The first candle of Advent
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
Isaiah 9:2-7 NIV
These are the words that begin Christmas for so many of us. However we rarely read the whole verse. We do the ‘unto us part’ and leave out the rest. God saw the sin and death and destruction and pain and bloodshed and said to Himself, ‘I have to send somebody,’ God knew He had to send His son because He was the only one who could right the wrongs caused by the devil through people, He knew that only Jesus could save us, and He knew the pain they would both feel for the sake of our souls. He knew all this and loved us enough to create us anyway, He knew all this and yet loved us enough to send His most beloved treasure to save us. The prophet speaks of more than a baby and a king, he speaks of God ending the darkness and sending His light, and he also is speaking of a Father’s love for His broken and lost children.
‘I try the reins.’
The Bible speaks of horses often, in all honesty I can’t help wonder if they are God’s favorite creation, He seems so proud of them. When God says ‘I try the reins’ and He is speaking of the reins of our hearts it makes me think of my days before my riding accident. Back then I would get on any horse and usually after doing the basic warm up, the ‘trying of the reins’ I could tell what the horse was thinking and how he was feeling. I could tell if something was wrong or if he was ready for a fight. The movement of his body and the tension of the rein in his mouth, how he reacted to the bit, if he strained against me or (heaven forbid) tried to take control of the bridle, all that sensation went into my hands and from the experience I knew how to react and what was happening with the several hundred pound animal beneath me. There were I days when something was clearly off so I got down and found what was wrong, a couple times he seemed to be in pain but I couldn’t find why so I gave up on the ride to spare him discomfort. I know many people who have had bad falls and later said that they knew the horse was in a fight mood and they shouldn’t have gotten on. My bad fall was a stupid mistake and not my horse’s fault at all. God tests our reins. He tests our hearts and tells what we are thinking, planning and feeling. He tests what we are ready for and what should be saved for a later date. He senses if we are fighting the bit or are just too afraid to go forward. He can tell it all and knows when to be gentle with us because something is wrong or painful, He knows when to let us calm down so we don’t do something stupid in an effort to fight back, He knows when all we need is a nose scratch and a bucket of oats. God knows everything about us, simply from testing our reins. And He loves us enough to go forward gently or with conviction depending on what we are ready for. Isn’t that a nice thought?
What combats hate?
And love is stronger than hate.
However, love is a heavier weapon to carry.
It’s easy to hate because hate is all emotion, it doesn’t even take thought to accomplish hate- but love is an action, you have to work at love. Love says ‘you did wrong by me, you brought me low and left me abandoned- but I still love you.’ Love is not an emotion. Passion is an emotion, like is an emotion, love is an action.
There are plenty of people who I have seen show love to people that they don’t like. I have seen a pastor be torn apart by a devil sent destroyer and yet that same pastor went and visited that destroyer when he was hurt and in the hospital. Why? Because as much as that man caused the pastor to feel a sense of dislike deep in his stomach due to the man’s actions and lies, the pastor still loved him. Jesus still loved Judas even though he betrayed Him.
Paul prayed for his prison guards when he was waiting to be executed.
Joseph wept for his brothers who has sold him as a slave.
You can’t tell me they liked them at those moments, but you can see clearly that they loved them.
Love is a heavy weapon to carry and takes great effort, but it also delivers a more powerful blow.
When I was younger and attended youth at camp we sang a lot of Petra. This song was a favorite, slow down and read those words.
Our church has lost something, all churches have lost something, and that is unity. There was a time when if you were a Christian you were a sibling to the other Christians around you, you were family. Then somewhere along the line we became divided, even competitive with one another; and then that devouring, despicable spirit of ‘holier than thou’ clawed its way in and we saw our church as better than other churches and ourselves as better than other believers, then the competitiveness and division turned into an all out cold war. Divided we are destroyed, until we can stand together we are already defeated. Like that old kids game where we stood on our team and held eachother’s hands calling over the other team and daring them to try to break through our ranks, if we are strong enough to hold them from breaking us then they join us, they join our team and fight beside us. Those who the devil has tricked are on the other team, if we stand together as a church, when they come running at us we can stand strong and they might even decide later to join us, but we can’t be divided or we will never be a witness to them.
The Church is not a building or a set of songs we sing, it is a people that follow Jesus, let us seek out other Christians and make sure they know that they are family even if they attend a different church.
I watched a video of an old Japanese folktale where a man feels corrupted by the world around him and void of peace so he goes to a temple to pray for cleansing. Eventually he returns home and tries to avoid people so he doesn’t become defiled by the world’s… sin? No. Evil? No. But by the world’s pain. In doing so he becomes stressed and worried each day. Eventually he is made to help a woman carry firewood to a hospital and is told to help feed the sick, eventually he becomes so fulfilled in his serving of others that he discovers the peace he was seeking to begin with.
