Light

Last time we looked at Jesus telling his followers that they were  “salt” In Matthew 5. Immediately after this, he uses another metaphor. “You are light” – a city on a hill that cannot be hidden, a lamp that is not covered up. (Matthew 5.14-15) He continues:  “In the same way let your light shine before men so they can see the good that you do and praise your father in heaven” (vs 16). He has given us a light to shine in the world around us so others recognize Him. Let’s look at some different lights and discuss how we can shine for Him.

Flashlight – Psalm 119.105, declares that the Word of God is like a “lamp for our feet and a light for our path”. There is a lot of darkness in the world and the only light is Jesus who shines in the darkness (John 1.4,5&9). That brings to mind the flashlight. When you go camping, one of the most important items to bring with you, I suggest, is a flashlight. Navigating your surroundings at night is challenging without one. If you need to take a path through the words, light will help keep you from running into stumps, rocks, roots or poison ivy. So how can we be flashlights. We can study God’s word. The verse mentioned above tells us its God’s word that lights our path and guides our feet to where we should be. So as we learn and live out the truth of God’s word in our life, He can use us to light the way for others that may have wandered off His path. In Psalm 119.11, we are reminded that hiding God’s “word in our heart” will help keep us from “sinning against Him”. So not only studying it, and memorizing it, but making it the guide for our life.

And a flashlight is useless as it comes, it needs an internal power source. The same applies to us. We need the internal power source of relationship with Jesus to make the light shine. So draw near to Him, study His word and shine for others to see.

Lighthouse – I grew up about an hour from the Atlantic Ocean. It was common for the scenic coastline to be dotted with lighthouses. More than a pretty addition to the coastline, they are strategically placed, and have 2 major purposes – to warn of dangers and to guide to safety.  Likewise, God is very strategic. He has placed us where we are and invite us to shine His light boldly. We can share of the dangers that exist in the world around us and invite those that are facing those dangers to know the God of refuge that can help them. We must offer both awareness of danger and paths to safety. Warning of dangers and then saying  “so good luck” as they continue on is not helpful. They need to know the refuge and protection that God offers. Let’s remember how we found refuge in the midst of danger and how Great our God is. Let’s be inviting and urgent.

And another thing about lighthouses -they are always on, and they may not know who they help. Our job is to shine God’s light in our world boldly and consistently. We may never know who we help or how we help them. But God can and does use his people in amazing and unexpected ways.

Nightlight – I have 2 older brothers. When I was 8 years old, I got my own bedroom. I was very excited – my own space to decorate, set up and mess up as I saw fit! But one thing I wasn’t counting on. When night time came, I realized that it was scary to be alone. My room was quite dark! So I decided to sleep with my door open. You see we had a Fred Flintstone nightlight in the hallway that gave off a warm, comforting glow. Even with that faint light, I was able to drift off to sleep feeling a certain level of comfort. And on nights when my room seemed extra scary, good ol’ Fred faithfully lit the hall so I could go to my parents room and tell them about what was scaring me.

How can we be a nightlight? We can be that warm, calming presence in the life of people who are afraid of what life is bringing their way. It is a privilege to be called to comfort those in distress. While it is almost always challenging, Our God is the great comforter and He can use us to share His perfect comfort with others.

Spotlight – A few years ago, a friend of mine worked for a local minor league hockey team. Before an afternoon game one day, he invited me to operate one of the spotlights during player introductions. My job was simple. Shine the this massive bright light around the crowd until player introductions started. Then the arena lights would all go down and my job was to move the beam of the spotlight to the ice surface and track the player as he skated to his place. All attention was focused on the player that was introduced. Then repeat with the next player. Similarly, if you have been to a concert or a stage play, lighting is an important part of the experience. In each of these cases, a spotlight is used to draw the attention of the audience to a specific place.  We can play this role as lights in this world as well. We can shine our light so others see and focus their attention on Jesus, the lover of their soul who desires so much for them to know Him and accept Him as their Savior.

