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The Real Light

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.

(Genesis 1:3-4)


In the beginning, God created a chaotic and lifeless universe, then spent 6 days fixing, ordering and vitalizing it. He could have created the universe teeming with life at the snap of His fingers, but the Genesis account teaches us about the character and nature of God. God’s word brings order to the chaos, light to the darkness and life to the lifeless.

There are many intersections between the language of creation and the language of John’s gospel. He opens His gospel with a poem: “In the beginning was the Word” (Jn. 1:1), an obvious allusion to the Genesis account when God created everything with His word. In another work of John, he describes God’s essence as “Light” (1 Jn. 1:5). So, “in the beginning” when God said, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3), He was injecting something of Himself into this world. Lo and behold, Jesus, God’s Son and God’s Word who was in the beginning, came into this sin-cursed and darkened world in the same manner: “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it,” or “overpower” it (Jn. 1:5). As life and order followed the light in the beginning, so Jesus brought spiritual life and order into a spiritually dead and chaotic world (Jn. 1:4).

Jesus’ entrance into the world as “Light” marked a new beginning and a cosmic shift for the universe. What’s more, John calls Jesus “the true Light” (1 Jn. 2:8). He is “true” not in the sense in which truth differs from error, but in the sense in which the real differs from the unreal. Jesus is the substance, the ultimate reality of light. Physical light photons enter our eye and send a cascade of signals through various connections before getting to our brain. We perceive this as ‘real,’ but John says what we are perceiving is just the shadow or type of the real thing!


When God was forming reality and how human beings would perceive the universe through the five senses, He was up to something even greater. “The lights in the expanse in the heavens,” the sun and moon and stars, are described as “signs” (Gen. 1:14). They signify the seasons and marked time. But they also signify something else. The physical light that emanates from these luminous heavenly bodies and enters our retina represents something altogether more real. They are pointing to the real thing, the real Light, which is God (1 Jn. 1:5) and Jesus (1 Jn. 2:8).


When God, who is Light, sent His Son as Light into this dark world, the reign and control of the chaotic forces of sin and darkness were “passing away and the true Light is already shining” (1 Jn. 2:8,17; 2 Pet. 1:19). All those who choose to walk in this light (1 Jn. 1:6-7) have “passed out of” a realm of hatred, darkness and “death into life” and love (1 Jn. 3:14).

God’s children become human satellites, reflections of the true Light. The Light shines in God’s children through their love for one another. As the essence of God is described as “Light” (1  Jn. 1:5), He is also “love” (1 Jn. 4:8). And Jesus is the human incarnation, the physical manifestation of the true reality of “Light” and “love.” We know He lives within us when we shine our light of love and “good works” to our neighbors (Mt. 5:14-16; 1 Jn. 4:16). When others witness this light they are getting a glimpse of God, a theophany, in God’s children. Only by living in the light of love revealed in Jesus can we ever be the true reflections and images of the “true God” (Gen. 1:27; 1 Jn. 5:20). The invisible God in seen His children!

Are you still with me? This is wild stuff and we’re coming up to the very edges of human experience and vocabulary in explaining these things. But if we can bend our mind a little further we can begin to grasp the reality of heaven, which is the “true” reality indeed (Heb. 8:5).


Go back to the beginning. Darkness came into the world through the devil’s agent of sin (Gen. 3). A great schism between creation and God occurred and death came as a result. Jesus came as God’s agent “to destroy the works of the devil,” expel the darkness and put an end to its reign of death (1 Jn. 3:8; 2:8,17; Rom. 5:21). The “enmity” between God’s children and the devil’s children will finally end (Gen. 3:16).


Death itself will be “thrown into a lake of fire” (Rev. 20:14) along with all the darkness of this world, all mourning, crying, and pain. These “first things” will “pass away” when God makes “all things new” (Rev. 21:4-5). And this process of new creation has already begun (1 Jn. 2:8; 2 Cor. 5:17) but will not be completed until God sends Jesus to this world again.


When Jesus comes back there will be a great judgment (1 Jn. 2:28; 4:17) and all those who truly love God will be with Him in a city which “has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.” (Rev. 21:23-24).


