Expecting Light: Love

four_candlesA few years ago my family had the incredible opportunity to ride bicycles down the side of a dormant volcano in Maui.  In order to join the tour who arranged this sunrise adventure, we had to drive from our hotel on the other side of the island to the base of the volcano– where we were to catch the van that would take us and our gear to the peak.  So, off we went at about 4:30 am, heading out into the inky blackness.  At one point I was so amused by a sign which pointed off the highway with a recommended “view/ photo location” because literally, you could see nothing out there— not sea, or sky, or mountain… we could have been anywhere!  Then someone turned on their porchlight.  I’ll never forget it.  From miles away we could see one little lightbulb, and whenever I think of it, I remember one of my favorite verses from God’s Word– “perfect love chases away fear”.  See, though there was far more blackness than there was light– it was the light that captured my attention with the comfort that all would be well.

Love–such a little word; such a life-transforming concept. How many of us get it so wrong!!  With evidence all around us of misuses and abuses, envy and self-loathing, prejudice and neglect, is it any wonder when fear/darkness seems to win?  And then, God sent His Son… The sad thing of course is when those who (claim to) follow Jesus are also so broken that they too misrepresent God’s love to a desperate world.  Love one another– it’s that simple, and that difficult.

Perfect love, the kind that chases away fear, is only possible with Christ.  This is the love for those who’ve hurt us or our family members.  This is the love for those whose lifestyle we don’t agree with, or who hold different beliefs.  This is the love for those who are sick, in prison, or in some way seem to inconvenience our “safe little lives”.  This is also the love for the enemies of our nation, for God’s love is for ALL His children!

When we know this kind of love, the world changes.  Fear dissipates and we can see the light shining out of evil and darkness.  This is my Christmas wish for all of you!!

With Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love–

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Expecting Light: Joy

three candlesThis was going to be a very different post. Then, this last week happened…  For those of you who have been reading my “Expecting Light” (Advent) Series, you already know that I’m looking at the practical– at the living out of faith, BELIEVING in God and truly celebrating Christmas, while surrounded by the darkness of our broken world. 

Today I am feeling compelled to share what I understand of God’s heart.  After all, isn’t the big question, “If God is so good, how could He allow such a senseless tragedy?”  And by the way– while the sickening slaughter in Connecticut has left our nation reeling, don’t forget that just a couple of days prior, some other loser went on a shooting spree in an Oregon mall, not to mention the countless losses that occur each day closer to home!  Surely I’m not the only one standing with loved ones who are grieving over a local teen suicide, or a young mom’s unexpected passing?  At any time of year, the impact of these events affect us, but at Christmas especially, don’t they seem all the more evil? That’s because they are!

Friends, as much as people might want to put on the blinders or deny the possibility, we do have a very real enemy.  Doesn’t it make sense that he would throw as much pain and garbage at us that he can, especially when he knows we’re talking about God’s rescue plan? However, it seems to me, the media in our world already devotes more than enough time to publicizing his acts, and pointing fingers at a variety of causes and society’s ills.  (Seriously, beyond the basic informational facts, do we REALLY think it’s good for us to fill our minds with images of destruction and an endless stream of speculations and divisive blame-filled speech for days on end?!)

For our own health and sanity, our focus needs to stay on God.  Why do you think He  instructs us to “Remember Me” so often in His Word?  He understands the struggles we face here!  When the days get dark and the future of mankind looks bleak, we need to remember God is with us.  We need to remember that He loves us.  We need to remember our Heavenly Father is in control, and that He is good!  This is not some distant, capricious, spirit-being far removed from our experience; Christmas is all about how Jesus–fully God– became fully man. I KNOW that He GRIEVES right along with us!  (In fact it may be that back in the earliest times when people were told to look away, that to see God’s face would kill them, it wasn’t only because of His radiant power, but because we wouldn’t be able to handle the depths of His broken heart.)

Just as light chases away ugliness found in the dark, so God brings joy from pain and trials.  Are any of us “happy” when such terrible tragedies occur?  Of course not.  But we can look ahead, trusting that somehow even these horrific examples will be redeemed by our gracious God.  This isn’t the voice of optimism based on circumstances and a wishful hope in humanity.  People Fail.  This is the voice of faith in our loving, heavenly Father.  Hold on, Friends– the light is real, and it’s coming 🙂

Expecting Light: Peace

two candlesEver notice how the second week of December seems to ramp up?  As Christmas approaches with all of its traditional accoutrements, our schedules become increasingly chaotic.  As if holiday decorations, gift buying, and planning for vacation periods wasn’t enough, every time we turn around there’s always just one more thing…a band concert at the kids’ school, donating items for the local food bank, a cookie exchange with the neighbors, the company party, arrangements for out-of-town relatives, trips to the mall and the mailpost, and the list goes on…

My ministry partner and I still perform a very popular ditty we wrote several years ago to the tune of “Supercalifragilistic” from Mary Poppins.  The chorus goes like this:           Super tired, cooking, cleaning, shopping for my gift list.  All the while just feeling that my body’s rather listless.  If things don’t get done I’ll be a failure and be blissless, running like a chicken with my head cut off at Christmas!