He calls us to be His light in the world. Like a city on a hill, there is nowhere to hide. So let’s boldly shine His light for all to see. Let’s help people find the path that leads to Him,  where they find refuge and security that only He can provide, and let’s always point others to Him. Go light the world for Jesus!

Salt

As I have mentioned in this series of Tangible Truths from a Radical Jesus, much of what Jesus said when He taught was revolutionary. He opened eyes, dropped jaws, stirred up questions and confusion because what He said went against common thought. However, if we truly look into those words, we find profound truth in what He said.

Today, we will focus on what Jesus called the people He was teaching. In Matthew 5.13, Jesus says “You are salt.” This will be the first of a two-part series.

Why would Jesus call the people salt? In an effort to figure this out, lets look at the uses of salt. Here are four I came up with.

Flavoring Food – The most common use for salt in my life is for flavoring food. While salt does have a taste of its own, it does more than that. It enhances existing flavors. I read some articles about how this works, but the best that I can boil it down to is that salt brings out the best elements of the food it is sprinkled on. I believe that this is a great goal for us to have as Christians as well. How great would it be to bring out the best in the people that we are around? How do we bring out the best in people? By helping them meet God and understand that He has the best plan for their lives. He has created them according to His perfect plan. He can use us to help them discover that plan and live the best life possible – one that follows and serves Him.

Melting Ice – I’m originally from Eastern Canada, and I have also lived in Ukraine and Minnesota. With that history, I have experienced snow, ice, freezing rain, wind chill, black ice and many other things that make winter challenging. Each winter, after a large snowstorm or freezing rain, large trucks drive around spreading salt on the icy roads. Also businesses and homeowners spread salt on their sidewalks and walkways to keep others from falling on the ice. Why salt? Is it to make the sidewalks and roads taste better? Of course not! We know salt also melts ice. God uses us in this way too. Not to melt ice, but to melt hearts that have turned cold towards Him. God spreads us around this cold, cruel world where people are spinning their wheels, or skidding out of control. God uses us to help them gain traction and find their way to the life He has designed for them. How? We go where they are. Ice-melting salt is useless if it doesn’t go where people are falling or crashing. Sometimes we can be guilty of shutting out the rest of the world and living in a Christian bubble. God loves the lost so much that He gave his followers the mission to go and help them know Him. Let’s connect with real people and share the truth of our Savior with them. Let’s let the hope of Jesus steady their footing.

Healing Wounds – Have you ever had a canker sore? I get them from time to time and they cause grief that can last for days. I am proactive to get rid of them as quickly as possible and the best remedy I know? Salt water. Get water, add salt, swish it around in my mouth for as long as I can stand and then spit it out and, a few hours later, do it again. After a day or so of this treatment, I can see the improvement. Salt helps us heal.

It reminds me of the expression “rubbing salt in the wound”. The healing process is often painful and we all battle hurt and pain in our life. The difference is that we, as Christians, have hope in Jesus. So how can we be salt that heals wounds? By loving them as Christ calls us to do. We allow God to show Himself and His love through us, maybe even through our stories of hurt and pain. And like with a canker sore, one rinse is not enough. I need to do it a few times. When we are helping someone’s soul wounds heal it likely will take time and it may be uncomfortable, even challenging, as we build relationship and spend time with them. So be aware of the hurt around you and ask God how you can step into someone’s hurt and show the hope He offers.

Preservative – A few years ago, as I read the story of the fishermen catching a boatload of fish in Matthew 4, I realized that in Jesus time refrigeration was not a thing. So to preserve things like fish and meat people would use salt. Salt takes the water out of the food so that bacteria cannot grow. In short, salt keeps things from rotting. How can we be salt like this? By sharing the truth of who God is consistently with others. Psalm 119.11 says if we hide God’s word in our hearts it will help us from sinning against Him.  How can we be a salt that preserves? We can share God’s word with others. This comes from knowing it and studying it for ourselves. Isaiah 55.11 tells us that God’s word doesn’t come back empty. When we share God’s truth with others, God works through His word to connect with their hearts.

