The Power to Change

new life

“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.  Do not present your members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”  (Romans 6:14 ESV)

I was walking around the corner into our living room when the projectile hit me right in the eye.  I wasn’t hurt badly (the projectile was a soft, rubbery ball), but it did sting quite a bit and it did surprise me, and so I got mad and growled at the culprit, now sheepishly holding his new slingshot behind his back.  “You need to not aim that thing at someone’s face! It’s not kind to try to hurt someone!”   “I’m sorry, Dad.  I won’t do it ever again,” was the response I got.   The words were said at near tears, for my little boy loves me and felt remorse because he had provoked me.   Forgiveness was asked for and was granted, and amends were made.   But I’m not sure if he can keep his promise to not ever do it again.   I’ve gotten pegged by toys one too many times to not be skeptical.   Real change, honest change, is not an easy proposition.

At the beginning of a new year, we’re often introspective.  We’re encouraged to make “New Year’s Resolutions.”   For the Christian, this introspection often is uncomfortable, because when we look at ourselves honestly, we see so many ways in which we have habits of missing the mark – of sinning against God and against others.   In the face of besetting sin, we often feel overwhelmed.   It’s not hard to look back and see how often our response to God and to others has been “I’m sorry!  I won’t ever do it again.”   Perhaps our response has gotten more measured: “I’ll try not to do that again.”     But how can one break free from besetting sin?  Paul deals with this topic at the beginning of Romans chapter 6.  His advice for us is that we offer up ourselves to God “as those who have been brought from death to life.”    This is to say that as we struggle with the temptation to use our body to sin, we should present ourselves to God, recalling his mercy.  His teaching culminates in vs. 14 “For sin will have no dominion over you for you are not under law, but under grace.”   The grace of God brings us out from under sin’s dominion in several important ways:

First, the grace of God delivers us from the penalty of sin.    Sin would have had mastery over us, because it causes us to break God’s holy law.   Grace delivers us from the penalty of our lawbreaking, placing the penalty of our sin upon Jesus Christ.    This is a humbling thing, because we must accept that the innocent Son of God received our penalty.  But it is also a joyful thing, because he did it willingly, out of love.   And having received our penalty, he overcame sin and death and is risen victoriously.   So, far from getting what we deserve, instead we are given forgiveness, we are credited with righteousness, and we are promised an inheritance with God the father.   Sin no longer has dominion over us in its aim to damn our souls.  All because of grace.

And secondly, God’s grace breaks sin’s dominion over us because grace gives us a new way to obey.  Without the grace of God, our prospects of change would be gloomy indeed.  Here are the tools we would have toward obeying God: God’s perfect moral law, spotless in its goodness and its beneficial intent toward man; our own corrupted will, sometimes afflicted by our conscience; and a phenomenally large track record of having broken each of God’s holy commands.    The law alone, holy as it is, cannot tame our rebel hearts.   But the cross breaks the grip of sin, because it changes our hearts. God loved us when we were unlovable.  And believing, we are moved by His Spirit to gratitude, and we begin to obey the law out of a love for God and others.

Do you desire to change, friend?  When you have failed, or you’re tempted, present yourself before God just as you are.   Consider the cross and the grace which you continue to be shown.  You will find with a habit of such remembrance that God’s Holy Spirit will strengthen you to become the new you.


Responding to #MeToo

ChildAbuse (1)

The United States is seeing quite an unlikely phenomenon in the #MeToo movement.  Each day the tally of public figures who have fallen from fame into shame seems to grow.   What began as a large snowball has turned into an avalanche.    Indeed, the sheer volume of stories that have been brought before us is overwhelming.

And as a pastor, I have noticed a trend within the church in regard to this phenomenon.  A lot of good folks are struggling with how to process the information.   How do we respond to this?   Do we believe the stories?  How could they all possibly be true?  For someone who perhaps has never been a victim of sexual abuse, there is a strong temptation to believe that maybe these accusations have an ulterior motive, political or otherwise.   Politics have gotten so dirty, that its not inconceivable that such a thing could be done for political reasons.   A notion I frequently hear people in the church assert is “If this thing happened decades ago, and it really bothered the person, they would have come forward before now.”   Because I love the church, and I don’t want to see its witness in this country be diminished even further, I wanted to shed light on a few assumptions people may have when it comes to the issue of sexual abuse:

