The Great Light

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. – Isaiah 9:2

Are you afraid of the dark? If so, you are not alone. Whether we like to admit a true fear or not, there are things that are scary about the dark: we can’t see where we are going, and we can’t identify hazards that might be surrounding us. Darkness that is so enveloping keeps us from knowing what is going on around us and sometimes puts us in danger.

How comforting, then, that in the Bible verse from Isaiah, God describes his Son, our Savior, as a great light in the darkness. Jesus is the light that came to illuminate the way for those who couldn’t see where they were going. That’s us. We were all living in the darkness of sin, unable to see our way out, unable to find the path to eternal life, unable to even see the dangers that are all around us. This verse tells us we were not just living in physical darkness and ignorance, but we were living in the land of the shadow of death. In other words, we were on the path to hell. This is much more serious than feeling a little lost in a dark house, or worrying about imaginary monsters hiding under our bed.

When Jesus came into this world to live a perfect life, suffer and die for the sins of the world, and rise again, he secured our salvation and revealed it to us. That’s why Jesus is called the light. He made a way out of our darkness, and he guides us on the way to heaven. We no longer have to wander around in the darkness and guilt of our sin. Thank God for caring enough about us that he sent the Light to save us from darkness.

Death Will Be No More

“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. … Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; … For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands.” – Isaiah 65:17, 20, 22

 

A friend of mine died yesterday.

He was diagnosed with leukemia only a few months ago. He underwent one course of chemotherapy that, unfortunately, didn’t do what the doctors had hoped it would. Then, just last week, he underwent a second course of chemotherapy. Things were looking okay until he suddenly was struck with a massive infection that began to fill his lungs with fluid. For the past several days, he with God’s strength fought valiantly. But yesterday afternoon, he died.

All this makes me profoundly sad. It broke my heart to see my friend struggling to breathe until he breathed no more. I wept, and continue to weep, with his wife, his sons, and the rest of his family.

As Jesus was deeply troubled at the tomb of his dear friend Lazarus, I am deeply troubled. But even as I grieve, I do not grieve as one who has no hope.

I and all who grieve for my Christian friend have hope. For we know that a time is coming when death will be no more. A time is coming when, as God says in the verses from Isaiah chapter 65, there will no longer be “an infant who lives only for a few days or an old man who does not live out his years.” In fact, a time is coming when there will be no death at all. Death itself will be a thing of the past and won’t even be remembered anymore.

All of this will become a reality because Jesus already has conquered death. By rising from the dead, he destroyed death’s power so that it cannot hold onto God’s people anymore. Because of this, I know that death will not hold me forever when it comes my time to die. It will not hold my friend forever either. A time is coming when we will see each other again and live in the new heaven and new earth where there is no death. And we will be with Jesus forever.

May this reality fill your heart with hope.  Trusting in Jesus as your Savior, you too can look forward to the time when death will be no more.

Soar through Life like Eagles

Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:31

Life can get pretty heavy at times. A person can begin to feel like an overburdened pack mule plodding along with the weight of the world on your shoulders. Perhaps you can picture the packages you are carrying. There is the package of overdue bills on one side and the package of strained relationships on the other. Then there is the package of worries at work and the package of overdue projects at home. You may also be carrying the package of meeting the endless needs of your young children or the package of caring for an aging parent. On top of all these there can be chronic illness or clinical depression. And, as if all of these are not heavy enough, there is the guilt of thoughtless words you have said and kind deeds you did not do. You struggle from one day to the next with no relief and the weight getting heavier and heavier. Plod…plod…plod…

Now, listen to God’s Word: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” God in heaven knows all about your burdens—your work and worry and guilt. He can carry the loads of life—whatever they are. He is the almighty Lord who never tires or grows weary. Rather than relying on your own wisdom or strength to see you through, put your hope in the Lord. He lifts your burdens off your back and frees you so that instead of plodding like a pack mule, you soar through life like an eagle.

Trust your faithful Lord and Savior

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

“Do not fear.” “Do not be afraid.” “Fear not.” God has spoken those reassuring words to his people throughout history. Scripture contains dozens and dozens of instances where the Lord spoke such words of comfort. Whether it was to Abram before his big move or to Joshua trying to fill the shoes of Moses or to Mary and Joseph about to become parents of the Messiah or to the Israelites in Isaiah’s day facing war and destruction, God has lovingly said to his people: “Do not fear.”

When do you need him to say those words to you? Maybe you are about to have surgery. Maybe it is when you are anxious because it is your first day on the job or your first day of retirement. Perhaps it is when you are trying to get up the courage to speak to your friend about Jesus. Or maybe it is when you recently lost a spouse and don’t know how to move forward. On such days as these, your Lord says: “Do not be afraid.”

