12.28.2011

A great organizational tool

We had a quiet Christmas which suited us fine this year.  We've been so busy that it's been good to just rest and regroup!  I've loved having a few days to process the events of the year, get my calendar in order, and begin on my planning and goal-setting. I just love the whole notion of cleaning out, cleaning up, reorganizing, and prayerfully considering what God is speaking to me for the new year.

One of the biggest helps I've had the past few months is a free software program called ActionOutline Lite (the "lite" is the free version; you have to pay for the premium). You can plan anything in outline form and flesh it out in a second pane that works like a word processor.  It's fantastic!  I finally have a place to pop every little piece of information--in an orderly place.  The screen looks like this:


Each tab you create is a separate outline that organizes everything you want on that subject.  I have my daily to-do list, goals & planning, blogging and my writing projects (you can organize and write a whole article and see at a glance where to drop in a piece of info), holiday and gift planning, homeschool and support activities, etc.  If you end up with a lot of tabs/outlines, you can hide them or mark them into a favorites list.

You can use color and flags, different fonts, bring in URLs, use numbered or bulleted lists.  You can print directly from the screen, which I find saves me a lot of time cutting and pasting in a word processor. I'm quite amazed at the simplicity and functionality of the program.  Great happiness for an organizational freak!

The tutorial that comes with it is very clear and in minutes, you're in business.  You can read more at their website:  http://www.actionoutline.com/lite/

Happy organizing!

12.24.2011

Jesus, Our Light - Day 12

The call to "walk in the light as He is in the light" (I John 1:7) is the invitation God has spoken to mankind since the beginning when He said "Let there be light" (Genesis 1:3).  It was never His plan to leave us in the devastation and darkness that sin caused--praise His Name!

He is building a kingdom of light-transformed people who love Him and will spend eternity with Him, enjoying Him and everything they were created for.  That little baby in Bethlehem was the Father's promise of perfect and restored life for us.

And the best is yet to come!  Listen to what Isaiah prophesied centuries before Christ came:

"The sun shall no longer be your light by day,
nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you;
But the Lord will be to you an everlasting light,
and your God your glory."
(Isaiah 60:19)

He was not only referring to Jesus being the Light of redemption, but also the Light of heaven.  Just as we see God commanding light to shine at the beginning of the Bible, at the end we see him declaring what our eternal home will be like after the end-times events.  The apostle John, in Revelation, describes the new, heavenly Jerusalem:

"The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it,
for the glory of God illuminated it.
The Lamb is its light.
And the nations of those who are saved
shall walk in its light...
There shall be no night there:
they need no lamp nor light of the sun, 
for the Lord God gives them light.
And they shall reign forever and ever."
(Revelation 21:23-24, 22:5)

Hallelujah!

Thank You, Jesus, for being willing to come and be our Light, for being our "promised mercy" when we could not help ourselves.  We can never thank You enough or praise You enough!  Help us to welcome Your Light today as freely as You have given it.

Merry Christmas!


12.23.2011

Jesus, Our Light - Day 11

One of the hardest things for our human nature is to let the Light shine in our darkness.  Those deep inner places we don't want God to mess with.  Weakness, fear, bondage, things we loathe and things we like and don't want to give up.  Yet to enjoy all the promised goodness and freedom of God's love, we have let it be on His terms.

"For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.
Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in
all goodness, righteousness, and truth)...
And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness,
but rather expose them...
But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light,
for whatever makes manifest is light.
Therefore He says: 'Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.'"
(Ephesians 5:8-14)

 The great gift of the Incarnation is that in accepting Christ's light, we are changed!  Daily set free from the damaging works of darkess.  There's nothing in the way now between us and God--unless we want it that way.  

My prayer today is that we all will have a fresh revelation this Christmas of the incredible work He came to do for us.  We are Light-bearers in this very dark world, and every word or deed is an opportunity to dispell darkness. 

"You are the light of the world.
A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden,
nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand,
and it gives light to all who are in the house.
Let your light so shine before men,
that they may see your good works
and glorify your Father in Heaven."
(Matthew 5:14-16)

Let the Light shine!

12.22.2011

Jesus, Our Light - Day 10

Paul the apostle had a startling encounter one day with the Light.  In prison for preaching the gospel, he recounts the amazing story to the king, hoping to persuade him to see his need for Jesus.