This is not a Christian story, however, it has a point we can take as Christians. Some of us work so hard to be ‘holy’ ‘God like’ ‘sinless’ in a way that makes it so we avoid people because they might corrupt us. That is a true fear and I do not belittle it. It is easy to fall to the sins of this fallen world, however if we close our eyes to the broken, to the needy, to those in pain what are?
We can work so hard to be holier than thou that we miss being the least of these.
Jesus didn’t become the sin or the sinner but He reached to them. He reached out to the pained, the needy, the broken and helped them and loved them. We need to remember that that how we should be. We get so caught up being angry with the sin that we forget to love the sinner, ‘of whom I am the worst’ says Paul.
We are the least of these so let us not forget to show Jesus to the others who are also the least of these with us.
So, here comes Halloween, and thus here comes red popcorn, hot chocolate and the Z movies. Out of all of the different monsters I feel zombies are the most terrifying, not because they are scary – actually they are kind of dumb- but because the zombies are the ones that were originally human. Generally it’s a disease that creates them, right? But in truth they are just people who are sick.
As you walk through the world these days and look around at other people how many are sick? How many are dying? How many are already zombies? Don’t give up yet, I have a point and it’s not ridiculous. There are so many people around us, people we meet in real life, people we meet online, people we never meet at all, and most of them don’t know Jesus and that is sad. Without Christ we are dead people walking, the truly scary thing is that a lot of people who are the walking dead think they have Christ, but knowing Jesus is more than a prayer before bed and Church on Sunday, it’s a sacrificial way of living. You have to sacrifice your time of pleasure to spend time praying, which is something we should find joy in but it can feel like a task at times, but we need to do it even on those hard days. You have to sacrifice carnal desires -no, I don’t mean donuts- I mean things that are sins but seem like so much fun when you see others doing them, better to not do those things and keep your relationship with Christ. Wait. Did she just say keep your relationship with Christ? Does that mean we can lose our relationship with Christ? That’s a topic that lots of people ask about and struggle with the answer to, yes you can lose your Jesus if you are not putting effort into that relationship with Jesus. Here’s the great part about that, even if you don’t spend time with God, even if you continue sinning and just assume that God will forgive you so it doesn’t matter what you do, even if you break God’s heart and make him cry, Jesus will never leave you. You say but that doesn’t make sense because you just said that we can lose our relationship with God, yes we can lose our relationship, but we can never lose God’s love. God will always pick you up when you fall whether you just sinned against him in a drastic and vile way, or you just finished a 2-hour prayer time and I feel you couldn’t be Holier, if you fall and ask God to help you he will always be right there for you. It’s so easy to become one of the sick. This world works so hard to infect us all, and we are surrounded by zombies, but God will never give up on us and he holds the Cure to this disease. So no matter where you are on your Walk of Life, when you’re ready to say “Jesus I Need You, come into my life, forgive me of my sins, please draw me into your power and bring me back to life,” know that he is right there listening to you, answering you, and healing you.
Bitterness is a prison that a person builds themselves and then enters willingly, locks the door and blames others for their being in the prison.
People mess up, they hurt you and make you angry -trust me, I’ve been there too- but it’s how you respond that shows the strength of your character. Give Jesus the keys and let Him free you from this prison you’ve made, then feel relief as He pulls the bars apart and breaks your prison down forever. Don’t give people the power to lock you away, give Jesus permission to set you free.
You know how when you are hiking you generally either bring a walking stick or you pick one up on the road as you go? If you did not bring one with you, at what time in your journey do you generally pick up a stick to use? When the journey starts getting hard, right? When you feel like you need something to support you and to help you carry on, that’s usually when you bend down and pick up a sturdy stick to help you along the way. I know you all know where I’m going with this. God has become too much like our walking stick, we usually tend to leave him behind, and then when the journey starts getting hard return to him again and ask him to help us. Then when the journey becomes easy again we drop him and continue on by ourselves. Why do we do this? I suppose because God and walking sticks have one more thing in common, when the road is easy the’re a lot of work to carry. When the path is flat and you’re not really using the stick anymore and you’re more just carrying it with you it becomes tiresome doesn’t it? So we give up and we drop it, then we hit a rugged part of the road and we go back and get our stick again to help us along the rough part, then it becomes easy again and the stick becomes something we’re just carrying so we put it down again. Praying everyday reading your Bible, even going to church once a week can seem like a lot of work at times, when things are hard we run to these things because they draw us closer to God and God is helping us over the hard times, but then when times become easy and we find ourselves having to do these things we feel like they’re too much work and we don’t want to. But God isn’t a Genie in a Bottle, he’s not there to grant wishes and then to just disappear, God is our father he wants a relationship with us he wants us there with him all the time, so even on the times where you feel like you just don’t feel like going to church, or like you read the Bible so often that you’re just tired of it now, keep going, keep attending Services keep reading your Bible keep praying because these things are drawing you closer to the father. Serving God can be a lot of work at times but it will always be worth it, he will always be worth it. So don’t put him down when the road gets easy and pick him up when the road gets hard cling to him at all times instead and trust him as he Journeys with you.