In that great day, all of God’s children, will have made it back to the “tree of life” that they were cut off from so long ago (Gen. 3:22; Rev. 22:2). The lights of the heavens that were “signs” (Gen. 1:14) will be exchanged for the real thing. “There will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:5).


So the next time you watch the sunrise, think on God’s glory and our heavenly home!

Psalm 1 - The Two Ways

Sunday, January 28, 2018

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the 
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.

The wicked are not so,
But they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the 
Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the wicked will perish.


The first Psalm presents two approaches life. Using imagery from nature, the Psalmist contrasts these two divergent pathways and their end.


The Way of Life (vv.1-3)


(v.1) Here is described one who not only lives a happy life but is truly living, in every sense of the word. This person is “blessed” which could be translated, “happy.” Jesus would expound upon this concept of living a happy and full life in His sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:3-12).


Counsel,” “path” & “seat” are all ways of talking about the realms of thinking, behaving & belonging. By using the words “walk,” “stand” and “sit,” the Psalmist shows three degrees of departure from God. When a person walks by the advice of the world, lives in accordance with it to the extent that he identifies with it, he will live wickedly, sinfully and will mock those who don’t. The “scoffer” describes the person farthest from repentance. The man is “happy” who avoids this path!


(v.2) The journey of life begins in the mind with a choice, so the mind is the key to the “blessed” life. The happy man rejects the world’s counsel in favor of “the law of the LORD.” Whatever shapes a man’s thinking will shape his life. The happy man spends his time meditating on Scripture.


(v.3) What effect will this man’s meditation have? He will steadily grow and be fruitful. Like a “tree” drinking “water,” the happy man absorbs the Lord’s instruction which takes root within him to produce something new and delightful. In a word, he “prospers.” He will never be crippled by drought because of his consistent healthy intake of God’s word.


The Way of Doom (vv.4-5)


(v.4) The wicked man is a desert shrub compared to the happy man (Jer. 17:6). He is rootless, weightless “chaff” driven by the wind. His life yields nothing useful. The image is one of winnowing the threshing floor in harvest, where the grain is tossed into the air and the bits of straw and empty husks are blown away: dark undertones of judgment (Lk. 3:17).


(v.5) The wicked may seem to be people of substance (Psa. 37:35-36) but when the day of “judgment” comes, the men of straw will be seen to be straw indeed, blown away and burned up (cf. 1 Cor. 3:12-13). They chose to “stand” in the path of sinners (v.1) but when their end comes, they will not have a leg to stand on. In fact, the only people who will be able to stand in the “judgment” are those who lived in the “assembly of the righteous” (Rom. 14:4, 10-11).


The Parting of the Ways (v.6)


To know is more than just being informed. The LORD recognizes and acknowledges, even guards (NET), “the way of the righteous.” The LORD recognizes the course of life of the “righteous” and rewards his choice to live in this direction with security and prosperity.


The “way of the wicked” comes to nothing. Their wicked behavior has set them on a course of life that ends in ruin (“perish”). His hopes are frustrated (Psa. 112:10), he wanders without direction (Psa. 119:76) and comes to grief (Psa. 9:6). Why? Because this man chose to fill his mind (and by extension, his life) with emptiness, the “counsel of the wicked” (v.1), instead of finding his “delight” “in the law of the LORD” (v.2).


Here, the two ways part for eternity. There is no third option. The first bastion to defend is the mind, what the Bible calls the “heart,” “for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23). We must be careful what we choose to influence our heart with because it will alter the course of our lives and ultimately decide our destiny.


Jesus sheds light on the eternal implications of what we choose to believe and trust in: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). So, we are left with a choice to live or perish.


Let the gospel be your meditation, night and day. Soak it up like the living water it is (Jn. 4:14). Be firmly planted at the foot of the throne of the God near the banks of the river of life so that you are fruitful and your leaves never whither (Rev. 22:1-2).

Jesus - Divine by Inference

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD.”