On his way to arrest Jewish Christians in Damascus for heresy, Paul reports, "At midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me" (Acts 26:13).  He falls to the ground, blinded, and hears Jesus Himself speaking to him, charging him with the mission to preach salvation to the Gentiles:

"...to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light,
and from the power of Satan to God,
that they may receive forgiveness of sins and 
an inheritance among those who are
sanctified by faith in Me."
(Acts 26:18)

Here's that wonderful symbolism again--Paul, who thought he knew the light (righteous in his own self-righteousness)--is plunged into blinding darkness that he might have his spiritual eyes opened to the Truth.  He receives his sight back three days later--a changed man, with God's Light in his heart, the revelation that Jesus died to give him God's own righteousness.

How fantastic that God seeks to reveal Himself to us personally, wanting so much for us to 'see' His heart, His invitation, the complete deliverance from darkness that He's provided through Jesus.  I love these words in I Peter 2:9-10:

"But you are a chosen generation,
a royal priesthood, a holy nation,
His own special people,
that you may proclaim the praises of Him 
who called you out of darkness
into His marvelous light;
who once were not a people
but are now a people of God,
who had not obtained mercy
but now have obtained mercy."

Marvelous light.  What an invitation!  

12.21.2011

Jesus, Our Light - Day 9

Interestingly, my study today 'happened' to coincide with the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah, which is also called the Festival of Lights. This story is from the extra-Biblical Book of Maccabees in the Apocrypha.  Though an entirely Jewish holiday, we see some wonderful symbolism in it that speaks of Jesus, our Light.

In the years before 165 B.C., the Jewish nation had been under the rule of the Greeks.  A pagan king named Antiochus Ephiphanes had defiled the Temple and forced the Jews to abandon their faith.  But a brave group of young men under the leadership of Judah Maccabee revolted and successfully overthrew the pagan rule. Judah headed up the work of cleansing the Temple and rededicating it in 165 B.C.

But when they restored the temple service, they found they only had enough holy oil to burn for one day, the rest of it having been defiled by the Greek invaders. This oil was a symbol of the eternal Presence of God, the Light of the World, and had been commanded by Him to never go out (Exodus 27:20-21).  It would take a week to prepare and consecrate more oil.  By faith they went ahead and lit the flame, and God miraculously kept it burning for eight days until more oil was prepared. Thus, the miracle of Hanukkah, which the Jews have celebrated ever since.  It's interesting to note that Jesus Himself was present in the Temple on this day; the account is in John 10:22-23.

The beautiful picture above is the menorah, the lampstand in the Tabernacle where the holy oil was burned.  It was made of pure gold and was the only light in the holy place.  What a picture of the promised Messiah!  Matthew speaks of Jesus as that fulfillment, referring to the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14:

"'Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son,
and they shall call His name Immanuel', which is translated,
'God with us'."
(Matthew 1:23)

Hear Jesus' words again about Himself:

"Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you;
he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going.
While you have the light, believe in the light,
that you may become sons of light...
I have come as a light into the world,
that whoever believes in Me
should not abide in darkness."
(John 12:35-36, 46)


Jesus is the Light of the World!

12.20.2011

Jesus, Our Light - Day 8

We have seen what the prophets said about the Light that was to come, and we've seen what Jesus' followers had to say.  Later, Jesus Himself boldly declared that He was the Light.  He not only revealed what darkness looked like in the human heart, but showed the power of His Light to transform it.

In the familiar story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8), we see Jesus' forgiveness and mercy to a sinner.  This was played out against the iron-clad, law-enforcing Pharisees who would stone her on the spot.  But after Jesus granted her forgiveness, He turned and spoke to the Pharisees:

"I am the light of the world.
He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness,
but have the light of life."
(John 8:12)

An interesting wrap-up to that drama. Implication? Their merciless self-righteousness actually came from darkness.  Jesus was showing the heart of the Father--His deep desire to bring His loved ones back to Life.  Mercy, grace, second chances. The path back is Jesus.

He says it again in John chapter 9, where we see Him healing a man born blind--another beautiful picture of God's illumination of human darkness and misery.  This poor man had literally only ever known 'darkness' and was gloriously healed. Jesus explains to His disciples:

"I must work the works of Him who sent me ...
As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
(John 9:5)

One small detail, though--Jesus had healed on the Sabbath.  An unforgivable offense in the eyes of the Pharisees.  Instead of glorifying God for His mercy to the blind man, they create a furor trying to trick the healed man into condemning Jesus.  Their unbelief and hard hearts made them blind to God's mercy, the "peace, goodwill toward men" sung by the angels the night Jesus was born.

