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

I am living a dream. Decades ago, while in seminary, I received an opportunity to possibly be chosen for a scholarship to go to Oxford for a six-week summer term to study C.S. Lewis. As an Anglophile extraordinaire, it was beyond my wildest dreams. But, during the qualification stage, I fell in love, married, and within a few months became pregnant, spending a good portion of those nine months in bed. No Oxford in my future. So long C.S. Lewis.

Fast forward to now…

Just when my housebound confinement due to medical issues had finally begun to wear on me, I saw a small ad for a free online course offered by Hillsdale College on C.S. Lewis and Christianity taught by the renowned C.S. Lewis scholar, yes from Oxford, Dr. Michael Ward. The optional eight books by Lewis to be read in conjunction with the course cost only $120 with S&H. And I had just received my quarterly book royalty check. Hurrah! I could do this. I had the time. I had the funds. I was in between deadlines with my publisher. Isn’t our Lord’s timing perfect!

So for the past month, I have been emersed in the nonfictional writings of C.S. Lewis. And I want to share with you what I have learned.

JOY IS NOT AN EMOTION! It is not fleeting like happiness.

Lewis tells of a time when, as he stood in a woodshed, he noticed a beam of light coming through a crack. Contemplation told him it was a beam from the sun. He saw the illumination, the angle, the dust mites dancing in it. Intellectually, analytically, in his mind, he knew it to be a true sunbeam, not a figment of his imagination.

Beautiful. It caught his attention. But then he dared to step into the sunbeam. Lewis chose to immerse himself in it, and upon doing so, he experienced the joy of the sunbeam. Lewis no longer saw the beam but looked along it to where it led. He saw the sunlight dancing on the new spring leaves and reaching back to the sun. The beauty captured his breath. It quickened his heart as the warmth penetrated his soul. His whole being focused on the beam’s projected path.

That is the joy of faith. That is the true experience of religion. When one immerses his or herself in the will of God and joins into what is good, right, and designed to be, then and only then does the person begin to fulfill the first and great commandment … You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37) It is no longer a head trip, but a full-body, mind, and soul experience. A move from contemplation into joy.

Stepping into the beam and following where it leads engages the whole human being. It enlists trust, hope, and worth. It aligns us with the cycle of the universe, the created order of our God that extends beyond what our personal agendas and desires dictate. It opens our hearts to the Holy Spirit’s guidance and lets our souls embrace our Savior’s immeasurable, unconditional love. We leave the subjectivity of “what I want” and enter into the objectivity of God’s will for us in the dance of creation.

Faith is no longer a set of rules, traditions, and boundaries. It is no longer colored by our limited knowledge or experience. It is being of one accord with the Holy, and in that Eden-like moment when we walk in the garden with our God, it unites us with humanity as it should be. All the things that divide us–all the prejudices, hate, anger, and hurt–disperse.

This joy goes beyond contemplation or earthly rationalization. War, death, illness, and sorrow cannot break the beam. Hardship and despair cannot dim it, neither can envy nor pride bend it. Because we experience the totality of God’s love through joy, we can openly share that love with others and urge them to step into the beam as well. “I can’t explain it. It’s beyond cool. You gotta come do this for yourself.”

If you have ever witnessed a new birth, be it a butterfly breaking its chrysalis, a kitten, a puppy, or a person emerging from the womb, or participated in someone being baptized and becoming a new creation in Christ before your eyes, you can probably recall the joy of that moment. Forget the science. Set aside the tradition. Something else more marvelous is occurring–the fulfillment of creation. The soul and heart are engaged as well as the mind. Your whole being, as it was created to be, is experiencing the moment. You have stepped into the beam.

And that is what prayer should be … being emersed in the beam. Beyond feeling, beyond visual perception, beyond intellectualization or emotion, and a fulfillment of all of the above. It is immersing yourself in the eternal while still standing in the temporal.

Lewis’ reconversion into a faithful believer in Christ occurred when he took Tolkien’s advice and let the joy happen. When he dropped to the wayside the misconceptions, the hurtful remembrances of stifling rules and traditions, and his prejudices, and then stepped beyond the limits of his intellectual mind (which was vast) into experiencing the Bible itself. He immersed himself in the story of God’s love for His creation, His attempts to woo humanity back into the order of relationship, His coming to earth, then dying for our sins and triumphing over death so our hearts could soften to receive the Holy Spirit. Then, and only then, in the light of that Love did all the traditions and commandments make sense.

I am beginning to once again tap into that joy that had dimmed so recently. To take my mind off myself and re-focus on my First Love. I am starting to feel the warmth again–the peace that passes all understanding — and I pray you will step into it as well so it may guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).

