The Light Shines in the Darkness

Sometimes, every fibre of your being tells you that the darkness has won. The darkness has snuffed out the light and there’s no way forward; no hope for the future.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

We’re just less than a week into a brand new year. Over the past week or two, many people have been looking back and looking ahead. A number of people I know have been saying that 2017 was an “annus horribilis” and for some others, not just a horrible year but the worst they’ve experienced. They have high hopes for 2018 because it can’t possibly be as bad as 2017. The personal trials that we face are very real. Shattered relationships, lost loved ones, sickness, depression and more can threaten to crush and swallow us.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

When we look a little wider we see unspeakable atrocities across the world. Innocent people slaughtered, children being trafficked for the perverse desires of others, natural disasters, wars, violence and more. While anyone who has the opportunity to read this is probably living relatively comfortably, there are millions of people living in extreme poverty. Most are wondering where they might find their next meal. The numbers of those who are refugees, internally displaced, or seeking asylum is in the millions. Our world seems to be beyond help. How can there possibly be a way back from this?

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

I’ve seen some of the world’s injustices first hand over the past few years. I’ve sat in the homes of the poor and heard their heartbreaking stories. The nature of my work means that I am constantly immersed in stories of people who are powerless to change their circumstances and who are at the mercy of others who take advantage of them in the lowest possible ways. Constantly hearing such stories has brought me to tears several times. This world can be such a dark place.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The good news is, no matter how bad things get, no matter how dark it gets, the darkness will not overcome. Yes, it will feel like the darkness has won and that there is no way to turn things around, but there’s something bigger going on.

It’s helpful to remind ourselves that the darkness is no surprise to God. He hasn’t been caught off guard. He is still in charge, and He is still sovereign. Even before time began, even before the darkness began to descend, God had a plan to shatter the darkness with light … light so powerful that it can never be put out. That light is God Himself in the person of Jesus.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:1-13

As you start this year, a year that will no doubt bring a mixture of joy and disappointment, remind yourself that no matter how dark it may seem to be, you don’t have to fight the darkness alone. In those moments look for the light that shines in the darkness. It may seem faint at times but it’s there.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

This is an updated post, first published in January 2016.

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Jesus is Coming … Look Busy

You’ve had the same conversation a thousand times. You meet up with someone who asks how you’ve been and you answer by telling them … ‘busy’. Their question isn’t about your level of activity, it’s about your personal wellness, yet you still feel the need to assure them that you’ve been a productive member of society. I know this because I get caught up in it too.

Many people have written about this before but it still seems to be such a problem for so many.

Busy speaks about a level of activity, often a flurry of exhausting exertion, without considering whether all that hustle and bustle is effective in any way. There may well be a more productive way of achieving what we need but when the goal is being busy, and telling everyone how busy we are, that doesn’t really matter.

Can I get a busy badge?

Why do we feel so compelled to assure everyone that we’ve been busy? Is that really the measure of our worth to others … or even our own attempt to justify our worth to ourselves?

I guess the starting point is convincing ourselves that ‘busy’ isn’t life’s ultimate aim. There’s nothing wrong with being busy when we need to be but it’s not the goal we should be seeking above all else,

Wasn’t technology going to save us all?

On top of the constantly growing expectations of others soaking up our time, we now add more busyness into the mix with our use of technology.

Advancements in technology promised us an easier, more productive life, yet all that seems to have happened is that we’ve lost the ability to switch off.

Our technology usage has blurred the lines between work and play like never before. We’re checking personal emails and social media updates while we’re at work and checking work emails and catching up on work projects while we’re at home or out with family and friends. That means that our employer never has our full attention and sadly, neither do those closest to us.

We’ve sacrificed that which should be most precious to us on the altar of frantic activity.

Hanging Out for Holidays

We’re about to launch into what many call the ‘silly season’. The lead up to Christmas and New Year festivities pound us with activities and deadlines. Everything needs to be ‘finished before Christmas’.

