Love is Light Shining in the Darkness

The world around us has all sorts of darkness these days. There is the darkness that gathers around us in visible ways: violence, famine, global conflict, racial tension, unemployment, etc. For some of us, that darkness feels close and for others it feels distant.

However, I’d like to sharpen our understanding of darkness by remembering four aspects of Jesus’ life, and putting them into the context of light and darkness.

As the light of the world, first of all, Jesus came to shine God’s light into the world through His incarnation. As it says in Hebrews 1:3, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Or as it says in John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus’ incarnation shines the light of God, displaying who God is.

As the light of the world, second of all, Jesus came to shine God’s light into the world through His proclamation and teaching.  After Jesus’ powerful teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, we read, “the crowds were amazed at his teaching,because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:28-29). Jesus’ teaching shines the light of God, telling who God is.

As the light of the world, thirdly, Jesus came to shine God’s light into the world through works of service and healing. Peter, one of Jesus’ followers, spoke of Jesus’ wonder-working power in this way: “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him” (Acts 2:22). The works of service and the healing—these signs and wonders—display God’s purposes for humanity. And it is through His service and miracles shining God’s light, that Jesus also displays who God is.

As the light of the world, fourthly, Jesus came to shine God’s light into the world through enter into human suffering and transforming it. We read about Jesus’ transformative suffering on the Cross in the first letter of the Apostle John, chapter 4, verses 9 and 10: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).  Jesus’ crucifixion shines the light of God, displaying who God is and just how far God will go on behalf of humanity.

Jesus was shining God’s light into the gathering darkness. As His followers we also have the opportunity to shine His light into the gathering darkness.

And those four aspects of Jesus’ light-shining life speak to us about shining light as well. We shine God’s light:

  • through living incarnate
  • through proclaiming good news and telling of God’s ways
  • through works of service and even miraculous signs
  • through entering into the suffering of the world through Christ’s transformative sacrifice

And so that we don’t lose sight of just how basic this is, the love for our literal neighbor saves us from abstraction about these things. Because often our ideas about life become abstract.

In her quirky book, How to Do Nothing, artist Jenny Odell talks about how neighborliness keeps us from being abstract. She writes:

My boyfriend and I live in a large apartment complex that’s next to the house of a family of four, and when we’re sitting on our balcony and they’re sitting on their porch, we can easily see each other….But we didn’t learn each other’s names for two years, and we may not have chatted at all if it hadn’t been for the neighborliness of Paul, the dad.

One day Paul invited us over for dinner. Because I hadn’t been in a neighbor’s home since I was a teenager, it was unexpectedly surreal to be inside the house that forms a permanent part of the view from our apartment. The interior of the house went from being an idea to a palpable reality….we probably all saw ourselves from a new angle. For my part, the experience made me realize how similar the life situations of most of my friends are, and how little time I spend in the amazing bizarro world of kids.

When we arrived back to our apartment, it felt different to me­–less like the center of things. Instead the street was full of such “centers,” and each one contained other lives, other rooms, other people turning in for the night and worrying their own worries for the next day. Of course I had already accepted all of this in an abstract sense, but it wasn’t felt.

Jenny Odell, How to Do Nothing (Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, 2019), 134-135.

Shining the light of God is something that is true, but is not intended to be abstract. It is intended to be felt. It is intended to be heard. It is intended to be like flesh and bone moving into the neighborhood.

Loving our literal neighbors – our apartment-mates, those in the condo next door, those in the duplex unit above or below us, those on our dorm floor, those in the retirement community, or those in the house next door – forces us to shine the light of God in ways that are real, practical, and tangible. If we cannot love our literal neighbor, then it is unlikely that we will truly love anyone else in our lives.

Real Love: the golden rule

This past weekend at Eastbrook, as we continued our series “Becoming Real” on the Sermon on the Mount, we looked at the one verse that summarizes the Sermon on the Mount, as well as the Law and the Prophets:

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)

This one little verse, known as the golden rule, is perhaps one of the most famous statements of Jesus, even if many do not attribute it to Him.

You can find the message video and outline below. You can also view the entire “Becoming Real” series here, as well as the devotional that accompanies the series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)

The Summary Statement

  • Summarizing the Law and the Prophets
  • Summarizing the Sermon on the Mount

Living with Love for Others

  • Echoes in the Gospel of Matthew
  • Echoes in the Scriptures
  • Echoes in other sources
  • The resounding positivity of Jesus’ command

In Everything

  • Our actions
  • Our words
  • Our thoughts
  • Our non-thoughts

Living in Love as Jesus’ Disciples

  1. We need to live in God’s love for us.
  2. We need to cultivate God’s love for others.
  3. We need to let God change us more and more through His love.

Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper into Jesus’ teaching on real love in one or more of the following ways:

  • Memorize Matthew 7:12 this week.
  • Take time to pray through your relationships (e.g., friends, spouse, family members, coworkers, neighbors, classmates), asking God to help you love them more fully. Then consider people you find it difficult to love, whether in these relationships or not. Ask God to change your heart and help you put love into action.
  • Put love into action this week by spending time with or serving someone in a practical way: make a meal, stop by to visit, make a phone call, listen, help with a project, or some other way.
  • Consider reading an article with background on this passage by John J. Collins, “Love Your Neighbor: How It Became the Golden Rule”

Arriving One: the final destination of the church

This past weekend we concluded our series, “One: The Being of God in the Life of the Church,” at Eastbrook Church. To bring this great exploration of unity to a close, I traced the movement from the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9 to the heavenly vision in Revelation 7:9-10. In one sense this is a contrast between humanity divided and humanity united.

