The Light of Joy

One of the things about the Christmas season that I get very excited about is lights. I love the look of houses outlined in tiny specks of shimmering light, whether they are white, green, red or blue, I love them all. I enjoy driving home from somewhere and seeing how many houses are embellished with twinkling splendor. Now don’t judge me, but I also enjoy seeing Christmas trees inside people’s homes. It’s not that I am being nosy. After all, don’t we put our trees in windows for that purpose, so the outside world can see our beautiful displays of light?

Pixabay

Pixabay

What is it about light that we so enjoy? I know that most of us would rather be out and about when it is day time. We enjoy when morning comes and feel loss at the slipping away of light as night time takes over. I personally have to convince myself that darkness is good and God allows the darkness so that we may rest. What I find fascinating about this God of ours is that He didn’t leave us in total darkness. He provided, even before sin became a reality, He provided the moon and the stars to rule the night, so even in darkness the light is still meant to preside.

Pixabay

Pixabay

There is a lesson here for us, if we are willing to see it. Light is always present even in the darkness. Darkness is, for lack of a better definition, the absence of light. But even in the deepest and darkest dark, somewhere there is still light. If we lost all electricity, the sun would still rule the sky by day and the moon and stars by night. As long as God allows the planets, stars, moons and sun to hang in space, there will always be light. What if those things disappear, or burn out? What if there is nothing left, but darkness? That will never be the case, because God is light and in Him there is no darkness.

Pixabay

Pixabay

When we think of Christmas we often have images of children playing, laughing and looking with awe and wonder at the lights and decorations. Can you even imagine a Christmas without the idea of child like joy being a part of it? I realize, not everyone grew up with wonder filled Christmases like many of us did. Some of you may not even celebrate Christmas or may think of it as merely an overly commercialized holiday meant to line the pockets of corporate America. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I think most of us can relate to the idea of joy.

Pixabay

Pixabay

Joy is often misunderstood. It is regularly mistaken for happiness, but joy is eternal, whereas happiness is temporary. Let me see if I can explain this in a way that makes sense. Joy is light. Joy comes out in dazzling displays like fireworks and rocket launches, but it also twinkles like Christmas lights and candle flames. The difference is that when the fireworks and rockets are burned out and the Christmas lights break and the flame smokes, joy still shines. The reason for this came in the form of a bundled baby boy, born in a stable over two thousand years ago.

Pixabay

Pixabay

No matter how deep the darkness is, joy still shines. There is no darkness or evil thorough enough to overcome joy. You might not feel like you have joy right now. Maybe you feel like you have never had joy, but you know those moments that bring tears to your eyes; those moments are shimmers of joy. You experience them when a movie has a happy ending or a musical movement runs together into a river of sound so beautiful it sweeps you along with it. You experience it when you come upon a breathtaking view or stand at the water’s edge when the sun begins its descent into a cloudless sea. This is joy.

Pixabay - nativity

Then when life tries to break you and you cannot hear the music or see the sunset, that is when you must reach back and in, deeper and deeper, to the event where joy first burst onto the scene of humanity. A virgin birth. Shepherds watching their flocks. Animals in the stable. A straw filled manger. This event was and is and evermore shall be the birth of joy. At that moment joy moved from happiness to an eternal possibility. Joy became the essence of bliss.

If you believe in that light, then even when all is dark, all you have to do is call his name. Jesus. And that light of joy will explode, once again in your soul and the darkness will scatter.

Beauty from Ash

There it was. A single, dark green leaf, beginning to unfurl. It had been conceived in darkness. A tiny seed that lay dormant, not dead, merely asleep in the cozy warmth of the dark earth. While it was sleeping the dragon had done his damage. He had ravaged the landscape, burning every tree and every living thing until all was nothing but ash. He thought he had destroyed life, but what he had meant for death, the One had meant for life. 

The ash lay heavy on the earth. It became, not a grave blanket of death, but a rich, comforting layer of warmth and nutrients. Gradually, over time, the rains came and the ash cooled and lingering life seeped into the black earth below. 

Pixabay

Pixabay

The seed drank the death life and began to swell. Swollen and full, it opened, releasing a shoot into the fertile soil above. Pushing, struggling, reaching, it climbed upward. It knew, above the darkness there was light and the light was what it wanted. The light was what it needed. The shoot didn't know how it knew, but it knew it had to reach for the light. It knew the light would help it grow. It knew the light would give it life.

