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Why God is Light…

1 John 15 [widescreen]Have you ever wondered why the Bible repeatedly portrays God as light? A little story from the beginning of our marriage may help to answer the question:

After Diane and I tied the knot in May of 1992, we moved into our first apartment in Vienna, Virginia. It was a two bedroom place on the third floor (no elevator) of one building in a fairly large complex of buildings, and other than carrying groceries up three flights, it was a wonderful place to spend our first year together. However, not everything was perfect. The place had a “small” problem that was particularly noticeable whenever we came home and flipped the switch: yeah, the lights would reveal, you guessed it: la cucaracha. a.k.a. the cockroach.

I know what you’re thinking, and the Knowltons can be kind of messy sometimes, but in fairness to us, we inherited this problem from the previous tenants or the tenants previous to them, or whoever…either way, it was nasty. Now, of course, as anyone who has ever had a cockroach problem will tell you, you don’t get to see the problem for very long, because as soon as you turn on the lights, the little creatures scatter. Where they go, who knows, but it doesn’t pay to think a lot about it.

We reported the situation to management and as I remember, the exterminators were able to eradicate the problem, but only by coming around the whole complex every three months. And all in all, we managed.

Now, it’s interesting that when the Apostle John wants to summarize his message at the start of his first letter, he says, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5 (ESV)

That, of course, is not the summary we might have expected. How about instead, “This is the message: Christ died for your sins and rose again”? Or how about, “This is the message: Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved”?

Nope. “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” So why does John say God is light? Perhaps the answer comes two verses later when he goes on to say:

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:7 (ESV)

So…why does John say that God is light? Answer: Because light casts out darkness, like the blood of Christ casts out sin. You see, every single time a light goes on, darkness scatters. Every time. You might say that light has a way of casting out darkness, just like light once made the cockroaches in Vienna scatter. Light casts out darkness like a bouncer at a nightclub casts out a drunk guy picking fights. Light makes darkness and sin disappear.

Therefore, if you think about it, when Jesus shows up to Paul on the road to Damascus, is it any wonder that He appears as a light “brighter than the sun” (Acts 26:13). In fact, Jesus is so bright, that His brightness causes Paul’s blindness (Acts 22:11). And so, it makes perfect sense: For Paul, the chief of sinners, on the road to capture and kill Christians, had a lot of darkness. A lot. And when Jesus showed up, His blinding light made Paul’s darkness scatter. That’s what light does – it has a purifying effect. It chases sin away. This is why God is light. He casts out all our darkness. And you and I have much darkness too.

Now one last thing: have you ever wondered how it will be possible to live in heaven without a single sin? Well, I’m sure there is more to it than just this, but one thing we know: in heaven it will never be night. That’s what John wrote in Revelation:

And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. Revelation 22:5 (ESV)

And for all of eternity, His glorious light, more blinding than the sun, will keep sin far, far away.

 

Tomorrow, Wednesday, March 18th: Acts 27

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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A Mighty Fortress is Our God

Some years ago, through a generous grant by the Lilly Endowment, my family went on a Sabbatical overseas, spending almost two months in Scotland and then the better part of a month in the rest of Europe. It was most cool and we felt very blessed.  Now, Diane had a special request as we were going to spend so much time in Europe.  She wanted our family to spend a night in a very unique place.

Diane had a dream to spend the night in something that you see all over Europe but that you will never see in the States. Maybe never is too strong, but I can’t remember ever seeing one here. Of, course, I’m speaking of castles.  Castles are all over Europe.  And Diane had a dream that we would be able to spend a night in one.

And we did.  We found the youth hostel of Carbisdale Castle on Loch (the Scottish name for lake) Lomond.  It was supposed to be haunted which kind of added to the fun. FYI: we managed to avoid the ghosts.

I suppose that castles are all over Europe because in days long ago, battles and wars were part of everyday life, and they needed the protection that castles afforded. When France attacked England, England needed fortresses.  When Germany attacked France, France needed fortresses. When England attacked France…well, I’m sure you’re getting the idea. And of course it was more than nation against nation.  It was city versus city, or family versus family. My impression is that there was not a lot of peace; and all in all, it makes me glad to be living in our country in this time period.

Panoramic of Eilean Donan Castle, Highlands, Scotland.  We saw this beautiful castle among others on our travels.

Panoramic of Eilean Donan Castle, Highlands, Scotland. We saw this beautiful castle among others on our travels.

Ancient people understood the idea of castles and fortresses better than we do, and so the picture of a fortress is a pervasively biblical one.  And therefore, over and over again, the testimony of the Word of God is that God is a fortress.

David prayed, “For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me;” Psalm 31:3 (ESV)

No one understood God as a fortress more than David, who fought so many battles and yet knew that he was safe in Yahweh’s protective shadow.

Well, I say no one understood this more than David, but then again there was the Apostle Paul.  He didn’t fight with a sword of steel, but the sword of God’s word, yet he did have the first kind of sword wielded against him. So Paul knew danger again and again, but again and again, God protected him.  That’s what we see in Acts 23, where 40 Jews make solemn plans to kill him, even determining not to eat again until the Apostle is dead. Yes, that called commitment, and if I were a murderer, I would definitely be motivated.