Busyness may be universal at this time of year, but the truth is, when we lose focus on the true meaning of Christmas and instead get caught up in the spinning and the crazy culture in which we live, we can actually miss the peace and the beauty that is at the heart of this Holy Season!

Yet, what if the problems we’re facing aren’t just a result of an over-extended schedule?  Sure, making the choice to simplify may be a great solution for some, but what if we’re talking about BIGGER problems?  What about the trials of illnesses and death, divorce, financial ruin, or pain and suffering from a variety of other causes?  Honestly Friends, this is what Christmas is all about!

We live in a fallen world where there is pain, where people hurt one another, and where even the Earth itself suffers from years of mis-management.  Christmas reminds us of God’s ultimate love for us– where Jesus, the Prince of Peace, gave up his heavenly home to come and live with us in our poverty and ignorance.  It’s a holiday that shows us God’s faithfulness can be trusted.  He came to rescue us from ourselves, and He’s coming back!  As we make our way through December, tempted by consumerism and frazzled by the to-do list, or perhaps grieving a bigger tragedy this year, let’s try to remember that true peace isn’t about our circumstances at all, but Peace comes with knowing, believing, and trusting in our souls that God is with us, He is good, and He has a plan.  We really can expect the light to push away the darkness!

Expecting Light: Hope

candlelightWhen I was a child I loved Christmas… visiting Santa for photos… nighttime rides through neighborhoods with light displays.  I loved combing through the Sears catalogue to see the latest toys, and singing along with the holiday music on the radio. We also had a wonderful annual tradition of hosting the extended family breakfast early Christmas morning, and I still fondly remember those gatherings as aunts, uncles, and cousins took turns opening gifts, before stuffing ourselves with pancakes.  After breakfast came time to play with all the new toys–although now looking back, I suspect my dad’s Tom & Jerry’s helped the sleep-deprived grown-ups feel more  “festive”. 😉

Now Santa is awesome, and though there is nothing inherently wrong with these kinds of traditions,  when we didn’t stop to consider the true meaning of Christmas, I’m sure you can guess the shallow substance of what should have been a Holy-Day celebration.

There was a man in our city who put on an elaborate nativity display on a hillside adjacent to his home.  Every year hundreds of locals would visit, driving by each night in December to witness the beauty of the lights and carved figurines– the camels and the kings, Bethlehem and the angels.  My parents would take us there on our annual pilgrimage too; we would park the car and walk by with the crowds to see the baby in the manger and read a bit of scripture mounted on a lovely “Bible” plaque.  (So although I would have told you growing up, that, ‘yes I know about Jesus’ birth’, I never understood the deeper implications of this story.)

Over the years, things began to change.  My cousins were all much older and began going their separate ways. Then, after one particularly rocky Christmas, my father abandoned our family on New Year’s Eve ( you can imagine what Christmases were like from this point on). While I still looked forward to the decorations and the parties, it seemed as though, in my life at least, the holidays also became a magnet for pain.  I started to agree with many friends and family members, that Christmas must just be for kids. While Santa may be jolly, he doesn’t offer us hope.

When I became a Christ follower and understood about a love so great that God would set aside His rights and His power to come to earth in the humblest of circumstances– God with us– Christmas became an event worth celebrating again!  Still, I have to admit it has sometimes been hard.  People are broken and our expectations often get way off track.  The enemy likes to keep us distracted with the to-do lists and the shopping, and did you ever notice how many people are grieving at this time of year?  11 years ago my mother passed away on December 25th, and it took me a few years to figure out how I could reclaim the Christmas spirit from the emptiness I felt overshadowing each December.  Frankly it came down to the practical– creating some new traditions (looking forward to the new vs. missing the old), and the spiritual– truly taking the time to reflect on the hope we have in Christ.  Hope isn’t a wish, but a certainty.  It is believing to the core of my being that one day there will be peace on earth, that there will be no more sorrows, or disease, or pain, or tears.  One day we will see our loved ones again.  And that my friends, is the light that is coming 🙂