Shine!

Back in 1748, the captain of a slave trading ship had a conversion experience to Christianity during a severe storm. He later became an ordained pastor who actually fought to abolish slavery. He also wrote some great hymns. His name was John Newton. One of his most famous hymns describes the change that occurred in his life when Christ stepped in.

“Amazing grace how sweet the sound,

that saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost, but now am found.

Was blind but now I see.”

I was reminded of Newton’s hymn as I read the opening line of today’s scripture reading. Paul wrote to these Christians: “Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord, you are light.”

Who is he writing to? People who had once been lost, but now were found. A change had occurred in their lives. Spiritually speaking, they did not have a clue until they met Jesus Christ.

In the first three chapters of his letter, Paul spent quite a bit of ink reminding the Ephesians of the grace that had been poured into their lives through Jesus. This passage from which we just read is a part of the second half of the letter. It deals with the question: How do we live out the rest of our days as Christ’s followers?

In this first verse, Paul uses these words to remind them of who they are.

“Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light.”

You were once in the domain of those captive to the evil one. But now in Christ, you are light. Through his cross and resurrection, Jesus has broken the chains that held you. You are forgiven people. You have a promise of eternal life through him. You are filled with Christ’s light. You are on his team. You once were on the darkness team, but now you are on the light team.

Then Paul says, “Live as children of light.”

Jesus told his disciples that same thing: “You are the light of the world, so let your light shine.”

We have been rescued for a purpose. TO SHINE FOR JESUS CHRIST IN THIS DARK WORLD. Paul describes how a Christian does that:

Live as children of light.

It’s a lifestyle, involving attitude and behavior.

What does light look like?

“. . . for the fruit of light is found in all that is good . . .”

I am reminded of God’s words through Micah, the prophet, describing goodness. “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Children of light are fair, kind, and humble.

The fruit of the light is doing all that is right. Children of light do what is right in God’s eyes, even if it’s inconvenient, unpopular, or costly.

The fruit of the light is all that is true. In the New Testament, truth is not simply an intellectual concept to be grasped with the mind. It is also a moral truth. Not something to simply be known, but also something to be done. It is being a person of integrity who walks the talk and is trustworthy.

Paul also points out that shining involves constant homework, as he writes:

“Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.”

We do that as we live with Jesus in the Gospels, don’t we? This is where he teaches us what is pleasing to God as he describes Kingdom life. We need to immerse ourselves in those Gospels and listen to Jesus.

Paul is a realist. He knows of the darkness and its temptations. So he moves on to warn them:

“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness . . .”

In the previous verses (3-7), Paul gives a few examples of things to avoid, such as sexual immorality, greediness, idolatry, and vulgar talk. These activities do not fit into Kingdom living. He refers to them as unfruitful. They contribute nothing of lasting good to the world.

“. . . instead expose them.”

Go on the offensive, children of light! Expose fruitless deeds of darkness with your actions. Treat people with kindness, fairness, humility. Refuse to participate in unfruitful works, exercise values of light, and walk in integrity. This exposes evil.

Expose them with your words by speaking up. If you see something that is not in accordance with what is pleasing to God and is destroying lives, then speak up. Not only negatively, but also speaking positively, pointing to the better way of Jesus Christ. It’s not always the comfortable thing to do, but as children of light, we play for an audience of One.

And here is what will happen.

“. . . but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light.”

As you shine your light for the Kingdom, you will have an impact. You can influence others around you. Paul seems to be telling us that light not only illumines, it also has the power to transform someone Ð like it did to the Ephesians. The light of Christ shining anywhere has the power to cleanse, purify, and change.

The conclusion to this passage could be likened to a trumpet reveille. It’s a call to action.

“Therefore it says, ÔSleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.'”

This is a fragment of a baptismal hymn. He takes them back to their baptismal day when God was calling upon their lives as they rose from the waters of baptism. (Remember, they were adults being baptized.) These words are what they heard as they emerged from baptism.

To be awake is to live in the light and be Christ’s light in the world. Once we were asleep (spiritually dead). In Christ we are alive. And as we shine, Christ will shine his light on us. We will not be alone.

Dear friends, we live in a world with a lot of darkness. You don’t have to look far. This passage is a wake-up call. Sleeper awake! Shine! The world needs your light.

“Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

May your theme song each day be,

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.

Let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine.

Would You Like to Be a Blessing?

Shortly before his death, my father said to one of his grandchildren, “I love you so much; I wish I could give each one of you $10,000.”