The Father's mercy to us is Jesus. Thank You for opening our eyes, dear Lord, and for setting us free to walk in Your Light!

12.19.2011

Jesus, Our Light - Day 7

It's the start of a new week and the second half of my 'take' on the twelve days of Christmas...hope these reflections bless you as much as they have blessed me! The study in the Word has been wonderful.

The apostle John seems eager to communicate to his readers in his New Testament writings this whole idea of Jesus=Light=Life.  In his gospel, he starts right out in chapter 1:

"In Him was life, and the life was the light of men,
and the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it...
This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light,
that all through him might believe."
(John 1:4-5, 7)

Again, in his first letter, he starts right out:

"This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you,
that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all."
(I John 1:5)

"Darkness" here in the Greek is the word scotia, which means gloom, evil, sin, night, moral depravity.  It also has the implication of everything that came to us from the fall of man--enmity with God, our sinful nature, and every kind of demonic work in mankind.  All the trouble in our lives is some manifestation of the curse of darkness at work in the world.

I remember as a child pondering once on the curious circumstance of 'waking up' born into the world, not having had any say about when or where I would live, which family I would belong to, etc.  It struck me how unbelievably fortunate we were to have discovered that our Maker was benevolent, that the universe ran by His love, that we didn't find ourselves the victims of some cruel experiment of a malevolent god.

Then, when I discovered that this terrible thing called 'the fall' and sin had happened to us, and that the good God had already taken care of it by the time I arrived on the scene through Jesus--well, I knew I wanted to belong to Him.  If it took that kind of a price to fix me and the world, I could never honor Him enough, thank Him enough.

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,
and comes down from the Father of lights,
with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning."
(James 1:17)

Thank You, Father!  Thank You, Jesus!



12.18.2011

Jesus, Our Light - Day 6


It's interesting to see how God used light to reveal Jesus when He was born--by a star.

The wise men who came from somewhere in the east had an understanding that this unusual Star meant that the King of the Jews had been born (Matthew 2:1-11).  In obedience to that revelation (prepared hearts!), they kept at their quest to find this baby King until that same star actually led them to the very spot. I love how God uses the symbolism of darkness and light here--stars don't shine during the day.  It was in the darkness that the wise men found Jesus.

Centuries before, a prophet named Balaam had actually called the coming Messiah a Star:

"I see Him, but not now;
I behold Him, but not near;
A Star shall come out of Jacob;
A Scepter shall rise out Israel...
Out of Jacob One shall have dominion."
(Numbers 24:17, 19)

And the apostle Peter, writing years after Jesus' resurrection, uses the same symbolism to call us to the Light of Christ:

"And so we have the prophetic word confirmed,
which you do well to heed
as a light that shines in a dark place,
until the day dawns and the
morning star rises in your hearts..."
(II Peter 1:19)


12.17.2011

Jesus, Our Light - Day 5

Within days of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, his parents Joseph and Mary obeyed what all Jewish parents of firstborn sons were to do:  present him to the Lord in dedication at the Temple a few weeks after his circumcision.

Meanwhile, God was watching the heart of a certain elderly man in Jerusalem--nobody special--whom the Bible says was "just and devout."  This man Simeon was not only a passionate seeker of God, but he was waiting for the "Consolation of Israel," a beautiful phrase describing the Messiah.

Now I find it surprising that the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders were not on high alert at this time.  It is not hard to calculate by the prophecy of the coming Messiah in Daniel 9:25-26 that the Messiah was going to appear any minute. (That's a great Bible study right there.)

So I wonder if maybe Simeon had figured this out, had maybe been asking God about it, pouring out the longing of his heart to see God's promise come to pass.  Luke 2:26 tells us that the Holy Spirit gave him a very personal revelation--he would get to actually see the Christ before he died.  Then he was directed to go to the Temple.