First, there are many reasons why a victim of sexual abuse may wait decades in silence before speaking of their experience.   Fear is one factor that often inhibits victims from sharing, because often the abuser is someone who has a power advantage over them.   Power can take many forms – physical power (‘if you say anything I’ll hurt you’), employment power (‘if you say anything, I’ll ruin your career’) , emotional power (‘if you say anything, I won’t love you anymore’).   Sometimes the threat doesn’t even have to be overtly stated- the victim may reasonably believe that if they speak of their experience there will be enough personal backlash that they are afraid of the consequences.   Another reason why someone may remain silent is that abuse brings with it shame.   This is often difficult for someone who has never experienced sexual abuse to understand.  If the person was abused, it is the abuser who should feel ashamed, right – not the victim.   Unfortunately shame is a pretty normal feeling for a victim for a number of reasons.  Sexual abuse causes emotional conflict. Why? Because on the one hand the physical sensation may feel good (THIS IS NOT ALWAYS THE CASE), but on the other hand everything else about the situation screams that its not right, morally, relationally, etc… .  And so the victim may feel guilty that they have  conflicted emotions about the experience.   They may have had a previously pleasant relationship with their abuser, and so a victim may feel guilty because they now have conflicted feelings about the abuser.  The victim may blame herself/himself for the abuse (‘if only I’d done more to stop it’).  The victim may feel that others will blame him/her or be ashamed of them for the same reasons the victim feels that way about himself/herself.  Shame is real, and it is an extremely powerful motivator to remain silent.   I know this personally. #MeToo

Second, the mere fact that an allegation of abuse may cause significant personal loss for the abuser does NOT imply necessarily that harm to the abuser was the victims primary goal in coming forward, though it may look that way, and though it is frequently construed this way.   Please understand this:  speaking publicly about having been sexually abused is extremely difficult for someone who has.   It takes courage to believe that others will believe you.   And often it takes a powerful motivator.   Think about it for a moment;  if you had a secret that might just change the way people thought about you, and if you felt personal shame over it, would you not be tempted to just keep quiet about it?  So why does a person come forward at all?   There are a number of reasons why a person might take such a drastic and risky step:  they might fear that others might get abused, while the abuser continues on with impunity; they may be tired of living with the shame (the relief of no longer having the dark secret is profound); they may be emboldened because of others sharing their stories (thus the snowball to avalanche  ‘Weinstein” effect.)

Third, the sheer volume of reports that have come forward does not imply that a lot of it is “fake news”.   I have talked to many folks who are shocked at how widespread this phenomenon is, and are very tempted to believe that a lot  of it is hoax.   Let me speak to this:   it absolutely should not be an intellectual leap for us to believe that the issue could be this widespread.   As a Christian, I believe that the human heart is depraved.   This doesn’t mean that every human being is as depraved as possible.   But it does mean that every aspect of my being is at least touched with sin.   And this includes sexuality.   Every human being is capable, indeed tempted, toward sexual wrongdoing, although perhaps not in the same ways or to the same degree.   In the past people were often shamed to talk about the topic publicly, and so the issue of abuse for years has been an unspoken evil.   To complicate matters, as a people, we have blurred the lines about sexual wrongdoing in many ways over the past decades.   And to complicate it further yet, we have so saturated our culture with public sexuality that we have to have ratings on our tv shows and statistics show that most boys have been exposed to pornography before the age of 10.   It should not surprise us even slightly that the issue of sexual wrongdoing is so rampant nor that it has become a curse.

So how should we respond?   First, though accusations are made publicly, as Christians, we should not try the cases in the court of public opinion, and most certainly NOT in the court of political speculation.  (I have honestly seen a meme on Facebook from a political site that read “I don’t believe a woman who claims sexual abuse after 40 years. That’s evil and its wrong.”)  I can’t say this clearly enough: to take such a stance is morally wrong. Victims deserve to be believed.   And abusers ought to face consequences.  As Christians, if we invert this (if we excuse the abuser and silence the victim), even unintentionally, even if our intentions were to protect America from our political adversaries, then we stand against both the holiness and the compassion of the Christ we claim to serve.  In the case of a child who has come forward, and you’re the first or only one they’ve told, then for the love of Christ, listen to them, and report it.   The most Christian thing we can do, is to treat both alleged victims and alleged abusers with human dignity and to let the appropriate authorities investigate the claims and respond with the appropriate consequences.   If we don’t have personal knowledge of the event, we are truly ill equipped to render judgement.  When we hear of sexual abuse, we should take the issue seriously, we should treat everyone involved with christian respect, and we should humble our own hearts, recognizing that we are broken, too.   Not necessarily knowing the full truth of any given situation we may hear about, here’s what we can personally do:  We should pray for the one who accuses abuse, as actual abuse often wounds a person emotionally and spiritually with consequences that can last a lifetime; And we should pray for the one accused; pray for justice, pray for repentance if necessary, and pray for God’s intervention in that person’s life. And I will say this as well: just because we may have to accept that someone has been guilty of sexual abuse, this does not require us to think of that person as somehow even more evil than most – an abuser is very simply a sinner who has done a serious wrong to another.   And there is no sin so great that a person can not repent and find forgiveness and get help.   That is what the cross is all about.

