Advent begins on Sunday, December 1 - our house is ready!
Many years ago, to celebrate our December wedding anniversary, my husband and I took the girls to spend the night at my mom and dad’s house, went out to a special dinner, and then to see a movie. It was our ninth anniversary, and the movie happened to be the first installment of the now-legendary Lord of the Rings trilogy. Our anticipation was great. Somehow, though we are children of the 1970’s, we had missed the Tolkien craze and had never read any of the books. But we had heard about this new movie coming out, so in preparation for the release, we had spent several months reading the first book together. It is an excellent story, and made us wonder if the movie could possibly do the book justice.
I remember that winter well because it was 2001. Younger readers can not quite understand how unusual that autumn was, but the September 11 attack on American soil wrought a sea change in our culture. Whatever collective sense of security we had, real or imagined, was severely shaken, and a new sense of darkness crept into everyday life. As a nation, we had enjoyed an unusually long stretch of safety and peace, at least on our own turf. But even a cursory glance in any history book from any culture will show that this is sadly the exception, not the norm. Our time of peace had suddenly ended.
So that December night, when the lights dimmed and the movie began, we were completely drawn into the story. The first few moments of the movie are total blackness, with just the narrator’s haunting voice explaining the plight of Middle Earth…
"The world is changed.
I feel it in the water.
I feel it in the Earth.
I smell it in the air.
Much that once was, is lost. For none now live who remember it…"
The story is told that a deceptive evil was sent into the world long ago by a wicked foe, and a desperate and growing darkness was steadily covering the earth. This evil enemy was defeated once, long ago, but he had now regained his strength and will to destroy. Evil creatures pledged allegiance to him, and with hearts and wills set against all goodness sought to conquer and enslave everyone. Was there any hope at all, or would the darkness succeed and completely blot out all life and laughter forever?
The movie definitely did justice to the book, and kept me on the edge of my seat for the entire running time. Both the author and director brilliantly succeeded in painting into fantasy and fiction the reality of life here on earth. Whether we realize it or not, and whether we like it or not, we are in a life and death struggle for the hearts and souls of all mankind. Our wicked enemy truly was defeated long ago by the power of the Cross, but continues to do great harm in this time of waiting for final justice. Evil has crept into God's beautiful creation, and darkness does cover the earth.
But this is the beauty of Advent - it reminds us…
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
No matter what today’s headlines say, and they happen to say some terrible things, we know that evil will not prevail in the end. No matter how dark the world seems, and it seems to be getting worse all the time, we know that the Great Light of the World really was born on that beautiful night in Bethlehem so long ago. During Advent, we wait, but with hopeful expectancy knowing that our Great King is coming again someday in glory, justice, and power.
This Advent season, I encourage you to take time to read the promise of scripture. Think deeply on the hope that we have in Jesus, and meditate on the goodness of our God who would give His only Son to save us from sin and slavery. Pray for those around you who still walk in darkness and have not yet encountered the Light of the World, that they would know Jesus intimately. Fight the good fight of faith and let your light shine brightly this season, so that many can experience what Jesus promised, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
It is the most wonderful time of the year! I love the holidays, and the week of Thanksgiving officially marks the start of the holiday season in my book. It is such a beautiful and refreshing thing to pause together as an entire country and truly give thanks to God for the many blessings He has given to us as individuals, as families, and as a nation. God really is good.
Before the rush of the season, let's take a moment to think about this - the concept of the goodness of God is so intriguing. In this day and age, when some are trying to say that down is up and up is down, it is hard to understand what is meant by the word "goodness." Some would argue that feelings determine what is good, and some would say that whatever the most people vote for as good wins. However, in any dictionary (and also in reality), the definition of goodness still has to do with moral purity and virtue. Good is a true standard, and a measure against which other things are judged. God Himself is Good - He is the standard of what is right and healthy and whole.
So when Jesus comes into a heart, He rights all of the wrongs, and makes things come into order. He brings satisfaction, wholeness, peace, and purpose; He infuses us with His goodness. I know that when I became a Christian, I felt complete for the first time. Nothing about me changed on the outside. I still appeared to be the same person. But on the inside, everything had changed, and I knew it. To quote a great old hymn, “My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought! My sin, not in part but in whole, was nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh my soul!”
I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.
Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
Psalm 34: 4-8
God hears and answers when we cry out to Him. He delivers us from fears and anxiety. He takes away our shame. He saves us from our selfishness. In essence, He takes all of the ugliness from our fallen nature and replaces it with what is right, unbroken, and unblemished - with goodness, His goodness. Our sinful nature is put to death and we begin to walk in step with the Spirit. We experience and feel the goodness of God, and for the first time, we are able to pass on His goodness to others.
As followers of Christ and bearers of His Spirit, it is our privilege and duty to bring His goodness to our neighbors near and far. If you look at any news source you will see hundreds of images testifying to the sad state of this world. Wars, terrorism, diseases, famine, domestic violence, murder, abandonment, addiction, abuse, hedonism – the list of woes is long and painful. Before experiencing Christ, we all do things that add to the drama just because that is what everyone else is doing, and without really thinking about it. Young people drink alcohol, experiment with drugs, act rebellious, and become promiscuous because that is what the world says they should do. Couples fight, become adulterous, and divorce because that is what the world says they should do. Children whine, fight, act rebellious and greedy because no one ever challenges them to anything different or better. The acts of our sinful nature are ugly.