2 Chronicles chapter 23 shares the story of Joash, who became king at age 7. The Bible tells us that Joash did what pleased God until the priest Jehoida died. Then Joash turned from God quickly. When the influence of a godly priest was gone, the results were tragic. Joash made his own choices, but the influence of the Priest made a difference.  Who are you influencing? How can you help them grow in their own relationship with God and know Him for themselves?

So as we consider Jesus’ challenge to be salt, lets notice others around us. Let’s open eyes to the hurt and obstacles they face. Let’s ask God to help us heal hurts, melt cold hearts, fill hearts with the truth of God’s word and see God’s best plan for their life unfold when the choose to follow Him.

Fed

My two most recent “tangible truths from a radical Jesus” posts have been about 2 different storms that the disciples were in, and Jesus demonstrating miraculous power in each situation.  In the first story, the disciples were more terrified after Jesus calmed the storm than during the storm itself. In the second one, when He walked to them on the water, after all was settled, the Biblical account tells us that they worshipped Him. So what happened in the meantime to change their response to Him.

The answer is a lot of things. The disciples had spent time traveling the region. In the accounts from Luke 9 and Mark 6. The disciples are returning from their time, ready to report to Jesus all that they had seen and experienced. It promises to be a sweet time for them.

But the people knew about Jesus and His disciples. The people flocked to Him. He has compassion on them and begins teaching. The teaching continues late into the afternoon. Some of the disciples, who know the area pretty well, approach Jesus and suggest that He wrap things up so they can go to the farms and villages to get some food.

Then Jesus again catches them off guard with a seemingly crazy statement: You feed them! (Mark 6.37). The disciples scoff at this suggestion – It will cost too much (John 6.7) Phillip answered.

What do you have? Jesus asked. Andrew shares that there is a boy that brought a small lunch with him – 5 small loaves of bread and 2 small fish. They don’t think that won’t go very far (vs 9).

Jesus gives them instructions to have everyone group up and sit down. He thanks God for the food and begins to pass it out. And ALL ARE SATISFIED! (vs 11).

After all have eaten their fill, the leftovers are collected and there are 12 baskets full. He sends them ahead in their boats and goes to spend some time in prayer. It is here that the storm arises and He walks to them on the water.

This is a familiar story – the only miracle of Jesus other than His resurrection that appears in all 4 gospel accounts. And it is a story that I know well from my childhood in church. But when I read the story as an adult, there were a couple of things that really caught my attention. These are the points that I want to share with you now.

1- How quickly we turn from faith to doubt – The disciples has just had this incredible time of going around the region healing sick people, casting out demons and sharing the Kingdom of God with others. (Mark 6. 7-13). They had experienced His work through them. They were ready to report their stories to Him when the crowd came and changed the course of the afternoon. And yet there, surrounded by people that needed food, they no longer leaned on the authority God had given them, they stopped looking for miraculous and started looking at practical. How quickly we do the same. We have a great experience where God shows himself in seemingly impossible ways and a moment later, we are reminding God of all the things that cannot be done or that His plan doesn’t seem practical. Oh how I long for a faith that sees the possibility instead of the impossibility. God help me see Your way first!

2- Jesus’ math lesson – I love Jesus’ math lesson in this story. 12 baskets of leftovers and 12 disciples collecting those leftovers. Each one is given a chance to process their doubt and God’s miraculous provision. He again proves Himself to them – complete authority and miraculous abilities. As they kneel to pick up each leftover scrap, I imagine them contemplating Jesus’ power to meet the needs of the masses. With their experiences traveling the region, this miraculous meal for the crowds and the impending storm where He walks to them on water, they are starting to put the puzzle pieces together. It makes sense, in the moment where Jesus again deals with the storm and with the disciples, that they turn to worship. I pray that in my own shoddy, short-sighted concept of who Jesus is, that I will also turn to worship Him even when I don’t understand how He is working.

