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.

The Tower

I lived there once, the Tower. More accurately, I was held captive there. Maybe you are familiar with my story. I was young and curious and that curiosity would often lead me off the beaten path. One particularly beautiful day, when it wasn't quite spring yet, but the sky shone so blue and the sun so bright that I couldn't help but wander, I came upon the castle...his castle. It was beautiful in the sun light, covered with green ivy. The stone walls were built with some ingredient that sparkled, and I loved bling. Before I knew it, I was touching the warm walls with my fingertips. I wasn't afraid. I had no reason to be, or at least I didn't know of one.I walked along the wall until I came to a heavy wooden door and there he was.

Arundel Castel - Arundel, West Essex, England - Photo by Amy Christensen

Arundel Castel - Arundel, West Essex, England - Photo by Amy Christensen

He was tall and very handsome. His light brown hair fell in waves to his broad shoulders. He smiled at me and held out his hand. I took it.

I don't know why! What was I thinking? He was nice to me for a while, giving me presents and telling me I was special, but then he took me to the tower. It became my prison. It wasn't until after he had locked the door that I realized I had made a mistake. Fear grabbed my stomach like a claw then scrabbled its way up into my throat. What had I done? How could I have been so naive, so foolish? The tower became not only my prison, but my torture chamber. The first time he pulled me close I realized his flesh smelled like the breath of hell and rotting meat. He never took me, but would hold me close, until I nearly suffocated from the stench, then he would push me away, mocking me, telling me I was ugly and stupid. Then he would leave locking the door behind him, laughing as he walked down the hall. Over and over, day after day. I had no idea what he would do when he came in. I was terrified. It was always the same. He would hold me, his putrid scent filling my nostrils, until I no longer noticed it. Then he would push me away, railing me with insults. One day, he took the key to the door and threw it out the window. 

Tower steps - Raglan Castle - Raglan, Wales - Photo by Amy Christensen

Tower steps - Raglan Castle - Raglan, Wales - Photo by Amy Christensen

Turning to me he grinned, "You will never be enough!" He walked out the door, laughing down the hall until I could no longer hear him.

I fell into a heap and cried. I didn't even care if I was rescued. I just wanted to die. I was worthless. No one would come for me. No one would ever love me, especially now that I reeked of his lair, his stench. Everyone would know that I was not enough. 

That was years ago now. The Prince saved me. He rescued me. He came and defeated the master of that castle who held me captive. On that day He stood in the door of my tower, I will never forget the eyes that shown like that bluest sky I remembered so well from when I was captured. I cowered at the other side of the small room with a ragged blanket wrapped around my shoulders. He came and knelt down in front of me. 

Holding out His hand he said gently, "Why are you here? You are free. Come, beloved!"

I winced. Shaking my head I tried to back even further into the stone of the walls that had imprisoned me. 

He smiled, "Come, beloved!"

"No!" My voice came out like a squawk. 

He moved to touch me, but I scooted back. He persisted. "You are my beloved. Come, take my hand."

This time, I stood up. "No! I....am...not. I...am...not...enough!"

The prince stood and in one step gathered me into his arms. The first thing I noticed was that he smelled of earth and pine, flowers and fields. He took my face into his hands and said, "Beloved, I am!"

There are still times, I hear that other voice, "You will never be enough!" It comes as a whisper at the end of the day when the sun is waning and the sky darkens.Those words that once held so much power over me were real and cut deep. But the Prince brought healing. His voice has become a balm to my injured soul. He is enough. And I am His. 

“...I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.
— Jeremiah 31:3 (NASB)
I belong to my beloved, and his desire is for me
— Song of Songs 7:10 (NASB)

Three Little Commands - Give Thanks

I thought it appropriate after the climax of the political campaign and subsequent election of Donald Trump, to bring things back to scripture. And how fitting that the series I've been doing on three little commands, ends with this powerful statement:

...in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
— I Thessalonians 5:18 (NASB)

The Thanksgiving holiday is fast upon us. Sometimes it seems this day gets lost after the decorous celebration of Halloween and the the onset of the hectic preparations for Christmas. However, I believe it is a holiday of great importance. If we allow it to not get lost, Thanksgiving can be the perfect spring board into the Advent season.

Photo credit  Rebecca Trumbull .

Photo credit Rebecca Trumbull.

Thankfulness is sometimes slow in coming. There are always things to be thankful for, but that doesn't mean it is easy for us to turn our minds away from our difficulties towards the things that we can be thankful for, or even more appropriately towards the One from whom all blessings flow.

Life can be a trial. Maybe you just found out you have breast cancer and your husband told you he's leaving you for another. Perhaps you just discovered your thirteen year old daughter has been having sex resulting in a pregnancy and your son started doing heroine. These things are real, folks. Sometimes life brings difficulties one at a time; a pace that is manageable, however, there are times and lives that are full of nothing but difficulty. How do we give thanks when we are careening down a one way street the wrong way?

