More than a flashlight

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I thought I had packed everything I needed for the time away at the leadership retreat. Cell phone – check. Pillow and sleeping bag – check. Changes of clothing – check. Running shoes – check. Readiness to be a dorm mom – squiggly checkmark with worries attached. I had not accounted for late nights and and no flashlights. The girls all laughed at me and one of them chimed in, “Ma’am, you’ve got a torch (flashlight) on your mobile.” Of course I did. I hadn’t needed it before that. Until this point, I’d only been out and about during the day. What had seemed like a luxury was now a necessity.

Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell. Psalm 43:3 (NIV)

Give me your lantern and compass, give me a map, so I can find my way to the sacred mountain, to the place of your presence, Psalm 43:3 (MSG)

I’m in desperate need of light in my walk with God too. Left to my own devices, I’m prone to wander into dark places where I was never meant to go. My thoughts wander and their rabbit trails are sometimes plain scary. Doubts and worries sneak in and then take over. Fears stomp their way to the front of the line. Without even realizing it, I’ve allowed all sorts of issues to set up shop in my mind and heart. Discouragement, despair and their good friend depression are gleefully waiting to get their hands on me.

I was not made for living in the dark. I was not made to have a permanent home in the land of despair. It’s amazing the difference a flashlight makes. Somehow the simple change of lighting the path ahead changes the focus and brings hope. It is easier to see the truth when the light is shining on it. It is easier to fight the anxious thoughts when the truth of who I am and who my Father is is illuminated before me. Following someone with the light is hopeful. At least one of us can see the way and alerts the others as to what is ahead of us. My heavenly Father, with His Light ablaze, is waiting for me to fall in step with Him.

The One who knows me best is the only One worth following. My Father does not want me to choose to wander in the dark. He wants to guide me with His truth and light into His presence. He desires that I will engage with Him in meaningful ways so that I will make my home with Him. When I am fixed on Him, the darkness is reminded of its place. My Father tells me the truth of His presence – He is always with me (Joshua 1:5, Hebrews 13:5). He showers me with love – His love is eternal (Jeremiah 31:3). My God is gentle and affectionate – He is kind (Jeremiah 31:3, I Corinthians 13:4). He speaks – He is wanting me to hear His voice (John 10:1-10). My God delights in me – He sings over me (Zephaniah 3:17). He is the giver of life – He wants me to live life fully and richly in Him and for Him (John 10:10b).

I am called to turn on the flashlight of God’s Word. I need that beacon in the darkness to guide my way. I choose to only lose myself in Him.

Amanda Cook’s Closer

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Which full?

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Some things are good when they’re full. A full mug of tea. A full cookie basket. A bucket of popcorn. Some things are great when they’re full but they can be over-full. A brimming full weekend. A busy-every-night-of-the-week kind of week. Some things you just don’t want to be full. A full nose and head (why do colds have to win!). A full guilt bag of homework. Full of grief. Some of those “fulls” I’d like to skip.

 

“The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.” May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:12b-13 (NIV, emphasis mine)

There’s the root of our ancestor Jesse, breaking through the earth and growing tree tall, Tall enough for everyone everywhere to see and take hope! Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope! Romans 15:12b-13 (MSG, emphasis mine)

 

I gloss over some of the “fulls” I need in my life. I know they are there. I know God wants to work them into my life but I only quickly glance their way. They aren’t as pressing as some of the other things I’ve got going on. Homework and the stuffy nose seem to be winning the long game right now.

But if I’m honest with my heart, the homework and the stuffy nose are not nearly as significant in the long-term thread of the character of my life. While homework needs doing and a stuffy nose needs conquering, those two items might reveal my character but they won’t make my character.

I have some “fulls” that I desperately need. I long to be full of hope, joy and peace.

Hope-full. Discouragement hides in the corners of my heart often. It comes out to play when I’m most vulnerable. It swings a pretty heavy bat and easily dismantles the hope-full part of me often. I should have a solution to … I would rather be … How come … Each of those phrases turns the spotlight on me. Each one hits at my hope.

