The Light of the World

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I love this quote from John Ortberg in his excellent and timely new book Eternity Is Now In Session:

Jesus says, “Let your light shine.” Jesus doesn’t say, “Try harder to make your light shine.” Lamps don’t have to try hard. They just glow based on what’s going on inside them.” (p. 91)

That comment unnerved me, but first, a few remarks about the verse Ortberg is referencing:

  • This is the beginning of Jesus’ most famous sermon, The Sermon on the Mount;
  • This comment is in reference to Matthew 5:14-16 in which Jesus says:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (NASB)

  • Notice what is often forgotten . . . the reasons we are to let our light shine: so people will see our good works, and then glorify and praise God.

Now, Ortberg’s comment got my attention for one reason – his last sentence: “They [lamps] just glow based on what’s going on inside of them.”

I know as a Christian leader, good works should permeate my existence, and hopefully that elicits praise to the Father in Heaven, but let’s be honest, at times that can seem like a lot of hard work. On top of that, at any given moment, what’s really going on inside of me is often things like the stress of meeting deadlines, the tension of keeping relationships good and proper, and dare I say, just the worries and struggles of life in general!

What I appreciate about Ortberg’s comment is its simple reminder to daily reflect the light that has been ignited in me by my faith in Jesus. And the good news is that I don’t have to work at that, but simply let it be revealed in everything I do.

That is truly Good News!

RA

Jeff Bezos’s Daily Reminder

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Recently I read an article about Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon and presently the richest person on the planet, which claimed he has the following quote taped to his refrigerator at home:

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

I’m sure you’ve heard this before, since it’s a popular excerpt attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson. But several points about this were very intriguing to me, causing some good introspection:

First, if Bezos truly believes this, then the richest man on the planet rejects our traditional cultural definition of success: having an abundance of money and things!

Second, there is a fierce undercurrent within this quote to focus your life on others, as opposed to satisfying your own pleasures, especially if you have all the money to do whatever you desire!

Lastly, it is future-oriented. It demands that you evaluate now if your life is making a difference in the world, or are you just pursuing selfish ends.

I’m not sure of Bezos’ religious background, but for those of us who are Christians, this is a great reminder to make sure we aren’t falling for the cultural definition of success, that we are loving our neighbors and seeking to make life better for them, and lastly, daily evaluating how we’re making a difference here on earth.

James 4:13-14 is also a great reminder for us today:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

While this life is temporary and fleeting, it can still be successful and meaningful. May God bless you today as you endeavor to succeed!

RA

 

An Unusual Beginning

How would you begin to explain Jesus?

As we come into the holiday season, I started looking again at how the four Gospels begin the narrative of Jesus. Every time I read its beginning, the Gospel of John baffles me! Yet this time, as I studied in depth what the Apostle John wrote, it started to make more sense, and the breath of his theological discourse is nothing short of stunning.

Here is what John 1:1-5 states, in the NASB translation:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

I love that we have four Gospels in our New Testament. I’ve heard many critics deride the fact the New Testament has four Gospels instead of one uniform Gospel, but truth be told, four are a blessing for this very reason: they offer a variety in their depiction of the life of Jesus. For instance, in regards to the nativity, or the birth of Jesus, Matthew and Luke start with genealogies and traditional nativity renditions, each with its own emphasis. Mark, on the other hand, chooses to begin immediately with the ministry of John the Baptist, and then the launch of Jesus’ ministry as an adult. That leaves John to begin his story uniquely: he chooses to go all the way back not just to Abraham or even Adam, but to before time began!

Come and discover what I mean and see why we should celebrate the uniqueness of the fourth Gospel and its “nativity.”