Come In Out of the Cold

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom to establish it and uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.  The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”  (Isaiah 9:6-7)

When I was a young man, deer hunting season gave me mixed feelings.   On the one hand, there was always the excitement that you might see a deer.   On the other hand, however, was the fact that in Pennsylvania, deer season did not begin until after Thanksgiving, which pretty much ensured very low temperatures.   While there is a majestic beauty to a wintery forest- the way ice makes every tree branch glimmer like a diamond in the sun; the way every sound seems amplified amidst the stark hush- there is also a brutal quality to it – the way your breath will literally freeze in your beard; the way your hands and feet develop this odd mixture of numbness and pain from sitting in the cold.  I remember on such days the exquisite joy that I felt, whether we got a deer or not, when the day was over.   Because at the end of the day we would get into my dad’s truck, and there would be heat- blissful, lovely heat.

While the holidays are majestic in their beauty- it’s hard not to love the music, the Christmas message, the lights, the food, the family celebrations, and the ‘holiday cheer’- yet even amidst such joys, the pain that sin brings into this world is brutal.   Around our world, there is terror, uncertainty, violence, and fear.   And even in our own corner of the world, few and far between are those who don’t face stress or even heartache, and not only over the holidays.    Many regularly deal with loss, regret, anxiety, and depression.   We live in a broken world, which, for all its beauty, offers us no hope in and of itself.

Therefore, the news of Christ is a welcome message indeed.   We did not have to find the solution to the problems of sin and death; the solution came to us.    And while the story of Jesus’ incarnation and birth is indeed heartwarming and faith-stirring, it is the news of what he accomplished, what he defeated, and what he has promised to do which give us real hope.   Do you search for wisdom?   Jesus is a wonderful counselor!  Do you struggle with problems that are bigger than you are?  Friend, Jesus has all the power of Almighty God!   Do you find that the closeness, warmth and belonging of family have escaped you?   Dear friend, Jesus allows us to be adopted by his Father- one who will be to us an Everlasting Father.  Do you regret the ways your sin has alienated you from others or even from God?   Oh, sinner friend; Jesus is the Prince of Peace.   Because he loves you so much, he was willing to take credit for your sin- even to the degree that he was willing to be punished by God and die for you.   And his death for you brings peace with God.   God has no wrath left for you because he poured it out on Christ.   And the best part of this story is what’s yet to come, because having defeated both your sin (at the cross) and death (at his resurrection) Jesus now reigns as Prince of Peace.   He has promised he will come again to us- this time not in the form of a humble baby, but as a victorious king!  Today’s passage says that his reign will never end!   That the peace he brings will only increase forever!   Jesus is what your heart longs for, dear one.   While now you shiver from sin’s influence, and the icy bite of mankind’s curse is an affliction, the day will come when the warmth of Divine love will drive the bitter cold night away.    The Son, in all his radiance and glory will rule, and things will be as they ought.   The good news about Christmas is that he has already come to us.   Christian, he lives in your heart.   Listen for his voice and let it remind you of the days yet to come.  And live today with expectation of that

Adding the Spice of Grace

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion that it may give grace to those who hear.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”  Ephesians 4:29-32

Several years ago, my parents, knowing that my family occasionally uses hot peppers in our cooking, bought me a ghost pepper plant.   As the summer went on the plant yielded several of the small, red, peppers, and so I set about preparing them for use.  Most people don’t eat them whole, or even use an entire pepper chopped up in any cooking because they’re just too hot for that.  The way most people prepare them is either to make pepper oil out of them or to dry them and make chili powder; that way you can control just how much spice you want to add.  I made chili powder, as that can also be saved for a long time.   Several months later, I was making a large crock pot full of chili.  I thought to myself “I’ll just add a pinch of that chili powder and see if anybody notices.”   We all noticed.    Even just a small pinch of that chili powder made the chili so spicy we couldn’t eat it.   Just a pinch ruined the whole pot.  In today’s passage, Paul tells us that our words can have a similar effect; like an ingredient we add when cooking, our words can either bless or corrupt those who take them in.

