…let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Jesus) Matthew 5:13 NIV
We took down our outside Christmas lights last week. Yes, it was time. The glorious party that is Christmas is over for another year. And I’m okay with that. Really. It’s far easier to let it go when I understand Christmas in all its joy is God’s doing, not mine…and that He will bring it around again in due time.
But oh! This morning was dark. I know the days are getting longer, minute by minute, but right now it doesn’t feel that way. I pulled the eastern curtain to see yet another sky of low, gloomy cloud, another view of our pasture ugly with brown grass and stubble. How I long for some sunshine, or even the fresh glow of white, fluffy powder.
It’s hard to shine in the darkness.
Yet, that’s what we’re told to do. I hear Jesus saying, “You be the lights of Epiphany, shining in the gloom of winter. Your good deeds will cause the dark world to turn to and praise God.”
I’m tempted to respond, “What good deeds, exactly?” But I know the answer: giving and forgiving; refusing to take offense; being kind and tender-hearted; offering grace and mercy to those who don’t deserve it.
Uh-oh. Sounds a little like New Year’s resolutions, doesn’t it? “I’m going to be a better, more faithful person this year. I’m going to do more good deeds, work even harder…”
We all know where that ends up.
For example, I remember those mornings as a young mother when I would get out of bed, vowing I would be extra kind and patient with my kids, only to lose my temper by 10 a.m. What one teacher called “taking a few more cranks on the willpower screw” never works.
What does, then? Jesus wouldn’t command us to do something we can’t.
At the risk of sounding like your high school English teacher, let’s look at the verb in this passage. Jesus didn’t say “make” your light shine but “let” it shine. We do not cause the light but we allow it. Like Christmas, shining is not our job but God’s. He fills us with His love; we are to let that love flow through us to the dark world around us. All we have to do is be aware of His heavenly Nudge and follow His leading.
Then our good deeds are not a burden but a joy.
LORD JESUS: This is Epiphany season; You commanded me to shine. Show me how and where, for “apart from you I can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Amen
Submitted for publication, “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” January 16, 2020.
And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. 1 Kings 19:11, 12 NIV
In Advent, we await a God Who delights in the unexpected.
From the prophet Elijah standing before his cave to the Jews longing for their Messiah, who wouldn’t have expected their mighty God to come with power and glory—in the wind, in the earthquake, in the fire, in a powerful, shining Being who would rescue His people with the stroke of His arm? Who would listen for a still, small voice? Who would look for a baby born to an ordinary couple in a borrowed barn? A child growing up in a hick town in a far corner of Galilee?
It was such a surprise that many just couldn’t believe it. Many still don’t.
So what was God up to?
The most obvious answer was to hide Jesus plain sight. From the beginning, there were enemies who sought His life. No one would think to look for the promised King in a carpenter’s shop in Nazareth.
Then, God wanted His Son to live a normal life as we do–to feel human pain and joy, to experience hunger, weariness, suffering, rejection. Now, no matter what we go through, we know He understands.
Yet there’s something deeper still. He did not come in pomp and power as a king because He wants our obedience to grow out of love, not fear. Love is won, not commanded.
He often wins our love by coming to us in ways we don’t expect, at the times we feel lost and lonely—when we need Him the most.
I notice it especially during this season.
Yes, I love the candlelight and carols, the family gathered in church on Christmas Eve, but He touched me once most clearly when we were all alone in a hotel lobby. Or in the kindness of a stranger in Costco. Or in a dark car full of sleeping people as I drove back from Christmas dinner. All kinds of odd times and places.
My prayer for myself—and all of us—in this season is that we have those unexpected, special moments when we know He is present and He loves us.
LORD JESUS: You promised we will find You if we seek You with our whole heart. (Jeremiah 29:13) May it be so. Amen.
To be published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” December 15, 2019.
And now, friends, we ask you to honor those leaders who work so hard for you, who have been given the responsibility of urging and guiding you along in your obedience. Overwhelm them with appreciation and love! 1 Thessalonians 5:12,13 The Message
I walked into his church 61 years ago…perhaps even to the day.
