Let Your Dim, Sin-Stained Light Shine Before The World

Important Message

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

Verses like this one lead to statements like these:

“Your lifestyle is as much a part of evangelism as your words.”

“Let your marriage be a light to the watching world.”

“You’re an ambassador for Christ at your workplace.”

Have you heard similar statements, or made them? They’re true – a godly life, loving marriage, and honorable conduct in the office really can be examples to non-Christians. And it’s also true that religious hypocrites can do damage to the gospel: pastors who commit adultery, hucksters who defraud with Bible verses, or Sunday afternoon restaurant patrons who stiff their waitress a tip and leave tracts on the table instead.

But for most Christians, trying their best to be faithful but aware of their failings, statements or verses that call us to live our lives as examples to non-Christians can feel like an impossible burden. I know I’m a poor excuse for a Christian parent – now you’re telling me I’m damaging the cause of the gospel as well as my kids. Thanks!

If exhortations to “be an example” have ever fallen on your shoulders with the weight of the world, take heart. There’s a way out from under the burden. Here’s the solution: our message is not about achieving perfection, but about receiving redemption. Do you realize what that means? You don’t have to be perfect!

When the call to let your light shine comes as a burden, we have a basic confusion about our message. Instead of the good news that Jesus came to save and transform sinners, we are believing some other “good news” (that really isn’t so good after all!). The false message might take different forms: if you use biblical parenting techniques, your kids will always obey and never try to strip naked and run screaming through the grocery store. If you put God first in your marriage, you’ll never have a conflict or ever see things differently than your spouse. If you love God more than money, you’ll always be the perfect employee. I’m exaggerating, of course, but do you see the common thread in all these message? “If you…” But the message we witness to as Christians begins with God. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us…” (Eph. 2:4).

The gospel is not simply the best self-help news out there, nor the hottest parenting or marriage techniques to transform your kids and your communication. It is the message that God, through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Christ, has made a way for sinners to be forgiven and transformed. We have been and being redeemed, day by day, situation by situation. Even our failures and ongoing battles with sin testify to this message. Asking forgiveness, admitting failure, honestly facing our weaknesses and temptations – these do not deny our message. Instead, they can testify to its truth. Jesus saved, is saving, and will save us – sinners though we remain!

Don’t confuse the message. You’re not living a life of perfection so others can learn from you the secrets of self-mastery. You’re living a life of redemption, so that others can meet the Redeemer who is at work in you. And that message is truly good news.

Photo by Patrick Denker

Dad, Dizzy Dean, And The Best Story Ever

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On Saturday we held a memorial service for my Dad, JJ. Dad loved to tell stories: They usually began with a phrase like: Hey listen to this, or You’re not going to believe this, or Did I ever tell you about the time I was in the Hurtgen Forest in WWII…

Dad’s stories were usually long. I’d often wonder, where are you going with this thing? And 15 minutes later he’d bring it back to the original idea that sparked his memory. What’s so funny about Dad telling these long and winding tales is that when I was a kid and I’d start to tell him a story, he’d say, “Stop. Wait a minute. Make it like Dragnet. Just the facts, Ma’am, just the facts.”* I once told him “Dad this is so unfair. When I was a kid you told me to make it like Dragnet, just the facts, but you go on for 10 – 15 minutes.”

In Dad’s honor, here are my two favorite stories of his. Only I’ll try to make them a little more like Dragnet. Once after dinner I said I was going to have a cup of coffee, which prompted Dad to say, “You want to hear a really sad story?” “Yes Dad, we’d love to hear a really sad story.” So he said, “I was having lunch in the Allied Club in Tulsa with this oil man and when we sat down he said to the waitress, ‘Bring me some coffee and keep it coming.’ I said, ‘You must really like coffee.’ He said, ‘Boy do I. When I get up in the morning my wife makes a pot of coffee for me and when I get to the office I tell my secretary to make some coffee and keep it coming. I drink it all day and when I get home I drink coffee all evening long till I go to bed.’ Then my dad looked around the table and said, “And you want to know what happened to him?” Poignant pause. “He wound up in the INsane asylum!” Then he just looked around at each of us in silence. I said, “Dad. Are you saying that because I’m going to have a cup of coffee I’m going to wind up in the INsane asylum?” He probably said something like, “Well you never know.”

