Joy in the Morning; Separating Light from Darkness

Do you ever lie awake at night just waiting for the morning to come?  And it seems to take forever?  The morning brings light.  It takes away the darkness and shadows.  The morning brings renewal, a fresh start.  But sometimes the night seems long. The darkness seems eternal.  Will the sun ever shine again?  Will the sun really come out tomorrow, as orphan Annie sings?

David reminds us in his Psalm:

Weeping may tarry for the night,
    but joy comes with the morning.

Psalm 30:5

The night is dark.  And sometimes it sneaks up on us.    And sometimes it lasts longer than we like.  It tarries. It lingers.  It waits.  But God created light from darkness.  And His light brings joy.  There is no darkness that He cannot shine through.  From the beginning, God has created light where there was darkness:

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth—  and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters—Then God said: Let there be light, and there was light.  God saw that the light was good. God then separated the light from the darkness.

Genesis 1:1-4

We do not have the power to create light, but we can find it.  We tarry in darkness, searching for the light, hoping for the light.  And sometimes we forget that the light is right there in front of us.  Because we struggled to see it on our own, God sent us Jesus.  Peter reminds us of this:

Therefore, I will always remind you of these things, even though you already know them and are established in the truth you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this “tent,” to stir you up by a reminder, since I know that I will soon have to put it aside, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has shown me.  I shall also make every effort to enable you always to remember these things after my departure.

We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.  For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic glory, “This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain. Moreover, we possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.  Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation, for no prophecy ever came through human will; but rather human beings moved by the holy Spirit spoke under the influence of God.

2 Peter 1:12-21

God sent us Jesus — to be our guiding light in the darkness.  He is our lamp in the dark world “until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”  We do well to be attentive to Him.  No matter how dark the place is, no matter how dark or long the night, the day will dawn.  The day will dawn.  Jesus will be our light until it does, until we fully allow the morning star, God’s light and love to rise in our heart.

Jesus,

You are my light!  I do not want to tarry in the darkness.  Help me make it to the dawn.  Help the morning star rise in my heart.  I want you to fill my heart and my life, with your light and love.  You separate light from darkness.  Help separate me from the darkness.

 

Be Wise This Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve.  All the presents are wrapped. The hustle and bustle is coming to an end. Finally, a chance to sit and open the Bible, and here is where it opened:

I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who create dissensions and obstacles, in opposition to the teaching that you learned; avoid them.  For such people do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites, and by fair and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the innocent.  For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I want you to be wise as to what is good, and simple as to what is evil; then the God of peace will quickly crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.

Romans 16:17-20

My first thought was, “well, that’s not a very cheery Christmas message.”  And so I read it again.  It is hard, at first, to see the Christmas cheer in this verse, which very clearly contains a warning.  Watch out for those who create dissension and obstacles in opposition to God’s teaching.  Watch out for fair and flattering speech that deceives the hearts of the innocent.

Perhaps this is a perfect message for Christmas, a holiday that is supposed to celebrate our Lord and Savior’s human birth, but has become filled with wrapping paper, scuffles in the mall and “Holiday” celebrations so we do not offend anyone who is not fortunate enough to believe.  A holiday in which we spend more time talking about believing in Santa instead of believing in God.  I am as guilty as the next in terms of getting “caught up” in the “season”, in the obstacles and fair and flattering speech.  We say the words, we sing the songs, but what are we celebrating?  And at the end of the day, do we feel the joy that Jesus offers us, or just the headache of in-laws and high credit card bills?

Paul’s words to the Romans, are a good reminder today.  And his wish for them, is my wish for all of us this Christmas:

Be wise as to what is good, and simple as to what is evil.

May you have a Merry Christmas, filled with the Joy of knowing Jesus.

A Time for Ecclesiastes

Today the Bible opened to Ecclesiastes.  And I ended up reading the entire book.  The words kept teasing me along.  What was God telling me?  What did the words mean?  I could not quite understand it until the end:

“Therefore I detested life, since for me the work that is done under the sun is bad; for all is vanity and a chase after wind.”  Ecclesiastes 2:17.