Many of us take annual leave at this time and so we feel the need to complete every project on our desk before taking that leave. That usually means that we crawl across the finish line of the year, battered and bruised from the frantic pace we’ve held for the year, having just enough time to bandage our wounds and ‘almost’ recover before the whole thing begins again for the next year.

We’ve got to stop going at full speed towards the end of the year, imagining that we just need to get to the start of our leave so we can collapse in a heap.

We don’t just need that extended time to stop and refresh at the end of a busy year, we need time weekly and daily.

Jesus is coming. Look busy.

Sadly, those of us in the church have bought the lie that we have to be forever run off our feet too. In fact, a lot of the time we buy into the whole busyness thing even more because we have this strange image in our heads of God watching us and shaking his finger at us whenever we sit down to breathe.

This constant striving to work harder and harder within our daily lives and the church says more about our idea of who God is than anything else. If we imagine that we’d better look busy because we don’t want Jesus to catch us taking time out, we’ve missed the point entirely.

The truth is, God is the one who came up with the idea of rest. If we think God wants us to be constantly striving without rest, we’ve given in to a ‘religion’ that requires our efforts to appease God. That was never his plan.

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.
Psalm 127:2 (ESV)

Been Busy?

The next time someone asks you how you’ve been, how will you answer? Will you keep on assuring them that you’ve been busy or will you give them a deeper answer that speaks about something other than frantic activity?

You know that the world will keep crowding out times of rest and recreation so how about being more intentional in planning time daily, weekly, monthly and annually for time aside from the craziness? Then once it’s scheduled, guard it jealously. Don’t let it be the first thing that gets bumped from the schedule when something ‘more important’ comes up.

If you’re too busy to schedule in those times it’s a very clear indicator that you need to say no to those things that scream for your time but aren’t necessarily beneficial. Learn to say no so that you can say yes to the right things in your life.

And don’t forget that we are spiritual beings. Spend time connecting with God. You might just discover he doesn’t want you to burn out trying to achieve your busy badge.

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or illfitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

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Life Happens

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.
– John Lennon

For some reason, I started thinking about that line from John Lennon’s song Beautiful Boy recently.

Life is what happens to you? Really? Are we passive players in the whole process of life?

There are things that happen in life where we have no control but there are many more times that we are given the privilege of choice. It’s at those times we need to learn how to choose well.

I’ve met many people in developing countries who don’t have the luxury of choice. They don’t have options. That’s a big part of poverty. That makes me appreciate the opportunities I have for choices in life all the more.

Choosing to choose.

Sometimes we simply need to choose to choose. We need to choose to decide on the options in front of us knowing that if we choose not to choose, there are many other people ready to step in and make decisions for us … and their decisions probably won’t be for our benefit.

Choosing isn’t always comfortable.

On Monday morning my alarm went off at 5:00 a.m.

It was a public holiday. Outside it was dark, wet and so very cold. In my bed, it was warm, dry and oh so lovely.

I had to choose to take hold of the day rather than letting life happen to me.

I got out of bed. I tried to move around quietly so that I didn’t wake my wife. Our cats thought I was mad. They were probably right.

I put on my cycling gear, including my rain jacket, and headed out the door to ride.

The rain bucketed down. I rode. I met with some other cyclist. We rode together.

There’s something about being drenched to the skin, covered in sand and pushing hard against headwinds that lets you know you’re alive.

Sometimes choosing to stay in bed and catch up on rest is the choice we need to make. When the weather gets too wild it’s dangerous to be out there on a bike and so the choice to stay home makes more sense.

But sometimes we need to choose to take the hard way. Sometimes we need to step out of what’s comfortable into what we know we should be doing.

I have a six-day ride coming up in a few weeks and I need to be trained and ready. I need to choose to do what it takes to be fit enough to tackle a week on the road.