Pixabay

Pixabay

Soon the pushing, struggling and reaching paid off. At the very tip of it's furthest point the shoot felt an odd sensation, warmth. It had only ever known the coolness of the earth in which it lay. It had only ever known the darkness, but now...now it reached. With one last ambitious push it poked through the earth and ash and found the light.  

*          *          *          *           *

Are we not like the seed? Were we not conceived in darkness? Did we not, when we were full with the nutrients of our mother's womb, the womb that would die after our life, death life, did we not move toward the light? We knew when it was time, as our mother's womb knew when it was time to help us, push, and reach and struggle, that we must find the light. We needed the light. 

Pixabay

Pixabay

Why then, when we know the light is good, do we stop seeking it? Why, when we know the light gives us life and helps us grow, do we we hide from it? Why do we prefer to cover ourselves back up with the dragon's ash, trying to hide rather than growing to the potential that the One had meant for us? 

It is because we are afraid. 

Do not fear the light, or the One from which the light has its source. Rather, push, struggle, reach for Him. He will tend you like a tender shoot and raise you up into a mighty tree.

He alone can bring beauty from ash. 

(Written by Amy D. Christensen)

 

Mulling It Over - Part 10: Ephesians 6:18

Last month we learned about the sword of the spirit, which is the first of our offensive weapons in this passage on the armor of God. In this final post in my series on the armor of God I want to focus in on verse 18 and our second offensive weapon in our fight against the enemy.

With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints,
— Ephesians 6:18 (NASB)
Pixabay

Pixabay

Besides our sword, which we now know is God's word, we have the offensive weapon of prayer. Let me take a few sentences to clarify the difference between defensive versus offensive. Defensive pieces are those which protect us from the onslaught of the enemy. Our armor, including the helmet and the shield are all pieces that we use to protect ourselves. Offensive pieces are those with which we can actually do damage to the enemy, through the Spirit of Jesus Christ. 

I think it is important to note that most of this passage in Ephesians 6:10-18 is spent describing the defensive pieces or the armor, which we are to put on. This suggests that our part as followers of Christ is to make sure we are battle ready and able to stand firm when the arrows fly. There are times when life is too overwhelming to actually fight back. Those are the times we have to let God, the almighty One, have His way and let Him fight for us. I firmly believe there are myriads of skirmishes going on all around us in the heavenly realms that we do not participate in. However, I also believe there are times that God calls us to pick up that sword and go to war. This leads us back to verse 18 and the offensive weapon of prayer. 

Let's look at what prayer does as an offensive weapon.

1. Puts us in contact with the commander. In what army are the soldiers not aware of who their commander is? From the generals at the top, to the sergeants in the enlisted ranks, soldiers are aware that there is a chain of command. They know who they report to and who reports to them. As Christians prayer puts us in direct contact with the highest head of all the armies at His command. Isn't that awesome? How much more time should we be spending in prayer, knowing that this is the way to get right to the top?

2. Places us under the headship of the Holy Spirit. When we really are seeking God and are trying to pray as He would want us to pray, we are placing ourselves under the movement and persuasion of the Holy Spirit. 

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.
— John 14:26 (NASB)

Jesus tells us that the Helper will teach you all things. I think that includes teaching us how to pray. You might think that's a bit silly, but I'm not talking about saying a prayer before dinner or even reciting the Lord's prayer. I am referring to intense, battle worthy praying that gets us prostrate on the floor or pacing around the house with tears streaming down our faces and our hands raised in the air. This is Holy Spirit lead warring prayer. 

Please do not jump to the conclusion that I think this is the only time the Holy Spirit directs our prayer, because it is not. He leads us in prayers of worship, prayers of thanksgiving, prayers of confession and prayers of humble petition as well. But there is something about warring prayer that makes praying in the Spirit seem even more real. 

3. Perseveres for the saints. Battle prayers are most often connected to others who need our added strength to help them get through a particularly difficult situation. Verse 18 encourages us to: "With all prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view (the idea that we are to be praying all prayers at all times in the Spirit) be on the alert (for the enemy, as well as for peeps who need our prayers) with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.

Did you notice how many alls are in that verse. I bolded them so you could see them more clearly. Whoa! This idea of prayer is pretty important. I Thessalonians 5:17 says, "pray without ceasing." There isn't a command that is much more straight forward than that. Don't stop praying. 