We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,
— 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NASB)

I brought this verse up a few weeks ago. Whether you are a Christ follower or an agnostic; a Muslim or an atheist, this verse can be taken to heart. With so much media input it is easy to get focused on the bad - murder, suicide, mental illness, disease, bombings and death permeate our news feed and therein lies the problem, we are feeding on the bad, rather than feasting on the good.

So, how exactly do we feed on the good? One bite at a time. Much to my hubby's chagrin I am always asking him, "What are you thankful for?" It is especially pertinent when things are stressful at work, or we are having issues in the family or he is just feeling like he has nothing left. As much as it drives him crazy, it does help his mind to move from that which is bothering him, to He that is!

I have always felt that gratitude changes the attitude, but it wasn't until I read One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp that it really came home. Here is a little description of the book on Goodreads with links for purchasing. (I do not receive any kickback for recommending this book, I just think it is a fabulous book that everyone should read.)

And when I give thanks for the seemingly microscopic, I make a place for God to grow within me.
— Ann Voskamp - One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully...

Just as a child learns to walk, one baby step at a time, we can learn to be thankful, one bite at a time. Did you take a hot shower this morning? Thank Him. Did you eat today? Thank Him. Did you get to turn up the thermostat? Thank Him. Did you drink clean water? Thank Him. Are you breathing without help? Thank Him. Are you on an oxygen machine? Thank Him for that technology to help you breath.

The prayers we weave into the matching of socks, the stirring of oatmeal, the reading of stories, they survive fire.
— Ann Voskamp

I love that! The fire is the trial of life, but our prayers of praise and thanksgiving and petition, survive any fire that life throws at us.

It is in the dark that God is passing by. The bridge and our lives shake not because God has abandoned, but the exact opposite: God is passing by. God is in the tremors. Dark is the holiest ground, the glory passing by. In the blackest, God is closest, at work, forging His perfect and right will. Though it is black and we can’t see and our world seems to be free-falling and we feel utterly alone, Christ is most present to us..
— Ann Voskamp - One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully....

Is it dark where you are? Does it seem impossible to find anything to thank Him for....then be thankful for Him. You are not alone. He is with you. He will always be with you.

As we look forward to Thanksgiving day, why not try each day to keep a record of what you are thankful for. Use a small notebook, a sticky note pad or a calendar page. On the date for that day write: I am thankful for....and start listing things. Maybe you only write one or two things, but those are things you weren't thinking about before. If your mind starts going down that path of difficulty, write more things you are thankful for. Turn, turn, turn and be thankful. God will always meet you in that place.

Light Beyond the Darkness

As the days begin to shorten and I realize the seasons are about to change again, I grow more reflective of the seasons of life. I am sure it is because I am getting older. Age has a tendency to make us more aware of our limitations, weaknesses and failed plans. But it also has the capacity to make us more aware of what is really important and help us to focus on our blessings rather than our difficulties.

sunset over the river

As we were driving this evening the sun was getting low on the horizon. Though I didn't see it actually set I could tell, it was going to be spectacular. The sky was streaked with brushstrokes of cloud residue. So often when that happens the sun reflects off the clouds in a brilliant display of orange, pink, red and purple. I have found in my 50 plus years fall sunsets can be some of the most stunning.

As I looked at the beauty the Master Painter created for our good pleasure, I thought about the sunsets of life. Sometimes, when we know the darkness is coming we grow anxious and fearful. The realization hit me, however, that we would not have the stunning sunsets if darkness did not come. We would not have some of the spectacular sunrises either. Darkness is a part of the cycle God put into place to bring rest and repose.

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
the sky displays his handiwork.
2 Day after day it speaks out;
night after night it reveals his greatness.
3 There is no actual speech or word,
nor is its voice literally heard.
4 Yet its voice echoes throughout the earth;
its words carry to the distant horizon.
In the sky he has pitched a tent for the sun.
— Psalm 19:1 - 4 (NET)

Darkness is the absence of light. That could refer to the light of day, the light of a candle or that of an electric light bulb. Darkness can also refer to a lack of understanding. There are times in life when, not only does the way seem dark, but we also travel the path without understanding. We need to remember that outside of the darkness there is light. 

I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.
— John 12:46 (NASB)

If you are in a house, board up all the windows and cover those with room darkening drapes, you will be in the dark, but the light is still glowing outside of your house. If you descend into a cave with no flashlight or matches and candle, you will be in the dark, but the light is still glowing up on the surface.

To me, what seems the most overwhelming about darkness is the absence of light. If I can't see the light, I feel as though I am suffocating and all of life is about to end. But the reality is, light is still glowing, I just have to remember that. When I come to terms with the fact that I am closer to seeing the sun set, than I am to seeing the sun rise and I can remember that just the other side of that darkness I am about to face there is light....perhaps it will go easier.

Pixabay

Pixabay

When God's face seems hidden by the darkness or by the clouds, remember that Jesus is walking on the tops of those clouds. When the path seems dark, perhaps is it best to stop walking for a while, stop fumbling in the dark. Take a deep breath, sit a spell and remember He is the light.

Jesus said of Himself, "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12 - NASB)