Don’t Give Up!

Christmas Eve I was driving home from a family get together when I saw a sign in a yard. It jumped out at me in that weird way that sometimes happens, like God highlighted it for me. There were just three words: Don’t Give Up. It felt like God was speaking to me, but then I shrugged it off and continued on. Since then, that phrase has jumped out at me from a variety of sources including a random movie line, a random song lyric on the radio, and a book I was reading. I decided that God was trying to tell me something, so my word for 2021 is Hope because hope is the reason we don’t give up.

I wanted to start the New Year out with a special 40-day study/project of some kind, and after throwing ideas around, it occurred to me that I could combine a couple of my goals for the coming year into one project: Hope Notes. Every day for 40 days I will draw from a list of scriptures on hope, write out the scripture, meditate on it, journal it, and then post a picture from the notebook on Instagram. This will cover my goals for Bible study, practicing journaling, writing more, stretching artistically, trying something new, and working on growing my Instagram account. Besides, I just think after 2020 we could all use a little hope. So, let’s focus on the good things and start the New Year off right.

To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.   

Colossians 1:27

My first scripture was Colossians 1:27 which couldn’t be more perfect because hope originates in Christ. The reason we have hope is because Christ lives in our heart. Our relationship with Him results in a right relationship with God, so we have hope not only for a future in Heaven but also in our everyday lives.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

1 John 4:18

One of the movie lines that related to the topic said perfect love casts out fear because it brings hope. Perfect love only comes from God because He is the only one who is perfect, so when we are in His presence, there is no fear. The trick is to remember that we are always in His Presence if Christ lives in our hearts.

So, we can have hope everyday and not just because it’s a New Year. In order to reinforce this idea, I am posting from my notebook to Instagram for the next 40 days with the #HopeNotes. I want to cast out the fear that has been hanging over our heads and replace it with the hope we have in Christ. The only way to do that is to focus on God and not what is going on in the news or on social media. If we want the world to change, we have to start with ourselves. Be a force for change and a beacon of hope in a dark world which is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

A Little Light

Sometimes all it takes is a little light to help us find our bearings. Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night disoriented, especially in a strange place? We awaken from a dream into a strange world that used to be our bedroom. Heart pounding, we search the dark for something familiar but all the shadows seem threatening. Gradually our eyes adjust as a tiny bit of light from the computer screen in the next room sheds light on the doorway and you relax as the room becomes familiar again.

Faith – Bethlehem’s Candle

For the nation of Israel, the world had been dark for a while, spiritually speaking. There had not been a word from God as far as prophets go for roughly 400 years. Possibly they had gotten used to the dark, but there were still some who were looking for a light. They had faith that God’s Word would be fulfilled, starting with the little town of Bethlehem.

But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.

Micah 5:2

So, in Bethlehem that night the Messiah was born in fulfillment of this prophecy. Even though the town was small and insignificant to most people, it became the birthplace of the light of the world. However, not many people recognized it. Most were overwhelmed by the details of daily living, like the decree from Caesar for the census forcing everyone to return to their hometowns. It wasn’t hard to get distracted and miss the gift in the manger. After all, what good could come out of Bethlehem?

In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

John 1:4-5

Jesus came to bring light back to the world, but the world couldn’t see it. They were used to the darkness and the light hurt their eyes, but once a light is turned on it chases away the darkness. When Jesus died and was resurrected, he left little traces of that light in the heart of each believer so that they could be a light in the darkness (Matthew 5:14). In order to shine our light, we have to keep our wicks ready and our lamps filled with oil, but how do we do that?

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1

We do it through faith. This sounds simple until you are knee-deep in a struggle surrounded by more what if’s than you can comprehend. It is easy to lose faith and hope in those moments, just like when you wake in the middle of the night and try to make sense of the darkness. First, you have to focus on the light from within to get your bearings. The best way to do that is to follow the example of David.

But I have trusted in your faithful love; my heart will rejoice in your deliverance.

