December 2009

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.

John 1: 4

Everywhere that we go during this busy Christmas season there are lights and bright decorations; people dress in festive clothes and wear bright reds and greens; there are even folks who put on self lighted hats  in the shape of pine trees and with antlers attached; yet, the darkness of living in this world seems to reach its deepest point at this same time of year. The intensity of the focus and the amount of energy that is expended on simply trying to accomplish the impossible and in attempting to meet unobtainable goals can become overwhelming.

Christ came into this world to to be the one who does, not to require more to do lists. He walked among us so that our days would be made simpler rather than more complex, and Jesus wants our hearts to become beacons of a light that is so strong that it will penetrate all of the world’s darkened corners. There is nothing wrong with giving gifts, decorating, the special meals, and the festive gathering of family and friends; yet, the thing that matters in all of this is the way that we go about all of this activity. The question that I need to ask myself is this, “Am I a source of light, hope, peace, and joy to the people that I am encountering; and do these people see Christ’s love and grace when they are interacting with me?”

Therefore, the goal for my day needs to be one of giving life and bringing the hope of light into the lives of my coworkers, friends, family, and even strangers on the street. The crazy thing is that even that goal can become a burdensome task if I am not willing to allow that it actually should be the most natural of all activities, for Christ has already given these gifts to me, and He is the one who will do all of the giving, too. The Spirit of God will work through us if we stay focused on Him, and the Lord will guide our hearts and our minds into His peace if we allow it; then, we will be the bearers of the unstoppable light that is Christ’s hope for the world.

For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.

2 Corinthians 1: 5

What a great deal, when we let Christ into our lives we get to let in all of the pain, sorrow, and disappointment that comes along with beginning to understand just how lost and hurting the people of this world are when they don’t know and follow Him. For the Spirit of Christ starts to awaken our hearts to the deeper truths of what He sees and feels, and my Lord experiences tremendous heart ache over the way that people continue to disbelieve and reject His call to an intimate relationship with Him.

Just as Jesus did during His time here on earth, we will get to deal with a spirit of angry rebellion against God that is very active and that seeks to hold down and to defeat the effectiveness of God’s own people. This is the same spirit that holds the hearts and minds of the ones who reject Christ in a state of oppressive captivity, and this is the spirit that the Lord will join His children in fighting against. So, this is where our relationship with Christ brings us back to comfort.

In the battles of life, there will be times when we and our loved ones and friends are wounded; also, it seems that there are people around us who are trying to deal with the fears, insecurities, image issues, and loveless nature of their personal existences, and these are all situations where the comfort of Christ may be the only effective answer for the current situation. We are given the gift of our understanding of the deep suffering of Christ so that we are better equipped to bring the healing touch of His grace and mercy to others who are suffering.

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.

Isaiah 9:2

It seems like just like the nature of God, the great poet of all Creation, to provide us with the remarkable contrasts that exist in our physical world and in our spiritual one so that the wonder and the majesty of His gift of salvation is all the more striking. In the north we mark the birth of Jesus, who is our redeemer from the eternal darkness of the soul that is our natural state, at the point in the year when the days are at their shortest and have become much colder. This is the time of year when night seems to rule day and when it feels like cold soaks through everything and even the warmest coat can’t keep the chill out of the heart.

So, God brings the light that is brighter than the core of the sun into the world, and the warmth of this Son’s love is more than sufficient to melt any frozen heart. Yet, some won’t let themselves be warmed; they continue to stand by the weak fires that they have created and insist that there will be enough heat for them to survive, and they hold onto the belief that they already know enough about love to sustain them forever; yet, the One who defines love is ready to give it all to them.

As people who have received the gift of Christ and live in a personal world that is warmed by His radiance, we need to be gift givers. The great light that God wants to use to bring this world’s inhabitants out of the darkness of sin is carried to those individuals by us. There is no reason why these short and cold days of December can’t be the warmest and the brightest of the year, for as we celebrate the birth of the Savior, we can focus on truly sharing the deeper truths of His relationship with us with our world. The real gift of the season is our care, concern, involvement, compassion, and grace; the warming fire of this winter should be fueled by the love that Christ has given to us to share.

A bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice.

Isaiah 42: 3

Bruised and battered, scraped and bloodied, scratched and dented, the bright patina of promise worn too thin to be readily seen; these are the feelings that can grip the soul during the process of living. There was a day and a time in life when most of the future looked like a great adventure and where an unlimited potential was the dream that was held highest; then, disappointment came, and failure robbed the heart of joy; illness and age and wrong decisions and an entire life-long list of interruptions and side tracking events got in the way. Regardless of whether the the abrasive and corrosive influences on my life were caused by my own hand or were brought about because of the sin corrupted nature of this world, there has been one constant and prevailing truth to hold onto; that is, the Lord has always been true to His word.

Justice is often thought of as something that is solely related to the legal system; yet, that is only a very small portion of the arena in which it is at play. Justice involves fair and righteous treatment that is given to everyone in all circumstances. There have been too many times in my life when, quite frankly, I really wouldn’t want justice to prevail, for what I deserve would be more painful than I would wish to handle. Still, God doesn’t look at our worst and lowest selves and cast His judgment on us based on those times; rather, He sees the wondrous potential of His creative hand in us and applies the grace of His loving heart to bind up the wounds that life has inflicted.

