In The Midst of Darkness

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Driving along the highway we now see the beginnings of lights adorning homes, lawns, trees, and rooftops. It starts in mid to late November and gradually increases as Advent begins and points toward the celebration of Christmas. And it can seem that Advent lights up the sky and our world in a special way unlike any other time of the year. It pierces the darkness and lifts our spirits when it happens and many who have already begun to add lights to celebrate do so now despite the dark times that seem to surround us.

We look toward Advent and perhaps pause to consider how nothing seems the same this year due to the pandemic and so much chaos and turmoil that swirls around us. How can we possibly turn our hope to that of the coming of a Savior?

We focus on the birth of Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem, but what do we know of the world He was entering beyond knowing his birthplace was determined because Mary and Joseph had to travel there to pay taxes to the Roman Empire?

Not a great deal is spoken of, but the work of Josephus, a first century Roman-Jewish historian who was born in Jerusalem gives us a glimpse of what was a very dark time and place when Jesus came as a babe in a manger.

Herod the Great’s bloody reign of terror was coming to an end. It was marked by mass terror and widespread surveillance resulting in not only killing those reported as enemies, but members of his own family as well. When he finally died there was hope the new ruler would punish those who had carried out the evil devices of Herod including a reduction of the burdensome taxes levied by him. Many were impatient for justice and when Herod’s successor, Archelaus, saw the growing outcry of the people and how those teaching the Jewish law stirred up the people and how they began to attack his soldiers, he sent an army to destroy them. They killed 3,000 men and others fled to the mountains.

To look at that first Advent and begin the story on the road to the inn in Bethlehem is where we often start, but to do so would miss the context for those who looked and waited in the darkness for the Light of the World. It would miss how great their hope despite the darkness and how that hope was planted in their hearts at another place and time. Because the beginning of the story is key to the celebration of Advent, we must begin at the beginning of the story – the place where God starts and remember that He is the author of the story. It is after all, his story.

“Everything begins somewhere, and to go from a knowledge of Advent traditions to becoming an Advent people we must start where God starts – with creation.”

Mary Geisen in The Advent Narrative

The word Advent causes us to look back, but if the Lord dwells within our hearts, this season should also propel our eyes forward to the Advent yet to come when the Lord returns for us.

“God takes the story of the world and shows us details that lead us forward into the place of waiting where we find ourselves now. He prepares our hearts, souls, and minds for the time when Jesus will come again. Our story as God’s chosen children is one that is woven into HIS story of love and peace.”

Mary Geisen in The Advent Narrative

In this season of preparation that is Advent, I think the Lord would have us less focused on the darkness of the world around us and more involved in preparing for his return and the role each of us is to play as his light shines through our brokenness to speak to the hope so many need to hear and see.

“This Advent we are walking into story. The binding of God’s story into our own. The unfolding of God’s grace-gift and the receiving of this beautiful gift as our own. For it is with and by grace that we will find our own way along the path of our lives. Advent marks our own arrival into God’s story.”

Mary Geisen in The Advent Narrative
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Even in darkness, one small light can shine the way to the path toward home. The darkness makes the light that much brighter and small as we may be in the scheme of things, He has written us into his story, and we have a role to play as a light shining when the world is searching for some light of hope. Our path is forward. Our hope is in Jesus not in what we see around us.

It is not only now that we tell the world around us that Jesus came to earth in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago to show us who God is, light the darkened path before, and offer us the hope of grace, but also to tell them He promised to never leave us and is coming again for those who are a part of Him.

“He continues to teach that we do not know when the Son of Man will come again so we must remain vigilant. The call to stay awake is not always physical vigilance. God calls us to an awareness that prepares us to dive deeper into relationship with Himself and others, and to better understand ourselves.”

Mary Geisen in The Advent Narrative

As Advent people, let us not fail to be looking for Him again as we live in the time of the now and not yet.

Mindset: The Key to Hope


It can be so easy to forget the powerhouse that sits above our neck encased in our skull can grow and change throughout our lifetimes. This powerhouse is often a field of battle between negative and positive thoughts that are often whispering quietly without our notice or at other times loudly screaming at us.

Those thoughts have created a mindset that began developing from our earliest years of life. Unfortunately, not everything that goes into the brew is truth, but we didn’t realize it and took some of those lies as facts. Their impact can affect us for years to come.

Perhaps that is why so many books have been written about how to improve or change the habits of our minds, to spiritually war against the enemy’s taunts that he plays out there. Psychology also seeks to help us with cognitive-behavioral techniques that help us identify negative self-defeating thoughts and tools to help us replace them with truth. No quick fix appears to be listed in any of the resources available.

