Walking in the Light without Fumbling in the Darkness

Photo by Julia Volk on Pexels.com

All the hopes and expectations of Christians are realized in Christ’s resurrection. The good news of Easter cannot be contained or limited to a single day (Easter Sunday). That is why, according to the Church Calendar, Easter is only the first of fifty days of celebration called “Eastertide” which leads to the day of Pentecost.  Eastertide is designed for exploring the new life we have in Jesus and the joyful Christian life we can all experience.

Yet, what if a new life has not been our experience? What do we do when, year after year, Easter comes and goes and all the old sins, failures, compulsions, and addictions remain unchanged?  It is not sufficient to simply know the gospel of grace; there must be a careful and truthful application of the gospel to our lives. For the gospel is not just a message to believe; it is a powerful truth to be acted upon in our daily lives.

Too many folks are spiritually damaged from regrets or remorse over bad decisions. They have shame and guilt about the inability to overcome bad habits. There is a lack of courage in facing temptations and sins within. It all lies beneath the surface festering, irritating, and causing pain. In some cases, it is so deeply embedded in the soul that the cause of the discomfort is unknown.

Spiritual renewal is needed. To take a trip into our inner worlds, there are three words that bring to light three important theological themes.  We need to know and apply these words so we will have the pain relieved and experience the joy of new life in Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-2:2)

Fellowship: Christians have a sharing bond of partnership in Christ with God and with one another.

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3, NIV)

Koinonia is a familiar word to many Christians. The image of “fellowship” might be of sitting around a table at a church potluck. Or maybe it evokes the picture of standing around after church and talking with each other over a cup of coffee. The biblical word is much more than this. Fellowship means we have deeply shared beliefs and behaviors with God and one another. 

Fellowship means Christians have a vital union with Jesus which paves the way to cooperate with God’s purposes in the church and the world. Fellowship also means Christians share in Christ together through a common relationship with God and a common purpose of glorifying God. In Christ we partner together to live out the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Biblical fellowship is an action based in the union we have with God in Christ.  To live in fellowship is to live in the light and not in the darkness.

The way we view Jesus determines how we live the Christian life. Jesus was a real flesh-and-blood man. If Christians do not uphold the physical reality of Jesus, then the Christian life will be unconcerned for the material world and the ethics of bodily existence. The Christian life is very much about both body and soul.

Walk: The power of sin is very deceptive.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us…. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8, 10, NIV)

The New Testament often pictures the Christian life as a walk down a road. Which road we are on and how we walk it is especially important. God is light and in him is no darkness at all. We are to walk with the light of Jesus illuminating our way.

Talk is cheap. The real muster is whether we live in the light of revealed truth.  If a person claims a relationship with Jesus but lives how they want, that person is not an authentic believer.  If a person claims to be without sin, that person is self-deceived by the power of sin.  If a person claims they are okay and do not sin, such a person makes a mockery of Christ’s bodily existence, including his human suffering and death.

Photo by Paulo Mu00e1rcio Dos Santos on Pexels.com

If a person’s daily life is characterized by darkness, then no matter how sincerely or publicly they make a profession of Jesus, that proclamation is a sham. This is not about sinners in general making occasional lapses in judgment or behavior. This is about people who claim to be Christian but have daily on-going patterns of deliberately walking down a dark path and doing what they want. Their mantra is, “It’s my life, I do what I want, and nobody is going to tell me what to do.” Such a person is a poser. They only pretend to have a walk with Jesus.

To counter the bogus claims and pretensions, we are to walk in the light, and not hide in the darkness. This requires honesty, integrity, and the courage to allow God’s light to shine on the shadowy places of our lives. There cannot be new life without the light.

We counter the darkness by openly confessing our sins. There is a promise attached we need to take to heart: God is faithful to forgive and purify us. God’s light shining upon us might hurt, but it brings life and healing. Holding onto secrets only festers in the soul, while the snakes of sin slither around our feet.  The result is spiritual blindness, darkness, and death. Confession is more than private and personal; it is also public and corporate.  New life, renewal, revival, and revitalization come from real honest tell-it-like-it-is confession. 