Joy-full. Sometimes I wear grumpy pants. I know I’m not alone. The wrong side of the bed called. The bad hair day wanted its hair products returned. So many things can easily disrupt my day. It may be the line at the photocopier or Starbucks. My day can turn on its head faster than I can even imagine. Why do I let these things steal my joy?

Peace-full. Worry’s a peace stealer. Anxiety takes over. A peace-full world? Is it possible? A peace-full heart? My heart, peace-full? What consumes my attention? What is looming on the horizon? Every time I seek to be the one in charge of all of the aspects of my life, I fail miserably. When I try to create the peace, it doesn’t last.

Hope-full, joy-full, peace-full – I can only be a person defined by those characteristics when I trust my God. These are His attributes. Attributes that He desires that I would have. Every time I try to build them into my life, it doesn’t work. I cannot create my own hope. I cannot create my own joy. I can’t create peace. If I could, why would I need God. Instead, when I give Him my circumstances (and this happens over and over again), I see Him reveal a bit more of each of them in my life. Oh, life conspires against any moment of hope, joy and peace that I acquire. But I have a God who has a bottomless well of supply. With Him, I cannot ever run out! He keeps giving and giving and giving out of the generous overflow of His heart of love for me.

Thank you, God, that You are the source of hope, joy and peace. Thank you for filling me again because I cannot do it on my own. You know the circumstances of my life and I give them all to You. Your hands are big and can hold each detail. Help me to trust You – the God who longs to fill me with His hope, joy and peace. Amen.

Useful?

 

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I opened the cupboard and pulled out supplies. Some make sense. They are needed for lessons in a unit. These items aren’t supplied by another kit. Other things seem to be completely random. A piece of paper with some notes on it. Do the notes make sense? This happened as I was doing some planning yesterday. I had to set up the experiment and try it again for myself in order for everything to make sense. Without that – not a clue.

 

Then I said, “For how long, O Lord?” And he answered: “Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, until the Lord has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken. And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.” Isaiah 6:11-13 (NIV, emphasis mine) 

Astonished, I said, “And Master, how long is this to go on?” He said, “Until the cities are emptied out, not a soul left in the cities – Houses empty of people, countryside empty of people. Until I, God, get rid of everyone, sending them off, the land totally empty. And even if some should survive, say a tenth, the devastation will start up again. The country will look like pine and oak forest with every tree cut down – Every tree a stump, a huge field of stumps. But there’s a holy seed in those stumps.” Isaiah 6:11-13 (MSG, emphasis mine)

 

Useful is always something God keeps in mind. While I need refresher courses about why I keep things, He has good purposes for all He has made. He doesn’t forget why He created it. He doesn’t lose track of it. He doesn’t file it away. My God is the One with a plan.

Does His plan always make sense to me? No, absolutely not. There’s much in Isaiah 6 that baffles the mind. God calls Isaiah in the most unique of ways. God purifies Isaiah and prepares him for the ministry He has planned for him. God gives Isaiah the message he is to speak. There’s no hugs and cuddles. This is straight up tough. Get it together. God knows the receptiveness of His people – zero. Absolute destruction would occur. But, Isaiah, go speak my message and keep doing it. Wow! If that’s a job description for success, I’m not sure I want that job.

Then there’s the little nugget of hope right at the very end. “But there’s a holy seed in those stumps.” A forest reduced to stumps is a dreadful visual. From lush green to barren. From tall statues to stumps. This picture doesn’t induce hope. In my way of thinking, what once was useful, has now been reduced to useless. Good thing that God’s plan is far bigger than my understanding.

There’s a seed in those stumps. What seems useless is actually useful. What seems destroyed has purpose. Human logic wasn’t required. God had a plan and no one could thwart it. No one would choose Bethlehem. No one would choose a stable. No one would pick a couple who had to travel from Nazareth. No one would pick a baby to be the one to change the world. But that’s my God. He uses things that don’t seem useful to become exactly what is needed. Who knew a stump had purpose!