Dare to step with me into the beam. And bask in where it leads.

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...the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. Psalm 118:23

As I was applying my eyeliner today, I thought about it in a spiritual way. Yep, God revealed a truth to me as I put on my make-up. Guys, you may not wear eye makeup, but this can “apply” to you as well. Read on to find out why.

In ancient Egypt, when women and men lined their eyelids with kohl it actually helped them see better.  In fact, scientists say it might have had medicinal purposes. Not only did the dark kohl deflect the harmful glare bouncing off the desert, but it kept the sandy soot from penetrating their eyes, preventing infections like pink eye. So much for the sandman.

For more than a century athletes have smudged black lines under their eyes so they can see the ball coming toward them.  It reduces the glare from the sun and the stadium lights. Of course nowadays these under eye protectors are fancier. They are removeable “eyeblack” patches with team logos on them.

Us ladies figured out a long time ago that etching color around our lids make our eyes pop and appear more attractive. People notice us when our eyes are bright, interesting, and colorful.

So, here is the spiritual application…

God’s love outlines us. It protects us from harm, helps us see things more clearly, and attracts people to us.

  • By outlining our spiritual eyes with Scripture, the Holy Spirit gives us protection from things that might blind us and make us, well…drop the ball.  Being surrounded by the Word also keeps sooty things from penetrating us, causing an infection of worldliness.
  • We can observe things with clarity, and also see things through our Father’s eyes. The glare of prejudice, anger, envy and pride are deflected.
  • It draws people to us.  The love of Christ shines in our eyes and that attracts others who want to know why we have such joy and how can they have it as well. In a gray-filmed, negative world, faith can add meaning and color.

They say you can read a person’s mood by their eyes. Today, what spiritual eye make-up will you don before heading out into the world? Will you line how you view people with God’s joy, forgiveness, love and kindness?

 

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       Jane decided to cancel Christmas this year. Too bad no one else was.  If only she could ignore the classic movies and the endless commercials on TV, not to mention the lights and decorations along the streets, in the stores, down the grocery aisles…. Every candy cane, angel and jolly little elf flipped her stomach. It seemed it all started earlier and earlier every year.

        Buy, buy buy. That’s all Christmas had become. She and her four children were eking by okay. There were a few dollars left at the end of each month for a day at the movies, or dinner out, or maybe a new piece of clothing.  But she didn’t have a credit card and she couldn’t afford to line a Christmas tree skirt with presents. Hey, she couldn’t afford the price of a Christmas tree—yikes! She shuddered as she walked past the lot of evergreens for sell.

       The damp, chilled air whipped through her coat. She snugged the collar closer to her neck as she walked to the bus stop. She drudged through her daily routine ignoring the escalated chatter and the smidgen of tinsel and bling several people added to their desks. The poster of Betsy’s Chihuahua dressed in a Santa suit and panting for a candy cane almost made her lose her appetite. Ugh.  May as well forget packing a lunch until after the holidays. Then again, maybe she’d be the one individual in the U.S. to actually lose weight during December. 

       Thank goodness she worked for a company that frowned on Christmas parties and gift exchanges. Ever since three guys in the accounts payable department got plastered on spiked eggnog and printed everyone’s bonus with an extra zero in it…. Would she get a bonus this year? The company had been Scrooge-like the past two holidays. When she began to work there eleven years ago everyone used to get a gift certificate for a 15 pound turkey and a week’s pay. Two days before Christmas Eve, Jane woke with a stone bouncing in her gut. An envelope with the company logo lay on her computer keyboard. Inside was a twenty dollar bill in a glitzy card that sang Jingle Bells

         No matter. She stuffed it in her purse. Besides, her kids were all too old to get excited about Santa, reindeer and stockings. Being ages ten through fourteen, she didn’t expect any of them to crawl blurry-eyed from their bed covers until at least 11 am. Well, maybe you never get too old for stockings. Perhaps the dollar discount store?

         Jane pushed the wobbly-wheeled grocery cart through the aisles. You could hear the squeak-thunk-squeak three aisles over. She scrunched down as she browsed, ignoring the eyes that followed her. One lady actually curled her lip and rolled her eyes. Okay, so you never get the one with the shaky wheels? Happy holidays to you, too.

     Perhaps she could afford to buy a bag of chocolates and a box of candy canes to share. And a pair of socks for each of them. How about a 5,000 piece puzzle they could put together Christmas morning? Would that be too lame?

   Hey, frozen pizzas were buy one get one free. She could heat up the pizzas and they’d crowd around on the floor of the living room putting the puzzle together, each wearing their new socks, stuffing their faces with pepperoni and chocolates.  That might work. Jane couldn’t think of the last time all four of them spent a whole day together. The kids were always so busy. Jed had band and soccer, Josie ballet, Jeremy had little theatre, and Jez had volleyball and choral. 