This really ought to scare the hell out of us. Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, said we should pluck our eyes out if they offend. Cut our hands off if they cause us to sin. It is better to be in God’s kingdom with no eyes and hands then to burn in hell with all our parts intact. (Matthew 5:29-30)

Repentance is more than mouthing words about being a sinner like everybody else. Repentance is a complete change of how we live our lives. If there is a besetting sin that dogs us every day and we do all the same things this year we did last year to deal with it, and it did not work, then we will be right back here at Eastertide next year – frustrated with the very same dark walk, carrying the very same burden of guilt, shame, and regret. 

Remaining in the dark with no one knowing about our inner life is opposite of biblical fellowship because it forsakes the light. Walking away from the church will not deal with it. Walking away from God will not deal with it. Trying a new teaching or a new practice will not make it go away. Only agonizing, soul-rending, yet freeing, confession will allow God’s surgical knife to take out the offending sin and bring healing of both body and soul.

Patricia Raybon, in her book I Told the Mountain to Move confesses the regret and grief she carried after aborting two children. She writes, “I had told myself that an abortion would end my problems, not complicate them by bringing an innocent life into my own upheaval.” She shares the following letter, written to her two aborted children:

Dear Babies:

“This is Mama. You will know my voice, I think, even though we were together for such a short time. I did a bad thing. I did not trust God. I did not understand God would have made everything okay. I was like Peter, who looked at the waves, not at Jesus. And when he looked at the waves, he started to sink—down, down, down.

That’s how I felt, like I was sinking down. When the doctors said you were growing inside of me, that’s how I felt, so I didn’t know how to love you. I was afraid. I let fear convince me that more babies would just make things worse.

Instead, look what I did. I robbed us. First, I robbed you—taking your own lives. I didn’t think I was strong enough. So, I robbed myself of all the joy you would have brought me, too. Brought all of us, your sisters, your family, and for each of you, your daddy. I thought we would have more problems. That we did not have enough money. That we did not have enough time. That we did not have enough love. But I just did not know then that God is bigger. And God would make everything all right. I didn’t know.”

We are not left to unending remorse and sorrow.

Advocate: The atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ purifies us from all unrighteousness.

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. (1 John 2:1, NIV)

To advocate means to come alongside another in need, speaking and acting on their behalf. Jesus is our Advocate. Christ’s death atoned for all our sin, guilt, and shame. Christ’s propitiation satisfied all of God’s righteous wrath against every sin, including yours and mine. The Lord’s gracious intervention has saved us from ourselves. Jesus made it possible for us to experience forgiveness, restoration, and new life. 

When we are so broken and full of tears that we cannot even speak, Jesus steps in and speaks on our behalf with meaningful words that have been backed up with the action of the cross and resurrection.

We have a few choices: We could pretend everything is okay and proceed with business as usual. Or we can come to Jesus, confess our sin and receive the grace of forgiveness and cleansing. We can allow the church to be a hospital for sinners through praying for one another. Throughout the New Testament we are called to be little advocates practicing the ministry of coming alongside and speaking on one another’s behalf before God and others.

Choose wisely, my friend.

John 12:44-50 – The Light of Christ

Photo by Adrien Olichon on Pexels.com

Then Jesus cried out, “Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

“If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day. For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So, whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” (NIV)

Jesus is the light of the world. (John 8:12)

Jesus told his followers they are the light of the world. (Matthew 5:14)

Simple observation: Neither Jesus nor his followers become light. They are light. So, what does that mean?

To be light means we take a particular posture toward the world. It means we have a unique role in society.

Sometimes its important to say what something is not before we talk about what it is. To be light means we are not:

  • The Judge. The incarnation of Jesus was not for the purpose of playing Sheriff in the Old West, riding into the town of this world and gunslinging the bad guys either out of town or into the cemetery. Just because the world shot the sheriff, does not mean they’re off the hook for not shooting the deputy. There is judgment coming. It’s just that you nor I are the judge. “Do not judge,” said Jesus, unless you’re interested in getting judged yourself. (Matthew 7:1-2)
  • Cave-Dwellers. Rabbit-hole Christians. Dorm toads. Or any other metaphor for separating oneself from society and hiding out. Cave-dwellers want to hide out and start little fires that will only warm themselves. A rabbit-hole Christian scurries from hole to hole trying to avoid the world. Dorm toads never leave the friendly confines of their apartment swamp.