It’s coming …

 

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It’s easy to live in anticipation at this time of year. The first doors on the Advent calendar get opened. The house is trimmed with lights and greenery. The tree goes up. The gifts go under it. The Wise One would know which gift was for which person in our family. We siblings admired presents but without the label on them, the suspense just about got us every year. It’s coming. It’s getting closer. It’s almost …

 

The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. “’In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called:  The Lord Our Righteousness.’ Jeremiah 33:14-16 (NIV, emphasis mine)

“’Watch for this:  The time is coming’ – God’s Decree – ‘when I will keep the promise I made to the families of Israel and Judah. When that time comes, I will make a fresh and true shoot sprout from the David-Tree. He will run this country honestly and fairly. He will set things right. That’s when Judah will be secure and Jerusalem live in safety. The motto for the city will be, “God Has Set Things Right for Us.” Jeremiah 33:14-16 (MSG, emphasis mine)

 

Christmas has that arrival moment too. Christmas morning (or Christmas Eve if you follow a different tradition) the gifts are opened. Delight is seen on faces. Toys are played with by young and old. It’s fun!

But sometimes the “Watch for this” is longer than the 24 days leading up to Christmas. Sometimes the watching and waiting feels like there is no end in sight. Sometimes it’s the watching and the waiting that makes me wonder what God is up to. Does He have a plan? Does He remember His plan? Does He see what kind of circumstance I find myself in? Does any piece of it make sense to Him? It usually doesn’t make a shred of sense to me!

In those moments, I’d like to take over and speed it up a little. I’d like to solve it. I’d like to be able to tie up all the loose ends and put them all neatly in their places. Then it would all be okay. Then it would feel like I helped God work His plan. But there’s the rub. I’m not meant to help God’s plan fall into place on my timetable. That’s working over Him. That’s using God to be some sort of solution guy who will just solve it for me. That’s not the relationship I want with God at all.

Jeremiah prophesied about watching and waiting and then the people of Israel had to do a whole lot of both. I have no doubt that Jeremiah’s listeners and the generations of people who followed Him wondered what on earth he was writing about. God had promised. God had said He would do it. But His time frame was rather vague. “In those days and at that time …”

So why do I think that God’s timing in my life will be any more specific? He knows exactly the days and at exactly the right time for the things that I continue to watch and wait for to happen. Appropriately, I haven’t got a clue! If I did, I’d help God’s plan move along and that would undoubtedly mess absolutely everything up!

Watch and wait. It really is better to just watch and wait.

God, too often I’d like to help move your plan along. Forgive me for putting myself in the place of control. I, again, yield the circumstances of my life into Your hands. You know what is best. You know what is needed. I choose to trust Your timing because You are my good, good Father. Amen

A Guide …

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He sat in the driver seat. Microphone angled just so. He did two jobs simultaneously and did them very well. He drove on the “correct” side of the road (as opposed to the right side) and told us stories, the history of his land. Without both, the trip would have been a lot less interesting. He pointed out important destinations. He gave us the peculiarities of his country. Every trip I’ve taken since, I’ve compared the current guide to him. None have quite compared.

 

There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. John 1:6-9 (NIV)

There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light. The Life-Light was the real thing:  Every person entering Life he brings into Light. John 1:6-9 (MSG)

 

John the Baptists reminds me of that guide. He knew his spot. He knew he wasn’t the Light. But he knew that he had a role to play. He wasn’t the lead actor. But he wasn’t a random extra. He might be described as a secondary character. But John had to be one of the most important secondary actors ever because he had a significant role in Jesus ministry.

He was the long anticipated one. Elderly parents with their miracle baby! He had an unusual life. Strange food habits (locusts, anyone?) and an interesting wardrobe. He drew a crowd. But it wasn’t his warm welcoming speeches that did it. The Pharisees and Sadducees bore the brunt of his caustic tongue. (Matthew 3:7-10) He didn’t change his message. He called for people to repent from the wicked ways. His eyes were always looking forward.

He was living a life of expectation. I know my job. I’m doing my job. But someone is coming who is more amazing than I can describe. Look for Him. Search for Him. He is the one to follow. No amazing crowd size changed his message. No ridicule from the Sadducees and Pharisees got him to change the call. He baptized scores of people and his advancing fame and recognition did not cause him to rethink the task he had been given. He did the job laid out before him. Prepare the way. Point to Jesus. Prepare the way. Point to Jesus.