All of us are damaged and bruised, everyone has times when our light is barely visible and our hearts have been deeply chilled; however, God’s promise was that He would be here with us in these times, Christ intimately knows the specific pain that each of us endures, and the Spirit of God is alive in my life to comfort me and to guide me to the center of His will. These proven facts are truths that I can count on when life starts to spin out of control. As the Lord brings true justice to my soul, He brings me ever closer to Him, and this is a gift of healing from the hand of God that He desires for me to share with the other bruised spirits that I will encounter throughout the day.

Enlarge the place of your tent; stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, and strengthen your pegs.

Isaiah 54: 2

This may be a time of serious trouble, concern, or personal crisis; there is certainly much going on in our world to cause considerable anxiety, and I know that my life is influenced mightily by the tension that is in the air all around me. This would seem like a good time to focus on protection, self-preservation, and on holding onto what I already have. As is often the case with my perspective and the Lord’s, He sees things differently.

God tells me to keep looking outwardly, for He sees the opportunity in the hard times. The Lord wants me to open up the curtains of my heart and let others inside so that they can get a closer look at the miracle that is living life in a relationship with Christ, and He tells me to keep claiming more of the territory around me for His glory. In other words, God fears no one and nothing, there are no circumstances that are greater than His will, and He will not place me in a situation that is beyond His capabilities. The only limits that exist in my life are the ones that I create.

My role today is to be a builder, a seeker, and a giver of Christ’s love. I need to look at the ways that I am closing up the curtains of my heart in an attempt to protect myself and let God’s Spirit open me to His possibilities. I need to step out of my established boundaries and touch others with God’s grace and mercy, and as I take these seemingly risky actions, I need to continually strengthen my foundation through prayer, reading of God’s word, and connection to my spiritual family.

Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

John 8: 31, 32

Let me give you a partial list of the things that get in my way on a regular basis; there is fear, fear of rejection, of failure, of looking dumb, of sounding dumber, and of being wrong. Another is self-doubt; then, there is the long list of trust related challenges that I let stop me in my tracks. Simply stated, there are enough progress-stopping issues and concerns in my life that I should be able to avoid almost all real engagement with people and for God’s kingdom. Most of these concerns can be rationalized and repackaged by my clever mind to sound reasonable and proper; most of them are used by Satan to get into my head and to convince me that it is best to avoid proceeding with something that God would use for His purposes.

Yet, anything that keeps me or that keeps you from following God’s lead in relating with others and in entering into their lives with the message of God’s love, hope, and salvation is a type of enslavement; we become trapped inside of a mental and an emotional prison that is created in our hearts and minds; it is the result of the self-defeating thinking that is the stock in trade of Satan. Self-disabling doubt is a primary weapon that evil uses against us; for, if we take ourselves out of the fight for the souls of people in our world, the Lord’s army, His body, is made weaker.

This is one of the reasons why Jesus is telling us that it is vitally important to listen to the right voices, to the right words. He says that we need to be so deeply immersed in Him that we literally live with God. He will surround us with His truth; He will fill us with it; and He will infuse our hearts and our minds with its clarity and strength.

It isn’t easy, it does require constant effort, it does require continual surrender to the Lord; yet, living in the empowerment of freedom is one of the most tangible gifts that God gives to His children. The fibers of doubt and fear and hurt run deep in our bodies; the old ways of thinking come quickly to the front in our daily lives. The answer for each of us is found in the truth of God’s word, and it is accessed through staying in close touch with Him through the Spirit. We need to wrap up in the warm, protective, and strengthening coat that is God’s all encompassing involvement with each of us; we need to accept the freedom that He has given to us; then, we will be free to live in the center of God’s will and to share the joy of His love.

I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.

Acts 26: 19b

The situation that led Paul to talk about this particular vision was, to say the least, unusual; he was off on a journey in pursuit of what he thought was God’s will when he was stopped in his tracks by a light so intense that it caused him to become blind. He had encountered the Living God in all of His glory, and this appearance by the Lord was intended to leave no doubt in that rabbi’s mind about what had happened to him. God took Paul’s life work and the path that he had dreamed of following and radically turned it in a new direction.

The light may not always be that bright and the experience will almost certainly be different from Paul’s, but God speaks to everyone who calls Him Lord, and He grants us the blessing of dreams and visions to follow through this world. How well we listen and what we do with what he reveals to us is our choice. It can be very hard to make the sort of changes that God might ask of us, and the radical nature of following the Lord’s absolute will is truly frightening; yet, God never sets our hearts on goals that He won’t fulfill, and He never leads our minds into commitments that He can’t finish.

This world needs dreamers and visionaries, people who are no longer willing to simply settle for the way that things have always been; God wants to fill our hearts with His images of how the people around us can come to know, love, and relate to Him through our decision to follow. It is a simple fact that when God speaks His dreams into our hearts, like Paul, we need to let go of our fears and reservations and follow the new road that Christ lays out before us.

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