This time next year I’ll be halfway between Perth and Newcastle on a four and a half week cycling journey across Australia. I’ll have to choose the hard road many times in the months leading up to that adventure.

Refusing to make choices is a choice in itself.

If I don’t choose to train, I won’t be ready to achieve what I want to achieve. If I don’t choose to watch what I eat and take other steps to get fitter, I won’t be able to ride into Newcastle next year knowing that I’ve conquered the challenge.

Sometimes our choices are between comfort or challenge. Sometimes we choose between good and bad and at other times we choose between better or best.

Do we want to live passively or proactively?

Every day we need to make choices. Those choices let us know that we’re truly alive.

You can make a choice right now.

You can choose to let life happen to you while you’re busy making other plans …. or you can choose to decide what paths you take.

I pray that you’ll choose to choose.

What choices do you need to take today?

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Unlocking Potential

When he was just eight years of age his father was murdered in front of his mother. That moment forced Richmond, his mother and his five siblings out of their home and into one of the world’s largest slums. Life had changed in an instant.

I recently had the honour of spending some time with Richmond Wandera during his short visit to Perth. His life was changed by a tragic event. His life was changed again when he was sponsored through Compassion.

During the many years I worked in radio I had the opportunity to meet a lot of inspirational people. I don’t think any of them were more inspirational than Richmond. His is a powerful story teller and he has a very powerful story to tell. He has suffered malaria more than ten times, experienced extreme poverty, scavenged for food and seen things a child should never have to see.

Life now is very different. Richmond is a pastor and the founder of the Pastors’ Discipleship Network in four African countries.

The amazing thing is that while Richmond always carried that potential if it were not for the decision made by a fifteen-year-old girl to sponsor him, his life would look very different today.

Watch this video and hear Richmond tell some of his own story.

There are hundreds of thousands of children around the world who need someone to step up and help release their potential. You can be the person who brings change and hope to the life of a child. Please sponsor a child today through Compassion.

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Mid Year Stock Take

I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that time keeps slipping away at an ever increasing rate.

Today is the first day of the second half of 2017.

Here in Australia, the 1st of July marks the beginning of the new financial year. For businesses, it’s a time to draw a line under one year and to look ahead to what the new financial year will bring.

For all of us, being halfway through the calendar year means it’s a good time to look back before looking forward. It’s as good a time as any to reassess where our lives are heading and look at making adjustments or changes where needed.

Every day gives us an opportunity to start again but I think there can be something special about setting a new course on certain landmark days such us the start of a new year, the midpoint of the year, the start of a new financial year or on a birthday. There’s nothing magical about those days but we can use them as markers throughout the year that remind us of where we’re heading or perhaps where we should be heading.

What about you? Are you going to review the goals and resolutions you made at the start of the year?

Are you prepared to put the broken resolutions behind you and start again? I just love the fact that what has happened in the past doesn’t have to decide the direction of our future. While we can’t erase the past, we can deal with it and move forward.

When I look back over the first half of 2017 I see both triumphs and disappointments. I guess that’s what life is all about. It won’t always be smooth sailing but it’s how we deal with the tough times that helps us develop and grow into the people we will become, for better or for worse.

One of the things I’ve wanted to do this year is spend more time on my bike. I need a lot more kilometres in my legs over the next twelve or so months if I’m going to be ready to cycle across the country in September next year. (You can read more about that adventure in my post, Going the Distance.)

While I haven’t cycled as much as I would have liked, I have cycled a lot more than I did last year, so things are improving. Now I get to reasses, reset and move on with the plan to ride more.

There are always things in my private life, my family, my spiritual journey and my work that need reflection and readjustment.

If you’re interested in help towards a mid-year spiritual stock take, I recommend listening to a couple of messages that Rob Furlong preached recently. Check out The Springs of Life and Keeping the Springs Fresh.

How is 2017 looking for you? What adjustments will you make to ensure that you achieve at least some of your goals by the end of the year?

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