Here are some of my thoughts from John’s “nativity” (please read John 1:1-5 again):

  • As John sees it, to accurately comprehend Jesus, you can’t begin with Abraham (as Matthew does) or even Adam (as Luke does), but must start “in the beginning” as John states in 1:1. Another way to express “in the beginning” is “before time began” so John is deliberately referring back to Genesis 1:1 and adamantly declaring that the coming of Jesus in the flesh is just as paramount as the creation of the world!
  • The term “the Word” used by John to describe Jesus is a profound word steeped in both Greek and Jewish culture, or to state more academically, is both philosophically and theologically rich in its meaning. Therefore, John is saying Jesus is the sovereign rational principle guiding all of life (part of the philosophical heritage of the word), or even more, as seen in the Old Testament, Jesus is “the Word” because he is the powerful self-expression of God as is seen in creation (see Psalms 33:6).
  • Jesus’ exact role in creation is as the agent of creation: “all things came into being through him” (1:3). Think of it this way – Jesus was born into a world he gave birth to!
  • Jesus brought life, but we didn’t “comprehend” it, and not only that, depending on the context, this specific word can also mean mankind could not “conquer” it. Ironically both are true in John’s present context, and still true today: Jesus is the misunderstood king of kings!

So not a bad start for the Apostle John as he presents Jesus to the world. Let me close with one of my prayers for this Christmas season: I pray that we will recognize the babe in the manger brought love and salvation to a desperate world not only by what he did, but because of who he was, and is today.

RA

The Dark Night of the Soul

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I’ve heard various people state that most Christians, especially maturing Christians, will experience a time of trouble unlike any other, often called the “dark night of the soul.” Yes it will involve a form of suffering, which typically lasts for an extended period of time. But to understand the traditional view of the “dark night of the soul” as famously rendered by St. John of the Cross in the 16th Century, one crucial ingredient is missing.

What makes the dark night of the soul so horrific? It’s not only the suffering or the trials you go through, but during those struggles, you experience the silence of God. Even though you cry out to God, plead for a response during one of the toughest struggles of your life, it’s as if God’s not there.

Silence.

I think all of us would agree with Martin Luther, that German Protestant Reformer who boldly stood before the political and religious rulers to declare he would stand only on the Word of God, who also experienced a dark night of the soul and in the midst of it cried out, “Bless us, Lord, even curse us! But don’t remain silent!”

So what should you do if or when you are in the midst of that “dark night”? Here are a few encouragements to ponder:

  • You are not alone because as mentioned above, this has happened to many others. In fact, some great people of faith have experienced this! Marvel at the incredible people of faith on this list: the great prophets Elijah and Jeremiah, the Apostle Paul, and even Jesus as we see during his prayer at Gethsemane, and modern Christians such as Martin Luther and even Mother Teresa.
  • The silence of God does not mean the absence of God. Numerous theologians have stated this point, and it’s crucial to bear in mind. Our faith is not based on hearing God, but trusting in his Word daily.
  • And lastly, during this agonizing time, obedience is more important than ever! We have a saying at our church: “You don’t have to completely understand to completely obey.” All of the above people would testify to the truth of this statement, but an illustration may be even better. C.S. Lewis in his classic book The Screwtape Letters has the mentor demon Wormwood advising his underling about such a situation:

Be not deceived, Wormwood, our cause is never more in jeopardy than when a human, no longer desiring but still intending to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe in which every trace of him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

If or when you find yourself in such a time, may your obedience lead and sustain you during your dark night of the soul, and then the words of 2 Corinthians 5:7 will become more true than ever – “For we walk by faith, not by sight (or sound)”.

RA

Who Are You?

truth-1123020_1280As we continue our study of “Soul Care” this week, and begin reading from Peter Scazzero’s masterful book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, I was reminded of the description of Job. Here is what Job 1:1 states according to various translations:

“There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.” (NASB)

“There once was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless—a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil.” (NLT)

Most other translations do one or the other: they follow the NASB by using nearly identical words, or they summarize those four key traits regarding Job and essentially declare he was a “man of integrity.”

The problem is we need to know what those four traits describing Job really mean! So let’s begin, with the help of Christopher Ash and his great commentary on Job from the Preaching the Word series.

