Posts tagged ‘Jesus’

Light in the Darkness

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.   John 1:5

I had recently moved to southeastern Washington from Illinois and was excited about the prospect of backpacking. So after much thought and research, I decided to go to the north side of Mount St. Helens for my first backpacking trip in the Northwest. I arrived late in the afternoon with two of my adult children. We only hiked about two miles when darkness quickly descended upon us necessitating that we pitch our tents at a spot beside the trail. We were able to get a bite to eat and find our way into our sleeping bags before we were engulfed in darkness. And I mean total darkness. It was a cloudy night. There was no light from the moon or stars. In fact, I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.

Fortunately, we all had flashlights. But the battery in my light had nearly lost its charge. My light was very dim, and yet it provided all the light I needed to see that dark night. On the other hand, the battery in Kelsey’s light was fully charged. Her light was much brighter than mine making it much more effective at seeing every detail of the terrain around us. But when she inadvertently shined it directly into my eyes, I was totally blinded. 

I learned a valuable lesson in life that night. The brightness of my light is not as important as how I use my light. Jesus is the Light of the world. When I accepted Jesus into my life many years ago, His Light began expelling the dark thoughts in my mind and the selfish desires deep in my soul. Little by little the darkness continues to leave my life. I wish I could say all the darkness was completely gone, but it’s not. The truth is, I still have plenty of selfish desires and sinful thoughts. And yet herein lies the value and the proper use of the Light of Jesus in my life. He gives me His Light to illuminate my path. He gives my His Light that my life may be happier, brighter, and filled with peace. When I am walking next to a fellow traveler in life, my light can help us both as long as I don’t use it against him or her. 

You see, it is when I decide to turn the Light onto my fellow traveler, to shine it in his or her eyes, that the precious gift of Jesus becomes a blinding force rather than a precious gift. We too often want to use the Light of Jesus to illuminate the sins of others thereby using His Light as a judgment in their lives rather than a ministry of reconciliation and love. When I am tempted to argue the “truth” with a fellow traveler, I think about that night on the north side of Mount St. Helens. I remember how it felt to be blinded by the light that would have otherwise helped me find my way, and then I remember to use God’s Word to shine Light onto the path and not into the eyes of the one next to me. 

May we remember why Jesus has given us His Light as we read in Psalm 119:105, Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path. 

Are You Honoring God?

But my name is honored by people of other nations from morning till night. All around the world they offer sweet incense and pure offerings in honor of my name. For my name is great among the nations,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.  Malachi 1:11

I grew up in Indiana thinking my state was not only the best in the U.S., it was the best place in the world. I would hear of fellow Hoosiers like the legendary John Wooden who coached the UCLA men’s basketball team for many years and wonder why he didn’t coach at Indiana University or Purdue. I mean, how could someone from Indiana live anywhere else on earth? But I didn’t just feel this way about my state, I also felt this way about my church. We had the “truth” in contrast to every other church or belief system that was somehow deluded into believing lies.

It is easy to think and behave as if the world revolves around me and the “us” I choose. It’s easy to look at anyone who is different from me as someone who does not have favor with God. And yet God loves all people. We read in Romans 2:11 that “God shows no partiality.” God told Malachi that the Israelites were defiling His altar by bringing offerings to God that were blind and lame. In other words, they gave God what they didn’t want themselves. They were hoarding their wealth and giving from their abundance rather than sacrificially from their heart. God looked around the earth and saw people from other nations other than Israel who were honoring His name far beyond what His “chosen” ones were doing. But they were smug in their assurance of being better than anyone else simply because they were from Israel.

It is my experience that the Christian Church is too often like Israel of old. When I rode my bicycle across the country to raise awareness and money for diapers in 2012, I often found the Church of Jesus uninterested in helping the disadvantaged while those outside the Church were donating their time, money, and talents to relieve suffering all around them. I was humbled to see people giving to others rather than taking a vacation or buying another car. In Malachi we read that God’s name is honored when we sacrificially give our best talents and our most treasured gifts for those we would otherwise judge and condemn. I often imagine how God must hang His head in distress when He sees those of us who profess His name refusing to honor His name. We have opportunities every day to honor Jesus. He told us in Matthew 25:41, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” 

What would it look like in your life to truly honor God? How are you treating Jesus? 