You can view the message video and outline below. You can follow along with the entire series here and the devotional that accompanies the series here. You could always join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10)

Humanity Divided (Genesis 11:1-9)

  • Human assertion against God
  • God’s confusion upon humanity

Humanity United (Revelation 7:9-10)

  • The gathering of the saints in the new heaven and the new earth
    • The contrast with Babel’s division centered on humanity
    • Here true unity is centered on God
  • The Great Multitude Before God
    • Unified before God: standing together, adorned similarly, crying out as one
    • Identifiable difference: every nation, tribe, people, and language

Moving Toward a Unified Arrival (Colossians 3:1-17)

  • Our focus on Christ and things above (3:1-4)
  • Take off the old self (3:5-11)
  • Put on the new self (3:12-17)

Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper into Revelation 7:9-10 in one or more of the following ways:

  • Memorize Revelation 7:9-10 or Colossians 3:12-14
  • Read Genesis 11:1-9 – the story of the Tower of Babel – and consider what was going on here. What do you think was at work within the hearts of humanity in this story? How does this story echo the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3?
  • If you want to dive deeper into Revelation 7:9-10, consider listening to or watching another preaching series from Eastbrook called “Becoming 7.”
  • Continue with our season of prayer and fasting. Find more info here.

Five Recommendations on Election Day

Here are five recommendations I’d like to offer for followers of Jesus Christ on Election Day here in the US.

  1. Pray – We know as believers that God works through prayer (James 5:16). We know that our calling includes praying for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-2). We know that our nation is facing many challenges that are not only difficult to overcome but may even appear insurmountable. We know there is a great need for people to turn back to God and His ways at numerous levels. Because of these things, we should pray that our nation will be awakened with a need for God, that the elections will be guided by God, that safety and peace will reign on this day and days to come, and that all the candidates up for public office will be strengthened by God regardless of their political party.
  2. Think Biblically – As followers of Christ we must always filter our actions through the truth of God as revealed in the Scriptures. We must let God’s truth both correct and encourage us, even as it renews our minds (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Romans 12:1-2). We must remember that Jesus is our King and our allegiance is first and foremost to His kingdom. The kingdom of God is bigger than any political party. The kingdom calls us to value human life as made in the image of God from before birth through the end of our days. The kingdom of God calls us toward stewardship of the environment as created by God and stewardship of finances as a gift from God. The kingdom of God calls us to care for the forgotten, the poor, prisoners, widows, orphans, and foreigners in our midst. The kingdom of God calls for truth where truth is disregarded and moral order amidst disordered lives and relationships. The kingdom of God is marked by grace, truth, righteousness, and justice. As we face into this election day, we must think biblically as we wrestle with the issues before us.
  3. Vote – It is a huge privilege in our country to have a voice in the political process. So many of my friends from around the world do not have this privilege where they live. They have little to no voice in the political process. This is similar to the first century church, which did not experience anything like this during their lifetimes under the Roman Empire. One aspect of Paul’s instructions about our relationship to governing authorities in Romans 13 is to exercise our right to vote. I encourage every follower of Jesus to take up this privilege.
  4. Maintain Perspective – In the coming days, there will be some of us whose candidate wins and some of us whose candidate loses. For those whose candidate wins, we may be tempted to believe this victory is the answer for our country. For those whose candidate loses, we may be tempted to believe this outcome is the worst reality for our country. Without downplaying the good or bad realities, we must maintain perspective on all of this. The prophet Daniel shows us how to do this. After being ripped from his homeland and launched into exile, Daniel witnessed many kings and kingdoms rising and falling over the course of his life. God gave Daniel a vision of even more changes yet to come in the future. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we must maintain clear perspective that our hopes are not tied to a candidate, policy, country, or kingdom. All of these will come and go. There is only one “kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12:28).
  5. Love One Another – Scripture affirms again and again that we are called as followers of Christ to love one another and stand in unity (1 John 4:11; Philippians 4:1-2). Jesus Himself said that people would know we are His disciples if we love one another (John 13:34-35). Amidst one of the most divided times in our lives, as believers in Christ we most choose a different way. We must stand together as one in ways that those around us, divided by so many different political philosophies and party allegiances, cannot. Let us put on love, which binds all things together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:14) so that, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we might uphold the unity forged through the broken body and spilled blood of Jesus Christ.

Preach the Gospel to Yourself Daily

sunset

Recently, I was talking with someone about what we most need in our lives for growth and I was reminded of the simple truth that we need to take in the message of the Gospel in Jesus Christ everyday. Wherever we are and whomever we are, the highest priority is that we preach the simple message of good news to ourselves daily. In simplicity that message is as follows:

  • we are sinners who were lost in the death of sin and brokenness of evil
  • God reached out to us in Jesus Christ apart from anything we have done (or will do)
  • God has forgiven all our sin through Christ’s sacrifice, reconciled us to Himself, defeated the powers of evil, and showered upon us His grace and truth
  • God has given us a place of belonging with Him by making us part of His family through the sufficient work of Christ both for now and eternity

There are so many things in our daily lives push back against the gospel. People come to us with all sorts of messages about who we are and who we’re not, what we’ve done and what we haven’t done. We may hear words like this: “you’re a failure,” “you’re a loser,” “you’re too prideful,” “you’re too weak,” or more. If we are honest, many of these things are true. Yes, we are sinners who always need forgiveness. Yes, we are broken in many ways and always need the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit to remake us.

The gospel overpowers us with a message different from those that come to us from others or even from ourselves.. That message centers us within the reality that we are loved, saved, and forgiven by God through Jesus Christ. We are trophies of His grace and held in the divine embrace both now and forever with God!

We all need to take in that message daily. One good way to do that is to slowly read portions of Scripture which rehearse those fundamental truths with us. One of my favorites is Ephesians 2:1-10, where Paul summarizes the gospel in very basic form. Let me encourage you to read it every day for the next week to remind us of the basic gospel message we always need.

1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.