Even on the Cloudy Days

Many people like sunshine, I prefer cloudy days. Most people enjoy warm weather, I don’t. For me, this time of year produces the best kind of weather, cold.

However, I know that while the cloudy skies bring smiles to my face they usually have the opposite effect on people around me. For many, C.S. Lewis painted a perfect picture in his book The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe. In Narnia, winter accompanied the oppression and evil of the White Witch. It wasn’t until Aslan’s victory that spring finally came. Many people are already looking forward to spring, and winter doesn’t even officially start for a few days. I understand you, but instead of bemoaning the next few months lets allow truth, not just the weather, to impact our attitudes.

Some people struggle with what is known officially as “Seasonal Affective Disorder,” otherwise known as seasonal depression. This, unfortunately, according to Mental Health America, impacts about 5% of the population. Additionally, 4 out of every 5 people impacted are women. While I don’t think that we should be quick to diagnose ourselves, we should understand that this can be, and is, a difficult time of year for many people for a myriad of reasons. We haven’t even mentioned the stress and pressure that sadly surrounds the “happy holiday season.”

For many, the cloudy days seem to reflect their current views. With that being said, no matter what our current outlook or mood, we still need to focus our minds on truth.

Today, like all other days is the day that the Lord has made, and we ought to rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24) That needs to be true in our lives every single day whether our emotions agree or not. We need to rejoice and be glad in each day that God gives us no matter what is going on around us.

Each day that God gives us is a gift. Let me repeat that, each day that God gives us is a gift, no matter what circumstances surround us. So with the clouds of winter quickly approaching us let’s focus for a few minutes on some timely truths.

God is right there with us in the midst of our feelings.

 Psalm 38:9- “O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you.”

Psalm 18:28- “the Lord my God lightens my darkness.”

Romans 8:35-39- “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…No…For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God comforts us in the midst of our feelings.

Psalm 46:1- “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

John 14:27- “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”

2 Corinth. 1:3-4- “…God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our afflictions…

God helps us see past our feelings.

Romans 8:18- “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

2 Corinth. 1:3-4- “…God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our afflictions, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

Take time this winter to rejoice in the God who made you and who gave you this season.

Take time this winter to reflect on God’s Word and to lean on Him in the midst of hard times.

Take time this winter to encourage one another and provide comfort.

Most of all, let’s allow the brightness of the Son to shine through our lives so that all may see…even on the cloudy days.

Celebrate Light

“It is fitting that the Light of the World celebrated the Festival of Lights.”

Not too long ago a student said to me, “yea, I know what Hanukkah is, it’s the Jewish replacement for Christmas.” Well, no it is not.

So what, is Hanukkah? Is it found in Leviticus or one of those other Old Testament books? Actually, no. Hanukkah first began in what we call the Inter-Testimonial Period, the “400 years of silence.” This is the time between when God last spoke through the Prophet Malachi and when Jesus’ birth was announced by an angel.

A lot happened in this period of 400 years between the Testaments. The Persian Empire, along with many other nations was conquered and replaced by the Greeks.

After Alexander the Great died, one of his successors, Antiochus IV, unleashed a terrible persecution of the Jewish people. Antiochus, “the Mad Man,” called the people to bow down and worship him. There were several groups, including the Maccabees a Levitical family, who rebelled against Antiochus because they refused to worship anyone or thing other than the one true God.

The rebellion was successful and eventually, the Jews were able to re-enter the Temple. Unfortunately, the Temple had been desecrated. A pig, an unclean animal, had been sacrificed on the altar. Additionally, the eternal flame, that was always to be lit, had been put out. The Temple needed to be rededicated and the flame relit.

Tradition tells a legend that the Jews had only enough oil to keep the lamp lit for one day before more oil could be made. However, miraculously, the oil actually lasted a full 8 days so that the temple could be fully rededicated and oil restocked.

Hanukkah is an excellent time to reflect on how God has preserved the Jewish people throughout the ages. God cares for those that are His.

In the midst of a dark and terrible time, God provided hope and light for His people.

In the Gospel of John chapter 1 verse 5, we find these words, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Interestingly enough, those words were not talking about the Menorah, but instead, of Jesus Messiah.

Jesus, “the true light, which enlightens everyone was coming into the world.” (vs. 9) Once again, God had provided help, hope, and light to His people in the midst of dark and terrible times.

Jesus Himself celebrated Hanukkah, also known as the Feast of Dedication. In John 10:24 we read “At the time the Feast of Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple…”

We 21st-century believers cannot forget that Jesus was entirely Jewish. He was actually, the most Jewish Jew ever! He kept the Law perfectly, something no one else was or will ever be able to do. He continually quoted the Torah (the Old Testament) and He celebrated Jewish festivals and feasts.

It is fitting that the Light of the World celebrated the Festival of Lights.

One of the most incredible lessons that we can take from Hanukkah is that God provided for His people when they needed it most. One of the most incredible things that we can learn from Jesus’ life is that God provided a Savior when His people, and the world, needed Him most.

Jesus is still that Savior, Jesus is still that Messiah.

Today at sundown marks the start of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. Jesus’ message is so appropriate for the occasion. He says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

God provided light and life to all who believe. Follow the Light.

Shalom, Happy Hanukkah everyone.

In the Midst of Mourning

“No matter what situation we are going through we must remember that God’s promises still and always ring true.”

Life is hard.

There are times when suffering and difficulty seem like the new and only reality. There are times where smiles and laughter and hope seem like far off and unattainable mirages.