The Wall

Then Eliashib the high priest and the other priests started to rebuild at the Sheep Gate.   Nehemiah 3:1

Every summer my family would go to Riviera Beach, Florida for two weeks. One of my favorite pastimes was building a sand castle on the beach. The first time I tried to build one, I would just begin to see it take form when a large wave would come to destroy the whole thing. I tried building further from the shore, but there wasn’t enough moisture in the sand to hold its shape. So I finally learned to build a large wall and a moat before I even started to build the sand castle. This then prevented the waves from destroying my precious, but vulnerable, work of art. 

The Israelites returned from Babylonian captivity to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem that had been destroyed some 70 years earlier. Nehemiah tells us that the process of rebuilding the temple began first with rebuilding the Jerusalem wall for the same reasons I learned to build a wall and a moat around my sand castle. Israel had many enemies who would love to destroy the temple at the first opportunity. The same is true today. In 2 Corinthians 6:16 Paul writes the “…we are the temple of the living God.” And just like in Nehemiah’s day, we are to build a wall of protection around our temple. But what does that look like? Does that mean I need to withdraw from the world and build a physical wall of protection between me and people who do not believe in God?  That doesn’t make any sense when we remember that Jesus tells us to the salt of the world which requires contact with those who do not have God’s amazing flavor in their lives. The answer lies within Nehemiah’s decryption of how the Jerusalem wall was rebuilt.

We discover in the third chapter of Nehemiah that the high priest began the work on the wall by rebuilding the Sheep Gate. The high priest began the process, not the chief architect or master builder or head deacon or building committee chairperson. No, it was the high priest who started to rebuild at none other than the Sheep Gate. In Luke 23 we see that Jesus, our High Priest and Lamb of God, began rebuilding the wall of  protection around the temple to be built in each one of His followers as He withstood the attacks of the earthly high priest and the Roman governor. Jesus went to the cross and nailed our sins to that cross as He died for you and me. There is no greater protection than rendering our sins powerless in our own lives. Jesus began the wall of protection that would extend to every human being who had ever existed, did exist, and would exist in the future. But the story of protection doesn’t end there.

Nehemiah chronicles the process in chapter 3 by telling us that THEN the son of this person and that person rebuilt the next section, and BESIDE him was…, and THEN there was…, and BEYOND him was…, and the NEXT GATE was….  This goes on until the end of the chapter when we read in verses 31-32, “Then he continued as far as the upper room at the corner. The other goldsmiths and merchants repaired the wall from that corner to the Sheep Gate.” And so the wall was repaired all the way back to the beginning point at the Sheep Gate.

Jesus involves us, you and me, in the rebuilding and repairing of the wall of protection around the temple. Could it be that Jesus created the church so that His followers would come together in prayer, unity, fellowship, ministry, and service to others for the purpose of building a wall of protection around His people, His temple on earth? That means you help me build the piece of the wall that I need most while I help you build the piece of the wall you need most.  We all have different vulnerabilities and weaknesses. We all have issues and struggles. We are all involved in a spiritual warfare against principalities and powers not of this earth. When I read Nehemiah 3 with the Church of Jesus Christ in mind, I see a picture of this person next to that person beside another person, and beyond her was yet another person. And though they were all working on the same wall of protection, they each had their own specific part to play in a particular area of expertise.

It makes me realize that perhaps we should be asking questions like: What part of the wall am I working on? Who is next to me? Who is just beyond me? And am I working on the wall Jesus is building, or am I working on my own wall?

How Bright is Your Light?

“Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when it is bad, your body is filled with darkness. Make sure that the light you think you have is not actually darkness. If you are filled with light, with no dark corners, then your whole life will be radiant, as though a floodlight were filling you with light.”  Luke 11:34-36

A friend recently was so excited to show me a flashlight he had borrowed from his neighbor. It was a pitch black that night with a heavy cloud cover hiding any light from the moon or stars. He turned the flashlight on and proceeded to shine it on the side of the shed 100 yards away. It was like a spotlight. He could make the light a square that only shed light in that area or he could diffuse the light to see all around you. With this light there was no danger in tripping over a fallen branch or a stray shovel left in the yard. You could walk safely in the darkest of nights with this light.

I immediately thought how my best flashlight is dim in comparison. In fact, it’s as if I don’t even have light coming from my flashlight. I could easily miss a fallen branch with my flashlight and fall flat on my face. Compared to the flashlight my friend showed me, mine is like darkness.

No wonder Jesus tells us to make sure we have the true light. It’s so easy to be satisfied with inadequate light just like I’ve been satisfied with a $5.00 flashlight my entire life. But Jesus gives us the “top of the line” light to shine on our path. He is the Light! That is the gospel message – that we can have the Light of the world IN our heart. So how does it become so dim? How is it that Jesus warns us about having darkness when we have His Light?