Praying does not mean that life will suddenly be filled with sunshine and flowers. In fact, often times when we begin the intense prayer of warring praying, we may find the enemy's assaults also intensify. Don't give up. It is even more important when the battle is continuous and overwhelming. Someone needs you to pray, maybe even your own self. Remember you are fighting because the Commander has called you to. He knows who needs those prayers. 

Many of you, like me are older. Your children are grown and you may no longer be as involved as you once were in their lives. Don't stop praying for them. Now, more than ever, they need your prayers, because one thing is sure, our enemy is a roaring lion seeking to devour. He wants our sons and daughters, our spouses, our grandchildren, our friends, our churches and our nation. If you can't sleep at night, God wants you to pray. If you have a few moments alone, God wants you to pray. If you are sick, you can still pray. Driving in the car, pray. Taking a shower, pray.

When you have gotten to the end of yourself and think you can no longer pray, then let go and He will pray for you. Now how cool is that? He will pray for you, until you are able to stand, put on the armor and go to battle again. 

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words;
— Romans 8:26 (NASB)
and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
— Romans 8:27 (NASB)
who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.
— Romans 8:34 (NASB)

You can see the rest of this series by clicking on the links below. 

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, and Part 9.

Mulling it Over - Part 2

Last month I started looking at Ephesians 6, where it talks about putting on the armor of God. I dissected verses 10-11. I laid the foundation for the next few verses by showing that our strength is to be in the Lord and in the strength of His might. I also put forth the idea that we are to put on the full armor of God for a specific reason, to be able to stand firmly against our enemy, the devil. 

Pixabay

Pixabay

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places
— Ephesians 6:12 (NASB)

The next verse in this passage talks about our struggle. Once again, I would like to take the verse piece by piece.

1. "For our struggle..." Be assured we are involved in some sort of struggle. Life is never that easy. Granted it seems that some people struggle so much and others very little. However, what may appear to be a life of ease,, may actually be a life that hides the struggle well, or one that has fought for many months or years and is now in a time of peace. We should never compare our struggle with anyone else's. That will only lead us down a road of self pity or pride, neither of which will bring us out ahead. 

2. "...is not against flesh and blood..." Wait! What did Paul just say? It is not against flesh and blood? Well, what about wars, assault, murders, bullying and so on? Aren't those things against flesh and blood? By all means. However, that is not where the real struggle lies. The real struggle lies inside each of us and in the heavenly realm. Isn't it pride, greed, lust, envy and hate that lead to those wars, murders, and so on?

3. "...but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness..."  What does this darkness look like? I could be silly and say, "It looks dark." Ha, ha. In order to understand darkness of this nature, let me try to paint a picture for you. During this time of year, the sun does not shine very much here in the mid west. Out of the last 40 days we have had about 3 to 5 days of sun. We all know that life could not survive without sunlight. Our world was designed by God with the intention that light was good and necessary. 

pixabay - night

My Grandson spent this past weekend with us. Quintin has lived with us in the past before my daughter moved out, so he is familiar and comfortable with our home. He usually goes to bed well, although I usually leave on a string of lights, read books and sing songs to him before he finally falls asleep. I love it! He doesn't like the dark. Even with the string of lights on in the bedroom he sleeps in, he still turns on the hall light to go to the bathroom which is right around the corner from his doorway. When morning came he bounded into our room and said, "it's morning. Look, Grandma! Look out the window." It was so cute and so telling, of how much we long to have light in our lives; how much we need to have light. 

The darkness that Paul talks about in this verse has to do with spiritual darkness. If you think it gets dark at night, try to imagine a place not pierced by the tiniest speck of light: no candles in the window, no flashlights to light your path, no streetlights to show you where that road sign is that your are searching for, no light....at all. This is the darkness that the enemy lives in and loves to drag people into. 

In this flesh and blood world we live in, that darkness is manifesting itself in the lostness of humanity. People have bought into the lies that Satan is throwing out there and those lies have brought them into a dark, dark place. 

Pixabay

Pixabay

4. "...against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." This battle is not just happening in our struggles here, but in the heavenly places. That makes me think of the Avengers movie, and various other sci-fi shows,  where far beyond our atmosphere a war was being planned that humanity was totally unaware of. Dear ones, there is a war being waged that most are totally unaware of. A war for our lives and our souls. This phrase makes me feel convicted that there are struggles going on that I do not even see. Struggles in the heavenly realm. Shouldn't I be concerned? Shouldn't I be doing something? If so, what can I do? What can you do?