(Malachi 4:5)


We learn God’s will for us in three ways: (1) by direct command, when He tells us something; (2) by example, when He shows us something; or (3) by necessary inference, when He says or does something by which we are meant to draw a conclusion. By far the most controversial of these and most difficult to apply is understanding God’s will by the inferences He makes. Let’s pause here for a second.

I remember first reading the New Testament when I wasn’t yet a Christian and finding Jesus infuriating. There was always so much controversy surrounding His identity I thought, “Why don’t you just come right out and tell them who you are! Tell them you’re God’s Son and the Messiah they have been waiting for!” It bothered me that He always seemed to beat around the bush when it came to His identity as God’s Son. All the cryptic speech (and don’t get me started on those parables!) really tripped me up (1 Pet. 2:8). Also, He and other New Testament writers were always quoting from the Old Testament (which I knew even less about, if that were possible) when the topic of conversation turned to who He was and what He was about. To someone new to the Bible, this was challenging. Well, as it turned out, there were good reasons Jesus spoke that way.

In explaining who Jesus was by tying Him to a string of Old Testament Scriptures that dealt with God’s promises the writer is making some heavy implications. The audience is being challenged to infer and draw conclusions about Jesus’ identity by putting two-and-two together.


Consider the time Jesus was transfigured on top of a mountain where God once again declared, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” (Mt. 17:1-8). In the conversation afterward, Jesus helps them understand the significance of John the Baptist (vv.9-13).


The disciples knew and accepted what was taught about the kingdom – Elijah will come first and then God will finally arrive. But, properly understood, there were staggering implications to what Jesus was saying.


As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.” And His disciples asked Him, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” And He answered and said, “Elijah is coming and will restore all things; but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist. (Mt. 17:9-13)


Here is the logic:


Elijah comes first, then God will come down (drawn from Mal 4:5).

  1. You know that John has already come first, and then Jesus came.
  2. So if John was Elijah, who is Jesus?
  3. Get it? Jesus is the LORD of Malachi 4:5!


By using Scripture Jews like Peter, James and John would have been familiar with (Mal. 4:5), Jesus was subtly pointing to Himself and identifying Himself. He didn’t stand up on a table in the temple in Jerusalem and wave a banner shouting, “Hey everybody! I am God!” because He didn’t need to. The people around Him knew the Scriptures. All Jesus had to do was point to those texts, point to Himself and allow people to draw their own conclusions.


But these subtle references would be lost if (1) you don’t know the Old Testament Scriptures or (2) if your heart was not seeking the truth, as was the case with many of Jesus contemporaries. This is why He spoke so often in parabolic form, so that the truth would remain hidden to those with a stubborn mindset (Mt. 13:10-17). He wasn’t trying to deliberately hide the truth but rather to expose the condition of their heart.


But to those truly seeking righteousness and the kingdom, Jesus says, Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Mt. 7:7-8)


Jesus taught with such wisdom! He didn’t have to shout to be heard. He was a smooth operator, subtle as a serpent, innocent as a dove (Mt. 10:16).


He will not cry out or raise His voice,

Nor make His voice heard in the street.

(Isa. 42:2)


He is the epitome of “the gentleness of wisdom”, “the wisdom from above” (Jas. 3:13, 17). We should all desire to be more like Jesus in this respect. Our faith should be seen as well as heard. And when it is heard it should be spoken with the “wisdom from above.”


But also, let’s not forget the importance of learning God’s will by drawing our own conclusions. Jesus and all the Biblical authors taught by implication and expected us to draw the logical conclusion.



Sunday, January 14, 2018

Train up a child in the way he should go,

Even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

(Proverbs 22:6)


In a recent sermon drawing lessons from Ecclesiastes, we noted the difference between training, guiding and influencing our children and controlling our children. We easily slip into control-parenting-mode when we believe we have the power to choose our child’s destiny for them. This erroneous belief turns parenting into a disappointing and joyless experience and childhood into a prison of confusion and sadness.


