Jesus, Light to the Nations

As we continued our series “Power in Preparation” this past weekend at Eastbrook Church my good friend and colleague here at Eastbrook, Pastor Femi Ibitoye, explored Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness in Matthew 4:12-17. I appreciated the insights that Femi shared in this message, as well as the personal testimony he shared from his life about Jesus being the light.

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.


“The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:16)

Jesus, light of the world to the nations

  • Jesus is light to the gentiles
  • Jesus is the Light that overcomes the darkness (Matthew 4:16)
  • Jesus is King in this Kingdom (Isaiah 9:7)
  • All people (including the Gentiles) are invited into this Kingdom
  • All have sinned and must repent to enter it (Matthew 4:17)

What does the Light of Christ do?

  • It gives life
  • It sets people free from fear, darkness and death
  • It exposes sin and brings healing
  • It illuminates (provides wisdom and knowledge)
  • It provides direction and guidance

What should our response

  • Pray-Repent
  • Worship God- Like the Magi, 1 Peter 2:9, like Jesus mentioned in his temptation in Matthew 4:10, Deuteronomy 6:13
  • Reflect the light of Jesus. Matthew 5:16
  • Let the Word of God be a priority (Matthew 4:4, Psalm 119:105

The Weekend Wanderer: 6 February 2021

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.


Modernist Churches in Chicago“The Bold Architecture of Chicago’s Black Churches” – Daniel Hautzinger at WTTW: “Most people probably imagine a particular archetype when they think of a church: an imposing stone edifice or white clapboard building, a towering steeple, stained glass. But what about an old hat factory with glass block windows? That’s First Church of Deliverance in Bronzeville. Converted into a church in 1939 by Walter Thomas Bailey, Illinois’s first licensed African American architect, and the Black structural engineer Charles Sumner Duke, the building is clad in cream-colored terra cotta with horizontal red and green accents. Bailey and Duke doubled the width of the factory and added a second floor while remaking the interior into a stylish sanctuary, with a cross on the ceiling illuminated by colored lights and Art Deco touches. Two Art Moderne towers that flank the entrance were added in 1946 by the firm Kocher Buss & DeKlerk. Not for nothing does Open House Chicago call it ‘undoubtedly one of the most unique [churches] in Chicago.'”


Hymns-in-a-Womans-Life-1-270x250“Hymns in a Woman’s Life” – Drew Bratcher reflects on his grandmother’s life and the hymns she loved: “Among the first songs I remember hearing are the hymns my great-grandmother sang: ‘I’ll Fly Away,’ ‘Do Lord,’ ‘I Am Bound for the Promised Land.’ Doubtless I had heard other hymns before these, and still others with greater frequency, but to this day when I think of hymns, it is my great-grandmother who comes to mind. Her name was Elmay (pronounced ‘Elmy’). She lived in a holler in West Virginia, on land owned by the company for which my great-grandfather dug coal. We would see them twice, maybe three times, a year, once at their house on Thanksgiving, and at least once at my grandparents’ place in Nashville, where they visited for a couple of weeks each summer.”


Church of the Immaculate Conception“For Iraqi priest, pope’s visit raises hope of restored trust between Christians and Muslims” – From Claire Giangravé at  Religion News Service: “In Iraq, the birthplace of Abraham, the patriarch of three major faiths, religion has rarely so divided the country, and Christians, descendants of one of their faith’s oldest communities, feel more threatened than they have in living memory. The Rev. Karam Qasha, a parish priest of the Chaldean Catholic Church of St. George in Telskuf, in northern Iraq, is among those hoping Pope Francis can mend the “broken trust” between the country’s Christians and Muslims and give courage to frightened Christians. Francis will visit Iraq March 5-8, making good on St. John Paul II’s attempt to travel to Iraq in 2000 when failed negotiations with the government of Saddam Hussein prevented John Paul from visiting.”