A group of us in my freshman dorm had decided we would go to all the churches in our small college town to decide which one we would attend. (Interestingly, in that long-ago time, not going to church at all was not considered.)
The unorthodox church I grew up in was very spare and simple. Its services consisted of reading from the Bible and a book of interpretation. No sermon. No pastor, even.
Imagine my dismay when faced with the liturgy of his church, one which most of the people seemed to have memorized. They stood up and sat down, saying the responses, without any reference to anything I could see. Lost and confused, I was wondering how I could leave gracefully… when he stood up to preach.
I was hooked.
He was a great speaker. One of the best. Moreover, he talked about the issues we cared about. What did God want of us? What was our purpose in life? How did we live our lives well and faithfully? Small wonder his church was packed with college students, week after week–of which I quickly became one–liturgy and all. I was there, every Sunday, for four years. Even took my husband-to-be with me when we became “serious.”
That was all I ever did. I never joined a youth group, attended a Bible study, sang in a choir. I was surprised when he recognized me on the street one day. But that pastor’s sermons changed my life. They introduced me to the God I only thought I knew and started me on my life’s journey in faith.
Years ago, I was able to locate him in his retirement in Virginia and write him a letter of thanks.
I’ve sat under many pastors since then. Some were great preachers as he was…but not all. Some were gifted teachers…but not all. Everyone brings their own gifts to the job and gifts vary.
But all the good ones, like good shepherds, had a heart for their people, even the difficult, unruly ones. They fed us with their learning. When it was time to stand strong, they stood. When it was time to correct, comfort, encourage, they did that, too.
I don’t think I’d be who I am if it weren’t for them.
It’s Pastor Appreciation Month. Let’s go and appreciate!
FATHER GOD: Thank You for my pastors. Amen.
First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” October 6, 2019.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving and a thank offering and into His courts with praise! Be thankful and say so to Him, bless and affectionately praise His name! For the Lord is good; His mercy and loving-kindness are everlasting, His faithfulness and truth endure to all generations. Psalms 100:4,5 Amplified
Monday morning. I slide out of bed in darkness, note fresh snow on the deck when I let the dog out. As I walk to my prayer corner, coffee cup in hand, I realize I have a choice. I can complain about the too-long Daylight Savings Time (which saves no daylight, just rearranges it), about our too-early winter, or…
I can enter His gates with thanksgiving.
Hmmm…I sit in a warm, dry house. My heat came on with the flick of a switch. I sip my hot coffee, brewed with another flick of a switch. I have a kitchen full of food. Hot water at the turn of a faucet.
How many people in the world have none of those things?
Yes, I am blessed…and beyond my deserving. God is, indeed, good. My situation hasn’t changed, but my attitude has. Now I can pray with a receptive heart.
That’s what these verses are about.
God isn’t some sort of divine egomaniac who has to be praised and petted all the time. He knows Who He is; we don’t have to remind Him.
It’s ourselves we must remind–of God’s goodness, His love, His faithfulness, His mercy, His blessings—so we can enter His presence with thanks and praise.
But what of situations deeper and more difficult than a cold dark morning? What of people so overwhelmed they can hardly pray at all?
For instance, we have a cousin who enduring intensive chemo. Horribly sick. Scheduled for a stem-cell transplant from his brother, his doctors hold out every hope for recovery. But right now, gratitude is as far as the moon. I wouldn’t even suggest it to him.
Perhaps this is where we come in. As we pray, we could offer thanksgiving and praise in his behalf: for the medical advances giving him hope for survival, the skilled team taking care of him, the brother whose match will keep him alive, the small flame of faith helping him endure.
For we know, no matter how it seems, his God has not deserted him.
We could be “thankful and say so” knowing someone will have to do it for us someday. For no one escapes suffering in this broken world.
That way we can enter His gates and pass into His courts…together.
FATHER GOD: Help me to give thanks; enter Your courts with praise. And help me pray for those who simply cannot. Amen.