Psalms 13:5 (CSB)

David found his bearings by reflecting and remembering what God had already done. When we feel lost in the struggle, we can follow David’s example. Just the other day I came home fighting the sneezing and sniffling that is common for this time of year and found myself wondering what if it was something else. Then, I went down the rabbit hole of all the issues that could cause and was slipping toward a downward spiral when I finally stopped to pray. I decided to take my temperature, just in case, praying the whole time. It was a normal 97.6 (normal for me anyway), and I felt God using that to reassure me. Worrying about all the potential hazards only sapped my joy and kept me busy spinning in a circle. Like the blue circle on my computer, it kept me from doing what needed to be done. The enemy does his best work by keeping us distracted so that not only can we not see the light, but we no longer are a light. In a world that has grown used to the darkness that is not a luxury we can afford.

That little town of Bethlehem gave birth to a great light and shared it with us. The least we can do is to share it with others. Fill your lamps with oil by taking a moment to reflect on who God is by reading the Word and reflecting on what God has done for you in the past. Then, you can direct the light outward to someone else who is struggling and help them find their bearings. A candle doesn’t lose any light by sharing the flame with another candle; it just increases the amount of light. So, light your lamp or candle and then share the flame so that we can chase away the darkness.

Just remember, in the middle of a bunch of what if’s it is best to focus on the what is. From there we can move forward on solid ground knowing that the light of Bethlehem still shines brightly.

Unplugged

When we come to the end of ourselves, we come to the beginning of God.

Billy Graham

Just about everyone knows that if you are having issues with a piece of electronic equipment that if you unplug it and plug it back in, it will usually reset. The same principle works for humans. We are often told to unplug from social media or electronics to reset ourselves. For me, it was not about the electronics but about remembering to take a break when I needed it.

I set myself a tough deadline for October, and I was doing pretty well, partially because I would take breaks. When the deadline started approaching, I felt I needed to double-up. I started getting more done but it also wasn’t my best work. This past week I developed a tic in one eye and an attitude, a clear sign I needed a break but I thought if I just push through this week, I will be done, and then I can take a break. Yet, if I looked at the schedule, there wasn’t really going to be a break in the next two months with other projects and the holidays approaching. But, I pushed on.

And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

Colossians 3:17

Then, a little storm called Zeta dropped on my doorstep. The wind and the rain blew and blew, keeping me up half the night. The power went out, but I got up and went to work, expecting the power to be back on when I got home. It was not. I had a bit of a melt down with anxiety because I was tired and the alarm system was beeping because of a dying battery but not the kind of battery you can remove, and I couldn’t reach the company because it was after hours. Add to that my phone, my one access to the world, was dying and running out of minutes. I reached out in desperation to a couple of people.

My best friend suggested plugging my phone charger into my laptop which was fully charged. She also said her alarm system, which is the same as mine, eventually quit beeping. The phone charging suggestion worked; however, the beeping was still unnerving me. A writer friend suggested putting in ear plugs and going to bed (Read his thoughts on burnout by clicking on the link below). At first I thought I can’t do that because I don’t have ear plugs, but then I remembered that my sister had gotten me some headphones last year that I had barely used and my Kindle Fire was fully charged. I got ready for bed, plugged the ear phones in, and listened to the sound of the ocean until the battery died and the system went silent. I rested and even napped during that time, and then I went to sleep and slept until the sun was fully up. This disturbed Young Man who is very attuned to schedules, especially treat times, but he survived just like I did.

God had to send a storm and unplug my entire town in order for me to take a break. I mean my entire town was dark for a day and some, as in my case, for two days. Yet, in that darkness was when I saw the light. Usually that is how we find our way to Jesus, the light of the world, in the darkness. When we come to the end of ourselves, then we come to the One who can fill our world and spirits with true light.

Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

John 8:12

So, I suggest you take time to unplug and reset, or you might just find yourself unplugged with a beeping dying battery and grumpy cats.

Turn on the Light

There was a picture that went around on social media years ago of a snake wrapped around a toilet, a big snake. Supposedly it had come in through or around the plumbing and made itself at home. In the middle of the night the owner went to the bathroom and happened to turn on the light to find the snake before they sat down. I vowed to always turn on the light. This week I broke that vow.