‘That’s easy for him to say,’ we may think to ourselves. ‘He’s not the one going through what we are going through.’ Dear friend in Christ, please realize that when the Lord says, “Do not be afraid,” those aren’t just nice words meant to flatter us for a moment or to give us a quick pep talk. Those words are spoken by the Almighty God who has already backed up his words with powerful action. The One who tells us not to fear is the same one who has achieved our salvation by sending his Son into this world to live and die for us. Jesus’ death and resurrection in our place prove that God will always be there for us. He will never leave us alone. He has planned our future and it is eternal and perfect and glorious.

God’s encouragement for us not to be afraid comes with words of power: “I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” God knows exactly what we need and what we are going through and he knows exactly what he needs to do to keep us safe and finally bring us home to heaven.

Whatever you are facing today or tomorrow or the next day, don’t be afraid. Trust your faithful Lord and Savior to get you through each day and to bless you with strength and faith and everything else you need for this life.

When the Words Don’t Come

 The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. Romans 8:26

When the Words Don’t Come

Give some careful thought to the following statement: The times we find it hardest to talk to God in prayer are often the times we need to talk to him the most.

If you have lived more than a few years in this difficult place, you know how true that statement is. What words do you speak to God, exactly, when you walk out of a doctor’s office with the news that your spouse has stage 4 cancer? What words do you speak to God when your finances are on the verge of collapse? What words do you speak to God when you can no longer process how stressful your place of work has become? What words do you speak to God when it feels as though a member of your family has run a sword through your soul? What words do you speak to God when your marriage begins to implode? And what words do you speak to God when all the regrets from your past begin to smother you like a heavy shroud?

These are the times when the words don’t come. These are the times when coherent thought disappears. These are the moments when you and I cannot even articulate a simple cry to the Lord for help.

Enter the Holy Spirit. He knows. He knows very well how the wreckage of this sinful world can overwhelm us, paralyze us to the point of stunned silence. In those moments he comes to us. He intercedes for us. On our behalf he speaks to our heavenly Father “with groans that words cannot express.” And to such groans God listens and responds.

You are a forgiven child of God through faith in Jesus Christ. That means you possess the exclusive privilege of talking to the Lord in prayer. But when you set aside time for him and the words do not come, take heart. The Holy Spirit knows exactly what you need. What he says on your behalf will go beyond human words. God will listen. And he will answer.

Jesus Knows How You Feel

Remember when you were so tired that all you wanted to do was sleep, and instead your baby with an ear infection woke up every time you tried to lay her down? When you wanted to get some extra tasks done at the office, and fell farther behind? When you looked forward to the leisurely Saturday filled with college football, and ended up fixing the garage door?

Know this about God: Jesus came down to our world, and he knows how you feel. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.” Jesus was willing to deal with the poison, the sin of this world, so that he could win you for an eternity of heaven. He willingly lifted up and carried your sins to the cross. Suspended between heaven and earth he felt the white-hot anger of his Father for your sins. Filled with life—because he had no sin and paid for yours—he rose from the dead bringing with him your unconditional forgiveness.

Rejection? He knew it. Temptation? He felt it. Loneliness? He experienced it. Death? He tasted it. Stress? He could write the book on it. When you tell God you’ve reached your limit, he knows what you mean. When your palms sweat at the impossible deadline, when your plans are interrupted by people who have other plans, he nods in sympathy. There is something extraordinarily comforting in knowing that Jesus is like you in every way, just that he had no sin. It brings calm to the most frayed nerves, the most frenzied and frazzled days.

So use this Bible truth! When you hurt, go to Jesus with confidence. He will help you in your time of need. Jesus knows how you feel.

Hebrews 4:14-16
Since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens. Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we might receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

The Pain of Loneliness

A few years ago, the magazine Psychology Today had a fascinating article about the function of the human brain. Our diagnostic equipment is now so good that we can actually map the human brain. As we do, we can see what area of the brain becomes active when a person is facing a certain situation. For instance, one area of the brain becomes active when the person is facing danger. Another area of the brain becomes active when the person sits down to a favorite meal.

Researchers decided to try an experiment. They placed someone in a situation where the person had to face loneliness. Their diagnostic equipment lit up. What it told them was a bit jarring. It told them that the area of the brain that becomes active when facing loneliness is the same area of the brain that becomes active when facing physical pain.

Think about that for a moment. According to this experiment, our emotional makeup is such that we process loneliness the same way we process physical pain.

Then again, maybe we don’t need researchers to tell us what we already know. Loneliness hurts. Loneliness brings real pain.

Jesus knows this. He knows this from his own turn at living in this fallen world. More than anyone else, he knows what agony it is to feel isolated, abandoned, alone.

But Jesus doesn’t just feel our pain. He’s done something about it. At the cross his blood washed our sins away. He removed the wall of our sin between God and us. That means by trusting in Jesus we will never be alone again.

The pain of loneliness is real. But it’s no match for Jesus.

Can God Help Me Be Safe?