Could it be that we put so many filters and dimmers on His Light that it can actually become dark? The pharisees put rule after rule after rule on God’s law that was designed to keep us free that when the Light came across their path, they didn’t want anything to do with Him. They were in darkness. Today, we do the same things as the pharisees did. We put restrictions on Jesus that reduces the light He can shed in our lives. We can’t imagine He expects us to really love our boss who yells at us everyday. Jesus doesn’t really expect me to forgive my brother who cheated me out of my inheritance does He? We don’t expect that Jesus can give us victory over our special brand of addiction that isn’t hurting anyone else.

And so little by little we put dimmers on the Light of Jesus. We become focused on making sure we look good to all those around us. This dims the Light more than any other thing we can do. Why? Because the Light of Jesus, as verse 36 says, is meant to shine on the INSIDE. When I prevent Jesus access to all of my ugly thoughts, tendencies, and desires, I prevent His Light from fully shining in my heart. It’s the Light in my heart that allows me to see clearly. How bright is your Light? What dimmers have you placed on the Light in your heart?

Seeing Dimly Can Bring Life Into Focus!

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.    I Corinthians 13:12

I was in high school when my grandfather was dying with Parkinson’s disease. I waited with the rest of the family in the ICU waiting room. We sat there for hours on end waiting for a word from the doctor as to the condition of grandpa. When the doctor came to us, everyone stopped to listen. He seemed to have all the answers. He had grandpa’s life in his hands. He was actively combatting disease. He was “the man!”

Meanwhile, the pastor sat with us through the ordeal. He prayed with us, but from my perspective didn’t have much to offer. It was the doctor who was in charge. It was the doctor we were waiting to hear from, not the pastor. This, of course, was from the perspective of a kid who had wanted to be a doctor since five years of age. I wanted nothing else in life. There couldn’t possibly be anything more exciting, more rewarding, more stimulating than being a doctor. Doctors had a perfect life with no problems and not struggles.

My perspective changed when I became a physician. Don’t get me wrong. I loved practicing medicine. There were things I experienced and witnessed that I would not trade for anything. But the reality of being a doctor was quite different from what I had seen as a kid in high school. The reality was sleepless nights, interrupted dinners, and missed school plays. There were the constant phone calls in the middle of the night and the stress of having someone’s life in my hands. There were the patients that I had no answer for their disease. Being a doctor was much more difficult than the picture I had as a kid.

Just like I could not see the true nature of being a doctor before I had arrived in the halls of a hospital as a physician, I cannot see the true nature of my pain, suffering, loss, and struggles before I have arrived on the streets of gold as a child of God who has put on immortality in the twinkling of an eye. Until we get there, our only choice to know the true nature of all the issues we face today is to talk with the One who has been here and is now there – Jesus! Jesus is our physician we can talk to understand the real purpose of life.

So when you’re discouraged, tell Jesus. Open His Word, read His experiences, learn from His life. When you don’t think you can go on another day because of the struggles you face, listen to Jesus. Take a hike in nature, talk with a Godly friend, listen to Christian music, meditate on His Word, let Him speak to you. Argue with Him if you must. Share your frustrations and doubts. He wants to hear what you have to say.

One day when Jesus comes to gather us home, we will understand our pain, suffering, loss, and struggles from a new perspective. We will see the real purpose of our struggles that today we can only see dimly. But dimly is better than not at all. I am still thankful for the years I was a physician that only happened because I had seen dimly what a physician’s life is all about by talking and observing physicians as a kid. We can only see partially now. Jesus walks by our side and explains all that we can possibly understand. But we will never fully understand until we arrive in our heavenly home. 

And so we walk by faith. Those of us who trust in God do so because of the reality of how His perspective actually does change our lives. And I do understand just enough to keep me going forward in His loving arms. I have talked with Jesus enough to see, though dimly as it may be, that He loves me and is always there for me. When I focus on Jesus, my issues come into the perspective of His love, His plan, His vision for my life. Seeing dimly brings life into focus.

 

Are You Afraid?

“But I am afraid to surrender,” the king said, “for the Babylonians may hand me over to the Judeans who have defected to them. And who knows what they will do to me!”  Jeremiah 38:19

Jeremiah had told anyone who would listen that the only way to save their lives would be to surrender to the king of Babylon. Jeremiah had been imprisoned and tortured at the order of the king of Judah, Zedekiah, for proclaiming this God-given message to anyone who would listen. Now the Babylonian army was at Judah’s border and Zedekiah had no one else to turn to for truth other than Jeremiah. So he secretly called for Jeremiah one last time to ask what he needed to do in light of the advancing Babylonian army. Jeremiah’s message was the same, Surrender! Surrender to the king of Babylon and live! But this was unthinkable, impossible!

