Wednesday, December 21, 2011

History of Christmas Lights

The people who sat in darkness saw a great light, / And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2 & Matthew 4:16

It is not by accident that Christians celebrate the birth of Christ with lights. Since the moment angels appeared on Bethlehem hills announcing a Son was given to the world, lights piercing darkness have signified peace and joy and hope to a weary world.

The first celebration lights were probably simple oil lamps. We have no trustworthy records, but it is not beyond imagination that before candles or Christmas trees or cards or gift giving or even a day called “Christmas,” some early Christians remembered the birth of our Lord.

These would have been spontaneous, casual celebrations observed by individual families. As they remembered, it would be natural for them to watch a flickering oil lamp and think of the scripture promising when Messiah (Jesus) came, people who sit in darkness will see a great light.

Candles were in more or less common use by 800-900 AD and shortly after we find the first references to nativity scenes being placed in Christian houses of worship. These scenes would have glowed in the light of many candles. And--although the exact roots are lost in antiquity--it may have been roughly this time when Christmas began to be celebrated on a specific day.

Over time, being “Christian” became the socially acceptable norm and Christmas became a cultural event. Decorations were increasingly more common, expensive, complex and light-filled, causing some to feel the holiday had lost all true meaning. When Puritans took control of the English government in the mid 1600’s, lights, decorations and all other forms of celebration were banned. Christmas was to be no more.

Yet the celebration—with all its flaws—endured. When electric lights came on the scene in the late 1800’s they were almost immediately employed as part of Christmas. Lights proliferated until today when city streets and country lanes, windows, yards, rooftops and edges of buildings light up the night with twinkle and glow.

For myself, it would be easy to agree with the Puritans. I watch electronic reindeer nodding from store windows, see the crass commercialism and my heart fills with more sadness than holiday spirit. With the children grown and gone, some years I haven’t even put up a tree.

But this year, I think I have a better idea: I’ll dust off a string of colored lights, attach a little tinsel and a few ornaments to a tree, then turn out the lamps and remember. The light of the world has come. Regardless of how the world has perverted it, Christmas is real. It’s time to celebrate.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sing! Your Refuge Stands!

Let all who take refuge in You be glad; let them ever sing for joy! Psalm 5:11 NKJV

The word "refuge" speaks of trouble, danger and threat. If nothing negative is happening, the place we dwell may be comfortable but it won't be a "refuge."

The dictionary calls a refuge "anything or anyone which has recourse for aid, relief or escape." When we find refuge, the bad thing is still be there but doesn't impact us any longer. It is outside and our refuge forces it to stay there.

No wonder David said those who find refuge in the Lord should be glad. Our singing should go on and on forever! What better source for long term safety and lasting security than the eternal God of the Universe with whom is no variable or shadow of turning (Jas. 1:17). He is rock solid and He stays that way.

Christians don't deny the reality of trials. Bad things do, indeed, touch our life just as they touch others. The difference comes when we lift up our eyes to an eternal perspective and like David see the "latter end" of things (Psa. 73). Only then do we begin to feel how real our refuge is and only then can we smile.

Jesus is our recourse for aid now and most Christians can point to specific times when that aid came through just in time. He is our relief and we often feel the release as He takes the burdens and removes the weight from our heart. He is our escape as pressures mount and He will provide the ultimate escape as we leave this planet for our sure and final home.

If your day lacks joy, remember a time when He changed your circumstance, provided relief or you felt freedom as you leaned on Him. And, if you are walking through a current storm, lift up your eyes to the eternal. Knowing Jesus is our ultimate refuge and has promised to get us home safely before the dark.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Sing a Merry Tune

David told the leaders of the Levites to appoint their brothers as singers to sing joyful songs, accompanied by musical instruments: lyres, harps and cymbals. I Chronicles 15:16

Did you know a human may well be the only thing in God’s creation that sings? I’ll admit that the point is arguable. It depends on exactly what you mean by “sing.” However, by all accounts our human experience of this phenomenon is unique. Birds chirp various tones, but they are bound to repeat these same tones and can never make up any other. Many animals express emotion by various vocalizations, but the purr of a cat or the bray of a lonely donkey can hardly be called music. Even angels are said to speak rather than sing out their praise (Luk. 2:13-14). God can sing (Zep. 3:17) and people sing, but the rest of creation? Not really.

Happiness, joy and celebration are closely tied to music. Before the temple was built, David set up a system where music would be flowing 24/7 (I Co. 9:33) as they sang day and night in the house of the Lord. And, in the early church (as today) music was a vital part of every gathering. They even sang to each other (Eph. 5:19) and no one seemed to bother with whether one could carry a tune.

Music is one of the few things that carries a double blessing. When we praise, it lifts the spirit of others and then ricochets to lift our own heart as well. Got a bad mood going and want to break the spell? Sing! It can be the fastest route to restoring joy and a positive attitude.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Best Joy of All

You will fill me with joy in your presence.
Psalm 16:11

How do you experience the presence f God? Would you describe the event as fun? Satisfying? Pleasurable? How about the description given by the Psalmist, full of joy? Does the event happen in prayer? Bible study? While walking in a forest? Holding your child? Just talking to God casually as you go about daily routine? The details of the experience probably vary as widely as humans, but one easily overlooked aspect is that all these experiences come from a single source: It is God who graciously provides the experience, not our holiness or performing a certain task that forces Him to give.