3- Learning from the boy –  John 6 shares that it was a young boy who brought the lunch that was shared among the 5,000 men (not counting women and children). I really appreciate this lesson too. The lunch he brought did not look like very much. The disciples doubted that it would be useful. But Jesus turns it into something miraculous. What can we learn from the boy? We can strive to be like him. We can say “Here is what I have – it may not look like much but it is yours! Take it and use it however you wish”.  Jesus wants us to echo those thoughts with our own life and all the things that He has given us. All of our resources, our talents and gifts. He desires to use each of them in miraculous ways, for His purposes if we will allow Him to. Like this boy, let’s hold nothing back and offer God all that we have. He CAN use us in miraculous ways!

Come

A week or so ago, I wrote a post in the “Tangible Truths from a Radical Jesus” series about Jesus calming to storm. Today, I’m going to write about another radical thing that Jesus said in the midst of another storm, and dig into the truth that we can take from it.

If you are counting at home, this makes 2 stormy boat trips for the disciples that are mentioned in the Bible. Let’s look at this second one.

Jesus had had a long day of teaching on the heels of news that John the Baptist had been killed. He sends out the disciples ahead of him. Evening comes and the disciples’ boat is “a long way from the land” (Matthew 14.24). A storm has risen. There are experienced fishermen on board so the storm was significant enough that again, they struggled.

Jesus goes to join them, walking on the water. Growing up as a regular church attendee, I admit that it has become easy to read those words, as plainly as they appear in the text and miss out on the shock that they should convey. Jesus was WALKING ON THE WATER! In the middle of the stormy night and blowing wind and crashing waves, there is this figure floating across the water toward the disciples. Verse 26 tells us that they thought it was a ghost. That is likely because the idea that it was Jesus out for a stroll on the stormy swells made less sense than a ghost walking towards them. Maybe I am overstating the point a little but I don’t want the shock of what they were witnessing to get lost. This man was walking on top of the waves that were sinking their boats. They already were in a state of panic, and this ghostly conclusion seemed the most plausible to them. You know why? Because human beings cannot walk on water! Yet there was Jesus -fully human and fully God, doing the impossible yet again.

Jesus senses their panic, and tells them “Don’t be afraid”.  That didn’t work. They were already terrified.  Now Peter, who has a reputation of speaking and acting before really thinking things through says “If it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus answers “Come”. Now if I am Peter, I hear that and immediately think to myself, “Ummm, OK, just checking! I’ll wait until you get to the boat”.  But Peter does it. He steps out of the boat and “came to Jesus” (vs 29). Verse 30 tells us that he saw the wind and began to sink. He calls out to Jesus and Jesus saves him. And they get back in the boat. The storm stops and the disciples, recognizing Jesus as the Son of God,  worship Him.

There is a lot to unpack here. Here are my takeaways.

1- A Change of Heart – If you remember the last time when Jesus calmed the storm, the disciples were even more afraid than before. This time, when Jesus miraculously saves the day, they are not more afraid, they are instead moved to worship Him and recognize who Jesus is. So what changed? We will dig into that a little more next time, but for now, let’s rest on the truth that they have spent more time with Him and learned more about their purpose. The challenge for us is to do the same. As we spend more time with God and recognize the amazing things that He does over and over again, we will understand more that He is the Son of God and worthy of our worship and devotion.

2- With God, We can do impossible things – Jesus, Son of God, miracle worker, walked on the water and calmed the storm. That is amazing and miraculous on its own, but let’s not miss the other miracle in the story. Peter – fully human, and fully not-God also walked on the water – for a moment at least. He left the safer danger of the sinking boat to the extreme danger of walking on water – which people cannot physically do and experienced God doing the impossible in him. I am challenged with this part of the story to check my level of faith in God’s ability to do impossible things in my life. Peter got out of the boat. He left the safety and comfort of the known for a moment of connection with God in the unknown and impossible. And Jesus referred to Peter’s faith as small. What does that say about the others in the boat? What does it say about my faith? Would I have climbed over the gunwale and stepped out onto the rocky sea? As mentioned above, likely not. What do we miss when we play it safe? What can God do with us if we trust Him and step out in faith?