One of the challenges for us is that our mindset ultimately gravitates into one of two types. These affect how we view every mistake, disappointment, setback, and failure and either move us forward toward hope or cause us to halt forward movement and give up.

Angela Duckworth in her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, identifies these two mindsets as a growth mindset or a fixed mindset.


If we have a growth mindset, we believe we can do better, that it’s possible if we work harder, get additional support, and receive encouragement that we can get smarter and do better. And guess what? We get up and try again!

Research shows that if you have a growth mindset, you’ll be more likely to do better in school, enjoy better emotional and physical health, and have stronger, more positive social relationships with other people. It doesn’t mean we don’t fail or face challenges. What matters is our response to those defeats.

If we have a fixed mindset, we believe that those failures, setbacks, disappointments, and mistakes mean we don’t have the “right stuff”, aren’t good enough. And guess what? We give up. That belief can be so strong that we don’t ask for support, we don’t risk trying, we become resolved to a sense of our inadequate performances. We decide we don’t have what it takes!

One of the keys to determining which mindset we develop is how those around us respond when we slip up and make mistakes. The more powerful the position of authority the person has in our lives, the greater the impact not just of what they say or don’t say but also by the facial expressions they exhibit.

If we struggle with a fixed mindset about our spiritual lives, the enemy is gleeful because he knows that he can defeat our hope over and over again as soon as we get up from praying or reading in the Bible. Too often our spiritual lives also get stalled because of how our brothers and sisters around us respond to our struggle. Instead of real encouragement, we might experience quite the opposite for any number of reasons. Sometimes the person isn’t really accurately listening to us to hear the nature of the struggle. Sometimes the person doesn’t know enough of our story to understand why we were defeated….again!!

All of this reminds me of what I love about Paul’s words to the Corinthians:


We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and  take every thought captive to obey Christ,” 2

2 Cor. 10:5 ESV

What we don’t always recognize is that eliminating negative patterns of thinking will not automatically bring about positive, “can do” patterns of thinking. We need to deliberately replace them with positive truth that we affirm to ourselves.

Archilbald Hart has written seven paraphrases of such truth based on scripture that gives a picture of what I mean so let me share them with you:

  • “God loves me more than I can ever imagine, and I can never travel beyond the reach of this great love.” (Rom. 8:39)
  • “No matter what my sin, God forgives me if I repent, confess, and return to Him.” (1 John 1:9)
  • “There is nothing I can do that will cause God to turn away from me.” (Heb. 13:5)
  • “Whatever I attempt to do, if it is God’s will for me He will give me the strength and wisdom I need to accomplish the task.” (Phil. 4:13)
  • “If I seem to fail because circumstances are against me. God will always give me another opportunity if I return to the starting point.” ((Psa. 37:24)
  • “God never wants me to give up. Never, never, never, never.” (Josh. 1:5,7,9)
  • “Hating myself doesn’t make God love me more; it just makes it harder for me to see his love.” (Psa. 103:10-12)

God has created our powerhouse brains to be resilient and adaptable. If we have had a fixed mindset, replacing lies and negativity with truth from God’s Word can change it. We also can choose to spend time with those who encourage us and believe in us even when we don’t believe in ourselves and remember that it is those very struggles that God can and does use to produce more endurance and resilience in us.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Rom. 5:1-5 ESV
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The Final Quarter

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How are you running today?

You may be saying that you’re not a runner and in the usual sense of that word, I am not either. I sometimes wish I had done that when I was younger, fitter, and stronger so I could be doing it now, but that didn’t happen, so I am a walker instead. But I am inspired by our daughter who didn’t start running until mid-life and diligently trained to develop that habit and skill.

The truth is that as believers we are all runners. We hear that in so many passages in Paul’s epistles and we hear it very clearly in Hebrews:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)

This has always been a favorite verse of mine because it reminds me each day of the truth upon which I base my life. Each of us has a race marked out for us in this life. Mine likely does not look like yours nor yours look like mine, but it is a path set before each of us designed by God for our place in his Kingdom and our purpose within it. And clearly the race is important, or this verse and others wouldn’t be telling us there would be hindrances and things meant to tangle us up before we finish the race.

Within that race there are many parts and to finish the race well, each part of it will require something of us. The longer we run, the farther we are along on the field, the harder the race will feel. It can cause us to want to stop, give up the whole idea, and quit.

This year has been one where many of us have had more than a few hard places on the course set before us. We hoped as the year wound down that we would be near the end of this part of the course, but it isn’t clear just when this part of the course will end. Depending on our training, our endurance may be strained about this point.

I get that! But then I look at some of the other runners in close proximity to me and I am reminded not to give in to fatigue or any other hindrances as I push forward each day. I look in one direction and I see our son who was diagnosed with cancer in early summer and whose path included rounds of chemo and a life upended from what was anticipated. In him we watched the faith he has nourished since childhood dig deep into the roots already there and sustain him along with those “running” with him to finish this part of the course set before him.

