Shining the Light on Fear (Psalm 27:1-6)

The Lord is my light and my salvation.
        Should I fear anyone?
    The Lord is a fortress protecting my life.
        Should I be frightened of anything?
When evildoers come at me trying to eat me up—
    it’s they, my foes and my enemies,
    who stumble and fall!
If an army camps against me,
        my heart won’t be afraid.
    If war comes up against me,
        I will continue to trust in this:
    I have asked one thing from the Lord—
    it’s all I seek:
        to live in the Lord’s house all the days of my life,
        seeing the Lord’s beauty
        and constantly adoring his temple.
Because he will shelter me in his own dwelling
    during troubling times;
    he will hide me in a secret place in his own tent;
        he will set me up high, safe on a rock.

Now my head is higher than the enemies surrounding me,
    and I will offer sacrifices in God’s tent—
        sacrifices with shouts of joy!
    I will sing and praise the Lord. (Common English Bible)

Being afraid of the dark is a common fear. After all, whenever we cannot see anything around us, then we don’t know what’s really there – and that’s understandably frightening for most people. Typically, it’s not what we see that’s so scary; the scary stuff is what our imagination conjures up that’s out there in the dark, which we cannot see.

Kids, with their curiously active imaginations, tend to be fearful of the dark – which is why we parents, and grandparents, ensure there’s a nightlight for them so they can sleep. The light illumines their surroundings, reminding them of where they are; the light also helps them remember that we are with them.

As children of God, we need the same reminders. We must continually check-in with our internal selves, reorienting our lives around the reality that the Lord is present, that Jesus is our Immanuel, God with us.

Having the Light of the World surrounding us provides confidence that God is watching and will save us from whatever threatens our life. Indeed, being immersed in the Lord helps us snuggle down and realize our ultimate security blanket holds us tight.

Not only do we have confidence with God’s presence, but we are also fearless in the face of the most adverse and scary of circumstances. Knowing that God has our back enables us to accept, cope, and transcend overwhelming situations.

God protects because God is present.

Admittedly, we don’t have all the answers as to why the Lord sometimes seems absent in the midst of our trouble. That’s maybe because God is a Being, a Person, and not an insurance policy. Ultimately, personal presence and protection is a whole lot better than the impersonal and legal sort.

Which is why it’s important to delight in the Lord, to enjoy being in God’s house, to bask in the beauty of divine holiness, righteousness, and justice. With this as our way of life, we tend to better understand that not everything is necessarily going to go right but that the Lord is alongside us, giving strength and hope.

It’s important to note that divergent emotions can be held together. Many folks tend to believe that if there is fear within the heart, then faith, courage, and praise cannot exist. But nothing could be further from the truth.

The more likely scenario is that trying to suppress feelings of fear only results in becoming more afraid; thus, leading to forced or manufactured praise with little to no bravery behind it.

Instead, the sage thing to do is acknowledge whatever emotions bubble up for us. That is our inner spirit’s way of alerting us that we must pay attention to something. Ignoring the fear makes the monster under the bed more fearsome.

Being aware of the emotion and acknowledging it brings options and choices. Getting it out there to actually feel it means that now we can choose what we’re going to do with the emotion. Hiding the fear only gives it power; naming the fear gives us control over it.

This is one reason why I believe it is significant to read the psalms out loud; it provides more fortitude in dealing with what’s in front of us.

Holding both our fears and our faith together enables us to face our troubles with wisdom and courage. If attacked – whether it be spiritual, emotional, mental, or physical – the worst thing to do is grin and bear it or plaster a fake smile on your face.

It’s okay to be conflicted, to wonder what the heck is going on, to not know what’s up or down, to live with the seeming incongruence of emotions.

Healing comes through feeling, speaking, and acting – and not by suppressing emotions, keeping words bottled up inside, and acting as though everything is peachy keen when it isn’t. Expressing words of trust in the Lord, without having first expressed words describing our emotions, is a fool’s errand. If we trust God to answer a prayer, then we also need to trust God in hearing our real emotions.

God encourages honesty, sincerity, and feeling; the Lord disparages ingenuine offerings of praise and inauthentic gestures merely meant to fake-it-till-you-make-it. The psalmist encourages us to express all our emotions – whether “positive” or “negative” – and find the empathy, solidarity, and healing we need.

God is our light. So, let’s not keep him in the dark about our real selves.

You Have What You Need (1 Corinthians 1:1-9)

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,

To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge—God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (New International Version)

God has already provided for us everything we need to live the Christian life. We lack nothing in Jesus Christ; and possess the following five gifts….

God’s Light

Every year, after the 12 Days of Christmas, beginning on January 6 and going to Ash Wednesday, is the season of Epiphany. It is a celebration and recognition that Christ’s coming to this earth as a child is much more than a baby in a manger. Epiphany brings a vision and understanding of God’s glory to all kinds of people of the world.