To be published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” October 27, 2019.
Peace I leave with you: (my own) peace I give and bequeath to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. …(Stop allowing yourselves to be agitated and disturbed; and do not permit yourselves to be fearful and intimidated and cowardly and unsettled.) (Jesus) John 14:27 Amplified
There is a reason why the last sentence of this verse is highlighted in my Bible: I do it so often!
It happened again recently—right in the middle of our summer’s best weekend.
We were hosting a rare family reunion. My brother, sister-in-law and their whole family had come from the Washington, D.C. area. So unusual was their visit that our second son and his family took precious time from moving to a new house to join us.
And it was great. Pastor McDevitt was right: families are a gift from God—especially when they work together as they’re supposed to. There are few things better than spending time and having fun with people who know you to the bone and love you, anyway.
But hosting the event threatened to take me into full “Martha mode”–you know, “distracted by all the preparations…” (See Luke 10:38-42.)
I woke up far too early one morning, running logistics in my head. Where was I going to seat everyone? Did I have enough plates and silverware? What about drinks…and glasses? Were all the food bases covered? Round and round my brain went, like a hamster on a wheel.
Those of you with big, casual families are laughing at me right now. But I came from a small, formal one. My Mom would get into such a swivet about “entertaining” that she didn’t do it very often. And I could swivet right with her.
But I really did know better. It was my family, after all, and I could see how I’d had Help all weekend—as He quietly unraveled one knot after another, exchanged our plans for His better plan. God would help me now, too.
Then the enemy started me beating up on myself for not having enough faith to live what I knew. Sheesh!
It took me an hour to pry my hands off the controls and tell Martha and her demons to go back to sleep.
Sure enough, it all went fine. My son and my nephew’s wife cooked the dinner; everyone had food and drink and seating and fun. I could even relax and enjoy them enjoying each other!
We live in the peace Jesus bequeathed us when we do what He says: let go and believe the words of the old hymn:
“All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided/Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”
First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” September 8, 2019.
No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. 1 Corinthians 2:9 NIV
She had no idea.
Three years ago, almost to the day, our rescue dog, Misty, arrived on the plane from Texas—a quivering, pile of red-brown fur huddled in the far corner of an airline crate. Knowing how noise-averse she is, how frightened she gets when faced with the unknown, I can only imagine what that plane ride was like for her. She landed at the airport completely shut down, terrified beyond terror.
Little did she know, when we finally managed to coax her out of that crate, she was stepping into doggie heaven. Unlike the hostile streets of Fort Worth where they found her, she would be safe and warm and well fed, with a clean comfortable place to sleep. All her needs would be met for the rest of her life. Never again would a hand be raised to her in anger. All she had to do was hang out with a couple of old people all day and go for easy walks in the dog park.
I looked into her trusting brown eyes this morning, saw that happy, wagging tail and said, “You had no idea three years ago and I couldn’t tell you. You were too busy being afraid.”
Then I heard that Whisper in my heart. “She was just like you are, child.”
Ahh. I knew immediately what He meant.
You see, I’m at the stage of my life when I’m ever more aware of its end. I’m watching my friends weaken; losing them, one after another, knowing someday it will be my turn. But I don’t know when or where or how. It’s enough to make a barely-reformed control freak panic.
I’m like Misty climbing into that scary-looking crate in Texas: terrified of the trip ahead, afraid to trust, not knowing the end of it will be wonderful beyond my imagining. There’s no way God can explain it to me; I wouldn’t understand it if He could.
Misty came from a world where people called her, leashed her, then abused and abandoned her. Why should I have been surprised when she ran from me, hid when I offered to take her on a walk? Only now is she beginning to come, tail wagging, like every other dog I’ve owned.
Trust takes time for broken dogs. People, too. Yet trust is what it takes.
To the extent that I’m willing to trust God and believe His promises, I can be free of fear.
FATHER GOD: Thanks for the lesson. Help me remember it when the doubts come. Amen
First published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle, August 11, 2019.