Scripture teaches parents to “train” (Prov. 22:6), “discipline” (Eph. 6:4; Prov. 22:15), diligently “teach” (Deut. 6:6-7), and lead their children by example. Children are a blessing from God (Psa. 137:3-5) meant to be trained up and sent out to be a blessing to others. How, then, can we “train” our children in the way they should go? Here a few suggestions.

Pray for your child – We should begin praying for our children while they are still in the womb, thank God for them when they are born and continue to pray for them as they grow and mature. Parents ought never to stop praying for their children (1 Sam. 1-2).

Create a godly atmosphere at home – As Deuteronomy 6:4-9 indicates, faith must be woven into the fabric of our very lives. The home should be an environment of spiritual growth and safety for our child. Children should feel comfortable bringing their questions, experiences, triumphs and defeats home to discuss and process as a family.


Intentionally lead your child – When family decisions are made with consistency of purpose the family is moving in a direction. It’s not going nowhere. Joshua could not force his children to follow the Lord but he could lead with purpose, sincerity and consistency (Josh. 24:15).


Instill faith in your child – Honesty is always the best policy (Eph. 4:15), no matter the relationship, but especially with children and especially with issues regarding faith. A child’s questions should never be dismissed nor should they be answered with one word. Like math class, parents should “show their work”, that is, they should tell their children what they believe then show them why they believe it with Scripture. When parents give a one word answer or dismiss their child’s question while expecting them to ‘just believe’ they are indoctrinating and brainwashing their child not instilling faith.


Set boundaries for your child – The warnings are just as instructive as the encouragements. Both the victories and the failures are invaluable moments of instruction that condition and strengthen our children to take on responsibility, develop personal accountability and cultivate wisdom. Outlining the Do’s and the Don’ts and enforcing them with discipline will help our children enter into the promises of God later for themselves.


Establish a pattern of devotion – Daily worship and study with our children creates an expectation and perception of what is “normal.” When true worship becomes the standard at home what is done collectively in a corporate setting with a congregation is helpful reinforcement.


Influence your child – You don’t have to try hard to influence your child. One way or another, you will. Children so easily take on the characteristics of their parents because they naturally love and trust them. We err as parents either when our influence is ungodly (Ezek. 16:44) or our influence is misdirected. They are watching you!


Guide your child – Sometimes parents try to make their children into little versions of themselves. “Come what may, my son WILL play football!” The only thing this approach to parenting WILL do is develop harmful identity issues in the child later on. Children are not to be squeezed into the mold of their parents but to be transformed by godly guidance and instruction in truth (Rom. 12:1-2).


Be on the same page as your spouse – A house divided against itself cannot stand (Mt. 12:25). Children are skilled in playing divided parents against one another if it suits their purpose. But when there is consistency of leadership and Mom’s answer is the same as Dad’s answer children learn who is really leading the house… not them.


Correctively discipline your child – If you hate your child and want them to grow up destroying themselves and others, do nothing (Prov. 22:15; 23:13). However, if you love your child and desire them to grow to maturity, discipline them. God disciples those He loves (Heb. 12:4-11) and the punishment always fits the crime.


Reward your children – When children do the right thing, they should be rewarded. It may just be a smile, a word or a special treat. This can be done without turning them into little Pharisees. Tell your kid you noticed the kind action or word and explain the significance of “walking in truth” and the joy it brings you as a parent (3 Jn. 1:4).


There is so much more to be said on the issue of parenting but we will conclude with one more piece of advice: Listen to older parents. Fountains of wisdom and experience are all around us in the church. Take advantage of the godly examples around you. Also, to the older parents, if you notice younger parents doing something right, tell them!

What Is "Good" Preaching?

Sunday, January 07, 2018

In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following.”

(1 Timothy 4:6)


What makes a sermon “good”? It is clear that there is no one way to preach the gospel. We have examples in the Bible of topical, textual and narrative approaches that were all effective. Jesus spoke plainly, used props and told stories to get His point across. Apollos spoke eloquently. Paul, Peter and John, though different, were all powerful.


Stylistically, one may gravitate toward the studious academic approach while another prefers to listen to more conversational preaching. Still another may thrive on a delivery filled with passion. But personal preferences aside, I want to suggest a few things about “good” preaching that can apply to any number of these varying stylistic approaches.

