Friday, March 30, 2012

The Campaign - Becky

Tonight I led some songs at church during a women's campaign to get more ladies in the Church. The ladies of the Iglesia de Cristo (Church of Christ) here in Jinotega have been planning this "campaña de mujeres" for weeks. When they first brought it up, I wasn't sure what to think. I mean, of course it is a great thing to try to bring more people to Christ. But, the logistics of such a thing can be very tricky, and, at first, due to the language barrier, I couldn't get a satisfactory explanation of what a campaign actually is. Also, a part of me was nervous about what specifically they were planning to teach, as I am still trying to get a handle on what the members of the Church here believe. I guess, about the whole thing, I was picturing something like a Salvation Army troop parading through the streets. When they asked if I could help, I did everything I could to get more information first. However, I did agree to be one of the song leaders, a role with an acceptable level of embarrassment to myself (much better than handing out leaflets or something and asking random people if they "know Jesus"—at least on the embarrassment scale).

Well, apparently, a campaign here is basically a Church of Christ gospel meeting. The plan for this particular campaign is to meet at the church building for an hour each night from Thursday to Saturday. Each night is to consist of (more or less) a regular church service with singing, preaching, and praying, except that it is completely conducted and attended by women. Prior to these meetings, some of the ladies visited the homes of various women who are not already in the Church, and they advertised with signs and announcements in the street. Again, the skeptic in me really hoped these ladies wouldn't end up disappointed by a bad turnout after they had worked SO HARD. Maybe I just doubted that any person who is not already a Christian would want to show up for something like that. In the States, from my perspective this kind of thing is pretty old school.

I have to remind myself, though, that Nicaragua is not the United States. I guess they like these things here because we had more people in that building than I have ever seen, I would guess twice as many as we normally have on a good, "full" Sunday morning (which includes both men and women). I was impressed. Despite the fact that I was surprised by having to lead singing with a microphone, I was impressed by how seriously they were taking the whole thing. I was impressed by the confidence of the girl who gave the sermon. I was impressed by the table of books and pamphlets they had set up by the door. I was impressed by how welcoming the whole thing felt. Contrary to my fears, no one was yelling at the "sinners" to "repent," and the people in attendance actually seemed to participate wholeheartedly. Everyone was very gracious and encouraging towards me as a "gringa" trying to sing (in front of everyone, over a microphone) in Spanish.

We still have two nights to go, but so far I am VERY PROUD of "my" ladies. They have been enthusiastic about this from the beginning, and they are pulling it off wonderfully. Of course, as one of them pointed out tonight, God is the one who is really doing it. This is HIS thing, and we are just His instruments... which brings me to my point:

Who am I to judge someone else's servant?

I don't know why, but "evangelism" has been a weird thing for me in my life. I grew up hearing that I should invite all of my friends and neighbors (and random people in the grocery line) to church, and for many years I lived with a lot of guilt that I wasn't doing that. During this phase, there were times when I actually tried to talk to my friends, but instead of sharing with them the love of Christ, it came out more like "Here are the rules. You need to be following them." That didn't go over so well, so rather than push people further away from Christ with my hypocrisy, it made more sense to me that evangelism should be through example. Words can do harm if they aren't the right ones, but a godly life can speak volumes by itself. What I wasn't willing to admit to myself for a long time, though, is that this way of thinking is a major cop out.

Obviously, since I am now a missionary, I have come to some different conclusions than before. I am still far from where I need to be in my thinking (and practice) of evangelism, but it has become a very huge priority to me now (like, the biggest priority of all) to try to bring people closer to God. Before, my motivation was fear. Now (I hope, at least most of the time), my motivation is love. I do have some specific thoughts on what methods of evangelism may be more effective in different situations, and I have started to figure out which of those methods work better with my personality. For example, I know that I fear rejection of my message, but, even more, I fear being cheesy (hence my initial reluctance to join a "campaign"). Rather than confronting people with my "churchiness" head on, I prefer to encourage people through relationship. What is most comfortable for me is to to give people that I know personally a whole lot of love and then to talk about spiritual things when they come up naturally. (Although I have failed MISERABLY at this more times than I want to remember, you'd be surprised how often spiritual things DO come up in a loving friendship.) I guess that way I am using words AND example. There are other evangelism methods that I will employ, even though they are not as comfortable for me. Because of the whole love thing, I want to do whatever I need to do to help reconcile people with God.