Jesus alone can set us aright and bring light and goodness into our lives. After personally experiencing the goodness of the Lord, it becomes our responsibility to share it with the people around us. If we have experienced the liberty and sweet freedom that comes from living within the restraints of Christianity, we must share it. It’s like tasting something delicious for the first time. Just earlier tonight I watched my baby grandson try his first strawberry, and it was so adorable to see him smile and wiggle for more. Whenever I taste something new and delicious, I immediately want to share it with my family. It is just too good to keep to myself.
In the same way, I will never forget the actual relief that I felt when I became a Christian and realized that there really was a right and wrong, and that it really did matter how I lived my life. The selfish choices I had been making before had been leaving me empty and despondent – my life was not going anywhere and it felt pretty pointless. After I met Jesus and began living to please Him, I felt terrific! It would be wrong for me to think that I am the only person in the world who would feel that way about the changes that Jesus brought to my behavior. It would be wrong for me to believe that I shouldn’t share the goodness of God because people might find His commandments restrictive or outdated. I had never felt more real or alive than I have since I met Jesus, and the same will be true for my neighbors. This is just too good to keep to ourselves.
Most people have such a misconception of Jesus and of Christianity in general. It is far from a long list of do’s and don’ts; rather, it is a living, growing relationship with our Creator and Savior. It is finally becoming the person He created us to be. In His goodness He brings freedom where we were in bondage. He brings order where we lived in chaos. He brings reality when we were trapped in deception. And through the power of the Holy Spirit we can share this wonderful goodness with the people around us.
It is not difficult. We just need to open our mouths and our lives and share the good news. It is true that people will be turned off by Christians who speak angrily, judgmentally, or condescendingly. However, it is also true that people respond to care and concern. If we take the time to make an investment in someone’s life, we can earn the right to speak the truth to that person in love. In my own experience, my Christian friend did not mock my very ungodly behavior choices or taunt me that I was going to burn in hell forever. She simply invited me into her home week after week and shared her life with me. She listened to me, taught me to study the Bible, prayed for me, and cooked for me. She was a friend to me, and I grew to love and trust her. I watched her life and could plainly see the difference between the two of us. The peace and contentment she displayed were something that I wanted; I wanted to be like her. Soon, when I was presented with the choice of salvation, I was ready. I had seen the goodness of God displayed in her life, and wanted that in my own life.
Since then, I have seen the same story unfold countless times. The goodness of God is so attractive and powerful, and when people share it, souls are changed forever. This holiday season, let's ask the Holy Spirit to develop this fruit in our lives. Let's open our hearts and homes so that many more people can taste and see that the Lord is good!
My amazing husband has red hair. It has darkened to more of a brownish-red color over the years, but his beard has stayed wonderfully red. I remember when we were young and newly married, he wished his facial hair would cooperate better since he had a few spots that were pretty sparse, But time and testosterone have done the trick, and now it seems he could shave one day and wake up the next morning with a full beard! Every day he trims it up, and everyday we clean the area around the sink since it gets covered with hundreds of tiny red hairs. It needs much daily taming.
The beard-that-keeps-coming-back got me to thinking about forgiveness. Have you ever struggled with being hurt by someone? Sometimes people say or do things to us that wound very deeply. And sometimes the person is so close to us and the wound so painful that we have a difficult time letting go of the wrong done to us. Hurt is a lot like a beard in the sense that if we don't fight to get rid of it, it will grow and grow until we are completely tangled up in an out-of-control thing. It will become the first thing that people notice about us. It will take over our whole lives, tripping and distracting us from anything else.
We know that the Bible plainly states that we must forgive; there is no question about this. In Matthew 6, Jesus is teaching about prayer. Just after He teaches what we now call The Lord's Prayer, He says, "For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." As Christians, we have all been forgiven so much by God, and must not withhold our forgiveness towards others. We cannot cling to HIs mercy in our own lives without pouring it out for others.
Still, there is something we all know to be true... actually forgiving someone is often very hard to do. It is like the beard. You get rid of that hurt one day, putting it at Jesus' feet, but then there it is again the next day. Lay that hurt and anger down, it pops back up; shave that bitterness off, it grows right back in.
Thankfully, here is where the beard analogy ends. My husband will keep on fighting to tame his red beard until we are old and it becomes a white beard. But there is hope in battling the temptation to hold on to unforgiveness. The way to shut out the darkness that so easily enters our hearts is simply to turn on the light. When you find yourself thinking, dwelling, and meditating on a hurt, stop. Rather than dwelling on the hurt, dwell instead on the love and truth of God. Lay the hurt down at Jesus' feet as many times as you find yourself holding it again.
Worship, fill your mind and heart with the goodness of the Lord, so there isn't any room for anger or bitterness. Remember how merciful God has been to us, and ask Him to help you extend the same mercy. Pray for the person who wronged you - truly pray for their wholeness and forgiveness in God's sight. One great day you will wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and realize that you are clean and that the hurt is gone for good. Jesus can truly help us forgive others as we have been forgiven, and He can help us to be free.
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)
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