One of the errors of modern thinking is to view God as nothing greater than a slightly more powerful version of ourselves. The Almighty Creator of the Universe becomes our side-kick, companion or good buddy. Holiness is lost as we barge into the Throne room as though we had a right to be there on our own merit.

There is an aspect of gentle companionship and father/child closeness between humans who want to know Him and God, but that privilege should never be taken for granted or minimized as though we deserved His grace.

Thank God we don’t get what we deserve! We get something so much better. We get grace and with that gift the delight of feeling the joy as He chooses to allow us to draw near.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Happy Understanding

Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words [of God]. Nehemiah 8:12 NIV

Celebrations seldom occur without a reason. We meet to celebrate something, not just because we feel good at the moment. A birthday, anniversary, sports victory or even the changing of the seasons can be reasons to celebrate. But have you ever thought of celebrating just because you finally understood something new?

Celebrating knowledge is not a totally foreign idea. We press into new territory learning a computer program or job skill or craft. We try and struggle and even despair then suddenly the light-bulb goes off and everything “fits.” We pump a fist in the air and shout, “Yes!” But, our celebration is most often short lived and often private.

When the Jews returned to Israel after seventy years of captivity, many had forgotten the Hebrew language. But as Nehemiah and the Levites read the scriptures and translated the meaning in a language they could understand, the people wept. The new knowledge was dangerous. As the writer of Hebrews would later say, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God.” (Heb. 10:31). However, their fear was quickly changed as Nehemiah reminded them that understanding God was a good thing and the Almighty was pleased. Secure in that grace, the people began to celebrate with great joy. They were getting to know the Ruler of the Universe! That was a reason for a first class party to begin!

It’s a reason for us to celebrate, too.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Rejoice! God Remembers Your Work!

Well done, good and faithful servant; Enter into the joy of your lord! Matthew 25:21

When I was a young mother the most frustrating thing about housework was the fact that in never stayed done. I would work hard then watch what I had accomplished fall apart in less than one day. At the time, I thought the endless cycle of futility was the housewife’s curse. Then I took a job and suddenly realized ALL work is temporary and doomed to decay. Even the pyramids are slowly turning back into sand.
This seemed sad, until I found two reasons the Bible gives for rejoicing in our work. First, is the immediate satisfaction found in finishing each temporary task and, second, is the joy of knowing no task is really temporary because God never forgets!

Solomon spent years trying to figure out what was good about life and in the end came to this conclusion: “I know that there is nothing better for men than to [. . . ] find satisfaction in all his work—this is the gift of God.” (Ecc. 3:12-13). Whether we are painting a wall, making a bed or sending memos to congress, our daily work is a gift. If we embrace the satisfaction of each completed task, we have an immediate joy that lifts our spirit.

We also have a second joy because God never forgets our work. None of it. The One who is so meticulous He doesn’t forget to reward even a cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple (Mat. 10:42) will not overlook you (Heb. 6:10). Guaranteed.
Are you feeling overworked and underappreciated today? Focus your emotions on the immediate reward of knowing you have done the job well and focus your hope on tomorrow when Jesus says, “Well done!” You may find the load a lot lighter.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

God's Fun Food

The men spent three days there with David, eating and drinking, [. . .] Also, their neighbors from far away [. . .] came bringing food on donkeys, camels, mules and oxen. There were plentiful supplies of flour, fig cakes, raisin cakes, wine, oil, cattle and sheep, for there was joy in Israel! I Chronicles 12:40 NIV, abridged

I think food gets a bad rap these days. Yes, the Bible condemns gluttony (Php. 3:19; Pro. 23:21) and America has a shocking rate of obesity. But, those are very different subjects than joyfully consuming what God has provided with gratitude and celebrating life with abundant food. In fact, both my personal experience and work as a professional counselor have convinced me those who are overweight seldom really enjoy food. Jesus welcomed celebrations built around food so much that others accused Him of being a glutton (Mat. 11:18).

The Bible regards food as a blessing (Neh. 9:25; Lev. 20:24). God could have created us without taste buds or to live on water alone, but He didn’t. He gave food color and texture and variety. Sweet and sour, savory herbs and starches, the choices are almost limitless. In the Old Testament, He chose food to be a method of worship (Lev. 23:5-14) and in the New Testament Jesus selected food to be a way we would remember Him (I Co. 11:26).

The next time you sit down to a delicious plate, resist the urge to dive right in. Pause. Savor the moment. God provided this goodness especially for you. Eat with celebration and gratitude for His delightful gift!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

God's Laughing Plan

A time to weep, and time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance. Ecclesiastes 3:4

Like most people, I live under the domination of a clock. A stopwatch sits on my desk marking off the minutes and at the end of every week I check to make sure 40 hours have been recorded. If I didn’t use a clock to force discipline, the minutes, days and weeks would slip away with no work accomplished. But, I’ve learned the hard way that work is not the only thing that needs to be fitted in the schedule. Fun must be honored with designated time, too.