Okay, that sounds good, but the bad thing is that I am at a point now where I have strong opinions about evangelism (how to spread the message and, also, what message to spread), and, unfortunately, many of those opinions come with baggage. Not only do I get snobbish about how I want to go about evangelizing but I may start to look down on how someone else goes about it. However, my experience with the campaign reminds me (I will repeat what I said earlier), Who am I to judge someone else's servant? In all of my evangelism efforts, the point is to reconcile people to God. But, that's God's thing. Yes, I believe that it is the responsibility of those of us who are part of the Body of Christ to reach out to others, but God is the actual "recipient," if you will. Humans are HIS people, and He is the one who has had the plan all along for making right our relationship with Him. In trying to help with this, I am only His servant. If He calls someone to minister in a different way than He does me, what is that to me? Yes, I should think seriously about different evangelism methods and weigh out what seems to make sense, but when the sweet women of a little congregation in Jinotega want to go old school (well, "old school" to me, not to them), I should roll with it and give them the support that they need.

Speaking of evangelism methods, really one of my main goals is to give as much help as possible to the locals here who are already ministering to their own people. And they DO. Even beyond this women's thing, so much of the evangelism that happens here is Nicaraguan to Nicaraguan, and I LOVE THAT. They do need help (in the form of various resources, as well as someone to preach/sing/pray alongside them), but they have such fervor about what they are trying to do. If I can get my nose out of the air and acknowledge that they actually do know more than I do about what their own people want and need, I feel like God can really do something good through us.

So, what are YOUR thoughts on evangelism? Do you ever feel bothered by how others evangelize? Are there times when it is right to question how evangelism is done, or do you think that any way of preaching Christ is valid?


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Update! - Becky

Well, hello again, everyone. I realize it is way past time to report on what we have been doing. The past month or so has been kinda crazy around here. Things have really kicked off for our Hope for Life team, and Tommy and I have had some good individual experiences as well. All of this is amid the random happenings at the mission (Misión Para Cristo).

First, WE HAVE GOATS!!! We were excited enough that the guys got our first goat house and corral built at the local retirement home, but it was even cooler to see actual goats inside. Tommy went on a trip with Ismael (the mission's agriculture guy) to a farm way off in the middle of nowhere to purchase the goats. The plan was to purchase three or four good goats, but somehow (quite unexpectedly) we got a "SIX for the price of four" deal. The problem was that the area we had for the goats really maxed out at four, so David and Caryn kept two in their backyard until we could figure out something else. Well, the plan all along has been (outside of having our goat corral at the retirement home for learning purposes) to start our goat project in the town of Yankee at the home of the local preacher, Renaldo. We knew that a group of students from Harding University would be here the next week, so we arranged to have some of them help build our second goat house and corral at Renaldo's house (to Renaldo's great excitement). That project is now finished, and the extra two goats are settled in their new home. We really hadn't expected to have made this much progress yet, but we are very thankful that, apparently, God had other plans for us.

A BIG help with our Hope for Life projects were Tessa Savage and Nikki Stark, who were the mission's interns for 6 weeks. They helped in the construction of our goat houses, and they even built and installed a rabbit hutch (complete with rabbits) in the Hennigers' backyard. They proved invaluable (especially Tessa, with her agricultural background) in getting us started in our care for the goats. Also, they experimented with some different recipes for making cheese from the goats' milk (and were quite successful, actually). In general, they were awesome to have around. Tommy and I really enjoyed having them live at the mission with us, and now that they are gone, we miss them terribly.