Epiphany means “manifestation” or “appearance.” The focus of these weeks is that salvation is not limited to Israel but extends to the Gentiles, as well. In other words, the gospel is for everyone.

Epiphany illumines one of the most scandalous truths of Christianity: God gives the light of Christ to common ordinary people who seem far from God with the gift of Jesus. God grants repentance that leads to life for all kinds of people – no matter their race, ethnicity, class, gender, or background – even pagan astrologers like the Magi. It’s a glorious truth that God’s merciful concern is not limited to a certain type of person or a particular group of people.

This old broken world is wrapped in darkness. All kinds of people have no light at the end of the tunnel of their lives for hope and new life. The good news is that Christ brings light to those walking around with no ability to see. Jesus, in his teaching ministry in the Sermon on the Mount, exhorted his followers not to hide their light but to let it shine for all to see.

Oftentimes, the best way to bring resolution to our own troubles and problems is through helping others make sense of their lives through the gracious light of Christ so that they can see an appearance, an epiphany, of what their lives can be in the gracious rule of the kingdom of God. 

God’s Grace

The Church has struggled throughout its history to uphold this basic message of the gospel of grace for everyone. From the Council of Jerusalem in the book of Acts that met to decide whether one ought to become a Jew first in order to be a Christian; to the with-holding of membership to African Americans in many churches in the twentieth century; to ignoring the poor and least among us; we must be intentional and deliberate about reaching and ministering to all people.

The joy of salvation is that I do not need to jump through certain spiritual hoops to enter into Christianity, nor be a certain kind of person. The Church is not an exclusive club of people based in a particular spiritual pedigree or preferences. Through repentance and faith in Jesus, all may come to God.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.

Ephesians 1:7, NIV

Everyone has intrinsic worth as individuals created in the image of God; and therefore need the attention of Christians in bringing the gospel to them. It is easy to ignore people we do not understand and who are different from us; or to look down on those who do not agree with me on disputable matters. To intentionally reach and minister to a different class or generation or race requires much love and many resources. It requires grace.

Jesus had a big enough inner space to accommodate prostitutes, drunkards, tax collectors, and a whole variety of “sinners.” How big is your inner space? Is it big enough to allow people in your life who are not like you without you feeling threatened and insecure?

In Christ’s day, some feared being contaminated if having table fellowship with such people; religious leaders were afraid of losing their power over people if the status quo was changed in ministering to such low life’s; and others feared continued Roman domination if Jesus kept up spending his time in graciousness to all kinds of sinners. So, all the religious people killed him.

God’s Peace

Because of Christ, we have wholeness and integrity; we have peace.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1, NIV)

Peace is a gift. Yet, we must unpack the gift in order to enjoy it – which is why we get encouragements to seek peace and pursue it – not because we don’t have it, but because we need to use it.

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For,

“Whoever would love life
    and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
    and their lips from deceitful speech.
They must turn from evil and do good;
    they must seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
    and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:8-12, NIV)

God’s spiritual gifts of speaking and serving

We also need to unpack our spiritual gift(s). We have them. They’re there inside us. But we must let it out!

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10-11, NIV)

God’s eternal security

God will keep us firm till the end.

“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”

Jesus (John 10:28-29, NIV)

We might jump from finger to finger, but we aren’t getting out of God’s hand! The Lord has us in his loving and gracious grip. God’s faithfulness is what makes all the difference.

Insecurity comes from us trying to be our own Security Officer. We simply don’t know everything, or why some people say or do what they say and do. A believer’s security comes solely from the Good Shepherd, Jesus, taking ownership of the flock and protecting it from harm.

Conclusion

You already have what you need for the Christian life. Jesus is the Light of the World. The good news is the gospel of grace and peace. The Holy Spirit is within us. And the Father has us in his good strong hand.

Our triune God has given us provision to live life to the full. We need to affirm what we have in Jesus Christ:

  • No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.
  • I am worthy of love and belonging.
  • I am brave and resilient.
  • I am blessed on this earth to be a blessing to others.
  • I am not my mistakes nor my successes, my illness nor my health, my idleness nor my work.
  • I am loved by God.

These are all things we already true of us. We cannot try and obtain any of them because we presently now possess them by a merciful God.

May the strength of God sustain us.

May the power of God preserve us.

May the hands of God protect us.

May the way of God direct us.

May the love of God surround us.

Now and forever. Amen.

Epiphany of the Lord (Matthew 2:1-12)

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (New International Version)

The light exists; it’s there. But not everyone likes it.

While many celebrate the light, such as Christians on the day of Epiphany, others wrap themselves in the cloak of darkness. There are various responses to Jesus as the Light of the World; not all of them are the same.