God did not choose to give us a life free of difficulty, but that doesn’t mean long faces are the only mood of which He approves. Laughter and dancing are also part of His plan. If we ignore these fun, relaxed times of celebration we avoid a good thing He ordained. When the pressures mount and workload is high, it is more important than ever to be intentional about our laughter!

One way to be intentional is through purposeful gratitude. When shadows creep, I set my mind to find five things every day that feel good. Even the tiniest, most inconsequential event can bring a whisper of joy. If I’ll pause and cherish the thing as it passes, gratitude replaces a glum outlook and soon life is worth living again.

Another way to incorporate fun is putting something on the clock. I can’t force my heart to laugh, but I can set aside one hour to watch a funny video or read a light-hearted book. I can’t giggle without a reason, but I can schedule time around people who are laughing and before I know it, I am laughing, too! According to God’s schedule, that is a good use of time.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Contagious Laugher of Answered Prayer

And Sarah said, “God has made me laugh, so that all who hear will laugh with me.” Genesis 21:6

What could be more delightful than having a dream come true and a nagging doubt put to rest at the same time? That was Sarah’s experience when her long-awaited baby was born. It was so much fun her husband, Abraham, even named the little boy “Laughter” for this is what the word “Isaac” means.

They had waited more than twenty years for this little bundle of miracle and when at last they held him in their arms, their joy knew no bounds! Neighbors got in on the celebration. Visitors laughed out loud when they heard the story. Even today the story of how Sarah’s scoffing laugh of unbelief (Gen. 18:10-14) was turned to the genuine laughter of joy (Gen. 21:6) brings a smile.

But Sarah and Abraham were not the only ones to experience contagious laughter when prayers were answered. Psalm 126 was written as the Jews returned from captivity to their native land. God had promised they would come back, and they had! How positive the future looked! What fun to stand again in Jerusalem! What joy to actually see God’s hand moving in world events! Their joy was so contagious even their heathen neighbors found a reason to laugh as they shook their heads in amazement saying, “The Lord has done great things for them!”

Have you had a prayer answered lately? Don’t keep it to yourself! There is far too little joy in this world. Add your own note to the melody of praise. Jesus said we should ask “that your joy may be full!” (Joh. 16:24) When you share an answered prayer the joy creates ripples of laughter that—like waves when pebbles are cast into still water—roll on and on and.....

Friday, November 4, 2011

What Makes God Happy?

Then I was beside (God) [. . .] Rejoicing in His inhabited world. And my delight was with the sons of men. Proverbs 8:30-31

When dealing with something as high, holy and out of reach as the feelings of God, humans are obviously at a disadvantage. We can’t even see His face while He knows the number of the hairs on our head! But we do know some things about His feelings because He has chosen to let us in on the secret. Including what makes Him happy.
In the eighth chapter of Proverbs Jesus is personified as pure wisdom and we are given a glimpse of what it was like for Him and God to be creating the worlds together.

The whole chapter is happy and upbeat but those words hardly do justice to the intense feelings described in verse thirty-one. Here, the Hebrew word used for “rejoicing” is “laughter / play / make merry.” It carries the idea of kids romping in the first fresh snow of the season or a young couple giggling as they tickle the toes of their new baby. God knows how to laugh and wants us to do the same.

The Divine Trinity had a fun time putting this inhabited world together and Isaiah 65:18 instructs humans to join in this holy laughter. We, too, are supposed to rejoice over the created world. In this verse, “rejoice” carries the idea of spinning around as the laughter bubbles out in fun. We are to get a big kick out of just looking around. Spring flowers. Pounding surf. Bugs with lace wings. Birds that eat the bugs and mile-high mountains. How wonderful it all is!

Have you laughed today? If not, find something that pleases you then follow God’s example in Zephaniah 3:17. Throw back your head and sing!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Jesus Was a Happy Man

These things have I spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:11

One of the biggest scripture mysteries is how Jesus could be both a man of sorrows (Isa. 53:3) and at the same time be anointed with gladness (Heb. 1:9) Yet, both statements are true and unless we remember each side of His nature, we miss the complexity and beauty of our Lord.

For me, it is easy to remember the pain, but recalling the God-man also laughed is a stretch. Yet, growing up in a home with six siblings, He certainly knew about jokes and giggles and by His own testimony He was filled with joy. Best of all, this happy side is something Jesus wants to share with us. He said He would give us joy that would “remain” rather than evaporate with every change in circumstance and the key to experiencing it was in the words He had just spoken.

What were those words? A commandment that we love each other and assurance that power to love would be provided from a source outside ourselves. We don’t have to work up feelings of love, we work instead at remaining connected to Him and become conduits of God’s love rather than our own generators.

When we experience His love flowing through us, we become more light-hearted because we don’t have to depend on ourselves. Our hope becomes more vibrant because we see with an eternal perspective and our attitude becomes more positive as we give others an opportunity to join in the celebration of love. What’s more, even if they refuse to continue the love-song, we have pleased our Lord and that is enough to be happy about.