Here’s my favorite story of Dad’s. Dad loved Baseball and especially the St. Louis Cardinals. When he was a boy the famous Cardinal pitcher Dizzy Dean came to his hometown of Belleville, Illinois to play an exhibition game. He and his brother Bob were beside themselves with excitement to see Dizzy Dean, but when they got to the park canvas had been on all the fences so no one could get in without paying. Dad and Bob had no money. They managed to find a breach in the canvas and sneak in. When they did they saw Dizzy Dean sitting on a bench by 3rd base, so they went over and sat right on the bench next to him. An attendant saw them and said, “Hey you boys, Do you have tickets?” They were speechless. “Well then, you’re going to have to leave.” But before the attendant could escort them out, Dizzy Dean said, “These boys are my guests.” And they got to sit with ol Diz the entire game.

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Dizzy Dean

I love that story because it reminds me of the story Dad believed and by which he was saved. We all sin against our Creator and those sins create an infinite chasm between us. None of us do good by God’s standard of good, which is perfection and no amount of good deeds can bridge the chasm and get us into heaven. And unlike Dad and uncle Bob, who longed to see Dizzy Dean, we had no desire to be with Jesus. Even if we could somehow sneak into heaven, we’d have no right to be there and one of heaven’s attendants would quickly throw us out into the darkness. But Jesus bridged the gulf between us and God when he became a man, lived a sinless life, then paid the price of our entrance to heaven when he bore God’s wrath for our sins on the cross. His resurrection was the validation stamp on our ticket to heaven, proving he’d paid the price. When we turn from our sins and trust in Jesus and his work, he says to his Father, “These are my guests. They’re with me.” And we can sit down at the marriage feast of the Lamb with Jesus forever.

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18)

I’m grateful for Dad and his stories. I can see him right now with about 6 angels gathered around him, saying, “Hey, did I ever tell you when I was in WWII in the Hurtgen Forest in Germany?” and them saying, “We were right there with you JJ, keeping you safe.”

Dad loved his stories. And especially the wondrous story of his Savior.

 

*Dragnet was a show in the 50s and 60s about LA Detective Joe Friday, who constantly exhorted long-winded crime witnesses to give him just the facts.

Share The Gospel. Even If You Do It Poorly.

The gospel involves words.

It is the glorious message of the redemption God has provided for us through the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.  We should try to  share this message whenever we can.

But the gospel is more than words – it is the power of God.

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.  For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  1 Corinthians 1:17-18

The power of the gospel isn’t in the speaker. The good news of Jesus is powerful because it is the very word of God and the Holy Spirit infuses God’s word with power.

It is the Holy Spirit who causes someone to be born again, not our persuasiveness.

God saved Charles Spurgeon through a simple gospel message given by a humble speaker:

I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair until now, had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm one Sunday morning, while I was going to a certain place of worship. I turned a side street, and came to a little Primitive Methodist Church. In that chapel there may have been a dozen or fifteen people. I had heard of the Primitive Methodists, how they sang so loudly that they made people’s heads ache; but that did not matter to me. I wanted to know how I might be saved….

The minister did not come that morning; he was snowed up, I suppose. At last a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach. Now it is well that preachers be instructed, but this man was really stupid. He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was—“LOOK UNTO ME, AND BE YE SAVED, ALL THE ENDS OF THE EARTH” (Isa. 45:22)

He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimmer of hope for me in that text.

The preacher began thus: “This is a very simple text indeed. It says ‘Look.’ Now lookin’ don’t take a deal of pain. It aint liftin’ your foot or your finger; it is just ‘Look.’ Well, a man needn’t go to College to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn’t be worth a thousand a year to look. Anyone can look; even a child can look.

“But then the text says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Ay!” he said in broad Essex, “many on ye are lookin’ to yourselves, but it’s no use lookin’ there. You’ll never find any comfort in yourselves. Some say look to God the Father. No, look to Him by-and-by. Jesus Christ says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Some on ye say ‘We must wait for the Spirit’s workin.’ You have no business with that just now. Look to Christ. The text says, ‘Look unto Me.’ “

Then the good man followed up his text in this way: “Look unto Me; I am sweatin’ great drops of blood. Look unto Me; I am hangin’ on the cross. Look unto Me, I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto Me; I ascend to Heaven. Look unto Me; I am sitting at the Father’s right hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me! look unto Me!”

When he had . . . . managed to spin out about ten minutes or so, he was at the end of his tether. Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I daresay with so few present, he knew me to be a stranger.

Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart, he said, “Young man, you look very miserable.” Well, I did, but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance before. However, it was a good blow, struck right home. He continued, “And you will always be miserable—miserable in life and miserable in death—if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.” Then lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist could do, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothing to do but look and live!

I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said—I did not take much notice of it—I was so possessed with that one thought . . . . I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, “Look!” what a charming word it seemed to me. Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away. 

There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to Him. Oh, that somebody had told me this before, “Trust Christ, and you shall be saved.”

