Shine

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:14-16

From the beginning, light has been associated with the presence and the glory of God.  His first recorded words were, “Let there be light.” And at His command light burst forth into the darkness of a formless and empty world. In John chapter 1 Jesus is described as the light that “shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” And Christ’s own words in John 8:12 were, “I am the light of the world.” A burning bush signaled God’s presence to Moses. God led the children of Israel by fire at night. A golden lampstand was to burn perpetually in the Holy Place of God’s Tabernacle and Temple. And a shining star led the wise men to the Christ child. These are just a few of many examples throughout the Bible.

In His first recorded sermon, Jesus tells His followers, “You are the light of the world,” just as He referred to Himself. We are intended as lights of the world to illuminate and give light to others. There is a wonderful example of this in nature – the sun and moon.  The moon has no light of it’s own. The source of it’s light is the sun, which it reflects, causing it to appear to have light. In the same way, we have no light apart from Christ.  We can, however, reflect Him and shine in the darkness of the world.

How should our light shine? Like a city on a hill that cannot be hidden. When the Church reflects Christ, as she is intended to do, she becomes bright and conspicuous. It is impossible to hide such a light. Many eyes will be on the Christ-follower who abandons all to burn brightly. Some will be drawn to follow, and some will hate. But either way, like a city on a hill, our lives should obviously and unwaveringly point to Jesus.

As we burn and shine, people will not only hear our good message but also see our good works. Then they will know that Christ isn’t only a profession that we make, but He is our treasure. The glory of God must always be our goal. The light we shine comes from Him, and as we shine it, others will see Him through our lives and praise the Father in heaven. All glory is from, through and to Him.

Dear God, It is such a privilege to shine for You. Thank You for saving me and calling me to participate in Your work. I want to burn bright in this darkness for Your glory. Help me to remember in all I do that Your glory is my goal. Please use my life to draw others to You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Prove It

James 2:14-26

“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”  James 2:26

Have you ever heard the phrase; “Actions speak louder than words”? How about, “The proof is in the pudding”? When I was a kid, there was a familiar scene on the elementary school playground almost every day. Inevitably someone would boast about how fast he could run or how high he could climb, and his bragging would be met with a familiar, “Oh yeah?  Prove it!” If I could sum up James 2:14-26 into a simple phrase it would be, “Prove it.”

On the “playground” of religion, many claim to have faith. Research shows that 92% of Americans say they believe in God, and 76% say they believe in Jesus Christ. Why, then, is there a continuing moral decline in our country? If the overwhelming majority of people believe in Jesus Christ, why isn’t that supposed faith translating into our culture?

There is a difference in saying you believe and actually believing. The first involves only lip service, but the second requires the messy business of living out your faith in Jesus Christ. And according to James 2:26, the two are inseparable. True faith will always be accompanied by life proof. Deeds are the life of faith just as the spirit is the life of the body. James is not suggesting that we are saved by our deeds. The root of salvation is always and only grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). Deeds, however, are the fruit…the evidence that the root, which is unseen, is indeed there.

Abraham is the example James gives in this passage (verse 23). When he obediently offered Isaac as a sacrifice, his deed fulfilled what God had said about him. God credited Abraham’s faith as righteousness before Isaac was even born. This proves that it wasn’t Abraham’s obedience that saved him, but it proved his salvation was real. His faith and actions were working together. The two are inseparable.

How can faith be proven without deeds? Even Almighty God, who is invisible, proves His existence and character by His works. How much more so then should we, His children, do the same? Salvation is eternal. It is an unseen work that shifts us from the physical to the spiritual realm, moving us from death to life. On the outside we look the same, yet in reality something has drastically changed. And if you try to explain that to someone, you are likely to be met with a schoolyard, “Prove it!” And while it is not our job to prove God is real; it is our job to prove He is real in us.

Dear God, All of the good works in the universe could not save me…I know this. You alone deserve the credit for that; and I boast in Your work alone. Thank You for Your grace and mercy in my life. Help me today to prove this unseen faith and joy by how I live. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Enjoying God

“But I trust in Your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in Your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, for He has been good to me.”  Psalm 13:5-6

The Westminster Shorter Catechism says: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Perhaps one of the greatest ways that we as Christians can love God is to enjoy Him. How does obedience glorify God if there is no joy? How does service glorify God with no joy? How does giving glorify Him without joy? Our lives ought to be a song of joyful praise to our God, for who He is and for what He has done.

In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote that God designed man to find his supreme happiness in Him alone. He goes on to explain how sin robbed man of the joy that only God can give. Satan convinced our ancestors in the Garden of Eden that they could invent some kind of happiness apart from God. He deceived Eve into believing that she could be “like God,” and that God was withholding something good from her. That first bite of forbidden fruit was nothing more than a hopeless attempt to find something other than God to make her happy. Out of that first choice flowed all of human history…countless attempts throughout the ages to find joy somewhere other than in God. Money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, slavery, empires – the long, dreadful story of man’s futile attempts to satisfy an unquenchable thirst for God alone.