Prepare the way. Point to Jesus. Do I do either of those?

I think of my learners and I’m constantly thinking about the road ahead for them in the coming grade. Have I helped cement a good foundation for future knowledge? Have I given them enough repetition to master what they are being asked? I’m preparing the way in the most practical of terms. But in my spiritual life, do I prepare the way? Is my heart able to worship the way I’m meant to? Does worship draw me into a deeper walk with Jesus? How is my time in God’s word influencing my behaviour, my interactions with others? How are my relationships? Are they benefitting from a close walk with my Maker? Prepare the way. Is my heart as tender as it should be?

Point to Jesus. This one hits even closer to home. As I interact with those around me, do they even notice Jesus? Is there anything about me that hints at a relationship with Him? Do my words betray me? OR is Jesus present in what I say? Am I pointing to the reason for my hope? If not, I’ve bungled it all horribly! Every part of who I am is meant to point to Him – the author and finisher of everything about me.

Jesus, my heart longs to be prepared for You again as we anticipate the celebration of Your arrival. I know that You desire to open all the doors to my heart, not just the ones I think I’d like You to be in. I want to be ready for You. I want to be prepared for you. Father, may my life point people to Your Son, Jesus. Conform my will to Yours. My words to the words You are speaking. My heart to the tenderness of Yours. My longings to the passions of Yours. Thank You for enabling me to be the person prepared for You and pointing to You. Amen.

 

Light in the Dark

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The winter days are short. It seems dark all the time. I arrive at work in the dark. The sun only rising as my students take their seats for the day. I leave work in the dark. The last rays of sun sending their final glimmers across the sky far earlier than I would prefer. I love clear blue skies filled with sunshine. Darkness, the darkness of December, has a way of worming its way soul and spirit in not such a good way.

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. John 1:1-5 (NIV, emphasis mine)

The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word. The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one. Everything was created through him; nothing – not one thing! – came into being without him. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out. John 1:1-5 (MSG, emphasis mine)

 

We don’t really like darkness. Street-lamps flood the byways with light. Homes are well lit as lights are left on when no one’s in the room. Christmas trees brim with all sorts of sparkle as lights trim the tree. We do everything we can to get rid of the dark.

But darkness is unavoidable. It haunts us in all sorts of ways. It creeps into our souls and plants seeds of discouragement and doubt. It stomps its way in and waters the growing plant of disillusionment. It’s all about festering and fostering gloom and hopelessness. But it’s also the darkness of deed, too. Not only can my soul be discouraged, but I also sin. I miss the mark of God’s perfection. I look at the world through veiled eyes. The darkness of sin is inescapable. In the month of such darkness outside, the darkness of soul grows more quickly than can be imagined or understood.

It’s precisely that kind of darkness that did not scare off the Word, Jesus Christ. The world he entered was no less dark than our own. Sin pervaded. Discouragement seemed to win. Kings were all about power, people and payment. These are familiar problems.

But it all changed with Jesus. In Him was life. Life with the regular-ness of routine and the requirements of living. That part is impossible to get rid of. The bills must be paid, the salary must be earned. But this life of Jesus wasn’t just about seeing to my physical needs. In Him was life.  Life that was meant to be lived with Him. Community. Relationship. Life with Jesus. Life that was given purpose. Life that was given meaning because it was meant to be lived not just for one’s self. Life filled with hope because in Jesus my sin is forgiven, my eternity assured. Life with Jesus.

Not only was Jesus the source of life, but in Him was light. Light for all. Darkness with its stealthy feet was not supposed to have the final word. It tried. It tried really hard. It seemed to win and sentenced Jesus to death on a cross. But that was darkness’s last shot at winning. It completely failed too. Darkness forgot to take into account that Jesus, while fully man, was fully divine, fully God. God raised Jesus up. Death could not win. Light won. Jesus won. Darkness was utterly defeated.

But, darkness has not given up. It continues to wage war on my soul. Discouragement knocks rather loudly and persistently. Sin wants to conquer and plant its flag of victory. In those moments, it seems as though Life and Light are not enough. But when I call on Jesus’ name, the darkness loses its power. The Life and Light that is Jesus is powerful beyond my understanding. The darkness cannot understand it. The darkness cannot be in the presence of Light. Life and Light take over, flooding each corner of my being with the knowledge that His presence is always enough. It’s more than I can ever understand.

