The simplicity of the image amazes me: a candle cannot light itself. The pastor speaks this line on Sunday, and the image won’t leave me for days. I love exploring light in the Bible. Most notably, we hear this around Christmastime from Isaiah 9:2, in reference to the coming savior: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”
The reality stands: Isaiah proclaims that “justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows.”
We need this light.
We want to be like David in Psalm 27:1 who cries, “The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?
The Hebrew translation of “light” expands to include everything from life to happiness; it means everything we need to truly live. Light is truth, wisdom, and meaning. It is salvation. When Jesus now says, ““I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” in John 8:12, we understand this was the light we’ve been waiting for.
We cannot light ourselves.
During this beautiful season, we look at the lights twinkling on trees and outlining homes. We know they testify to the Light of the World.
Today the Italian Mama reminded me of a great verb and a precious gift: to blather.
To blather means to talk in a long-winded way nonsensical way. You’ll normally hear the verb in an apology, as in, “I’m so sorry I blathered on.”
I love how close the verb approximates “lather” as in talking so much that you work the conversation into a fluffy lather. I picture frothy bubbles rising up around someone who blathers.
It’s not a bad thing. Blathering is a precious gift to both give and receive. When you allow someone to blather on, you give them the freedom to speak whatever they need to talk about. You let them empty their mind. It doesn’t have to make sense. In fact, someone listening to a blatherer might simply pick up the golden threads of conversation left here and there; they can help the other person organize their thoughts. What a gift. Already today, I’ve blathered on to two friends. I just talked and talked.
But when I’m on the receiving end of blathering, I feel so honored that a person would want to share their unfiltered, unprocessed, raw thoughts with me. Can you imagine being the kind of friend who sits down, looks intently at your friend and say, “Blather on! I’m here to listen! I will help make sense of it all.”
When you blather or listen to blather, it’s a place of blessing. It’s a gift to pour out words, and it’s a gift to sit as the listener. But either way, blather on.
I memorized Psalm 16 to survive my first year of graduate school at the University of Michigan. I recited it in rhythm to sound of my snow boots crunching the snow as I walked to the English Department. David writes this as his own sustaining covering from the Lord:
Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge.
2 I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.” 3 I say of the holy people who are in the land, “They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.” 4 Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more. I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods or take up their names on my lips.
5 Lord,you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. 6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. 7 I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. 8 I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, 10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. 11 You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
In eleven verses, I knew so many things about the Lord that would carry me through a lifetime: We have nothing good apart from God; we will indeed suffer as we run after other gods; God makes us secure; He counsels us; with Him, we will not be shaken; He brings gladness and joy; He makes known to us the path of life.
All weekend, I consider the great mercy of God. We need His mercy. We appeal to His mercy most of all. He cannot change from His merciful character. I love how David cries out to allow himself to fall into the hands of God, not men, because God’s mercy is great (1 Chronicles 21:13). Mercy: God’s gracious favor to give us what we do not deserve.
Throughout the Psalms, we read cries of mercy. The writers knew to appeal to God’s mercy as what we perhaps need more than anything else. In the New Testament, we read of this mercy as “tender mercy” (Luke 1:78). In translation, I get the sense that this mercy is tender because it flows from the inner heart of God. This mercy is God’s wonderful blessing on those who do not deserve it. It expresses itself most profoundly as the mercy we see in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When we recognizes God’s mercy, we think about Jesus. When we need God’s mercy, we approach God because of Jesus.
When people see Jesus, they often cry out, “Have mercy on me, a sinner!” I spend a great deal of time considering Ephesians 2:6 which prompted my book Seated with Christ, but verse 4 and 5 carry their own power: “But because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy made us alive in Christ.” Our God is rich in mercy; it’s this mercy we find when we approach His throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). This mercy gives us “a new birth into a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3). Every good thing happening to you–and every bad thing from which you’ve been spared–originates in mercy. God’s ability to make beauty from sorrow flows from His mercy on our lives. It’s His mercy that sustains this day and this very moment. I pray we see it and experience it more and more. God have mercy on us!
Because of God’s mercy shown to us, we show mercy to others who do not deserve it–just as we are undeserving. We pray blessing over enemies and those who harm us. We pray that mercy would rest on not just our household (2 Timothy 1:16), but also on the homes of those around us.
This December, I rejoice in God’s mercy. When I think of the birth of Christ, I think of mercy. I pray for a deeper understanding of this mercy, and I pray that God’s mercy covers us. We need it more and more and most of all.
We leave early to drive back north to Pennsylvania. We learn the snow and ice will come this evening. We wish to get ahead of the storm. As we near home, the landscape changes. I see the beautiful deer dotting the edge of the forest. It’s hunting season now. I look out ahead down the road to check for leaping deer. When you drive in Pennsylvania near the woods, you’re always scanning up ahead of you. We settle into the warm house and gather groceries in case the ice keeps us inside. Pennsylvania, more than anywhere else, teaches me to get ahead of nature.
The nephews teach me two new card games: Mafia and James Bond. We also play Spoons. When they ask me if I’ve ever played Spoons, I tell them that it’s a classic game of childhood—right up there with Spit, War, and Egyptian Ratscrew.
I love gathering to play cards. So many things have changed since I was a child in the 80’s, but when I play cards with these teens, I remember that some things stay the same.
The other evening, I remembered a post from ten years ago called “The Not To Do List.” It served as a wonderful reminder that you can actually diminish your workload by thinking carefully about what not to do. You don’t have to do everything. In fact, certain tasks or activities, when prayerfully considered, might fall on the Not To Do List.
During the holidays especially, it’s a good practice to think of what not to do in order to preserve energy, a good mood, and a sense of well-being. Maybe God wants you to eliminate a few things this season. Living with flair means we think of our Not to Do list.
I woke up in the night thinking about the beautiful words in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. This passage marks one of the very first times I delivered a devotional reflection on scripture. During one summer at Camp Greystone, I stood in the Dining Hall and told the campers these words:
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
I needed these words for my own heart. I needed the challenge to turn from negativity, complaint, and cynicism. I wondered what it would mean to take this gratitude challenge and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, become a person who knows how to give thanks in all circumstances.