Sunday night I was trying to start the week off right, so I cleaned up the kitchen, turned on the dishwasher and put away some laundry. Feeling pretty good about things, I grabbed a plastic bag to go clean out the litter boxes for the evening. One of the boxes is in the corner of my office (aka the cat’s room). I didn’t bother to turn on the light because I could see well enough by the light of the computer, or so I thought. I took two steps in and hit something slick and my foot slid out from under me and I fell to my knee, the same knee I fell on back in July. I got up and turned on the light and discovered my geriatric cat with IBS had gotten sick (mostly fluid) and I didn’t hear him because of the dishwasher noise. An ice pack, ibuprofen and prayer later, I thankfully had no real injuries, but I still had to get up and go clean up the mess.

The thought came to me that if I had only turned on the light, then I would have seen the danger before I stepped in it. The same is true spiritually. If we turn on the light, God’s Word, His Holy Spirit will alert us to impending danger so that we can avoid it.

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

James 5:16

My Bible reading for the day was James 5:16. When I fell, I was worried I had caused even more injury to my knee after I had just regained pain free use of it. I messaged someone I knew would pray and asked for prayer that my knee would not have a serious injury because I had a lot of obligations that needed my attention that week.

Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. 10 For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

My Bible reading the next day was Ecclesiastes 4:9-10. God has a sense of humor and great timing. I may have been physically alone when I fell, but I was not alone. The Holy Spirit was right there with me, and I had another believer willing to pray for me. I also had these verses of scripture to encourage me that came at just the right time to encourage me and lift me up.

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

Psalms 119:105

The Word of God is a light that we need to keep turned on. We don’t have to worry about a power bill because it has a never ending source of perpetual power. It is always on, but we do have some control of the on/off switch. We can turn it off and sit in the dark, or we can turn it on by opening the scripture and letting it guide us. When we study the Word daily, it will come to our minds just when we need it most.

So as we start each day, it is a good idea to start with the Word of God so that He can guide us through the twists and turns of this world gone crazy. Oh, and don’t forget to turn on the light. It could save you from slipping and falling or from really big snakes in the bathroom.

Advent: The Discipline of Waiting

Advent Candles

Waiting…it seems to be a theme lately. At the moment, I am waiting on a FedEx delivery that should have been here on Monday and it is now Friday. I have a text saying it is out for delivery, but I got one saying the same thing yesterday, which was redYoung Manacted later saying it was rescheduled. Young Man is also waiting on this particular delivery since it contains his food and his food bowl is currently empty. He doesn’t like waiting any more than I do and has been very vocal about the situation. I can only imagine what it was like for Elizabeth and Zacharias who had been waiting their whole lives for a child, and the children of Israel who had been waiting for The Messiah for centuries. My wait time is substantially shorter, but some things really are worth the wait.

Growing up, my church didn’t participate in advent, so I don’t know much about it. However, this year I wanted to find out the purpose behind the practice, so I did a little research. One article discussed the discipline of waiting and why advent has been pushed aside by many Christians (Read Article). The gist of it is that we don’t like waiting, so we start talking about Christmas the day after Halloween and some people start even before Halloween is over. You have probably heard the expression “killing time,” which is what most people think waiting is: a waste of time. Yet, there is something to be learned in any situation, including waiting.  In a previous blog (Postponed) I talked about the benefits of looking forward to something, and while the wait for The Messiah is long past, the wait for His return is not and there is something to be gained from the waiting process. God often speaks more clearly in the waiting than He does in the answer to our prayers.

Advent is observed during the four weeks prior to Christmas with a candle being lit on each Sunday. The first candle, which is purple, represents hope. It is also called the prophecy candle in remembrance of the prophets, like Isaiah, who foretold of The Messiah’s coming. Isaiah 9:2 says, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” The Messiah was to be a light in the darkness, a beacon of hope. He still is today. Even now we wait for His return so that He can shed light in a world of darkness and renew all of creation. In the meantime, we can be “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) by letting Christ shine through us while we wait for His return.

Even if you don’t have an advent wreath with candles to light, take a moment from the hectic bustle to remember what we are waiting for…The Messiah. Because of Him we have hope, hope for a better future. So, be a candle that shines the light of hope in a dark world this Christmas season and all year long.