The young person’s reply was perfect, “Grandpa, you have given us treasures that money cannot buy.”

This leads to my sermon theme: Would you like to be a blessing to someone? God has made this possible. Let’s turn to our text.

Four thousand years ago, God entered into a covenant with a man whose name was Abram. Here are God’s words: “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all people on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:1-3).

What a promise Ð “All the people on earth will be blessed through you”!

The Bible says, “Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there” (Genesis 12:4-5).

You can be sure that, in comparison to life at home, these were difficult days. Abram must have had second thoughts, wondering what he was doing. “Then the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: ÔDo not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward'” (Genesis 15:1).

Then Abram felt free to share his feelings with God. “O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus? You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir” (15:2-3).

And God replied, “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” God took Abram outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars Ð if indeed you can count them. So shall your offspring be” (15:4-5).

“Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (15:6).

God gave Abram other signs and ended their conversation by saying, “You will go to your father in peace and be buried at a good old age. And so Abram continued his walk with God, holding on to the promises he had been given.

Look at the blessings God gave to Abram. Here is one: “I will make your name great.” In his home country, Abram’s family was well known. In this strange land, he was a nobody. Yet God said, “Just wait, Abram. The day will come when you will be known by many.”

Here we are, four thousand years after God promised Abram that blessing. Today we know Abram as the father of the people from whom our Savior was born. This leads us to understand what God meant when he promised Abram that he would be blessed and then he would pass that blessing on to the world.

Think of it, friend. We too have received this same blessing from our heavenly Father. In Christ, we will be blessed and be a blessing to many. If Christ is our Savior, we have been granted the forgiveness of our sins, which restores us into a personal relationship with God for all eternity. We live with peace while we walk on this earth. We will have a clear sense of values as to what is important in life, and he will direct our paths.

As sure as the blessings God gave to Abram were true, so is his word to us. However, God makes it clear why he blesses us Ð “You will pass the blessing on to others.” God has given us the potential to be a blessing to many. It is difficult for us to completely understand how God can use sinful people, but Paul reminds us in II Corinthians 5:20 that we are ambassadors for Christ and God makes his appeal through us.

Do you wonder how your Heavenly Father will use you? Let me suggest four ways right off the top of my head.

1. Teach a Sunday school class. I have often wondered why committed Christians do not line up waiting for the opportunity to teach a child what Jesus Christ has done for him or her, and how he will bless them. Why do people have to be begged to teach the children? Is it because they don’t understand what a difference Christ is going to make in that child’s life? Or perhaps we would rather not be bothered and so we hide behind the excuse that we don’t know how to teach. Don’t let Satan discourage you. I know a man who has a brilliant mind and will be studying soon at one of America’s most prestigious universities. He will point to a factory worker with no teaching qualifications as one of his most effective Sunday school teachers.

2. Enter the theological seminary to prepare for the parish ministry. Think of it! Each week you will have the privilege to stand before a congregation and point people to the Savior. There should be a waiting list of young people wanting to be admitted to one of our evangelical seminaries, wanting to be admitted to stand before a congregation and point people to the Savior. And yet these schools plead for students.

3. Take an interest in that child in your midst. First, that son or daughter in your home, and then those who are being raised in families that live in spiritual darkness. Often I hear a dynamic Christian give his faith story. He tells how, although his father and mother were not Christians, a neighbor introduced him to Jesus. Blessed to be a blessing.

4. Tell the older people about Jesus. They live in our communities. Soon they will die and enter eternity with no faith in Jesus Christ. These people often have hearts open to the Gospel. They are afraid of death. Once they laughed at the Word of God and had little time for the church, but now things have changed. Believe me, they are waiting for us to come and tell them the old, old story of Jesus and his love.

Great spiritual things are happening in our world. Let me tell you the story of Tony Dungy, whose book, Quiet Strength, I recently read.

Tony Dungy is the coach of the Indianapolis Colts. He is a mature Christian who speaks openly of his faith to players, coaches, the media, and anyone else when he has the opportunity. Obviously, he and his wife, Lauren, had a strong Christian home. However, tragedy can come to any home, and theirs was no exception. Their son, Jamie, took his own life. The family was heartbroken and asked the age old question, What went wrong?

Two years earlier, Trent Dilfer’s five-year-old son, Trevin, had died. Trent was the quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. At that time, Tony called Trent to let him know he was praying for him, and that he appreciated his witness and the strength of his faith. Now that Jamie had died, Tony writes in his book, “Trent was such an encouragement to me. I told him once I was certain I wouldn’t be able to handle the death of a child with the kind of grace and courage Trent had shown. Trent’s answer was, “You could, coach, if you had to. The Lord will give you the strength at that time to go through it, because you can’t do it alone.”