Rather than judging and hiding, people of the light possess are:

  • Encouragers. They speak constructive words of edification. Encouragers know there is a bit of light in everyone, so they see through the darkness to the good which can be enlightened and called forth in others. People who encourage have a glow about them which is attractive and winsome.
  • Aware. Being light causes one to see themselves in high definition. Both the image of God and the fallen nature of humanity is seen and held together. People of the light are aware of their identity. They are then able to act with humility, gentleness, and meekness. Since they know they are infinitely loved by God, this brings a great freedom to speak and act with confidence.
  • Believers. Faith begins with receiving grace. It then works its way from an internal truth to an outward expression. People of the light follow in the footsteps of their Lord Jesus. They love, lead, and linger in society as spiritual beings who help illumine the path.
  • Merciful. Since they were once in darkness themselves, people of the light set aside pre-meditated judgment and deal compassionately with those who are spiritually blind.
  • Pure. The light has its way of exposing impurities. People of the light squarely face their own reality and purposely seek purity in all their dealings with society.
  • Peacemakers. Being characterized by the light means we not only possess personal peace; we also make peace through creating and sustaining harmonious relations with others. The light enables us to be spiritual ombudsmen who carefully and effectively bring peace between warring factions.

Jesus is the light of the world. We are the light of the world. That means we do not hide but are present and involved in our families, neighborhoods, communities, local institutions, national affairs, and world problems. Being characterized as followers of Jesus causes a person and a faith community to be visible, to show the world who Jesus is, and what he is like.

The earliest followers of Jesus allowed their light to shine in the world through:

  • Taking in unwanted children, orphans, and babies left exposed to infanticide.
  • Ministry to the sick and dying during times of plague and disease, as well as visiting those in prison without families.
  • Help and kindness to the poor, foreigners, immigrant strangers, and widows, especially when no one else would.

Where light is present, no one needs to remain in darkness. Even a small flickering flame can illumine enough to make a way. And when many small flames come together, there is a great light for all to see.

Our message is not about ourselves. It is about Jesus Christ as the Lord. We are your servants for his sake. We are his servants because the same God who said that light should shine out of darkness has given us light. For that reason, we bring to light the knowledge about God’s glory which shines from Christ’s face. (2 Corinthians 4:5-6, GW)

May the light of Christ, the living Word, dispel the darkness of our hearts so that we may walk as children of light and sing the praises of a merciful God throughout the world. Amen.

Acts 4:23-31 – Why Not Us?

Hear My Plea by Rochelle Blumenfeld

The apostles Peter and John were arrested for preaching the good news about Jesus. After warning and threatening them to stop doing this, the ruling council of the Jews released them. This was the apostles’ response….

On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:

“‘Why do the nations rage
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
    and the rulers band together
against the Lord
    and against his anointed one.’

Indeed, Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. (NIV)

The early believers in Jesus turned to God in a time of persecution. They found comfort in how God had worked in the past. The ancient church claimed the strength to carry on with speaking about Christ in their everyday lives. When they heard about threats against the apostles, the believers did not get angry or upset about how terrible things were. Instead:

The church decided to concentrate on corporate prayer together.

God is going to do what God is going to do. No government, nation, institution, group of people, or individual person can thwart God’s agenda for the church and world. God is sovereign over everything. We are not. Our place is to participate in God’s agenda through the ministry of prayer and speaking the word of God.

God acted in the past, on behalf of those first believers who came to Jesus and worshiped him with all their hearts. God is still transforming lives. It happened in ancient Jerusalem, throughout the history of the church, and in places today around the world. It can also happen with us.

Prayer is like breathing – inhaling more of God and exhaling less of me. Prayer takes the form of first remembering what God did in the past. Then, we pray specifically for our current situation which connects to the larger purposes of what God is doing. All the while we anticipate God will hear and act, just as has been done throughout history.

Remembrance is an important dimension to biblical prayer. Memory is necessary because we have a tendency toward forgetfulness. The older we get the more we tend to forget (probably because we have so much to remember!). So, continually rehearsing what God has done keeps us grounded in Scripture and tethered to what God can do now.

Remembering God’s saving actions and finding our own personal stories in the grand story of redemption helps us to pray in biblical ways.