One summer night during a severe thunderstorm a mother was tucking her small daughter into bed.  She was about to turn the light off when the little girl asked in a trembling voice, “Mommy, will you stay with me all night?”  Smiling, the mother gave her a warm, reassuring hug and said tenderly, “I can’t, dear.  I have to sleep in Daddy’s room.”  A long silence followed.  At last it was broken by her daughter’s shaky voice saying, “That big sissy!”

All of us have fears.  And they don’t always end with a chuckle.  Our fears may be rational or completely irrational, but when we experience them, they are definitely real.  At times we are afraid and may wonder, “Can God help me?”

On another night, Jesus Christ’s disciples were caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee.  Their fear was very real too.  Jesus came to them and said, “Take courage!  It is I.  Do not be afraid” Mark 6:50.  Jesus was there, and they didn’t need to be afraid any longer.  He displayed his almighty power by calming the wind and waves.

Jesus can help us with our fears as well.  He controls all things and promises to use his power to help those who trust in him.  When Jesus is in our lives, we can take courage and not be afraid.

While his promises are true for all kinds of fears, they are especially true for our spiritual concerns.  Many are afraid of dying and having to stand before a perfect God and answer for their imperfect lives.  Jesus encourages us even in these great fears.  He said, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” John 11:25-26.  Life on this earth will end for all people, but Jesus promises that those who believe in him will live with him in heaven eternally.  Jesus died on the cross to take our sins away, so that God will not condemn believers in judgment but will give them eternal life in heaven.  This is the comfort and courage that God gives to those who trust him. The Bible is filled with examples of God’s power and his many promises to help us with our fears.  Take courage and don’t be afraid; God can help you when you’re afraid.

Purpose for Your Life

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” – Jeremiah 29:11

“Why did God allow…?” “What will my life be like…?” “Does anybody else know…?”

Questions from the lips and hearts of human beings have started with such words for long ages past, and many of our own questions still do.

“Why did God allow my grandma to die?” “What will my life be like after my kids leave home?” “Does anybody else know what it feels like to be this lonely?” “Why does God allow this disease to ravage my body?” “What will my life be like after we settle in to this new home in this new community?” “Does anybody else know what it’s like to battle this addiction?”

We would like to be able to connect the dots, wouldn’t we? We would like to be able to look into the future and see what it holds for us. We would like to be assured that others do know what we’re going through and, more importantly, that others care. But we can’t always connect the dots; we can’t ever look into the future. Many times others don’t know what’s going on in our lives, and sometimes they don’t even care.

So what are we to do when answers to those questions remain a mystery?

The declaration of God recorded by the prophet Jeremiah point us to God’s answer. We look to the Lord. The answers to all of those questions are not a mystery to him. Nothing happens in this world that he doesn’t see. Nothing happens in our life that does not concern him. Everything has his divine purpose in mind.

His purpose is “to prosper you and not to harm you.” His purpose is “to give you hope and a future.” Far beyond mere earthly prosperity and a hope-filled future on earth, the Lord works for our spiritual prosperity and the sure hope of an eternal future in heaven. Everything he plans and does is with this purpose in mind—through faith in the Son of God whom he sent to be our Savior, we will one day live with him in heaven.

What comfort that is when we aren’t always able to connect the dots of life. What security that gives us when we can’t see the specifics of the future. What peace that provides when others just don’t seem to know or care.

The Lord knows. The Lord cares. The Lord plans. The Lord controls. All of it, with your soul’s best interests in mind.

Facing Death

Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. – Isaiah 12:2

There is a saying in our English language which is falling out of use: whistling past the graveyard. There are two theories about its meaning. The first is that it is used to describe people who don’t know that they are in a terrible situation. The second is that it is used to describe people who know they are in a terrible situation yet remain confident even in the face of overwhelming odds.

If we take the second meaning, that saying can describe Christians. The Bible tells us why. It says, “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD is my strength and my song, he has become my salvation” (Isaiah 12:2). We human beings face a terrible situation and overwhelming odds. Sin infests our hearts like a disease, showing itself in hateful thoughts, hurtful words and hostile actions toward others. The result is that we are headed for the graveyard, facing the death of our bodies and souls forever as our just punishment. And there is nothing we can do about it. There is nothing we can do to make up for our sins or set our wrongs right.

We need saving, and that saving comes not from us, but from God. He has become our salvation. He sent his Son, Jesus, to endure the punishment for all our sins by giving his life on the cross. But that’s not all. Jesus not only fought our fight against sin and won, he also rose again, conquering death. So in Jesus, we have victory over sin and the grave. His work on our behalf gives us unshakable confidence in the face of overwhelming odds.

We can sing past the graveyard because in Jesus and his sin-conquering strength we have forgiveness. We can sing past the graveyard because the grave is not our end. Instead, Jesus makes heaven our eternal home. So no matter the terrible situation, no matter the overwhelming odds, Jesus and his salvation gives us strength for singing.