Have you ever had a message from God that you didn’t like, that was unthinkable, or even impossible? Perhaps He is telling you to forgive a person who has hurt you deeply. Or maybe you have a co-worker who has been scheming to take your job, but the clear word you hear from God every time you pray is, “Love your enemy.” Or maybe God has called you to another state, another job, or to go back to school, but you are afraid to leave your current situation.

The specific word from God doesn’t matter. It only matters what we do with His Word, the Word made flesh. The only strength we have to accomplish the word of God in our lives is to invite the Word into our lives. Jesus is the Word made flesh. He took your sins and mine, nailed them to the cross, buried them in the grave, and was resurrected to be with YOU and ME! He gives us strength to do His word. But like Zedekiah, we cannot imagine how we could surrender to the kings of Babylon in our lives. Like Zedekiah, we focus on the earthly challenge and the temporal foe. 

But the Word became flesh so you and I could not only focus on Him, but live in Him. When you choose to live IN Him, He lives IN you! What God is asking of you today may seem unthinkable, unimaginable, even impossible. But when Jesus is in you, all things become possible. When you commune with Jesus, earthly challenges become opportunities. When you have supper with Jesus, temporal foes become agents of God to unite your heart with His. 

Zedekiah was afraid to surrender to the king of Babylon because he had not surrendered to the King of the Universe. So he ran from the king because he ran from the King. When we run from the King, we are overcome by our fears and will be conquered by them. But God offers us another path, His path. It’s a path paved with love by the blood of Jesus who walks with you every step of the way.

No matter what your struggle happens to be, how impossible it seems, Jesus is with you. Focus on Him. Listen to Him. Abide in Him. Surrender to Him. And then you will be able to proclaim with Paul, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13

What is the Focus in Your Church?

Do not get involved in foolish discussions about spiritual pedigrees or in quarrels and fights about obedience to Jewish laws. These things are useless and a waste of time. Titus 3:9

As a kid growing up, the church was the center of my family’s life. I can remember helping my mother clean the church every Friday afternoon. As a Seventh-day Adventist, we would go to church every Saturday. We would then go to a church function Saturday night or to the house of a church member to play games and have fun. We always went to Prayer Meeting on Wednesday nights. And it wasn’t unusual to have an out of town speaker come for 6 weeks to preach 5 or 6 nights a week. We would attend every meeting. This was all great except for the attitude that somehow permeated through the church that we were better than other Christians. In time, I began to think the same way.

And then one day in high school, I was invited to a gathering of young people who worshipped Jesus. It was the “Jesus Movement” that swept the country in the ’70s. They read the Bible, gave their testimony of what Jesus had done for and with them in the last few days, sang praises to Jesus, and had a wonderful Spirit-filled time. I talked to the elders in my church only to be warned about the dangers of “sentimentalism.” No matter what I was told, I knew what I witnessed was real. It was real because for the first time I saw kids sold out for Jesus. They loved Jesus with all their hearts.

Since that time, I have come to realize the importance of a heart connection with God. Knowledge is important. What God says in the Bible is important. But without a heart connected to God, without falling in love with Jesus, I only have rules to bash people rather than love to touch people. Perhaps this is why the same Bible we can use to argue fine theological points also tells us to live from the heart, embrace God’s love, and to live in a close relationship with Him. Consider what God says in Isaiah 1:11-12, 

“What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?” says the Lord. “I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of  bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to worship me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony?”

It’s so easy for us to focus on the wrong thing in our lives. We all get that. We all intuitively know that we need to keep our eyes on Jesus as opposed to money, power, position, or the material trappings of this world. But what about church? Do we focus on the wrong thing even at church? Do we focus on Jesus at church? Or do we spend our time worried about the order of service and what songs are sung? Do we worry more about the church service than we do about Jesus? Are we more concerned with the Bible than with Jesus? What’s so crazy about this is that Jesus describes the church as a gathering of people who will have the Holy Spirit in their midst, love one another, and be His hands and feet to those around them. That’s it!

I don’t know about you, but I want to focus on Jesus this week. I want to be more like Jesus. I want to see people the way Jesus sees people. I want my heart to break for what breaks His. What if that were the only focus of church? What if the only thing the body of Christ cared about was to be like Jesus? What if we were just like Jesus? What questions would we be asking ourselves in church then?

 

 

 

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