COVID-19 and faith“Pew: How COVID-19 Changed Faith in 14 Countries” – FromJeremy Weber at Christianity Today: “Today, the Pew Research Center released a study on how COVID-19 affected levels of religious faith this past summer in 14 countries with advanced economies: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. ‘In 11 of 14 countries surveyed, the share who say their religious faith has strengthened is higher than the share who say it has weakened,’ noted Pew researchers. ‘But generally, people in developed countries don’t see much change in their own religious faith as a result of the pandemic.'”


alan jacobs“Katharsis Culture” – Here’s Alan Jacobs with a helpful reframing of the many discussions of cancel culture: “A great many people have criticized the use of the term ‘cancel culture,’ but have done so for different reasons. One group of people simply wants to deny that cancellation is a widespread phenomenon; others are aware that something is going on but don’t think that ‘cancellation’ is the right way to describe it. I myself don’t have a problem with the use of the phrase, but I think there are more accurate ways of describing the very real phenomenon to which that phrase points. I think the two key concepts for understanding what is happening are katharsis and broken-windows policing.”


Music: Aklesso, “Wilderness,” from My Life is a Beautiful Mess

Power and Weakness: Part 3 of a reflection on Henri Nouwen’s “In the Name of Jesus”

This is the third and final post in a series on Henri Nouwen’s book In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (read part 1 and part 2). I’m writing on this significant book in order to continue reflecting on the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, which serves as the basis for Nouwen’s writing, and is also the place we are at in our preaching series, “Power in Preparation,” from the Gospel of Matthew. I conclude this series of posts by looking at the third and final part of that book: “From Leading to Being Led.”

The Temptation to be Powerful
Just as Jesus was tempted by Satan to use his power to influence people for his ministry goals, so, Nouwen says, we face the temptation to do ministry relying on power to control others instead of acknowledging our weakness to be led by others.

The true way of Christian service and leadership, according to Nouwen, exhibits these characteristics:

  • downward mobility like Jesus toward the Cross – not upwardly mobile toward what is wrongly called ‘success’
  • willing to be ‘radically poor’ to follow Jesus into unattractive places – not caught up in the wealth and riches of this world
  • allowing Christ to form their entire lives – body, mind, heart – not just intellectually following the ideas of Jesus
  • helping people hear God’s voice in their real lives – not just chattering on about their own ideas

In the Book of Common Prayer, there is a prayer at the end of the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage that reads:

Most gracious God, we give you thanks for your tender love in sending Jesus Christ to come among us, to be born of a human mother, and to make the way of the cross to be the way of life.

I wonder if our Christian service is shaped by the Cross as much as it is by pursuit of “success,” however we may define it? I wonder, what sort of leaders are we? Do we lead ‘in the name of Jesus’ or in our own name?

I wonder aloud, how can we practically let Jesus lead us in His downwardly mobile, humble, poor, and God-oriented way?

Community and Identity: Part 2 of a reflection on Henri Nouwen’s “In the Name of Jesus”

Yesterday I began a series of three posts on Henri Nouwen’s book In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. I continue that series here by delving into the second part of that book: “From Popularity to Ministry.”

Doing Ministry Together
I have read this book several times, but I continue to be deeply impacted by Nouwen’s emphasis on the fact that ministry is shared and not something in which we strive “to do something spectacular, something that could win [us] great applause” (53). How often I have seen in myself and others a twisted motivation in ministry aimed at the wrong end: praise, attention, recognition, or accolades. We sometimes become bent on others’ opinions that we miss the true nature of ministry.

True ministry involves proclaiming the gospel together, not lifting up ourselves. True ministry comes from a place of reliance and interdependence, where trust that “the same Lord who binds us together in love will also reveal himself to us and others as we walk together on the road” (59).

Think of that. I wonder, when we engage in ministry with others, are we so together in it that we trust God to reveal himself to and through us to others? Or are doing something else entirely? Are we competing with others for the praise and glory of ourselves in the eyes of other humans?

Who We Are – Who We Are Not
Our twisted motivations often come from twisted souls. Nouwen presses the conversation of this second part of the book toward the heart of the matter: our identity in Christ. We need to know our identity and, specifically, that ministry it is not about us, but about God.