I love this.  The poor shoe maker or tailor wasn’t eloquent.  He probably had never heard the word “eschatology.”  To Charles Spurgeon he seemed “stupid”.  He didn’t pronounce all his words correctly.  But he shared the good news. He shared the simple core of the gospel – Jesus was crucified, died, was buried, and rose from the dead.  And God attended his simple message with life-transforming power and raised Charles Spurgeon from death to life.

This is liberating when we share the gospel with our children, friends and relatives. It’s not our brilliant articulation that saves anyone – it’s the power of the word of God and the Holy Spirit. Of course we want to express God’s truth as clearly as we can, but even if we stumble and share the gospel imperfectly, it is the power of God that saves.

We must do all we can to teach our children about Jesus and bring them up in the fear and instruction of the Lord. We should read the Word to them and teach them. We should encourage them to turn to Jesus. But we can’t cause them to be born again. We must diligently share God’s word then pray and trust that the Holy Spirit to give them life.

Let this encourage us to share the gospel, even if we do it poorly. I don’t encourage you to be stupid. But our feeble words plus God’s mighty power is all God needs.

The Gospel: Far More Than A Key To The Front Door

In other words, the gospel isn’t something we need only to become a Christian. It’s not like it gets us in the front door, then we can pitch it.  It’s the key to the living room, dining room, kitchen, attic and basement.  It opens every drawer, cabinet, and appliance, turns on the water, heat and lights.  The gospel should shape all of our lives as believers.

For example the gospel applies to all our RELATIONSHIPS

Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.  Romans 15:7

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 1 John 3:16

Paul roots our welcoming, showing kindness and forgiving one another in the good news that God has welcomed us, forgiven us and been kind to us in Christ.  And John roots his exhortation to lay down our lives for each other in the good news of a Savior who laid down his life for his own.

The gospel applies to our MARRIAGES

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… Ephesians 5:25

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31-32)

Paul ties his charge to men in the gospel – we’re to love our wives as Jesus sacrificially loved us.  And Paul says that even our marriages are to reflect the relationship of Christ and his bride who has become one with him through the gospel.

The gospel applies to us when we FAIL:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

I don’t know about you, but I still battle the temptation to feel condemned at times.  What is my solution?  The gospel!  I’m not condemned NOW because Jesus was condemned in my place on the cross.

The gospel applies to our TRIALS:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

We are more than conquerors in our trials through him who loved us and demonstrated that love on the cross.

The gospel applies to us when we are SAD AND SORROWFUL

For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:17)

The Lamb who leads us to heaven where God will banish tears forever is the sacrificial Lamb whose blood was poured out for us on the cross.

The gospel even applies to how we handle our MONEY.  When Paul exhorts the Corinthians to generous giving he says:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9

Paul anchors our generosity to the good news that Jesus impoverished himself to enrich us.

So the gospel isn’t only for unbelievers to receive forgiveness of sins, but for every believer every day of our lives.  It’s our meat and drink, our oxygen.  It’s the hub from which all the spokes of our lives radiate.  I need the gospel as much today as I did in 1974 when Jesus saved me.  And till the day I die I hope to continue to learn how to apply it to my every thought, word and deed.  

The Unexpected Justice of God

Putting my daughter to bed can be a trying experience.

Charis is three years old, and like most young children, going to bed is on her “least favorite things” list. As bedtime approaches she starts pulling all sorts of tricks and stall tactics out of the bag in an attempt to delay the inevitable. She wants me to put socks on her, take the socks off, adjust the socks so that the seam on the toe is perfectly flat, tell her a second story, pray for her a third time, and on and on.

It doesn’t take long before I can feel impatience beginning to simmer and then boil within me. I want some peace, and I want some quiet, and I want to put Charis to bed without a thirty minute epic battle.

Many times I sin in impatience against my little three year old girl.

Because God is kind, he won’t let me get away with my impatience, and it’s not long before I feel his gentle hand pressing against my conscience and leading me to repentance.

When I repent I’m often aware of God’s mercy. I know that God is merciful, and that mercy ripples out from the gospel to sinners like me, but I don’t usually connect repentance with the justice of God. 1 John 1:9 makes that connection:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

This seems backward or something, doesn’t it? God’s justice is displayed in my forgiveness. His perfect, holy, righteous, never flinching, never failing justice is put on display when he forgives my sin. How is that possible?

It’s possible because justice was already executed upon Jesus Christ. Jesus really has received the justice that I should have received. At the cross, God treated Jesus like the impatient father. My sentence has already been fulfilled, and God’s justice has been completely satisfied.

If God didn’t forgive my sins, that would be unjust. It would be double jeopardy, making me atone for a crime that has already been resolved. The just, right, good, wonderful thing for God to do is forgive my sins.

Sometimes the gospel just takes your breath away, doesn’t it?

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