King Herod responds with anger

Herod was distressed with the news of a potential King of the Jews being born; he saw this as a threat to his rule. Herod, ever the narcissistic person who always sought to wipe out any threat to his throne, went over the top in seeking destroy Jesus. 

At the time of Christ’s birth, Herod had been the reigning king for about 30 years. During that time, his paranoia about losing power led him to kill his wife and three of his own sons because he saw them as threats to his authority. Herod feigned a desire to worship Christ, but this was really a sinister façade in order to get rid of Jesus by any means possible.

Jerusalem responds with anxiety

The people of Jerusalem felt that Jesus was going to upset the status quo. He was, for them, a threat to their security; any change within the system might cause Herod to take it out on them (which he had done before). 

Although the people were looking for a deliverer, they did not want things to shake up too much and arouse the Romans to abuse them.

Whenever we get caught up in maintaining the status quo, out of fear, then we have no room in the inn for Mary and Joseph. 

Always trying to keep people happy and not upset them is a tenuous way to live. Such an agenda will typically result in missing Jesus when he shows up. That’s because we’re not really looking for him to start with. 

For example, if our task as parents is to just keep our kids out of trouble, they’re going to miss Jesus; and if they find him, it will be in spite of us and not because of us. Yet, if our truest desire for them is to know Christ, then our prayers, our words, and our actions will reflect the ethics of God’s kingdom.

Religious leaders respond with apathy

The chief priests and teachers of the law had all the right answers; and responded to Herod’s questions with the correct information.

The sad part is that the guys who knew the most about Scripture, who actually had a handle on God’s law, were simply satisfied with that knowledge and nothing more. They seemed  unconcerned with getting off their butts and getting on their knees to worship the Son of God.

If we know the truth, we must act on it. Jesus wants people to worship in spirit and in truth. He wants more than a mere recognition; Jesus desires us.

The Magi respond with adoration

The Three Wise Men by He Qi

The Wise men, or Magi, were Gentiles and pagan astrologers (not kings). They devoted themselves to studying the stars and discerning what was happening. Because of this, they were often advisors and counselors to kings.

Some may find it scandalous that God used such persons, but that’s okay. The Lord typically uses the folks we believe are (or should be) unusable. Turns out it is the people such as the Magi that demonstrate their devotion and adoration through actual worship and giving of costly gifts.

Epiphany

Each year on January 6 in the Church Calendar, after the twelve days of Christmas, is the celebration of Epiphany. Christ’s coming to this earth as a child and becoming like us is much more than a baby in a manger.  Epiphany of the Lord helps to bring a vision and understanding of God’s glory to all kinds of people of the world.

The word “epiphany” means “manifestation” or “appearance” – which is exactly what happened with the Magi in visiting Jesus. The season of Epiphany has a special emphasis on the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus. The focus of these weeks is that salvation is not limited to Israel but extends to the Gentiles, as well.

With Epiphany’s light, we see that one of the most scandalous truths of Christianity is that God graces common ordinary people, who seem far from God, with the gift of Jesus. 

God grants life for all kinds of people – no matter their race, ethnicity, gender, class, or background. It’s a wondrous and astounding spiritual truth that God’s gracious concern is not limited to a certain type of person or a particular group of people.

Grace

Grace is and ought to be the guiding factor in how we interact with people. 

Losing sight of grace leads to being critical and defensive. Like King Herod of old, a graceless person becomes enamored with earthly power and control. But embracing grace leads to the humility of seeing the image of God in people quite different from us. 

Like the Apostle Peter, who learned in a vision to bring the gospel to non-Jews, old legalisms begin to wear away so that people from all walks of life can have access to Jesus and his gracious saving and healing ministry. (Acts 10-11:18)

Grace topples barriers and clears away unnecessary distinctions between others. Our appropriate response to such a grace is to glorify God for this marvelous and amazing work.

Light

A light was provided to lead the Magi to Jesus. Apart from God’s gracious intervention, they would have remained in darkness. 

This old broken world is enveloped in spiritual darkness. All kinds of people have no light at the end of the tunnel of their lives for hope and new life. Christ brings that light to those unable to see. And Jesus, in his teaching ministry, exhorted his followers not to hide their light but to let it shine for all to see. (Matthew 5:14-16)

Sometimes, maybe oftentimes, the best way to bring resolution to our own troubles and problems is through helping others make sense of their lives through the gracious light of Christ. Then, they can see an appearance, an epiphany, of what their lives could be in the gracious and benevolent rule and reign of God. 

In this season of Epiphany, let us journey with Jesus through his earthly upbringing, walk with him in his gracious ministry to people; and keep watch with him so that our own light does not grow dim.