Nouwen writes:

We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for. The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God. (62)

If you skimmed that section quickly, let me encourage you to stop and read it again. This is so important and challenging.

I wonder, do we know who we are and who we are not when it comes to ministry? I know it is such a struggle. It is vital that we let go of our need to appear competent, to be needed, and to be seen as the source of good in ministry. We are made in the image of God and valuable in that regard, but we are also, in a sense, unnecessary to God. He does not need us to do ministry, but He does desire to work in and through us. There is a holy humility to this aspect of knowing our identity. There is a freedom in letting go of our need for acclaim and simply relying upon God to work.

This can be a fierce struggle, but it also can become one of the freeing joys of truly doing our ministry in the name of Jesus.

Irrelevance and the Love of God: Part 1 of a reflection on Henri Nouwen’s “In the Name of Jesus”

One of the most incisive handlings I have ever encountered on Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness as recorded in Matthew 4:1-11 is Henri Nouwen‘s book In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. While the book is specifically targeted at those in ministry, I believe it has broader application to all believers.

In this and two follow-up posts, I want to interact with that book a little as a follow-up to Will Branch’s sermon this past weekend at Eastbrook, “The Way of the Wilderness,” and my own recent reflections on the spiritual significance of the wilderness. Whether you’ve read the book or not, feel free to interact with what I write here.

Relevance vs. Irrelevance
In the first section of part one of the book, Nouwen connects the first temptation of Jesus with the temptation toward relevance. Nouwen contrasts the irrelevance of ministry with the push within our society for relevance. I struggle with Nouwen’s reflections here because, on the one hand, I do not want my life or ministry to be driven by relevance, but, on the other hand, I do want to communicate God’s truth in a way that connects with people and is not obtuse.

Here is my summary of what Nouwen means by these terms:

  • Relevance: an obsession with success, impact, and practicality that is closely linked with the things we do rather than who we are.
  • Irrelevance: walking the way of vulnerability and weakness in connection with the weakness and struggles of the world around us while living in the love of God

Nouwen writes: “The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation” (35).

So, I wonder, is it possible to desire to connect meaningfully with others while simultaneously living out of this sort vocational sense of irrelevance?

Knowing the Heart of God
In the second section of part one, Nouwen draws attention to Jesus’ question of Peter: ‘Do you love me?’ He emphasizes that our love of Jesus is the central issue in our ministry and service for God.

The Christian leader of the future is the one who truly knows the heart of God as it has become flesh, ‘a heart of flesh’, in Jesus. Knowing God’s heart means consistently, radically, and very concretely to announce and reveal that God is love and only love, and that every time fear, isolation, or despair begins to invade the human soul, that is not something that comes from God. The sounds very simple and maybe even trite, but very few people know that they are loved without any conditions or limits. (38)

These words cut to the core of who we are. I am reminded of an old statement a mentor shared with me once: “Have I become so in love with the work of the Lord that I have ceased to love the Lord of the work?” I wonder whether I live in such a way that my experience and knowledge of God’s love is so central that it overflows into proclaiming and embodying the unconditional love of God to others? Is that what motivates me?

Mystic Leaders
Nouwen brings the first part of the book to a close by calling believers to a life of contemplative prayer as mystic leaders. Sometimes the words “contemplative” and “mystic” throw people off. However, what he is really speaking about is our attentive pondering the love of God throughout our lives. The question here is not only do we love Jesus, but do we live a life of love with Him. Read these words:

A mystic is a person whose identity is deeply rooted in God’s first love. . . Are the leaders of the future truly men and women of God, people with an ardent desire to dwell in God’s presence, to listen to God’s voice, to look at God’s beauty, to touch God’s incarnate Word, and to taste fully God’s infinite goodness? (42-43)

Again, Nouwen pierces to the heart. Who am I as a leader, minister, or servant of Christ? Am I devoted to Jesus? Am I loving Him fully?