First Paul tells us not to let “corrupting” talk come out of our mouths. Literally the word he uses, “sapros,” means rotten, but when used of words, as in today’s passage the word points to the rotten effect they can have. Like a bad apple will cause other apples to decay, rotten words corrupt those who listen.  In addition, such talk “grieves” the Holy Spirit, by whom we’ve been sealed for redemption.    The Spirit is the One who brings out new life in us, and when we revert to talk that belongs to the old man, it grieves Him.   This should grieve us.   What, then, qualifies as “corrupting” talk?  Bluntly, anything which glamorizes sin or gives voice to the sinful inclination of our hearts is corrupting talk which belongs to the old man.  But in today’s passage, Paul gives several examples: bitterness (acting like there is no hope when we ought to cherish hope), clamor (feeling like we always must be heard), slander (hurting someone’s reputation), malice (seeking another’s harm), and anger and wrath are all examples of ‘corrupting’ talk.  Consider each of these examples and see how they convict us all.   You may be asking “Is Paul really saying that all words of wrath or anger wrong?”  Clearly not, as just a few verses earlier (vs.26) he says “be angry and do not sin”.   The question is the motive and manner of the words.  Angry words are a sin if:  they are directed toward a brother in the Lord and are not motivated by love; if they communicate untruth; if they are designed to injure; if we speak them while we are holding a sinful attitude; if we speak them at an inappropriate time without regard for their impact.   So then, while angry words are not inherently sinful, the list above should give us enough pause to realize we must be very careful when it comes to anger.  What should we do, then?  Any honest child of God will acknowledge they struggle with this.   I think there are several responses we should strive for.  First, we should be proactive, deliberately trying to be reserved about what we allow ourselves to say, and certainly giving more thought to our words.  Second, when we recognize that we have grieved the Holy Spirit with our mouths, the right response is to repent.  Since words generally involve another person (unless we are talking to ourselves) our repentance should be directed not only to God, who deserves the first response, but then also to the person whom we have corrupted with our words, and finally, our repentance should be expressed toward anyone whom we have sinned against by speaking evil of them.  Imagine, just for a moment, how sin’s devastating effects could be cut short by listening to God on this issue; it could be life-changing! How many bridges would be left un-burnt?  How many walls left un-built?  How many scars prevented?   How much witness it would be to the transforming power of God’s grace!  Though it’s true that words can’t be unsaid, yet never underestimate God’s power to use true repentance.

Paul also tells us that our words, spoken in the right moment, can ‘build others up’ and ‘give grace to those who hear’.   Don’t let those words slip by you, reader!  Paul is saying that we have the opportunity when we open our mouths to literally bring others the grace of God!    Every time we open our mouths, we have an opportunity to be a messenger of God, delivering that note of grace to a heart hurting with sin! Christ may use our words to build someone up!  Words of God’s grace, when used by God’s Spirit for God’s glory have power we can not measure. Think of how many lives have been set on a good course simply by an apt word of encouragement said at the right time.  Most of us at the very least can look back without much effort and identify a time in our lives when someone’s words seemed to come to us from God and built us up at a time we needed it.  That is no coincidence, and today’s passage indicates that it is in fact God’s plan.  We, who have experienced the gift of God’s astounding and completely undeserved favor are equipped and given purpose in this world to share it with others. Won’t you pray with me, that God will train us to so love the grace of Jesus Christ, that our lips are quick to bless and slow to corrupt?