Merciful God of life and light, you have gifted the Church through the goodness of your grace to be your hands; to do your work; to be your voice; to share your words; and to bring healing for broken lives. You have graciously gifted your people with the blessings of your Spirit, the power to transform lives and make all things new.

Now may our hearts receive, our mouths proclaim, our hands prepare for compassionate service so that the love we have will overflow into the hearts of others. May they receive your grace, your renewing Spirit, and your love, through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

The Light of the World (John 8:12-19)

Jesus spoke to the Pharisees again. “I am the light of the world,” he said. “Whoever follows me will have the light of life and will never walk in darkness.”

The Pharisees said to him, “Now you are testifying on your own behalf; what you say proves nothing.”

“No,” Jesus answered, “even though I do testify on my own behalf, what I say is true, because I know where I came from and where I am going. You do not know where I came from or where I am going. You make judgments in a purely human way; I pass judgment on no one. But if I were to do so, my judgment would be true, because I am not alone in this; the Father who sent me is with me. It is written in your Law that when two witnesses agree, what they say is true. I testify on my own behalf, and the Father who sent me also testifies on my behalf.”

 “Where is your father?” they asked him.

“You know neither me nor my Father,” Jesus answered. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” (Good News Translation)

Light has many uses and a lot of facets to it. The sun’s light gives life; without it we wouldn’t survive. In the form of a fixture or flashlight, it illumines the way so that we can function. The gift of light allows us not to remain in darkness.

The Son, Jesus, is also the Light which gives life. Throughout Holy Scripture, light represents awareness and deliverance; it represents God’s ability to guide us and save us. Jesus helps us find our way in this world.

The Apostle John talked a great deal about light in his Gospel and Epistles:

The Word was the source of life, and this life brought light to people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out. (John 1:4-5, GNT)

Jesus said, “The light will be among you a little longer. Continue on your way while you have the light, so that the darkness will not come upon you; for the one who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. (John 12:35, GNT)

Now the message that we have heard from his Son and announce is this: God is light, and there is no darkness at all in him. If then, we say that we have fellowship with him, yet at the same time live in the darkness, we are lying both in our words and in our actions. But if we live in the light—just as he is in the light—then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin. (1 John 1:5-7, GNT)

Light is life, and Jesus, as the Light of the World, is eternal life.

As our Light and our Life, Jesus fulfills the prophetic role, as described by the prophet Isaiah:

“I, the Lord, have called you and given you power
    to see that justice is done on earth.
Through you I will make a covenant with all peoples;
    through you I will bring light to the nations.” (Isaiah 42:6, GNT)

As people of the Light, we are to let that light shine in the darkness so that others can also find direction and deliverance:

“You are like light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead it is put on the lampstand, where it gives light for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16, GNT)

Not everyone, of course, buys into this distinctively Christian way of seeing things – which is why it’s important for all Christians and Churches everywhere to be characterized by the Light and not by the darkness.

Humanity is a strange alchemy of both light and dark, hopefulness and hopelessness, awareness and ignorance, love and hate. We must acknowledge the light, bring it out, let it shine. Hiding the light only gives the dark forces of this world an opportunity to grip people in the shadows of guilt and shame.

Light must be respected. Long exposure to the sun brings a nasty sunburn to the skin. Being drawn to the fire’s light will also get you burnt if you get too close. And some light masquerades as good when it really isn’t.

False apostles lie about their work and disguise themselves to look like real apostles of Christ. Well, no wonder! Even Satan can disguise himself to look like an angel of light! So it is no great thing if his servants disguise themselves to look like servants of righteousness. In the end they will get exactly what their actions deserve. (2 Corinthians 11:13-15, GNT)

The deception typically happens whenever one lacks awareness of their own light, or forgotten, like a misplaced sock under the bed. Then, there’s no means by which to discern the bogus righteousness.

There are many ways of becoming more self-aware and recognizing the light of Christ, such as:

  • Keep a daily journal. Answer for yourself questions like, “What did you do well today?” “What didn’t go so well?” “Why?” and “How will you be and do things differently next time?”

“If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.” Lord Byron (1788-1824)

  • Debrief with others about your experiences. Merely interrogating yourself all the time leads to twisted thinking.

“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” John Dewey (1859-1952)

  • Fight evil. Read books. Meditatively read Scripture. Reading not only helps one to become more knowledgeable and well-rounded, but it also builds empathy and emotional intelligence.

“To read without reflecting is like eating without digesting.” Edmund Burke (1729-1797)

  • Practice gratitude. Giving thanks illumines the path. A critical spirit makes others small and limits your own spiritual eyesight. So, be gracious, all the time, every day, no matter what.

“Gratitude, like faith, is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it grows.” Alan Cohen

O Lord, your Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Give us grace to receive your truth in faith and love, and strength to follow on the path you set before us; through Jesus Christ, Amen.