“For what profit comes to mortals from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which they toil under the sun?” Ecclesiastes 2:22.

“The covetous are never satisfied with money, nor lovers of wealth with their gain.”  Ecclesiastes 5:9.

“All human toil is for the mouth, yet the appetite is never satisfied.”  Ecclesiastes 6:7.

Much of this book talks about the frustration that I often feel in life.  Sometimes I feel like I am chasing my tail.  Lots of toil, lots of work.  Lots of anxiety.  And what do we gain for our work?  We are never satisfied.  It is never enough.  We can never rest.

“Everything is the same for everybody: the same lot for the just and the wicked, for the good, for the clean and the unclean, for the one who offers sacrifice and the one who does not. As it is for the good, so it is for the sinner; as it is for the one who takes an oath, so it is for the one who fears an oath.”  Ecclesiastes 9:2.

“Because the sentence against an evil deed is not promptly executed, the human heart is filled with the desire to commit evil— because the sinner does evil a hundred times and survives.”  Ecclesiastes 8:11-12.

“Again I saw under the sun that the race is not won by the swift, nor the battle by the valiant, nor a livelihood by the wise, nor riches by the shrewd, nor favor by the experts; for a time of misfortune comes to all alike.”  Ecclesiastes 9:11.

I struggled with these passages for awhile.  At first I was dismayed.  Is it all for naught?    Despite all of our hard work on earth, all of our efforts to distinguish ourselves, we all end up the same.  We all end up dead.  What difference does it make if we work hard, do well, strive to do what is right?

Of course, I know the difference.  The difference is the relationship we build with God. (But it can be so hard on earth, where both good and evil have the same earthly fate, and sometimes the bad is rewarded.)

“God has made everything appropriate to its time, but has put the timeless into their hearts so they cannot find out, from beginning to end, the work which God has done. ”  Ecclesiastes 3:11.

We are short-sighted and see only the time on earth.   And often only see what is surrounding us at that moment.  We cannot see beyond our own struggle, beyond today’s pressure.  But God has a plan and everything has its time.

“A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn, and a time to dance.”  Ecclesiastes 3:4.

We will have our time.  We will have time for joy.  But we will also all have time for sorrow, time to weep, time to mourn, time to struggle.  And here on earth these times stink.  And it is hard to see the good, when we are going through these times.

“Consider the work of God. Who can make straight what God has made crooked?  On a good day enjoy good things, and on an evil day consider: Both the one and the other God has made, so that no one may find the least fault with him.”  Ecclesiastes 7:13-14.

Although it is difficult to see this at the time, the time for mourning, the time for sorrow is important.

“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting, For that is the end of every mortal, and the living should take it to heart.  Sorrow is better than laughter; when the face is sad, the heart grows wise.”  Ecclesiastes 7:2-3.

We learn from our struggles.  I don’t think we learn as much from our good times.  And importantly we learn with our heart.  Our heart grows, our relationship with each other grows, and our relationship with God grows.  This next passage tied it all up for me:

When the clouds are full, they pour out rain upon the earth.  Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, wherever it falls, there shall it lie.

One who pays heed to the wind will never sow, and one who watches the clouds will never reap.

Just as you do not know how the life breath enters the human frame in the mother’s womb, So you do not know the work of God, who is working in everything.

In the morning sow your seed, and at evening do not let your hand be idle: For you do not know which of the two will be successful, or whether both alike will turn out well.

Ecclesiastes 11:3-6

We are given a limited time here on earth.  We could spend it constantly worried about how the wind will blow and when the rain will fall.  We could spend it constantly focused on the bad times and bemoaning our lot in life.  But we do not know the work of God.  We cannot understand the plans He has.  We do not know when the time will come.  So we keep working.  We keep trying.  We keep going.  We keep praying.  We keep thanking God for the days that we have, because each of them is a gift.

“Therefore I praised joy, because there is nothing better for mortals under the sun than to eat and to drink and to be joyful; this will accompany them in their toil through the limited days of life God gives them under the sun.”  Ecclesiastes 8:15.

“There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink and provide themselves with good things from their toil. Even this, I saw, is from the hand of God.  For who can eat or drink apart from God?”  Ecclesiastes 2:24-25.