The prayer of the early believers was a rehearsal of God’s mighty reputation, from creation to King David, to the redemptive events of Jesus. They reminded God of when, in the past, there was divine intervention. The church collectively quoted Psalm 2 about the Messiah. That psalm declares how the nations of the earth plot in vain because the Lord is the One who shall prevail over every hard circumstance. 

God bends each malevolent action toward the redemption and transformation of humanity. God will work out benevolent plans and purposes, even using people who have no acknowledgment of God. God is not surprised by our troubles and our tough situations.

God is never frustrated by people acting badly, because divine providence and guidance is in control, even if we cannot always perceive it or see it in the moment.

Remembering and rehearsing what God has done in the past helps us realize that, during any trouble, God is in control and will accomplish good plans on this earth. The prayer of the believers in Acts made the connection between what God has done and what they needed.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Interestingly, the believers did not pray for relief from oppression or for God to judge their persecutors. Instead, they prayed for boldness to speak the word of God in the middle of their trouble. They rightly discerned that they needed to pray for courage to speak about Jesus. So, the church prayed for God to act in power, for God’s Word to go forth, and for Christ’s Name to be glorified.

God’s response to the prayer was immediate. The place where the church was praying shook. God did exactly what they asked for – filling them up with the Spirit, so that they spoke boldly about Jesus. Just as God empowered people for service in the past, so it was done in the present. What’s more, God will empower us with the same courage.

It is completely normal to simultaneously yearn for bravery while being afraid of getting a prayer for boldness answered. This is more than trying to overcome feelings of awkwardness or shyness. For the early believers, a very real and immediate danger to speaking up about Jesus was present.

It seems to me we need more people who know how to ask good questions and have the patience and attention to listen well and respond thoughtfully. It does no good to simply dispense answers to questions people aren’t asking. Speaking about Jesus does not mean making spiritual cold calls on strangers. And it certainly doesn’t involve being obnoxious or acting like a spiritual pester pup.

Discussing Jesus mostly means speaking casually, one-on-one, with a friend, co-worker, neighbor, or family member you already know. Too often we might try to fly under the radar and avoid people because we think talking about Jesus is going to be too hard, or out of our league.

Confidence and courage are not telling people what they ought to believe. It is rather like sharing a precious gift with someone. It begins in relationships with people we care about and extends to a relationship with God. It is about discovering God together, and not arm-twisting others to personal ethics or churchgoing.

Yet, it may still all sound too scary. So, maybe we start with this: “Tell me what’s going on.” Then listen. After listening, say, “I’ll pray for you.”  The next time you encounter the person, ask how that situation went.  Express that you’ll pray again. Keep doing it and watch what God will do through you.

When we pray for boldness, and courageously make ourselves available to God, then we are living sacrifices. This is our spiritual act of worship. (Romans 12:1-2) Who knows? Why not here? Why not now? Why not us? After praying, we might find our meeting places shaken, lives transformed, and everyone filled with God’s Holy Spirit.

God almighty, as you sent the Son, send us into the world with your compelling love. Help us by means of your Spirit, to share your good news of love, forgiveness, justice, peace, compassion, and care. Revive your Church, o Christ. Gracious God, work everywhere reconciling, loving, and healing your people and your creation. Open our eyes to your mission in the world. Send us to serve with Christ, taking risks to give life and hope to all people and all your creation. Amen.

Acts 2:42-47 – A Changed Community

We Are All One in Jesus Christ by Soichi Watanabe, 2009

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (NRSV)

You’ve likely heard the old saying, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” It is a wise saying. Yet, what if we don’t know something is broken? What if we keep living our lives with something out of whack and don’t even realize it? Or, worse yet, what if we don’t care?

The ancient church after Christ’s resurrection and ascension was on a mission to live communal life together different from how they lived before Jesus came into their lives. Today’s New Testament lesson gives us a glimpse of what that life together consisted of.

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”

Rumi (13th century Persian poet and scholar)

We know something needs to change when it doesn’t quite match up to the life depicted by our ancestors in the faith – a life of fellowship, of glad and sincere hearts, and of concern for the common good of all. We never just change or alter something for change’s sake or because we like or dislike something. No, instead, we adjust our lives according to whether it lines up with the relational dynamics of Holy Scripture.