(1) Preaching Biblically – The first, and most important aspect of good preaching is that it is founded upon, informed by, guided with the Scriptures. Since the Scriptures come from the very mouth of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17) they are practical and powerful to affect change in our lives. The Scriptures are “able to build [us] up and to give [us] the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).

One of the main focuses of preaching is to get others to know the truth and receive the benefits of divine knowledge (Jn. 8:32; 1 Cor. 2:12-13). Preachers can do this effectively by showing Jesus in every text. Jesus is the key to unlocking the power of the Old Testament Scriptures and therefore must be at the center of all gospel preaching (1 Cor. 2:2; Lk. 24:27). Enlightening and informing the listener is the first goal of “good” preaching. Both the listener and the preacher benefit from the preacher’s diligent study (2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Tim. 4:16).


(2) Preaching Attractively – The power to transform sinners into saints rests with God and His living word (Jas. 1:18, 21; 1 Pet. 1:22-25; etc.). Thankfully, the salvation of others does not depend upon our eloquence or ability. Paul said, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor. 4:7). God chooses to make His appeal for reconciliation through weak and flawed people (2 Cor. 5:20). So preaching is a partnership and we become “fellow workers with God” (1 Cor. 3:9).


With that being said, it is entirely possible to have all the ingredients for a “good” sermon only to botch it with a poor delivery. A haughty tone, a meandering outline or inappropriate comments can derail and undermine an otherwise “good” sermon.


The answer is not to remove all traces of personality from the preaching and to simply read the Scriptures (which has its own merits [1 Tim. 4:13]). The preacher’s role extends beyond simply dispensing information. His job is not merely to get others to know the truth but to present the truth in such a way to encourage listeners to love the truth (Psa. 19:10; 119). This is done not simply by showing Jesus in every text but by showing Jesus as someone to love. It is not enough simply to enlighten and inform listeners but rather it is also the preacher’s aim to persuade and compel listeners (Acts 2:37). In other words, to get them emotionally invested in the gospel story.


(3) Preaching Powerfully – Lastly, preachers must be bold in their delivery of God’s word (Acts 4:13, 29, 31; 28:31, etc.). Paul told Titus, a preacher in Crete, to “declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you” (Titus 2:15). The only way a person can preach boldly while maintaining a good conscience (1 Tim. 1:5; 1 Pet. 3:16) is to embody the teaching and live out the word in his own life.


How effective would the teaching be if, after teaching that it is wrong to steal, the teacher was found guilty of theft? (Rom. 2:17-24; Jas. 3:1) Paul exhorted Timothy to maintain his sincerity of faith (1 Tim. 1:5; 2 Tim. 1:5). He was to live as an example to the other Christians (1 Tim. 4:12) so that their obedience to the word of God would not be hindered by a hypocritical teacher (1 Cor. 9:12).


Knowledge and love of the truth can be spoiled by a teacher who refuses to do the truth. On the other hand, when listeners can detect sincerity of faith and genuine humility of character behind the teaching, it can be a powerful motivator to hear with obedient ears. As the teacher himself is following Jesus, he is showing Jesus not only as someone to be admired and loved but as one to be followed. By presenting the truth, the preacher is informing and enlightening the listeners. By preaching the truth attractively, he is persuading and compelling the listeners. But by preaching it powerfully, he is moving the listeners to action. The gospel calls for a response from those who hear it (Acts 2:38).


Similarly, Aristotle sums up his approach to effective persuasion in 3 words: Logos (appeal to logic, persuasion by reason), Pathos (appeal to emotion, persuasion by evocation), and Ethos (appeal to ethics, persuasion based on the credibility of the persuader).


So, what constitutes “good” preaching? Styles of delivery may change with the character of those who deliver the message. In the kingdom, this diversity serves to strengthen the body. But to be effective evangelists we must make the gospel clear, make the gospel real & make the gospel life itself. If you ever have the privilege to speak a message from God’s word, keep these things in mind.

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