Jesus, too often I believe the lies that darkness speaks to me. I give in so quickly forgetting where my hope is found. I stand on the truth of your Word that You are Light and You are Life. I stand on the truth that You are the God who is always with me and so You are with me in the times that are dark. You are the One who keeps shining Your light into my soul. Thank you for being the true giver of Life and Light. Amen.

Watch!

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I was on a coach on Ireland’s Ring of Kerry. Our tour guide asked us to put away all of our stuff. He told us to watch. He knew that if we didn’t we would be disappointed. The coach rolled on past the amazing vistas. Was this it? Was this what we were watching for? Each corner revealed a new glimmer of beauty. We kept wondering, had we arrived now? We came around the final turn and my jaw hit the floor. Spread before me was the ocean in all its splendour dotted with islands with the sun blazing overhead. The waiting, the watching had all been worth it!

 

“Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away:  He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” Mark 13:33-37 (NIV)

“So keep a sharp lookout, for you don’t know the timetable. It’s like a man who takes a trip, leaving home and putting his servants in charge, each assigned a task, and commanding the gatekeeper to stand watch. So, stay at your post, watching. You have no idea when the homeowner is returning, whether evening, midnight, cockcrow, or morning. You don’t want him showing up unannounced, with you asleep on the job. I say it to you, and I’m saying it to all: Stay at your post. Keep watch.” Mark 13:33-37 (MSG)

 

Watching seems so passive. I’m not really doing anything while I’m watching. At times, it feels useless. I could be doing something more, something worthwhile, something important.

There’s a waiting implied too! Watching and waiting! Most of the time, I know what I’m watching for. It’s the glimmer of understanding in the eyes of a learner. It’s the hopeful look of something long anticipated to arrive. Sometimes it’s passive – eyes hooded so as to not appear interested even though the desire is there. Frequently, it’s eyes wide open, eagerly trying to understand what you’re watching for.

There’s a posture in watching. When it’s a sporting rivalry, fans are on their feet willing their chosen team on to victory. But there’s a watching that hurts the heart. The kind that has anxiety and stress written all over it. Where worse is possible and might just come.

But then there’s the watch that Jesus is asking for. It’s alert watching. This is the full attention version of watching. Passivity is not an option. The gatekeeper is on duty. Eyes alert to see who is passing by, who wants in. The servants are on duty. They have jobs to fulfill, positions requiring their unique skill sets and abilities. The homeowner is only pleased when the tasks are completed. Everything is ready for the homeowner’s return. It’s imminent, but no one in his service knows exactly when it will be. But all is to be ready. All is to be prepared. Nothing is meant to be waiting to still be completed. Jesus second coming is foreshadowed.

But there is a lesson to be learned from all of this preparation and watching. Jesus is not waiting until He comes again to be doing things in and through His people. He moves in the hearts and minds of people all the time.

But how am I watching? Am I sitting on the sidelines, idly minding my own business, completely unobservant? If so, I’m absolutely missing out on what Jesus is up to now. I’m missing where He is moving. I’m ignoring the opportunities He’s placing in front of me to be His hands and feet. I’m ignoring His not-so-subtle promptings to speak His words of life.

It all changes if I am watching Jesus with keen interest. If I’m paying attention, then I’m asking Him to open my eyes to see what He’s doing. I’m desiring Him to reveal what He would have me do. I’m pursuing opportunities that He has revealed to me. I may be taking steps that make not a shred of sense but are divine appointments beyond my understanding. Because my eyes are watching Him, I will speak words of encouragement and hope. My hands and feet will reach out to bless others in big and small ways. I will change direction because of my obedience to the One who speaks my name.

Jesus, in this season of busy-ness it is so easy for my eyes to be darting all over the place. Instead, would you fix my eyes on You. Enable me to be observant of what you are doing and where you are moving. Give my heart and mind obedience and my hands and feet swift action so that I will join you wholeheartedly in the mission You have for me. Amen.