 1:3) because the rest of creation was going to need it.  I know next to nothing about physics, but I started thinking about the properties of light.  Light travels.  It has the ability to pierce the darkness; but darkness cannot dim light.  Light attracts; it has a gravitational pull.  It causes growth and produces energy. Light changes the materials it shines on.  Light heals and purifies.  And Jesus does all those things.  He attracts us, and when we search for Him, we find Him.  He moves into willing lives and shines light on our sins.  He changes and purifies us.  He doesn’t leave us the same.  He heals us and causes us to grow in righteousness.

We so need the Light of the World to penetrate our dark world right now.  There is so much hatred and anger, so much polarization.  And so much corruption.  Light exposes those things that are concealed in darkness.  Mark 4:22 tells us that things that are hidden in the darkness will be brought into the light.

Next month we will celebrate Christmas.  When Jesus was born into the world as a baby, He came in an explosion of light that lit up the night sky.  The shepherds saw it, and after their initial fear, they were filled with such joy and hope.  The Magi were drawn to it and worshipped the new King.  That is why I need my Christmas lights.  They remind me that God is still on His throne and He still has a plan, that the Light of the World still changes hearts, and that the darkness will never overcome that Light.      

%d bloggers like this: