Burning Your Candle

“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”
 Edith Wharton (American Novelist and short-story writer, 1862-1937)

I would rethink that quote to, "As we mirror the light of our Lord, His light is multiplied". In Proverbs we read: "The spirit of a man is the lamp of the Lord. . ." (Prov. 20:27 NKJV)

In speaking to His disciples Jesus said that we are the 'light of the world', (Matt. 5:14-16), and yet He proclaimed that He is 'the light of the world'. (John 8:12) How do we reconcile the two verses?

I think we must first recognize that Jesus wasn't speaking to His small select group of apostles, but to a crowd of people (see Matt. 7:28). So it wasn't an anointed group He referred to as light of the world but all those in attendance. Secondly we would understand that the entire crowd had to be believers, for to be asked to abide by all He was demanding in His Sermon on the Mount would have been folly and foolishness to an unbeliever – just as it is today.

For our many years of walking in the world we were an unlit candle – complete with wick. But God in His wisdom and grace has now touched our wick with the flame of His light and our candle now burns. Certainly not all candles burn equally bright – Paul teaches us that God has granted us a 'measure of faith', (Romans 12:3 NKJV), and that we must grow that faith, (1 Cor. 13:11; 14:20; Col 1:9-11; 2:6-7). So too some of our candles burn brighter than others.

In summation we may then conclude that as we surrender to our Lord Jesus and are supernaturally filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit, we also supernaturally, become salt and light.

Jesus went on to say that we are not to hide our light – in fact He says our light cannot be hidden – just as you cannot block out the lights of a city on a hill. If we are truly committed Christians our light cannot be hidden – it is as visible as the nose on our face.

Speaking of John the Baptist's light, Jesus noted  that his "was a lamp that burned and gave light. . ." (John 5:35). So let us now address the burning of our light.

Burning is not an option. The ambition to be a shining light is universal, but not everyone is ready to suffer the consequences of being a burning light. I think of Stephen who faced his accusers with God's truth, of Paul who suffered relentless beatings and jailing as he founded churches across Asia and Europe, and of latter day saints like Martin Luther, Madam Guyon, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

In the western world we seldom are threatened by having our light shine. But there are readers here among our subscribers in China, India, Liberia and elsewhere that are surely braver than I, who shine their lights in an oh-so-dark world. Would I, could I be so brave? Surely, I confess, such is not near the top of my prayers.

There is a price to pay for the right to give the true light of life. That price is yourself. All of your ambition, all of your resources, all of your intellect, and your passion must be directed to a brighter burning lamp.

But just as there is a price there is also a reward for being that brighter lamp. From my own experiences – my years of teaching and discipling men in the church, counseling those in distress, and authoring these pages – I am rewarded by the knowledge that in my weakness, in my incompetence, and my ignorance, God has chosen to use my meager lamp to bring His Light of the World message of forgiveness and salvation. And that my friends, is no small reward.

May I challenge you to be a brighter light. Our God has touched your wick with His mighty flame. What will you do with that light you now emit? Not all are called to be Paul or Stephen or Billy Graham. Sometimes our light seems so dim as if it struggles to brighten a foggy night. Those lights may serve in a soup kitchen or visit the old and infirm. They may teach a children's Sunday School class or volunteer in any number of roles for their church and their community. Scripture does not reveal that a brighter light is more honored or rewarded by God, only that we burn as brightly as we can, that we might to aspire to emit a 'Moses-glow', and as we burn our candles down to the very wick's end, God's Holy light surely shines all the brighter and He is glorified!

Because God Has Said

"Because God has said. . .so we can say with confidence. . ."

". . .because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Heb. 13:5-6)

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Rom. 8:31-32)

"You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world." (1 John 4:4 NKJV)

During the praise and worship portion of any given Sunday service I'm sure we would find almost unanimous agreement with the words of Chris Tomlin's song, "Our God". Parroting the query of Romans 8:31 we should indeed demand to know, "who-ever might prevail over His children?"

"Because God has said. . .so we can say with confidence. . ." If we could only grasp these words by faith, we would have an all-conquering weapon at hand. What doubts we would allay; what fears could we calm, what burdens might be overcome!

Charles Spurgeon wrote, "Will not the distresses of life and the pangs of death; will not the corruption within, and the snares without; will not the trials from above, and the temptations from beneath all seem but light afflictions, when we can hide ourselves beneath the bulwark of "he hath said"? Yes, whether for delight in our silence or for strength in our conflict, "he hath said" must be our daily resort."  (Morning by Morning)

Some quick counts from a concordance reveals that "thus says the Lord" appears over 500 times, and "declares the Lord", 250 times in the Old Testament. Then we have "the Lord has said. . ."

My point is that God is speaking to us. Many of these "thus says the Lord" and "the Lord declares" we would surely want to avoid as they were words of wrath spoken to a rebellious nation of Israel, but we cannot and we see the results of His wrath on our nation as it has turned away from God just as the Israelites did over and over again.

Many of these verses are God's promises to those who would obey Him, and those promises we can today appropriate for our own lives and that of the church.

What greater motivation for Bible study could there be than to know there are promises of rewards and blessings unknown to you now! There may be a promise in the Word that would exactly fit your case, but you may not know of it; therefore, you miss its comfort. You're like a prisoner in a dungeon with a 'get-out-of-jail-free' card at hand and you know nothing of it. There may be a potent medicine in God's great pharmacy waiting to cure your sickness, but you failed to look for the prescription He designed for you. You may continue to be sick unless you examine and search the scriptures to discover what "the Lord has said".

Since "the Lord has said" is the source of all wisdom and the fountain of all comfort, let it dwell in you richly, as "a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life". (John 4:14)

May He abundantly bless you and yours.

Conditional Grace

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. . .Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:16, 18)

As we re-visit this most beautiful promise of eternal life we must also reread the conditions for that eternal life. The first few words of the passage assures us of God’s unconditional love – “For God so loved the world. . .” – no conditions, no stipulations, no caveats. How wonderful it is to know that there are no prerequisites to His love of us all.

Jesus followed that unconditional promise of God’s love with the conditional promised reward of eternal life – “that whoever believes in Him. . .”  Jesus was speaking to the Pharisee Nicodemus, of whom He referred to as “Israel’s teacher”. He then expounds on this  promise in more explicit terms in verse 18.

Jesus had opened the conversation with the declaration that “. . .no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3) Here the terms are reversed – a curse is promised, but with a conditional reprieve.

Another verse you see me use often is 1 Corinthians 2:9 – “However it is written: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him”. Then follows verse 10 – “but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit.” Here again we see God has done the preparatory work, but there is a condition for who will benefit  from His providence – “those who love Him”, and verse 10 declares that we have no excuses as the truth has been revealed to us.

In second Chronicles, chapter 30, we read of King Hezekiah’s restoration of Passover for Israel. Although Hezekiah was King of the southern kingdom of Judah, he sent letters out to several of the tribes of the remnant of the northern kingdom, having been conquered by the Assyrians. We will address only a few verses from Hezekiah’s letter here, but may I encourage you to read the entire chapter for better context. (2 Chronicles 30:1-12)

  • Verse 6: “People of Israel, return to the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, that He may return to you who are left, who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria.” In other words, if you return to the Lord, He will return to you.
  • Verse 7: “Do not be like your fathers and brothers, who were unfaithful to the LORD, the God of their fathers, so that He made them an object of horror, as you see.” The cause – the condition of their being made an object of horror was their unfaithfulness.
  • Verse 8: “Do not be stiff-necked, as your fathers were; submit to the LORD. Come to the sanctuary, which He has consecrated forever. Serve the LORD your God, so that His fierce anger will turn away from you.” God’s burning anger is due to – conditional on – your being stiff-necked. His anger will turn away if you will serve Him.
  • Verse 9: “If you return to the LORD, then your brothers and your children will be shown compassion by their captors and will come back to this land, for the LORD your God is gracious and compassionate. He will not turn His face from you if you return to Him.” Not only will God show His compassion, He will cause whatever may be your ‘captor’ to relent.

The narration of the response to Hezekiah’s letters follows in verses 10-12. Some responded with ‘scorn and ridicule’ (10), while others ‘humbled themselves and went to Jerusalem’ (11). Why did some respond negatively and some positively? Read verse 12 (2 Chron. 30:12). “. . .the hand of the LORD was on the people to give them unity of mind to carry out what the king and officials had ordered, following the word of the LORD.”

We should meditate on this and think of the stunning implications. Is there a contradiction implied here? Is the Bible saying that God says “return to Me, and I will return to you” and yet “the hand of the LORD was on the people to carry out the word of the LORD”? Does God choose to ’cause’ some to follow His will and others He does not? Where does that leave us in our responsibility to choose to obey or not to obey?

Such thought is a grave mistake and a misunderstanding of the scripture. Verse 12 is a revelation of God’s unmitigated grace. For those who are predisposed to disobey, God’s grace passes them by like an invisible, unknowable spirit. For those who are predisposed to obey, God grants that same grace that allows us to choose to follow Him. (Eph. 2:8-9)

Someone recently shared with me their vision of God’s grace. He said he pictured grace as an umbrella. We choose to stand under it or not – and yet it is God, by His Holy Spirit, that guides our choice as where we may stand – in His grace or not. We should never jump to the conclusion that what we choose, and what God does in response, depends ultimately on us.

Verse 12 teaches explicitly: ‘What God commands, He may also give.’ It is a very close parallel to Augustine’s famous prayer: “Command what you wish, but give what you command.” (Confessions, X, xxix, 40).

Let us be ever mindful of the sovereignty of our Lord God. He rules and reigns with no input or counsel from His creation.

We pray God’s blessings on you and yours and that He will bless you with the grace to choose to follow Him.

A Zealous God

Lord, your hand is lifted high, but they do not see it. Let them see your zeal for your people and be put to shame; let the fire reserved for your enemies consume them. (Isaiah 26:11 NIV)

We often read about, and think about our God as omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient; we think about His love, His mercy and grace, and His provision, but how often do we consider that our Father God is zealous?

The Bible tells us that we are to be zealous for the Lord, (Romans 12:11; Proverbs 23:17), but what does it tell us about His zeal? Well my friends there is much. We should recognize that zeal, or zealousness, can be defined by a number of other terms. According to Webster zeal is defined as: “energetic and unflagging enthusiasm, especially for a cause or an idea.” Expounding on the idea of zeal we can include the terms passionate, fervor, and jealousy. A thesaurus provides several other synonyms and when we use those terms we are led to the many Biblical promises of God's zealous love and provision for His people. The cause of God's zeal is His people.

When God made His promise through Isaiah of the Messiah to come, the prophet concludes the oracle with, "The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this." (Isaiah 9:7b emphasis added) The phrase was repeated to Hezekiah as the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, and his army are sent packing, and God promises the people of Jerusalem that they will recover from the Assyrian invasion. (Isaiah 37:32; see also 2 Kings 19:31)

One of the most profound utterances our Father God has left with us is found (again) in Isaiah. "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is My word that goes out from My mouth: It will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." (Isaiah 55:10-11)

This passage follows the familiar verses of Isaiah 55:8-9, where God asserts His majesty and sovereignty. He declares that He is unchanging, His word is dependable; "We can take it to the bank!"

John Piper labeled this zeal of our God "The Exuberant Omnipotence of God" He writes, "What we need is a big picture of a great God who is utterly committed to joyfully demonstrating his greatness in doing us good. That is, we need to see the majesty of God and know the splendor of God overflowing toward us with exuberant omnipotence. It is not enough to believe that God is big and strong and fearsome – which he is. We must experience this magnificence as the explosion of God's uncontainable zeal to satisfy his creatures by showing them himself." (Taste and See, John Piper, 1999)

I would have to ask, "Why would God have provided all the beauty and majesty we are privileged to be surrounded by were He not zealously in love with His creatures?" Why would He tell us that He has "knit us in the womb" and that He has "ordained our days before one of them came to be"? (Psalm 139:13,16) Why would He have exhorted us some one hundred times throughout His Word, 'do not be afraid' – 'fear not', if He was not zealous in His love and devotion to us.

Our God has also declared that He is a "Jealous God", (Ex. 20:5; 34:14; Deut. 4:24; 5:9; Josh. 24:19) From a human point of view we understand jealousy to be a prideful characteristic, brought about by distrust and covetousness.  But speaking for myself, your author revels at the thought of God being jealous for me.  The upside of that thought is that only a caring, loving, zealous God would bother to be jealous for me. The downside of that thought is that I must have transgressed such that I have caused that jealousy; a path I surely want to avoid. But just to know that He cares enough to be jealous – Wow!

A final thought –  Christ promised His apostles that He was leaving them to " go to His Father's house to prepare a place a  place for them" (John 14:2). The NKJV renders this house as 'mansions'. Two things to consider here – first imagine the mansions of our LORD God – how magnificent they must be. I believe John's attempt in Revelations to describe his vision of a heaven with streets of gold and gates of pearl was woefully inadequate. But the second consideration must be that this same God who is 'zealous' for His people has had these many thousand years to prepare our homes in heaven. Look around you – look at all the beauty and magnificence He created in just six days. What mansion has He created for us in the interim???

"What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived the things God has prepared for those who love him." (1 Cor. 2:9 NIV)

"For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His." (2 Chron. 16:9a NASB)

Who of us could or would sacrifice our child that we might be reconciled to another – A zealous God did – a God zealous for reconciliation with you and me – That's the height and the depth of His love.

"And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long, and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Eph. 3:17)

All the fullness of God – Imagine that!!

Be blessed . . .

Storms of Life

Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. (Psalm 107:28-29 NIV)

Wouldn't it be wonderful if every time we find ourselves in the midst of the storms of life that we could know as we cry out to God that He would still the storm? Scripture says He can, (Psalm 65:7). . .and He does (Psalm 89:9). Why then does it seem our storms rage on?

Storms come at us unexpectedly. . .like a sneaky little pick-pocket stealing our joy. Sometimes they are big – really big. Like the unexpected loss of a loved one, or the doctor drops the "C" word on you. A good friend recently was blind sided by an unforeseen divorce suit – his storm went on and on and on, and may yet still be raging.

Some storms are not so big – perhaps confusing – perhaps bothersome – like a pesky mosquito when he bites, and you must scratch and scratch. An argument with your spouse – over nothing really – but its stealing your joy. The air is tense – home isn't peaceful. A child is failing at school, a parent has fallen and will need your time, your employer has cut back your hours – small storms – joy robbers.

What to do – what to do?? I pray but my storm remains. How should I react? Do I shout out at God or do I humbly ask, "What is the lesson Lord?" This thorn in my flesh – why? Why have You taken me into this valley? What is it that You would teach me?" There's a favorite old saying that goes something like, "Things grow best in the valleys". Is God trying to 'grow' me?

For the most part we must know that God is not the cause of our storms. He certainly knows about your storm; and if He has caused your storm, it is most definitely intended for your benefit. (Romans 8:28-30)

As we read Romans 8:28, let's not stop there. . .read on to verses 29 and 30. These three verses tell me that if God has brought me to some malady – some affliction, it is because He has a lesson – a message for me. This suffering – this adversity is "for the good of those who love Him" (me), and it's purpose is that I would "be conformed to the likeness of His Son. . .that [I] am called and [I] might be justified and glorified" 

Often our storms are brought about by choices we made – self inflicted consequences. We do still retain that sinful nature don't we. But then again the storm may be just a part of living in this fallen world. Mosquitoes, cancer, tornadoes, and all the turmoil and heartache they may represent, are products of the fall of man – none of us are exempt.

And yet we stand on His promise that "He has overcome the world" (John 16:33b NIV) While God may not be the cause of our suffering, He is the answer. It is in Him and by Him our answers lie. When we say "Why me?", we must acknowledge His just reply of "Why not you? You are a sinner, living in a perverse and rebellious world" Still as Paul promised, "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)

The storms of life can only take you where you allow them to, or to take from you what you allow them to take. They cannot take your joy unless you allow it. They cannot take away your faith unless you allow it. Our response to the storms of life is by our own determination – not by Satan's choice, not by your mother's, your brother's, nor your neighbor's choice. They may all whisper in our ears – but we choose our paths.

The storms come into all our lives – some greater than others – sometimes more than what seems bearable. But the Lord has promised He won't overburden us, "No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he'll never let you be pushed past your limit; he'll always be there to help you come through it." (1 Cor. 10:13 MSG)

I pray the Lord God's abundant blessings on you and yours, and may you be a blessing to those around you.