Disciplining the Mind

mind's eye

“Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9
“Sir, I wanted to show you a drawing I made.” I had recently completed a drawing class over the summer term at the university. Not having been an art major, I found the class difficult, but I had learned some techniques. Afterwards, I had worked, as a labor of love, on a drawing of my fiancé. I was pleased with how it came out, and felt I had created a good likeness. But I wanted to go back to my professor and get his feedback. “That’s nice,” he replied, “but you were working from a photograph, weren’t you?” I admitted I had been: at the time, my beloved and I lived several hours away from each other. Also, the work was meant to be a surprise. “You see,” the professor continued, “photographs are a two dimensional representation of a three dimensional object. So photographs make a poor subject for painting or drawing, because you are working from a distorted image, and your work will, by necessity, reflect that distortion.” The work I had done reflected the distortion that I had spent so much time carefully focusing on. Likewise, in the Christian life, what we focus our attention upon will be reflected in what comes out of us. And so, Paul tells us to discipline our thinking.
Paul tells us then both what to think about and why. As for the “what”, Paul tells us to think about things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy. Take a minute and consider each of these items in turn. We are being called to purposefully make a distinction about those things that receive our attention, and to choose the good. But how can we do this? While it’s true, we can’t always control what may cross our mind, yet often we do make choices about those things we focus upon. There are, for most of us, many things that may regularly ask for our focus: we may watch television or movies; we may read things, either in a book or on our computers or cell phones; we may participate in social media; we may listen to music, either during a commute, while at work, or at home; we may engage in dialogue with a friend or family member. Each of these situations, and a host of others, call for us to focus our attention. While none of these things is inherently wrong, yet we are called to be discerning in what we take in; we must ask “in this situation, is this true, honorable, just, pure, etc…” We may be called to make inconvenient or difficult choices, or merely to learn new habits. Why? Because if those things we give our focus are highly distorted by sin, we will find that our sinful nature resonates with sin’s distortion of what is good and true. But when we focus on virtue, that same virtue can inspire our new man to love, good deeds, and further virtue, especially if we give it a lot of thought. Those things which receive the most attention from us will influence what comes out of us, and as Christians, what the Lord desires for us is Godly virtue, and not merely a reflection of the times.
Therefore, Paul closes with this application: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” When we train our minds for virtue, it becomes easier for us to practice what we know to be right. And so, right thinking leads to right practice, and this leads to peace. May the Lord continue to work in our hearts to train our minds for virtue, to live lovingly, and to dwell in his peace.

Stay Thirsty

2016-07-03-17-33-14“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations… The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.”  (Revelation 22:1-2, 17)

This past summer, my family traveled north to visit our family in Pennsylvania.  My wife’s folks live in Jonestown, Pennsylvania, deep in the heart of the state’s Appalachians – literally in the shadow of a great mountain that stretches from horizon to horizon.  Ever since Terri and I started dating, some 26 years ago, I have loved visiting her parent’s area, both because of seeing family and because of seeing the mountains.    And so every time we visit, I love to walk the lonely roads and just look.   This past summer was no different.   And as I walked, eventually the road took me over an old familiar rise, and there was the sight I had been looking for; there, with Jonestown mountain towering behind it as a backdrop was the little mountain church grandma and grandpa had attended- they’re buried in its churchyard.  A number of times, I have stood near that church, or even just pictured it in my mind from far away, and thought to myself ‘What a beautiful sight.’   Even though it’s not my “home”, the sight makes me feel homesick, because it’s been a part of my experience for so long that I feel a sense of belonging there.  Isn’t it odd to think about being homesick for a place you’ve never really known as home?  The other day as I was reading the verses before us from Revelation 22, I suddenly found myself crying, and as I asked myself why, I realized it was because I was homesick for heaven.  I’m convinced that the apostle John, and indeed the Lord Himself, want us to have that longing as we read the words.    Longing makes the heart grow fonder and gives us hope.   Let’s look at the verses and see what sort of lovely hope awaits us, friend.

We’re told that the river which flows from God’s throne and down the main street of Jerusalem is the “river of the water of life.”   He describes this river as “bright as crystal”; you can just picture the sparkling waters, can’t you?   Indeed, in the last verses, Jesus bids us “come take of the water of life without price.”    And yes, I’m aware that elsewhere Jesus links the “living water” to the work of the Holy Spirit, saying that when he gives living water it will “become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life”. (John 4:14)   I take this to mean that the Spirit is the source of life, but I don’t think it means there isn’t a real, genuine, river in heaven whose waters bring life (by the power of God’s Spirit, I would assume.)  I don’t think the river is symbolic, as Ezekiel had a similar vision with the very same river coming from God’s throne. And in Ezekiel’s vision, not only are people blessed by the life giving water, but the earth itself and the seas as well.  The waters God has in mind bring new life to his creation.  Jesus bids us be quenched. Our refreshment with this new life begins now as we trust Christ and receive his Spirit, but it finds its fulfillment in Glory.

We’re told that the Tree of Life grows on the banks of this river, and John speaks both of its fruit which is good to eat and of its leaves which bring healing to the nations.   The tree, which makes its first appearance in Scripture in Genesis 2, again seems to be tied to eternal life; Adam and Eve are banned from the garden, and God drives them away “lest he …take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever…” (Genesis 3:22).  Something about the tree makes it good to eat, healthy, and healing.   And of course, friend, if you’ve believed Christ, you’ve already tasted salvation and have eternal life.   But isn’t it interesting to know that God has planted a tree in heaven whose fruit will bless you, and whose leaves will bring healing to the world?

And most of all the Word tells us that in heaven we will be with the Lord (John 14:3).    Probably the greatest pleasure of what waits for us will be the grace of being with the Lord himself- of seeing him with our eyes, of hearing him with our ears, of enjoying his physical presence every bit as much as we enjoy his spiritual presence with us now.  Along with this, we have the promise (I Thessalonians 4:17) that we will also enjoy the company of those others who have believed.

And so, the Lord himself bids us to come.   Are you thirsty? Jesus bids you come. Friend, drink his grace now; believe on him for forgiveness and life.  And then one day, you will find yourself on the banks of that great river, drinking to heart’s content.   You will find yourself whole complete, and a better person than you’ve ever been.   You will find yourself warmed to the soul by the presence of the Son.   And you will be feeling more at home than you ever have.

Waiting for the Sunrise: the Hope of Advent

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death to guide our feet into the way of peace.”  (Luke1:76-79)

“Daddy, come help!”   Having been a father, now, for 22 years, I find that those words still have the power to bring me out of a sound sleep into an adrenaline fueled state of alarm in an instant.   Each of my children has uttered those words (or some variant) at some point.  I have been summoned because of strange noises (‘I think that might just be the wind, buddy’), because there’s a guy sitting across the room (‘No, honey, that’s just your coat’), because there’s a monster in the closet (‘nothing there’), because of nightmares (‘Here’s a hug!’), because there’s a kitten in the room (‘No, sweety, there isn’t, and besides, you LIKE kittens!’).    Most of the time, fears are allayed pretty quickly when I come into the room, turn on the light and speak lovingly (Ok, well, I TRY when it comes to that part). Light and love seem to be a winning combination when darkness and fear torment us.

Zechariah, giving his prophecy at the birth of his son John (the Baptist) seems to be well aware that darkness and fear are the universal human condition.  We live as a sinful people born into spiritual blindness living in a world that is cursed because of our sin.    And so there is much we don’t understand, and much that we fear.   Because of this, as he looks forward to the Messiah, Zechariah is exuberant for he knows that the Messiah brings God’s love and light as the perfect antidote to our fear and darkness.   So how does Jesus bring us love?    Well, Zechariah says that he will “give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God…”   So Jesus demonstrates to us the love of God in that he provides for us forgiveness that we might know salvation.    In reading the rest of the gospel account, we know he did this by bearing our sin before God at the cross.  Jesus brings us God’s love by personally securing for us God’s pardon.  How does Jesus bring us light?   He does it by revealing the truth both about ourselves (that we are sinners) and about God (that He is merciful and wants to pardon his people’s sins).    And so the coming of Jesus is like the sunrise, bringing both light and love.    And, dear friend, I believe these verses also speak to a yet greater day when Jesus will come again.    And what a sunrise that will be.  Darkness and all the evil that dwells within it will be banished forever!   And as for the love of God – we shall know it, believe it, and understand it in a much fuller way!

Perhaps even as you read this, you find your heart yearning for that sunrise.    Maybe the darkness has become oppressive.    Dear friend, take heart in Jesus.    If you’ve not known him before, Jesus offers you the opportunity to be reconciled to God and to have hope!    If you already know Jesus, then you’ve experienced that personal sunrise of forgiveness and understanding.    But how quickly we misplace the joy that goes along with it.  Trials become heavy, and we often feel alone.   We allow pain and loss to darken our hopes.  It’s very difficult not to lose hope sometimes.  And if such is the case for you right now, take consolation in Jesus; you have in him one who alone is able to really lighten the burden of the soul.    And never forget, especially now in this season of Advent, that we must wait in hope for the coming of that truly grand sunrise which we ‘ve been promised.   The darkness of this world will not last forever, nor will your struggles.    One day, dawn will come, dispelling the chill of the Fall, as the warmth of full redemption and the brightness of glory encompasses God’s broken earth and his fallen children.   And all shall be well; therefore, child of God, do take hope.sunrise1_cs