What a scene!  There he was at the Temple, waiting, and here came Joseph and Mary to dedicate their new little son.  Simeon sees the baby and knows--this is the One!  Like Zacharias in our story yesterday, Simeon bursts into prophetic praise:

"Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,
according to Your word;
for my eyes have seen Your salvation
which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,
A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of Your people Israel."
(Luke 2:29-32)

What I love about Simeon's words is the direct promise that God's salvation would not only be for Israel but for the Gentiles--just what God had promised Abraham at the beginning.  He's never left us out.  His light is for everyone!

God, may my heart be like Simeon's, prepared for You.

12.16.2011

Jesus, Our Light - Day 4

Picture this scenario:  a few hundred years have gone by since Isaiah's prophesies about the coming Messiah, and Israel is still waiting.  One day in the Temple in Jerusalem, one of the priests, Zacharias, is chosen by lot to burn incense before the Lord on the golden Altar of Incense, which stood at the doorway to the Holy of Holies.

While busy about his work, suddenly the angel Gabriel appears to him with an astonishing message from God.  (There were a lot of angels in the Christmas story.)  God was going to give Zacharias and his aged wife a son in answer to a long-time prayer, a boy they were to call John (which means "the Lord has shown favor").  John would be a prophet whose job would be to help prepare the hearts of God's people for the soon-to-appear Messiah.

Prepare their hearts?  Why?  Hundreds of years with no prophetic messages from God and a history of national subjugation to foreign powers had dulled their zeal for their God.  Sin, darkness, and unbelief had crept in.  (Sound familiar?)  A hard heart is like hard soil--it can't receive seed or water to nourish it.

So Zacharias, responding like perhaps many of us might have, said, "What?!  I'm too old for that!  (Ahem.  As a priest, he would have been well aware of the story of Abraham, their forefather, who had a miracle son at 100 years old.)  Gabriel replies, "Okay, because you didn't believe me, you'll not be able to speak until the day this comes true--and it will come true."

And of course it did.  Zacharias had to write notes and use sign language for many months to communicate.  But in that silent time, he had a chance to prepare his own heart.  I imagine he searched the Scriptures to see if this could be true, and you know what he might have found?  The last message from God to Israel four hundred years earlier promised that God would send a prophet to "prepare the hearts of the people" (Malachi 4:5-6).

Those long months Zacharias had to ponder did their work in his heart.  Little John was born and Zacharias' tongue was loosed.  But instead of fear and unbelief, the words poured out of his mouth in a prophetic song of praise. His first words were of the Messiah:

"Blessed is the Lord God of Israel,
for He has visited and redeemed His people...
as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets 
who have been since the world began...
To grant us that we, being delivered from the 
hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness
before Him all the days of our lives...
To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death
to guide our feet into the way of peace." 
(ref. Luke 1:67-75)

Not many months later in a town not far away, John's cousin Jesus was born, another miracle baby, but this one, The One, was He whom John would one day say, "He is preferred before me, whose sandal I am not worthy to loose."  (John 1:27)

Just think--we don't have to wait like Zacharias did or Israel did.  We can prepare our hearts right now and let our praise and thanks be to God for this incredible gift of salvation, our Jesus.


12.15.2011

Jesus, Our Light - Day 3

And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you.
For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, 
and deep darkness the people;
But the LORD will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you.
The Gentiles shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising.”
Isaiah 60:1-3

Here it is again, that sharp contrast between darkness and light.  Doesn't it perfectly describe what we see everywhere?  Darkness, 'deep darkness,' blinding and crippling and imprisoning people everywhere.  Hopeless, helpless, and desperate—that's what darkness produces.  How that must have grieved the heart of the Father to see those created in His image and intended for kingdom-sharing to be so destroyed.

But He had a plan!  Jesus, because He saw our need and subjected Himself to our 'deep darkness,' can now share His glory with us, on us, over us!  Restore to us the privilege of Kingdom living; a glory and light so real as to be seen by others.  The 'increase of His kingdom' we read about yesterday is echoed here, His light rising upon us just like the sun in the morning.

How astonishingly blessed we are!  Today may you sense in a new way the freedom that His glory is upon you.  And if you find yourself in 'deep darkness,' cry out to Him.  He came for you.