3- Impossible – Peter began to sink. He remembered that what he was doing was not possible, and he allowed doubt to creep in. We can be guilty of the same. In the midst of seeing God do amazing things in our life, working things out in His perfect timing we can still allow doubt to creep in. The enemy is there, telling us that God is not to be trusted and that we will fail. But like Peter, even if we start to fall, God’s hand is there to catch us. And He is faithful to grow our faith as we take these steps. He will show us incredible things when we believe in His power to do impossible and this power will silence the enemy. Let’s step out of the boat!

Storm

Recently, I wrote a two-post series on the woman who touched Jesus’ robe and the raising of Jairus’ daughter. This time around, it will be a three-post series on another set of amazing stories from the life of Jesus. In each one, there is a moment when Jesus says something radical and impossible, and yet, as we will see, what He spoke was truthful, and what we can learn from it is profound.

Mark 4. One evening, Jesus tells the disciples to cross the Sea of Galilee to the other side. A few boats set out, and Jesus, seemingly tired from a long day with the large crowd that had assembled, falls asleep on a cushion at the back of the boat.  As He sleeps, a storm comes – not uncommon on the Sea of Galilee, but this storm is fierce enough that the disciples, some of whom were experienced fishermen that have likely been through their share of storms, start to panic. Their boats are taking on water, they are afraid and in verse 38 they wake Jesus up (keep this tidbit in mind for later).  “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” they ask. Then Jesus does something quite unexpected. In verse 39: “And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.”

I live in Minnesota, and I don’t like to shovel snow. Around this time of year, it turns very cold and we have the snow starts falling – everything from flurries to snow-namis. I have Jesus’ approach many times myself, stepping out onto my step, casting my eyes towards the falling flakes and saying “STOP!” And it has NEVER WORKED! My neighbors look at me like I’ve lost it. But the snow keeps falling, undeterred. Imagine, if you will, that you are on the boat, in the midst of a storm unlike any that you have ever seen before. You wake Jesus because, well, you don’t know what else to do. He gets up off his cushion, rubs his eyes for a minute, takes in a deep breath, faces the winds and rain and says “Be still!” Your initial reaction is likely similar to my neighbors when I call for the snowflakes to reverse their course.  But here is the thing.  IT WORKED! When Jesus spoke to the storm – it listened. And in a “careful-what-you-wish-for” moment, the disciples consider what they have just seen and instead of being comforted by the end of the storm, the Bible tells us that they remain afraid. Verse 41 says “And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (emphasis mine)

This sets the stage for another boating adventure that would occur later. That will be the topic of my next post. But for now, here are my points to ponder about this story.

1- Human – Earlier I had you take note that the disciples had to wake Jesus up in the midst of this tremendous storm. That tells me that Jesus was really tired. Tired enough that the rocking of the boat, the down pouring rain, and the harsh wind were not enough to wake him. Why is this significant? Here, Jesus shows us that He was human. He was affected by fatigue, He grew tired and needed rest. Jesus truly “became flesh” as John 1 tells us. Jesus life was filled with the same hard things that we all feel – fatigue, weariness, heartache, sorrow, temptation and more. Yet He remained perfect, sinless, and therefore able to take our place and pay our debt. This is an important piece of the story. But so is the next.

2- Divine – He also had the ability to control the weather just by speaking. It would have been amazing to witness this, but it makes sense. He was present at the beginning when God’s spoken word created everything. With His voice, He created the Sea of Galilee, the mountains, the wind currents, all the systems that affect and create the weather patterns there. They were formed at His word, it makes sense that they still obey Him. And while that kind of power inspired awe and fear among His disciples, the reality that they experienced is that He was with them in the storm and made a way out. I think this is an important consideration as well. He is with us in our storms, literal and figurative. And He is bigger, and more powerful than all of them. He called them on their fear and invited them to have faith. I think those words are intended for us as well. He is faithful and trustworthy. He can overcome all that we face. Faith in Him is worth it!