I had just one grandparent when I was growing up. My Grandma was seventy-nine years old when I was born, and she lived to be ninety-seven. I always knew her as an old lady. Although quite aged, she had a lot of spunk to her, all ninety-five pounds of her. 

I remember Grandma had an old wooden cutting board in her kitchen. I don’t how old it was, but it was probably purchased from Methuselah’s Kitchen Outlet. It was cracked and nearly falling apart. The board had deep furrows in it from the thousands of cuts made on it. Grandma liked her cutting board.

For Mother’s Day one year my Dad bought her a nice brand-new cutting board. After thanking my Dad for the gift, Grandma proceeded to put the new board in the back of her cupboard and continued to use her nasty old cutting board. Whenever my Mom or sisters helped her in the kitchen, they were not about to touch that old board because it was like a bacteria trap with its deep grooves. 

Grandma didn’t care about anyone’s concerns about her cutting board. When my Dad finally asked her why she did not use her new cutting board, she simply answered, “Oh, it is much too nice to use.” We all knew that was Grandma’s way of saying that she liked her nasty old cutting board and nobody was going to tell her she can’t use it.

Sometimes folks, including Christians, can be like my Grandma, bless her stubborn old heart. They just like the way they do things, and really don’t see what others see who aren’t Christ followers. They fail to consider or realize that non-Christians have no emotional attachment to the cutting board. All they see is an antiquated old board they would never use and find it weird anyone would ever want to use it.

Christians may forget or lose sight of how overwhelming and even intimidating they can be with those outside the faith. Because Christianity is familiar to Christians, we don’t see what others see when they view us from the outside. 

I remember once walking into a beautiful new church building and sitting down and seeing a huge old pulpit that was literally falling apart. Since I’ve been around a lot of churches, I quickly discerned it was likely the old pulpit from the old church building. I asked someone, and it was. But as an outsider to that fellowship, I had zero emotional attachment to the pulpit, and it was a distraction because it just looked like a big old ratty collar on a new little puppy.

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

Mahatma Gandhi

The point I am making is this: The decision to change our lives, or not to change, must come from a motivation of biblical and human values. The Christian’s mission and purpose are the Great Commission (make disciples) and the Great Commandment (love God and love neighbor). We express those values through our daily devotion to teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer. Such life together is attractive and winsome to a watching world.

If people matter, including those who don’t think or believe like us as Christians, then we will make decisions based upon that value. Nothing need be fixed or changed if the mission is going forward with biblical values driving it. However, if people stay away, or know nothing about our shared life together, then we have a prime reason to change. If this has gone on for years, even decades, I suggest that the fellowship of people is eating meat prepared from a cutting board full of bacteria and it is making everyone sick.

Whenever a faith community is focused on trying to keep people from leaving, instead of reaching people with an outward focus, then that community has lost its sense of spiritual values.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead

The main verb contained within the Scripture verses for today is the word “added.” Those who accepted the message of repentance and faith in Jesus were baptized and about three thousand were “added” to their number that day. We then get a string of participles, that is, words connected to the main verb of “added.” The result is this: The Lord “added” to their number daily those who were being saved.  Please understand the text makes it quite clear that the driving force of Christ’s church is to reach people.

It could be we take the old cutting board for granted and simply expect other people to use it if they are in our kitchen. If that is the case, there is to be a driving motivation and desire for outreach. There are people aplenty who need the kind of deliverance Jesus provides.

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

Leo Tolstoy

If something is off in our faith community, then the biblical solution is to change our lives, change our practices, change our speech, and change our daily behavior by reaching people for Jesus and adding them to the fellowship.

Whenever Christians break bread together at the Lord’s Table, the communion reminds us of our highest purpose and values. Jesus came to this earth for those estranged and far from God and others. Through Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension we are saved by grace through faith. This reality is made tangible to us in the elements of bread and cup. They are a visible sign and seal of an invisible grace. We are to come to the Table forsaking all personal agendas and embracing God’s agenda of redeeming humanity.

And, by the way, after about a year of sitting in my Grandma’s cupboard, my Dad took out the new cutting board, put it on the kitchen counter and threw away the old board. It was about time.