Psalm 16:11 says, “You have made known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.” The psalmist understood what many of us do not – that it is useless to pray that God grant happiness through anything or anyone other than Himself. He cannot do it. Why? Because it is not there; such happiness does not exist. There is no satisfaction or joy apart from Him. We were created to be in relationship with Him. Not just an intellectual belief, but also a deep, meaningful, intimate, joyful communion with our Creator. To know Him is to know joy like no other.

John Piper said it might be more accurate to say that: “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” When we enjoy God, He is glorified through our lives. So how do we enjoy Him? There is no four-step process or spiritual formula. We enjoy Him by looking to Him to meet every need, comfort every heartache, fill every void, and guide every step. We enjoy Him by spending time with Him. The more we know God, the more we will experience true happiness.

Dear God, Your grace and mercy are all I could ever need to be truly satisfied and joyful.  When I think about Your salvation, my heart overflows with gratitude and praise. Please forgive me for looking to other things for happiness. You alone are my hope and my joy. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

The Danger of Plenty

“When the LORD your God brings you into the land He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you – a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant – then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” Deuteronomy 6:10-12

“As Americans, we are rich. In fact, the poorest among us are wealthy by global standards. According to the World Bank, just under 80 percent of the world’s population live on less than $10/day. Lots of us spent more than that on a meal today. This observation is not intended to stir up guilt but to acknowledge responsibility. God has blessed us in abundance, and Jesus commands us in the Gospels to be generous, sacrificial and cheerful givers.” ~ Tony Merida in his book, Orphanology.

Prosperity can be a dangerous thing. Wealth, in and of itself, is not sinful. However, material blessing often leaves us vulnerable to worshiping the gifts instead of the Giver.  Whether in 1400 BC or 2012, Moses’ warning in Deuteronomy 6 rings true…”Be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” The Israelites were delivered from a literal land of slavery.  But all Christians have been delivered from slavery to sin.

Moses’ concern was for the hearts of God’s people. They had been slaves for more than 400 years. They had to depend on God for everything during that time. All the while, He was preparing a place for them to live – a land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob where all of their needs, both physically and spiritually, would be met. Moses feared that when there were trees and vines rich with fruit and wells full of clean water waiting for them, they would not remember from Whom these provisions came. And that is exactly what happened.

Aren’t we just the same? How often when we turn on the shower or faucet do we give thanks to the Giver of clean water? How often when we fill our grocery cart do we thank God for food to eat, and for the money to buy it? How often when we go to the ATM or drive through the bank do we lift up a shout of praise to God for His provision? Yes, some have more than others. But if you are reading this, you have electricity and access to a computer. You have enough education to be literate. These are precious gifts that many do not have…and we would be wise to remember the Giver and not forget Him in our prosperity. What we have been given is not a right; it is a blessing. And the Giver deserves all of the glory. Because in Christ, we are all gloriously rich!

Dear God, Please forgive me for taking Your gifts for granted and for forgetting You in my land of plenty. Please help me to be generous with all that You entrust to me, and to remember that it is all Yours. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

The Word of God

 “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”  Deuteronomy 6:6-9

An integral part of loving God is knowing His Word. By “knowing” I don’t mean just an intellectual knowledge, but also a respect for Scripture and obedience to Scripture. A biblical love for God will result in obedience to His Word. This is why Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love Me, obey My commands.” Love for God and obedience to God are inseparable.

The Jews of Moses’ time took God’s Word literally. In Deuteronomy 6:8-9 when He told them to, “Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads,” they did. Devout Jews to this day still wear Phylacteryies, which are small black leather pouches containing the words of the Torah (first 5 books of the Old Testament). They tie Phylacteries to their wrists and foreheads and base this tradition on God’s words through Moses in Deuteronomy 6.

While Christians today do not take these verses quite so literally, there is still much to be gleaned from this passage. God may not have meant that we must literally wear Scripture on our bodies and write it on our doors. But, He did mean that Scripture should permeate our lives on every level. God’s Word should be laid up in our heart. We should meditate, ponder, and memorize it (Psalm 1). It was Jesus who said, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). We should also teach Scripture as a way of life. The discussions around our dinner tables, lunch breaks, phone calls, and routine duties with our children and family should be seasoned with God’s truth. Our speech should communicate a reverence and love for the plain truths about God.

To sum up, God’s Word should be regularly read in our homes so that it becomes familiar to us. We should be ready to share its truth on all occasions…not because we have taken a class at church, but because God’s Word is an integral part of life seven days a week – not just on Sunday.

Dear God, Thank You for Your Word. I am humbled to think that there are millions of people who have no access to a Bible in their languages. Please forgive me for taking Your Word for granted. Please deepen my desire to know You through Your Word. Help me to be consistently reading Your Word and obeying what it says. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.