But, like a scene out of Downton “eavesdrop” Abbey, it just so happened that Paul’s nephew got wind of their plans, and warns the commander:

Now the son of Paul’s sister heard of their ambush, so he went and entered the barracks and told Paul. Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the tribune, for he has something to tell him.” So he took him and brought him to the tribune and said, “Paul the prisoner called me and asked me to bring this young man to you, as he has something to say to you.” Acts 23:16-18 (ESV)

When the tribune hears, he makes plan to protect Paul:

Then he called two of the centurions and said, “Get ready two hundred soldiers, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go as far as Caesarea at the third hour of the night. Also provide mounts for Paul to ride and bring him safely to Felix the governor.” Acts 23:23-24 (ESV)

It was the great missionary David Livingstone who said, “I am immortal till my work is accomplished.”  How true.  And of course, Livingstone, like Paul and David the shepherd-King before him knew exactly why he was “immortal”: There was a sovereign, loving God who was watching over him, more beautiful and infinitely stronger than a castle in the Scottish Highlands.

For tomorrow, Friday, March 13th: Acts 24

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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The Testimony: One of the Best Ways to Fish for Men

When I worked for Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Chicagoland and the Washington D.C. area during the late 80’s and early 90’s, occasionally I would find myself one on one with a co-worker for a longer period of time. Maybe it was just a lunch hour and two of us made plans to grab a Chicago style hot dog at Luke’s (try it when you’re near the Windy City). Maybe the Vienna, VA office was running out of cars and we needed to get to Gaithersburg to pick one up. Whatever the case, I remember asking a question on a long ride that yielded fruitful conversation on at least more than one occasion.

“John, what’s the story of your life?” I would ask.

“Well, I graduated from Purdue…”

“No, no…” I might counter. “…the story of your life. Go back further…like where were you born? Your family. Give me details.”

And so it would begin. I would ask questions along the way, really trying to draw them out. I’ve found that most people like to tell about themselves, and as long as the questions are not too prying, it can be a great way to get things going.  And for my part, I find people interesting…a great way to pass the time.

Invariably, after chatting through the notorious D.C. traffic and maybe on the beltway for a while, they would turn to me: “OK, now your turn. Tell me the story of your life.”

And I would…Born in Jackson, Mississippi, an only child, moved to Antioch, Illinois when I was 7, became an atheist in middle school/high school. Got an appointment to West Point…

“And you know, when I got to West Point, it was interesting – they suggested we go to church.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, I think they felt it was good for your reputation as an officer….”

And so it went. I would tell about how at the protestant church service, the Chaplain talked about Jesus in a way I had never heard…etc…all the way to when that cadet Bob Maruna dropped by my tent and showed me the Bridge diagram and that verse:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)

For those who are uninitiated, what I was doing here is called sharing your testimony, and I have found the testimony to be a really great way of explaining the faith. It’s a method of fishing for men which has a long and honored tradition, starting with a man named Paul in the 1st Century A.D.

…when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet. And he said: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women…” Acts 22:2-4 (ESV)

And so, before a hostile crowd of his fellow Jews, the testimony of the Apostle Paul begins from the steps of Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem. It would not be the only time Paul would tell his story in this manner in the book of Acts – a wonderful opportunity would afford itself before King Agrippa, recounted in Acts 26.

I have personally found that sharing my testimony is a very effective way of telling someone about Jesus.  Who can argue with it? It’s your story. And the format is pretty simple.  Tell about your life before you met Christ. Tell how you met Christ, and try to include a verse at this point, especially one that meant something to you at the time and helps to explain the gospel (like mine: Ephesians 2:8, 9). Then finally, tell about what has happened in your life since you met Christ.

I hope you’ll give it a try sometime. If it was good enough for Paul, why not you and me?

 

For tomorrow, Thursday, March 12: Acts 23

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Comfort for those who believe they have committed an unpardonable sin (Part 3)

disastroWe’ve been discussing the trouble Christians have with believing they have somehow done something beyond the grace of God.  Part one is here and part 2 is here.

Here is the second reason Christians need not worry…

2. The gospel. Over and over again, Scripture makes it clear that justification (God declaring us righteous) comes by faith, not works. Christ takes our sins on Himself on the cross and gives us His righteousness. If somehow salvation or damnation came by what we said or did, then the whole of Christianity would be turned on its ear and would cease to be Christianity.

So Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)

Or consider the first letter of the Apostle John, where he writes:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9 (ESV)

As someone once said, “I looked up the word ‘all’ in the Greek, and it means…all.”  He cleanses us from ALL unrighteousness. And then finally…

 3. The example of the Apostle Paul. Look at his autobiographical story in 1 Timothy chapter 1:

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.

1 Timothy 1:12-16 (ESV)

The meaning here is clear.  Paul is saying that he really was the worst of sinners…a blaspheming, Jesus-hating, Christian-killing, absolutely nasty religious dude. In short, Paul was the worst man who ever lived, and yet God saved him…but with a specific purpose – to show a watching world that no one, not a single person would ever be beyond His grace.  If God saved Paul, He can save you too.  You must simply believe.

And that leads to the most convicting consideration of this whole matter, given by Martyn Lloyd Jones in the article to which I have referred in the previous two posts.  He says that if after considering all this, you still think that you have committed the unpardonable sin, then your real problem is that you don’t believe the Word of God. And for this you should simply repent. If you have trusted in Christ alone for salvation, not in your own works of righteousness, then you are a Christian.  Tell God you are sorry that you have not believed His Bible. Tell Him that you are sorry that you have not believed this statement from Jesus:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

John 5:24 (ESV)

Amen…and Hallelujah!

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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