   The store was jam-packed with shoppers. So many people, so much noise. Jane watched the woman in front of her load toys, candy, wrapping paper, junk food, and clothes onto the conveyor belt. Then she grabbed six $50 gift cards! Jane stared into the floor with a clamped jaw to keep from it swinging open in amazement. How could people rack up their credit card bills like that?  It’d take her all year to pay off that stuff—if she had one, that is.  No thank you. Not exactly a “ho,ho, ho” way to spend Christmas to her. More like “owe, owe, owe.”

As she walked to the bus, her store bags dangling from her arm, a man handed her a flyer.  “Mission Gospel needs YOU. Come help feed the less fortunate and homeless Christmas afternoon from 1-4. Share in eggnog, carols, stories and games. All ages over six welcome to volunteer.”  Jane set down her groceries and started at the faces from last year’s event displayed on the fold-out. They all seemed to gleam with joy. When was the last time her kids faces looked like that? Or hers, for that matter. When did any of us do something for someone else? And all this time she’d whined about her family’s circumstances. They were so much better off than any of these people in the pamphlet.

        She tapped in the phone number and raised her cell phone to her ear. The recording asked her to press one if she wanted to volunteer. Then it asked for how many would be coming. She clicked her fingernail on 5. With a grin almost reaching her dimple she shoved her phone in her purse. 

        Christmas Day arrived cold but sunny. She tapped on the kids’ bedroom doors at 11:00 a.m. “Time to come down stairs. It’s Christmas.” With wide yawns the kids trudged into the living room. The smell of cinnamon and apple oatmeal reached their noses. At each place setting lay a small stocking with socks, candy and a pamphlet inside. “What’s this, Mom?” Jed flipped it over.

        “It’s how we’re spending Christmas. Helping other people find joy. Maybe we’ll find a little of it, too. So eat up, and then go throw on some clothes. We leave in one hour.”  Four pair of eyes looked at her with expressions ranging from “Mom’s finally lost it” to “Do I have to?”  She chose to ignore them.

    When they arrived at the Mission Gospel, the laughter and music filled their ears. The doors opened to a brightly lit room crammed with people. The aroma of turkey with all the fixings whiffed through the air. Jane shuffled her kids to the volunteer table.  “It won’t be so bad. Just three hours and we’ll leave.”

      Halfway through the afternoon as she wiped down the tables, Jane spotted two of her kids showing some small children how to blow bubbles. Jed held a small boy on his lap while reading a story to a half-circle of others seated on the floor. Jez brushed a girl’s hair and tied a ribbon in it. All of them had smiles stretching to their cheeks.

     That evening they sat on the floor, surrounded by pizza remnants and a half-finished puzzle. Their eyes sparkled as they sang acapella carols, led by Jez. Little Jeremy threw his arms around Jane’s neck. “This is the best Christmas ever, Mom.”

Josie nodded “Yes, it is. Can we do this next year, too?”

Jane’s eyes dampened as she gazed into each shining face. “Absolutely. I can hardly wait.”

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                            May you find God in Christmas this year…. blessings.  Julie

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ID-10057677In the bustle of what can be the holidays, the temptation to overspend and regret it later, and the crowded confusion of lights, music and noise that fills the stores, it is easy to lose the true reason for the season. But tucked into a message to the Roman Christians two thousand years ago is the key to keeping Christmas what it should be – a time to draw nearer to God as we recall Him drawing nearer to us in the form of a babe lying in a manger.

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.( Romans 15:13)

We hear those words this time of year – hope, joy, peace. We hear them in Christmas carols, read them on greeting cards. The first Advent candle is for hope, the third for joy, and the fourth reminds us of the angels singing, “Peace on earth and goodwill to all mankind.”

If we ever hope to truly have a merry Christmas, then we must let the merriness grow in our hearts and not let the outside world taint it. Because we have hope through our Savior for eternal life later and for guidance now, we can have a joy that is not dependent on good cheer, highly caloric foods and the latest gadget in the electronics department or jewelry design from the diamond stores.  And once we experience that ebbing joy that comes form the Holy Spirit, we can find peace in the midst of  all the cacophony that can be the holidays.

So when the season starts to crowd in, take two steps back. Find a quiet place, even if it is in your parked car, and ask the God of hope to refill you with His joy. Let the power of the Holy Spirit flow through you and bring you that peace that no one understands, but everyone wants to experience.  Then, maybe, just maybe, you can bring joy to others– especially the frazzled shoppers and store clerks, hope to those who are not having a merry Christmas due to grief or hurt, and peace to all you meet.

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