12.14.2011

Jesus, Our Light - Day 2

“... By way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, in Galilee of the Gentiles.  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined … For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder, and His name will be called 
Wonderful, 
Counselor, 
Mighty God, 
Everlasting Father, 
Prince of Peace.  
Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end...”  Isaiah 9:2, 6-7

This glorious prophecy is one of the very moving passages in Handel's Messiah we hear at Christmas, which clearly declares the person and work of Jesus, our Light.  He is promised as the world's Messiah and Savior, Son of God and Son of Man, God Himself as part of the Trinity, the reigning King for all eternity, and bringer of Peace and perfect leadership for “us”--the ones He came for.  This is is what we celebrate!

In these troubled times, I often find myself praying the words of this passage.  I need the Lord Jesus as my Peace.  I need Him as my perfect Wisdom.  I need Him to govern my life and the world around me.  I need Him to carry the daily burdens of my life for me.  I need Him to be the Light on my path.

“Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end...”!  I can't say what comfort that brings to my heart.  He is on the increase!  His kingdom will prevail—in this world He loves.

12.13.2011

Jesus, Our Light - Day 1


One of my most favorite things about Christmastime is the lights--twinkling on the tree, sparkling on homes and streets and buildings.  The world doesn't even know the vast significance of it, that Jesus came to be our Light, to shine on our darkness.  Without the Light we are blind and the darkness rules.

So I offer you my version of the "The Twelve Days of Christmas"--a devotional thought each day from the Word, a thankful look at the beautiful gift the Father of Lights has given us.
"Behold!  My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights!  I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles...I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness, and will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the prison, those who sit in darkness from the prison house..."  Isaiah 42:1, 6-7
From the time God gave Abraham the covenant that in him "all the families of the earth would be blessed" (Genesis 12:3), He meant everyone--the Jewish people and the Gentiles.  It was His plan from the beginning to redeem all mankind, all those who would accept it.  So in this passage from Isaiah, written hundreds of years before Jesus was born, we see His promise to give His Son as a covenant to us, our eternal Light.

In the years after Jesus' death and resurrection, the apostles initially preached to the Jews, proclaiming that their Messiah had come.  But with broad rejection of that message, Paul, in obedience to the revelation of the Isaiah passage quoted above, declared that the message was for the Gentiles, too.  In Acts 13:47-48, he says,
"...For so the Lord has commanded us: ' I have set You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.'  Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord."
 Hallelujah!  Today I am glad and glorify the word of the Lord!

12.05.2011

New week, new month, new snow

It looks like we're working on a white Christmas in our neck of the woods—we've had three snows in the last week and it's been too cold to do much melt-off. It's beautiful! I think our clan is secretly hoping that it'll continue for a few weeks, at least in a reasonable manner, to set the stage for the holidays. I always forget all the fol-de-rol that comes with winter, the cumulative hours of time to dress in layers, don boots, hat, gloves, scarves, then repeat the process in reverse; shoveling, shoveling, and more shoveling. But there's little that can compare to a cozy home, crackling fireplace, hot tea, cuddly afghans, hot soup and muffins, and the gallery-hung-pictures out every window. Might as well as enjoy it!

We had the perfect Christmas-tree-getting this last week. In the interest of simplicity, we have for years opted for an artificial tree since SweetPea was little. But this year we were invited to the mountain home of some homeschooling friends, who had a crowd of us in for the day to cut trees on their property, sing carols, enjoy hot soup and fellowship together. What a perfectly lovely day. My favorite moment was sitting by the bay window during the carol-sing, looking out over the pine-rimmed valley before me in dusk-light, watching curtains of snow hanging in the nearby mountain skies swirling toward us. A herd of horses nearby set off running across the valley to their supper in a barn on the other side. Wow. One of those snapshot moments for sure. (Oh, and to top it off, I took home a load of fresh farm eggs.  Happy sigh.)

I'm thrilled to report that my honey's back has improved hugely in the past three or so weeks. Very little pain and getting stronger by the day. Yay! Hooray! We give thanks and praise to the Lord, our Healer, for His mercy and grace. And thanks to those of you who prayed—we really appreciate it.

Today is a tremendously satisfying day...you might remember that I was helping get my mom's book ready to send to the publisher, a few months of editing, planning, organizing, copy editing, working remotely with various family members who all have had a part in the process. Well...(drum roll), I clicked “send” on Saturday! Yay! It's now in the hands of the publisher and staff, and we're within just a few short months of holding the book in our hands. All my mom's hard work and patience will be beautifully rewarded. What a neat learning experience for us all. Now begins our part in the marketing efforts, another “adventure in publishing”! Stay tuned...