  • When the word “blameless” is used of Job, it doesn’t mean he never sinned, but that he was “genuine” or “authentic” and “sincere.” I love how Ash describes this, quoting an ancient rabbinic tradition – “his ‘within’ was like his ‘without'” (p. 31).
  • The word “upright” tells us more about his integrity, but the emphasis is directed on the way he treats other people. So to be upright is to treat others well, and to be honest with them.
  • Then, Job was a man “fearing God” which stresses that he had a healthy reverence for God and ascribed the proper respect God is due.
  • Lastly he “turned away from evil” or as the NIV states he “shunned evil.”Notice the order of the traits: if one is blameless and upright, fearing God, then such a person must logically turn away from evil. The New Testament will state this same principle another way: “If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.” (1 John 1:6 NIV). In other words, when one turns to God, they must simultaneously turn their back on evil.

What a description of a person who was healthy emotionally and his spiritual life was integrated into every aspect of who he was. May all of us have this as a goal.

RA

These are Worth Your Time!

Here’s two post I really enjoyed. We’ll probably get to talk about them at some time.

4 Reasons for Suffering

While this is not the final word on suffering and why God allows it to occur in our lives, I do appreciate Pastor Brian Cosby’s insightful excerpt from his book on this subject. I wholeheartedly agree that the American church has lost “a biblical view of suffering.”

Reading v. Entertainment

Although this is  wrapped in a post on parenting, this is a piercing commentary on our culture’s love of entertainment. It reminded me of the French philosopher Pascal and his stinging assessment of humanity’s love of “diversions” (Pascal’s word for entertainment): “Being unable to cure death, wretchedness and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things.”

See all my Cadre folks Thursday night!

RA

The State of Your Soul

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As we continue to study the nature of the soul this Thursday night, a few thoughts came to mind. First, I was reminded of Jesus’ words on this subject:

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?

                                                                                                                   Mark 8:35-37 (NASB)

The soul is hard to describe, but I like how author Dallas Willard defines it in his book Renovation of the Heart:

 “What is running your life at any given moment is your soul. Not external circumstances, or your thoughts, or your intentions, or even your feelings, but your soul. The soul is that aspect of your whole being that correlates, integrates, and enlivens everything going on in the various dimensions of the self. It is the life-center of the human being.” (Italics mine)

 And what does it mean to “lose” or “forfeit” your soul? Admittedly, most of the time we speak of “losing your soul”, we’re simply thinking of it’s ultimate destination – Hell. Once more, let me quote Willard here:

“We must rethink how we view a lost soul . . . Just someone God is mad at? . . . [There is] considerable confusion on this topic [because it] has resulted from trying to think of being lost in terms of its outcome. Theologically that outcome is hell . . . But the condition of lostness is not the same as the outcome to which it leads. We’re not lost because we are going to wind up in the wrong place. We are going to wind up in the wrong place because we are lost.” (Italics mine)

This leads Willard to summarize being lost as:

“To be lost means to be out of place, to be omitted. Something that is lost is something that is not where it is supposed to be, and therefore it is not integrated into the life of the one to whom it belongs and to whom it is lost.”

The first time I read those italicized words, I was stunned: We’re not lost because we are going to wind up in the wrong place. We are going to wind up in the wrong place because we are lost.” I realized I needed to stop thinking so much of “lost” as being Hell-bound, and start communicating more clearly of it as a state of being unusable, unable to fulfill one’s intended purpose, and leading to a life of frustration and ruin since one is separated from his/her Creator in this life now, but also in the one to come!

Now that we’ve defined it and described its lost condition, let’s return to Jesus’ thoughts on the soul from Mark 8. Two truths I see here:

  • Jesus states the soul is more important than anything on planet Earth (“for what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?”)
  • Yet, Jesus states many still try to trade their soul for other things (“For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”)

As I’m sure you’ve recently heard, the Powerball Lottery is expected to approach record levels before the next drawing this Wednesday night – possibly as high as $1.3 billion! Like me, I’m sure you know folks who have exchanged their soul for a lot less than $1.3 billion, or maybe for physical pleasures, or a host of other possible idols. The saddest truth about this is no matter how you try to satisfy a lost soul, it will never find its rest and peace until it is united with God in a vibrant and loving relationship.

As we continue our study of the soul this week, may we truly become good “keepers” of our soul, and also develop an urgency to share with others to evaluate the state of their soul too.

RA