If you are a Christ follower, you know the end result of all of this struggle will be the victory of the light over the darkness, but that doesn't mean we are just supposed to sit back and let it happen. Christ is calling us to be involved, to fight, to put on His armor.

Next month, I will dive further into this passage. I hope you'll put on your scuba gear and join me. 

Lessons in the Dark

I find inspiration for my writing in the oddest places, but then I guess that is what makes writing for me so much fun. I can look at a situation and think, "Oh cool! I could write about this or that!" I suppose it is something akin to a photographer or an artist finding inspiration in something as grand as a sunset or as simple as a bowl of fruit. The grand things of life are full of titillating word choices and descriptive metaphors, but how do I take the simple things and find beauty in them? It really comes down to perspective. 

Photo Credit  Valerie Boltneva  on StockSnap

Photo Credit Valerie Boltneva on StockSnap

The apostle Paul knew about perspective. He went from being a vehement hater of Christians to being the foremost authority on Jesus Christ. Paul went from the darkness of not knowing Christ to the light of knowing and being fully known and loved by that same One he had early on, persecuted.

When we were packing up our campsite Friday morning we noticed a particularly strange smell emanating from beneath our tent. We noticed it as we took out the tent poles and stakes and began rolling up the tent. My husband is a pro at problem solving, he teaches logic after all! He stuck his nose right next to the tent floor as he was rolling it up. Then he brought it over to me and said, "Smell!" Hesitantly, I stuck my nose to the floor of the tent. It didn't smell at all. 

We had placed a large piece of black plastic as a ground cloth beneath the tent to help preserve the floor and keep moisture, sand and gravel from making our clean up more laborious. When we pulled the plastic back to start cleaning it off we were disgusted by the smell and the number of species of creepy crawlies that had taken up residence beneath our canvas condo! Eeeeewwwwww!

My spouse quickly decided we really did not need to keep that black plastic, rolled it up and promptly placed it in the garbage. While he walked the short distance to the camp garbage cans I looked at the space our tent had previously occupied. It was wet with condensation from camping in the hot Florida sun. The bugs were quickly finding other dark places to hide or being eaten by some of the many anole lizards that resided in the camp's palm, sand and myrtle oak trees. I was shocked to find in the middle of all this putrefaction a tiny frog. As an average citizen, who gets a good percent of my knowledge off the internet, it appeared to be a Squirrel Tree frog. When I noticed him, he was a light tan color, blending in perfectly with the sand and gravel under our tent.

I'm sure this little guy didn't comprehend the danger he was in when he wiggled his way under our tent. We have no idea how long he had been there, but it was obvious he had gone under there to feast! It was a bug buffet and he was getting in for free. I realized as I looked at this odd little creature that my husband or I could have stepped on him and never even known!

That tiny little frog, who simply makes our lives better by eating lots of bugs taught me some very important lessons. First of all, there is danger in living at the beck and call of our appetites. The frog is merely doing what its God given tendencies tell it to do, in other words finding creepy breakfast food in dark, moist places. But how often do I give in to my appetites? In all honesty, daily. I struggle with eating well, exercising, not spending too much and so on. Many people struggle with "bugs" that are much bigger and more addicting that my own, and their living at least part of their life in the moist darkness of putrefaction. The greater our lives are lived in darkness the less we will know and identify with the light.

Photo Credit  Matthew Wiebe  on StockSnap

Photo Credit Matthew Wiebe on StockSnap

That brings me to another important lesson learned from the frog: just because it is available, doesn't mean it is necessarily what is best for you. There are all sorts of delicacies available to wet our appetites. Food, entertainments, sex are all things that can be good when used in the appropriate ways under the appropriate circumstances, but living under the tent floor can make a person forget what is good.

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.’
— John 8:12 (NASB)

Our little frog friend had a somewhat baffled look on his face when we pulled off that black plastic and exposed him to the light. I've seen people look that way, when they start hearing the words of Jesus from the Bible. The frog, of course went about his way, slowly crawling across the open space and hopefully back to a place of safety. But people don't have to listen. They don't have to care whether they are under the tent floor, dangerously close to getting squashed. They can just keep on feeding their appetites oblivious to the dangers looming over them.

Get out of the darkness and back into the light. As His creation that is exactly where we belong!