I look in another direction and I see our daughter managing multiple changes in the path before this year for this part of her path and I see her grab hold of the faith founded on other seasons of challenge. I see her pick up running again after laying it down for some seasons so that she can run to be a part of raising money for the 60 Mile Challenge for the American Cancer Society in honor of her brother’s race with cancer.

The examples of people I can see on the course set before them are many and I see the challenge each faces, and I am reminded of that verse in Hebrews and the need for perseverance, endurance, to push forward. I am reminded of how the letters to each church noted in the early chapters of the book of Revelation speak of the rewards given to those who endure to the end.

I think of the words of Samwise Gamgee written by J.R.R. Tolkien in the first book of the trilogy of The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring as the film version draws to a close:

“It’s like the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it’ll shine out the clearer. I know now folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.”

J.R.R. Tolkien in The Fellowship of the Ring

One of the things I am doing for my own physical health is to work with a personal trainer. I am not and have never been an athlete, but I am very aware that my aging body is not as strong as it once was, my posture is not as straight as it used to be, and my flexibility and endurance has suffered too. Working with weight training under the guidance of a trainer is not “fun” for me, but if I am going to steward this physical body it requires I add weight training to be able to finish the path set before me as strong as I can, and training is the route to that.

Beyond that there is the significant training in the spirit realm that must go on daily in order to push back entanglements and hindrances that would slow me down, throw me off course or tempt me to stop. It means putting on the full armor of God Paul writes about in Ephesians 6 and taking every thought captive he writes in 2 Corinthians 5.

When do you notice the benefits of training? When you come to the tough places on the course, when you are in the final quarter of the game and you’re exhausted and feel totally spent. Good players of sports know that well. They understand the words of Chris Fabry:

“…you have to play for the final quarter of the game and not halftime.”

Chris Fabry in June Bug

This year as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States unlike many we might have celebrated, we need to remember we need to play the final quarter and the Lord’s strength in us will be there as we endure. Endurance will not be easy but have its rewards.

In our family there will be a long list of those including our son’s news from his oncologist that he is in remission following chemotherapy.

“This is about life being ahead of you and you run at it! Because you never know how far you can run unless you run.”

Penny Chenery in the movie, Secretariat

The Advent Narrative

As I write this and we approach celebrating Thanksgiving in the United States in just a few days, many of us are reminded we are also approaching the traditional season of Advent that marks a month-long celebration moving toward Christmas. But some of us may not be sure of how to sort that out this year in the midst of the continuing pandemic and find celebrating either holiday more challenging.

We have been waiting for this pandemic to end, for life to return to the “normal” that we knew before it all started. Most of us thought it would be subsiding by now after missing spring, summer, and autumn events. We may have forgotten what the meaning of Advent is and into this confusing and dark time comes a new book by Mary Geisen, The Advent Narrative, to open our eyes to a deeper understanding of not only what this traditional season means, but also what it means to be Advent people.

What does it mean for us in 2020?

Mary’s book reminds us that the word “advent” is derived from a Latin word that means “coming.” Most of us would look at that and nod our heads in agreement as we traditionally celebrate the birth of Jesus during this time, but we have forgotten something significant that makes all the difference.

“This time we are in marks the “not yet” between the birth of Jesus and His return. You and I are living in Advent as we work, play, and grow. We are an Advent people.”

Mary Geisen in The Advent Narrative

From this understanding Mary’s book takes us on an Advent journey structured like a play containing acts, scenes, and “tableaus.” Her words guide the reader to consider how to live best in the time of “not yet,” in the waiting for the Advent of the Lord’s return, not just looking over our shoulder at the first Advent.

I doubt Mary knew what this season would be like when the Lord gave her the vision for this new book, but it would be just like Him to lead her to write a book that is right on time for where we are. This year is a time to look beyond what we traditionally do or consider at Advent, to look more deeply into this “not yet” time and who we are in the midst of it.

Mary is a lover of books and stories and her format tells a powerful story of hope and light in the midst of confusion and despair, wilderness and loss.

“As a believer you can trust that God takes an ending and opens a new door that leads you home. He walks you right through that intersection and shows you the way you should go.”

Mary Geisen in The Advent Narrative

The Advent Narrative reminds us this is a season (albeit a longer one) and that it will not last forever even though we do not know when it will end.

“Our journey as an Advent people will take us through multiple seasons of waiting in the wilderness. Life is like that.”

Mary Geisen in The Advent Narrative

What and how should we be preparing for Advent, not only the celebration of the birth of Jesus, but the second Advent, His return?