Pain is a word we all know too well. Recently I hurt myself. I have hurt myself many times and this pain that didn’t want to leave is a familiar enemy. Thank God we have an intelligent chiropractor who feels my neck and shoulder and says I have hurt my 3-1 or V-4 or whatever vertebrae and then he puts it back in place and then he rubs it and then I go back again a few times because the injury wants to persist and he needs to keep reminding it where it belongs until it stays.
Let’s break pain down like this:
P- problem occurs
A- attempt to fix problem
N- now what?
We are like our pain, and we cause pain to ourselves. We fall out of place, a problem occurs and we try with all our hearts to fix the problem ourselves and we end up hurting ourselves in the process. Our hearts get broken, we cry, we get angry, nothing works so now what?
We look down and there is nothing there, then we slowly look up. Jesus is looking back at us and we lift our hands and give it all to Him. He takes the pain, the sorrow, the need and He heals it all. We cause ourselves more pain by fighting to fix things ourselves, if we give the problem to Jesus He is the one who knows how to fix it with ease.
What are you afraid of?
Recently I went on a tour of an abandoned sanatorium consisting of five buildings. The old site is one of my favorites and I was excited to get to finally go inside. My cousin and I were the only people there and the guide left us to tour the other four buildings on our own and only stayed with us through the first one, which of course everyone says is haunted. Several times the woman stopped and asked us if we were troubled by spirits, because we are about to enter areas that were known to have heavy Spirit activity. My cousin and I informed her that we were Christians so they didn’t bother us, she kind of rolled her eyes at that. She let us go up into a super condemned area of the building, and challenged us to see if we would go all the way to the end of the ‘Haunted Hall,’ my cousin and I looked at each other and grinned of course we would go to the haunted floor with the haunted hall, sounds like fun. We joked with each other a little bit about the ghosts, went to the end of the hall, we’re slightly terrified at the thought of falling through the floorboards, and then returned totally fine. The scariest part was when we got back home and I showed the photos to my father, who has worked in construction for a lot of years, he informed us that the ankle-deep fluffy stuff we were walking through was falling asbestos from the ceiling. As we toured around more there was one-room known for its activity, where people had left a bowl of garlic that had apparently been there for several years. All of this made me think, what are you really afraid of? Isn’t it vampires that garlic keeps away? As Christians we know that evil spirits do exist, and by no means should we take them lightly, but we also need to remember that God gave us Authority in these situations. I don’t know if ghosts actually bother hunting people, I know that coming from a family of pastors that my grandparents and my parents have seen evil spirits be driven out of people, and I am very sure that if there were evil spirits around us they didn’t bother us solely because we are Christians and they knew to avoid placew Jesus is present. Admittedly, I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to rebuke any ghosts in the name of Jesus. The fact of the matter is that people give over to these beliefs and then they let these beliefs control them. People say would you stay in a haunted building for $100,000? And I’m like, absolutely, because as Christians there is no reason for us to fear ghosts or spirits. To be honest, with how run-down parts of the buildings were, and the fact that we very easily could have run into some kind of large animal, I did get a little jumpy on that thought, especially when we found a random staircase hidden under another staircase that led down into a basement that had seemingly been untouched for a very long time, because even the owner had admitted to not going into those buildings in several years. But my point was, it’s fun to let yourself be afraid in a silly way, where you’re joking about things that go bump in the night; however we shouldn’t give too much thought or power to these things, because you don’t want to let any opening where the devil could poke through. If I’m being fully truthful there are a lot of children’s ghost stories that when you read them as a Christian you can tell that these aren’t ghosts, or something silly to laugh at but that these are encounters with evil spirits that are real and you should not give that room in your life, and certainly should not let your children be giving room to such things in their minds, which are easily influenced. If you’re wondering why we decided to explore an abandoned sanatorium when we have no interest or fear of ghosts, we did it because the old buildings have an incredible history that lends to our province, and that history makes the building’s interesting. The thing I love the most is that youth for Christ had taken these buildings over at one time, and though Ghost Hunters had broken in and graffitied things on the walls to make it seem like the building was cursed, there were still banners up with scripture verses, there were still Bibles and devotionals in the rooms, pieces of the love of Christ fill those buildings, so I doubt they’re haunted, because what ghost wants to deal with all of that😉