There are many situations that can make us feel helpless and hopeless. You might experience a broken relationship. Perhaps you lose your job or experience a setback in schooling. Maybe you are affected by the consequences of sin, your own or someone else’s. Or, like myself, maybe you just lost someone you loved and cared for. Whatever the situation is, it is important that we understand that grief and mourning are natural. These two things are an important part of the process of eventually moving forward. Another, and perhaps the biggest part of the process is resolving to live with joy.

Joy may seem like a strange thing to talk about in the midst of suffering, but it is, in fact, the most vital to our spiritual and emotional health.

You see, joy is not an emotion, contrary to whatever the popular movie Inside Out would say. The emotion that most people often mistake joy for is happiness. Happiness, like all other emotions, is good and can be helpful. However, happiness, just like all other emotions is fleeting. Emotions change based on circumstance. Joy is not an emotion because it does not have to change based on our situation.

So if joy is not an emotion where does it come from? The simplest and most correct answer is from God Himself. Galatians 5:22 lists joy as part of the Fruit of the Spirit-things that are visibly evident in those who “belong to Christ Jesus.”

No matter what situation we are going through we must remember that God’s promises still and always ring true.

“God is our refuge and strength a very present help in times of trouble. Therefore we will not fear.” (Psalm 46)

       “do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)

Romans 8:18 is a promise for those who know and trust Jesus. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed.”

Revelation 21 talks about a time where God will “wipe away every tear…and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore.”

Joy in the midst of mourning makes sense when we have an eternal perspective.

We must realize that there is much more to life than just simply our present situation.

We must realize that God is a God of hope, and peace, and joy.

Understanding these things isn’t some magical silver bullet that will in the blink of an eye make everything better. However, realizing these things causes us to cling to our savior and “cast all of our anxieties on Him because He cares for us.” Because it is in our weakness that His strength is magnified.

This last week has been very tough for me and for a lot of people that I care for. But what we must remember is Philippians 4:4. We must rejoice in the Lord always. Even now. Because this is when we need joy the most.

If anyone is experiencing pain don’t push that pain away and try to hide it. But please remember, there is so much more to life than what you currently feel.

I pray that Romans 15:13 will be true for all of us.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

 

Re-Forming

re·form

rəˈfôrm/

verb

  1. make changes in (something, typically a social, political, or economic institution or practice) in order to improve it.

500 years ago today, October 31, 1517, a German monk nailed 95 theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Martin Luther’s 95 grievances were against the Catholic Church and specifically against the Pope. He did this, not with the intent of breaking away from the church, rather, he wished to call the church to refocus and recommit to a more biblical way of doing church and life.

From the Reformation came what is known as the Five Solas. These statements all work together in order to summarize the Gospel, salvation, and how a believer ought to live.

Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) –The Bible is the source of authority for Christians. Scripture is efficient. 2 Peter 1:20-21 & 1 Timothy 3:16-17

Sola Fide (Faith Alone) –Salvation is a free gift; it is never based on human efforts or deeds. Christians must have faith in God alone. Ephesians 2:9

Sola Gratia (Grace Alone) –Salvation is by grace alone. It is a result of what Jesus has done, not what we do. Ephesians 2:8-9

Sola Christo (Christ Alone) –Salvation is through Christ alone. Jesus alone is our great High Priest and mediator. Hebrews 4:15

Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone) –The goal in life for every believer should be to bring glory to God. 1 Corinthians 10:31

Martin Luther usually gets a lot of credit for his reform work, and rightly so. However, I want to shed some light on a few other great and godly men who were unafraid to reform. This is not a comprehensive list by any means, but just simply a few snapshots.

John Wycliffe in the 1380s worked to translate the Bible into English from Latin.    Wycliffe also fervently opposed unbiblical teachings of the Catholic Church and was eventually declared a heretic. Wycliffe’s writings and work inspired other future reformers.

Jan Hus was a Czech priest who was committed to the idea that people deserved and needed to hear the truth of the Bible in their own language. He began performing services in the local Czech language rather than Latin, and adamantly opposed the same teachings that Luther would also later condemn.  Hus was eventually arrested and burned at the stake for his “heresy.”

At the same time that Luther led reform in Germany, Huldrych Zwingli led the Reformation in Switzerland. Although Zwingli and Luther did not always see eye to eye it should be said that Zwingli had a profound impact.

In 1536 William Tyndale was burned at the stake for his stances against unbiblical teachings of the Catholic Church. Tyndale was the first to translate the Bible into English from the original Greek and Hebrew.

So here we are, 500 years removed, what does all of this mean for us today?

The sad reality is that many people today are ignorant of what the Bible has to say. Even sadder is that Biblical illiteracy does not just apply to those outside churches, but to many sitting in pews as well.

The Bible (whole) is available in 636 languages and the New Testament is available in 1442 languages! There are currently six Bible apps on my phone and I would bet there is at least one on your phone as well. In fact, most of those apps have an audio option so that God’s Word can be listened to at any time.

We are running out of excuses.

Clearly, the Reformation was about much more than just reading or listening to the Bible. But studying and understanding God’s Word was certainly at its core. Luther and the other Reformers all knew and loved God’s Word dearly. We would do well to follow their example.

Here are 5 “theses” for us to be challenged with on this 500-year anniversary:

  1. Let us continually reform our commitment to God.
  2. Let us continually reform our love for Jesus.
  3. Let us reform to a higher view of Scripture.
  4. Let us reform our obedience to the Spirit.
  5. Let us allow God to continually reform us.