When his son Jamie died, Tony realized that Trent had been so right. That is what it means to be blessed to be a blessing.

Change Is No Option

Following the political caucus in Iowa, a candidate said, “We have learned that America wants a change. Washington is broken.” The big question is, What are the needed changes? Someone from the media asked, “What changes would you make that will fix the problems? And do you have the answers?”

The candidates, who did not lack for ego, listed some changes and assured their audience that they have the answers to our many societal problems, whether it was the war, the national debt, or immigration.

Politics is not our topic, but might we agree that there is a loud voice saying the church is broken, and we need a change. Many within the Church leadership want some changes made in what we believe and how we live in order to put us more in harmony with culture’s thinking. To illustrate, one prominent leader has said that we must change our position on same-sex marriages and the ordination of practicing homosexuals. Why must we change, for Scripture has spoken clearly on this subject? This bishop is quoted as saying, “We can’t afford to split the church over this subject.”

Who says that we can’t split the church on this subject? Does God’s Word not stand? If we have no authority, then all our labors are in vain.

So then, let’s ask the question. What are the changes that need to be made? Unlike the politicians who want us to listen to them, we choose to listen to what God says in His Word. The Church teaches that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and the only authority in matters of faith and life. Where the Church departs from what Scripture teaches, it (the Church) needs to be changed. Where the Church is faithful to God’s Word (even though culture wants the teaching changed), the Church must say in a bold and loving way, CHANGE IS NO OPTION.

This has been taught from the beginning Ð you do not change God’s Word. Go back to the first chapters of the Bible.

God had created the world. Now he was about to create man in his image. This was the crowning work of his creation. Then God saw that it was not good for man to be alone. So he created woman, and the two lived in perfect harmony with their Creator in the garden.

Then the tempter came and asked this question to the woman: “Did God really say, ÔYou must not eat from any tree in the garden?'” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ÔYou must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'”

Then the tempter said, “You will not surely die, for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

The Bible tells us the rest of that sad store when it says, “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.”

Sin had entered the world. In the words of St. Paul, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned Ð ” (Romans 5:12).

Millions have wanted to change the message that this story tells. The idea that we are born sinful is repulsive to the natural man. But change is not an option, even though it would be pleasing to man. You might change the type of music you use in church, but the basic teaching regarding the fallen nature of man cannot be changed.

The results of sin are before our very eyes. We live in a fallen world that reveals itself in sickness, death, wars, broken relations, and the list goes on. Seeing all of this, man says, “Let me fix it. I have the answers.” However, the Bible tells us that we don’t have the answers for what’s broken. Only Christ can fix it.

So God has a word for Satan. “You have separated me from my people whom I have created. I love them; I created them for fellowship. Therefore, I have provided a way back for them so that they might live in a personal relationship with me. I will send my Son. You will bruise his heal. You will cause him much suffering climaxing on the cross where he will die for the sins of the world.

“Yes, Satan,” God said, “you will bruise his heal, causing him suffering, but he will crush your head winning the victory over you when he is raised from the dead. This is my way of bringing sinful people back into a living relationship with me.”

Learning this, culture says, “Don’t believe this silly message. Unenlightened humans could have believed it in days gone by, but not those of us who live in an educated world. How can one man die for the sins of the world?” It is here, the world says, that Christianity needs to be changed. Reduce Christ to a great martyr and prophet, and the world will admire him.

But the Christian argues that such a change is not an option.

We need to be open to some secondary changes. We who are older need to remember this. But when we deal with the basic truths of God’s Word Ð making faith more appealing to our culture Ð change in no option.

Extraordinary Experiences With Jesus

Have you ever had an extraordinary experience in your walk with Jesus? You ask, What is an extraordinary experience?

The dictionary calls a miracle an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs. It is an event that would be absolutely impossible without divine intervention. Our text today presents such an extraordinary event.

One day Jesus led Peter, James, and John up a high mountain. They were by themselves, and Jesus was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes were white as the light. With Jesus was Moses, the great law giver, and Elijah, a great prophet. These two great men of the Old Testament were talking to Jesus.

This kind of a meeting did not happen every day, and Peter got excited. “Lord, ” he said, “this is a great experience for us. I hope we can stay here for a while. Would you like to have me build three shelters Ð one for Moses, one for Elijah, and one for yourself?”

While Peter was making his proposal, a cloud enveloped them, and a voice spoke saying, “This is my Son whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this voice, they fell flat on their faces. They were terrified, but Jesus came and touched them. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. Then they began their walk down the mountain. On their way home, Jesus said, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Why do you think Jesus gave Peter, James, and John this extraordinary experience? The scholars give us some insight into that question.

First, Jesus received affirmation from his Father that he was doing what he had been sent to do. The Father told Jesus that he was well pleased with his ministry. Remember, Jesus was not only God, he was also man. Satan had a part to play in Jesus’ life, therefore his Father’s encouragement was needed for the days ahead when Jesus would go to another mountain, namely Calvary. This is where he would be crucified as a payment for the sins of the world.

Second, the three disciples needed that experience for the difficult days before them. They were to walk with Jesus to Calvary and see the One they loved be unjustly accused and crucified at the hands of godless men. They would be tested and tried. The day would come when Peter, James, and John would understand why Jesus had taken them to the Mount of Transfiguration.

Third, we learn in our lives that a daily walk with Jesus leads to some extraordinary experiences with our Lord. Often they are best seen in retrospect, but they can strengthen our relationship with him. Let me share an extraordinary experience in my life.

It didn’t happen on a mountain top. I didn’t see Jesus in physical form, but his Word was speaking to me in a mighty way, which I didn’t understand until years later. I was sitting in my car at a stop and go light at the corner of University Avenue and Main Streets in Cedar Falls, Iowa. In front of me was a big corn field. Because our city was growing in that direction, the thought crossed my mind that the day would come soon when this corn field would be littered with houses. Wouldn’t it be a great place to build a church?

Some months later, our church was contemplating building a home for the aged. I suggested that we try to buy a part of the corn field at University and Main for the building. I was appointed by the committee to visit with the elderly lady who owned the land.

When I first presented the possibility of building this home on her land, she was reluctant. However, after thinking about it and visiting with her attorney, she decided to give us fifteen acres for the project. Money was raised, and a year later we were moving into our new facility where sixty-six people would be cared for by Jesus Christ through his Church.

Wow! What an extraordinary experience with our Lord! But it wasn’t over. Five years later, she gave us another fifteen acres to build a new church beside the home for the aged. It wasn’t long before the thirty acres, once used to grow corn, was covered with buildings and parking lots to do God’s work of sharing the Gospel and caring for people.

The buildings are simply tools to do God’s work. The ministry carried on inside the buildings is what is important. People are hearing God speak to them through his Word and sacraments. The Holy Spirit is at work, and faith in Christ as the Lord and Savior of the world is being created in human hearts.

Lives are being changed! The young are being challenged to let Christ direct their lives in how to resist the temptations confronting them. Those in the prime of life are being helped to build a home where Christ is honored. The elderly are being ministry to in both body and soul as they live out the last days of their lives.

What an extraordinary experience to sit at the stop and go light on University and Main and be reminded who Christ is and what he can do in our lives. He not only feeds our souls, but commissions us to share the Gospel in word and deed in the world.

Let me share with you one story that comes out of that church. Observe what the Holy Spirit has done and continues to do with those thirty acres.

Jens is 34 years old. I was his pastor for most of those years. This is a letter that he sent to me this week: “The purpose of this note is to say thank you for creating an environment where very Sunday you taught people the Gospel, but more importantly you inspired others to spread the Word. It was in this very community that I was taught the importance of a solid relationship with Jesus Christ. God gave his Son to die so that we can have eternal life. This community Ð made up of people like my Grandma Anne, parents, aunts, and uncles, as well as others who feel like family Ð have all taught me the importance of a personal relationship with Christ. Thank you.”

A letter like this shows us what God can do. To see God turn Jens’ life around is an extraordinary experience.

I am anxious to remind Jens that Homer did not create a wonderful community. Only God can accomplish this, but it is true that he used human beings to deliver the message of his grace and love. To see in retrospect how al of this happened is an extraordinary experience.

I wonder if Peter, James, and John ever went back to the Mount of Transfiguration and relived that extraordinary experience they had with Jesus on that day. I often need to go back to the corner of University and Main and remember what God did, and continues to do on that very spot.

If you are walking through life in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, think back. I believe you will find some of these extraordinary experiences you have had with Jesus. Obviously, they are not as great a the one Peter, James, and John had on the mountain top, but they reaffirm for us what God can do in and with our lives. It inspires us to move on as his servants in this world.

Jesus said that he is anxious to give us an abundant life. These extraordinary experiences are a part of this abundant life.