If you guessed there is more than lighting Advent candles, decking the halls, and hanging wreaths while we look back over our shoulder, then you won’t want to miss getting a copy of Mary’s book and letting her invite you into a very personal journey of discovery of what it means for you to be an Advent person.

Advent is not a look into the past but a way into the future.”

Mary Geisen in The Advent Narrative

This might be a book you think of as a gift for someone but make it a gift for yourself first to enrich this season of “not yet” as we wait in so many ways. Let us not miss the most significant thing we are waiting for and when you discover it, then share it with others so their way will be lighter and filled with the hope that can only come from the One who came that first Advent more than 2,000 years ago.

Open Your Eyes

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In 1999 one of the popular movies was The Matrix. It captured the attention of viewers with its special effects and the theme that there was more going on than meets the eye. Could it be that fantasy was highlighting a truth we did not see as we consider the time we are living in?

Read a part of the dialogue that Morpheus speaks to Neo and consider:

“If you’re talking about what you can hear, what you can smell, taste and feel then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain. You’ve been living in a dreamworldNeo. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.” 

From The Matrix (1999)

Okay, so maybe not “simply electrical signals,” but it is not off base to consider that the world has so captured our attention that it has resulted in us missing the powerful truth of the unseen world we live in and what has been playing out while we were dreaming (or sleeping).

As our lives have gotten busier and busier and our attention has been focused on screens of one kind or another, there is much we have missed about each other and what has been a slow yet steady shift in the world as we have known it.

Our calendars drive us so that we experience more stress even in leisure activities than we once did. Time for reflection is rare and might only occur on a vacation if we are gone long enough. We keep running faster and cannot seem to catch up on anything despite all the things we have created and designed to help us make life simpler and easier.

We simultaneously live in two different worlds at once. There is the one we see that has us spinning and tired much of the time and there is the unseen world we don’t believe in, have forgotten, or are too busy to notice. The enemy is delighted with either condition because it causes us to miss the activity he is using to reshape our world, its values, passions, attitudes, and behaviors. He wants us to be deceived and miss the unseen war that is going on. He doesn’t want us to look beyond the fog.

That isn’t new to humankind. We have always been captivated most by what the natural eye can see. We forget the unseen war. We forget who the author of confusion is. We forget we were made for something better. We forget that if we are believers we are never alone and have the host of heaven around us as well as the hordes of hell.

One of my favorite Old Testament Bible stories illustrates that perfectly. It’s found in 2 Kings 6. Elisha, prophet and former pupil of Elijah seems to have trouble follow him much of the time and when we find him in this chapter, he had just given advice to the armies of Israel. The king of Syria was none too happy with him so under the cover of darkness, he sent his army to surround the place where Elisha was staying with the intent to destroy him.

Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, awakens early in the morning and discovers they are surrounded by enemy forces and sounds the alarm for Elisha. The servant appeared frantic wondering what to do and what would become of them. Look at how Elisha responds:

“And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

2 Kings 6:17 (NIV)

We may not see an army physically surrounding us, but the chaos and confusion sewn by the enemy’s hand and our proclivity to be deceived by objects around us make us easy prey to fear, doubt, and despair that we will not be rescued from the madness we find ourselves in or believe that we have any power to stand in the midst of the onslaught where our freedom appears to hang by a thread.

Perhaps the Lord has allowed the noise of battle to become so loud to remind us of the unseen world and to remind us we are still here as watchmen and guardians, his representatives, and He would not have us surrender to the forces that are surrounding us that He has already defeated at the cross.

On recent days as noise and confusion have reached high levels, I sense the Lord nudging us to “open our eyes”. I hear the words of J.R.R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings where we see the battle between good and evil played out in vivid imagery as power and deceit weave webs to seduce men, dwarves, and elves.

Then in the last film (The Return of the King), we see the reluctant Aragorn, the one who is to be king, take his leadership role in the memorable scene in front of the black gate of Mordor. His words to his armies could serve us well also:

“Sons of Gondor! Of Rohan! My brothers. I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the Age of Men comes crashing down, but it is not this day! This day we fight! By all you hold dear on this good earth. I bid you stand, Men of the West!”

From The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien

You may think you are not a warrior and often as believers we focus on loving and serving and forget there is more to us than that. Paul wouldn’t have written about armor in Ephesians 6 if there were not battles to fight and win through the Lord’s Holy Spirit at work within us.

We commonly get in some metal vehicle to protect us when we leave the safety of our homes and we buckle our seatbelts after years of training, but do we put on the whole armor of the Lord Paul writes about when we arise each morning?

Perhaps we need to begin with repenting for being off our posts with the world pulled over our eyes. Perhaps we need to be sure our standing with Him allows us to ask for mercy and help.

Lord, open our eyes!