Lord,

Thank you for this day.  Thank you for the food and drink that you provide.  Help me to experience the joy and the sorrow fully.  Help my heart to grow through the “bad” times.  Help me to accept the “bad” times with an open heart so that it may be filled.  I know I cannot understand your ways.  But I know your plans are for good.  I trust you Lord.

 

Joy and Peace (Again)

This is one of my favorite passages.  In fact, the Bible has opened here before, including most recently on March 25.  I thought about reopening to another page, since I have blogged on this passage before, but the words have once again drawn me in:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!  Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

“The peace of God that surpasses all understanding” — that’s what I want.  Just saying the word peace brings with it an exhale and I feel some stress drop out of my shoulders.  Peace.  Now think of that peace coming directly from God.  And try to wrap your head around the concept that God’s peace surpasses all understanding — we cannot even fathom the extent of the peace that God will share with us.  Peace — a full exhale and my arms drop as the tension leaves the back of my neck.  That is what I want.

And the great thing about this passage is that Paul wraps it up in a nice recipe or formula as to how to achieve it:

  1. Rejoice in the Lord always!  I have always taken this passage to mean that we should sing God’s praises, which seems easy enough.  God is indeed great and it is easy to sing His praises.  But as I read it more closely (and look up the definition of “rejoice”), I see that what it really says is “feel joy or great delight” in the Lord.  I like the idea of this  — step one is to feel joy or great delight in the Lord — but how do you make yourself feel that?  Hmmm.  Not so easy… or is it?  Stop.  And think. God is great.  God’s love for us is great and unconditional.  God can do anything and forgive anything and no matter what we have done, he calls us back to Him.  Feel joy and great delight in the Lord and Rejoice!  With hands in the air, head tilted back to the sky, Rejoice!
  2. Step two: Your kindness should be known to all.  Be kind to others.  Not always the easiest thing to do.  Reflect God’s love to others, share God’s love with others.  Be kind.  Do unto others…
  3. Make your requests known to God through prayer, petition and thanksgiving — and by doing so, let go of your anxiety, let go of your control or belief that you can control it — give it to God. On paper these steps seem so easy — but in reality they can seem quite hard.  It is easy enough to pray for something, or to ask God for something — but, that is not enough. God asks us to let go of it — and by doing so — have faith in Him that He will take care of it.

So to sum it up: Feel joy and great delight in God, share that joy with others and have faith in God to take care of everything else.   (Starting to feel a little stress about whether this is achievable — so I am going to go back to feeling joy and rejoicing in God  — and I will let God take care of the rest.)

(With hands up in the air and my head tilted back) I rejoice in you, O God.  I feel the joy that only you can provide.  Help me to share this joy with others.  Help me to release my stress and worries and anxieties to you.  Help me to let go.  Help me to trust and have faith.  Thank you God!

Joy & Peace

It is late Friday night.  It has been a very long week.  I have been gone since 5 am this morning and just now getting home at 11:30 at night.  The  weekend plans are packed with 3 soccer games, 1 baseball game, 2 meetings and probably 4-5 hours of work, maybe more.  And at some point I need to pack and prepare for a three-day trip.  I am tired.  And there is no foreseeable rest in sight.

I quickly opened the Bible tonight, ready to just crawl into bed and collapse.  Here is what God told me:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!  Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.  Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9

The section is labeled “Joy and Peace”. And that is exactly what I need right now.  God always knows just what to say!  I rejoice in the Lord!  He is mighty indeed and He is near. I will let go of my anxieties (hand them over to God) and in prayer and petition, make my requests known to God.    Lord, I need rest.  I need help.  I look to you.  I put my trust in you. Lead me, guide me, hold me.

Now I just need to think about what is true and honorable and just and pure and lovely and gracious and excellent and worthy of praise.  I think about God because what else is all of these things? GOD.  God and all that He creates.  The beautiful sunrise breaking through the darkness of night.  The new buds on the trees and the daffodils starting to bloom.  The newborn calf and the 5-year old’s laugh.  Friends forged in faith.  LOVE.

Peace

Joy

Thank you God!