Meanwhile, I have had two main projects going on, which I have already described somewhat on this blog. One was the writing, translating, practicing, and delivering of a series of lessons for the ladies here. The whole process was extremely helpful with my Spanish learning, and it was a good relationship-building exercise with the ladies at church. Now that I am finished with this, I need to start getting some other lessons done on other topics that go with our Hope for Life projects (goats, seeds, etc.).

The other project was trying to get much needed items to the Casa Materna in Pantasma. Thanks to the donations of some of you, Janese Davis (who is in charge of the mission's work with the Casa Materna program) and I were able to purchase much more than we expected to be able to get for the ladies in this go 'round! (THANK YOU!) My goal for this time was simply to get the hygiene items they needed, but in addition to soap, maxi pads, wash clothes, and towels, we were able to bring them 3 new sheet sets (including new pillows) and enough pots, pans, utensils and dishes to outfit their new kitchen. We weren't able to bring them maternity clothes (I haven't yet found any good place that sells them), but we did bring them laundry detergent so at least they can wash the clothes they already have. The day that we took the trip to give them all of this stuff was the official grand opening of their Casa Materna, and the whole town had a parade. After all of the pomp and circumstance, we were able to spend some time with the ladies (like we normally do on our Casa Materna trips) before giving them the items. Oh, and while we were there, I still had some money left over, so I asked if they had any other immediate needs. They said that they needed gas to cook with (they already had the container; it just needed to be refilled), and it turned out that there was just enough money to get them what they needed. (I gave the money to the local preacher who took care of it for them that day.) I always love it when it is so obvious that God gives us just what we need at the moment. :)

There have been a lot of people in and out of the mission building over the last weeks. Periodically, the mission hosts IPO, an institute wherein Nicaraguans train other Nicaraguans to be preachers. This last time they were here, I spent some time with them and had the opportunity to sit in on some of their classes. Although I didn't understand everything (as it was in Spanish), it was still really neat for me, first of all, to develop my relationships with these people, and, second, to get a glimpse of what they are actually teaching (though I was able to understand overall topics more so than specific points). I was generally impressed that the classes are legitimate college level Bible classes. Outside of class, it was really cool to have real Biblical discussions with some of the people, and now that I have met the people, I have recognized some of them as I have been in different towns doing different things. Anyway, I was glad that they were happy to have me stick my nose in their business. It was cool.

The last large group we had was the spring break group from Harding University. I was excited to see a few people who I already knew and to get to know some others that I didn't know. As I said, some of them assisted with our second goat house. Also, I got to spend some time with others on the trip to Pantasma. They seemed like a really good group of "kids." (Am I old enough to call college students kids?)

As you can tell, there has been a lot of activity here lately. (And these are just the highlights; Tommy could probably tell you even more.) Unfortunately, I have been sick for a lot of this. The doctor here has had me on several antibiotics for different infections, but it has been tricky to get the rest I need to recover fully. (I keep feeling like I am better, and I even build up extra energy--but then when I use the energy I end up feeling bad again.) This has been affecting my mental capacity as well and has made it a little difficult to focus lately. Tommy also had a bad bout of sickness after being at the farm where he bought the goats. He didn't realize that he would be in a no electricity, no running water, nothing to sleep in but a moldy/mildew-y hammock kind of situation (complete with LOTS of bug bites--though, don't worry, his blood test came back negative for any terrible diseases). Thankfully, once the medicine ran its course he felt much better. Overall, I would say that, emotionally, we are doing great here. However, I think that there are various points of stress that we don't even pick up on that wear on us physically and mentally. Please keep us in your prayers as our bodies and minds continue to acclimate.

Something that is still a source of stress for us is that we are STILL not in our house, though it does seem like we may be getting closer. Also, we know that once we do get in our house, our expenses will be higher. We are trusting in God to take care of us, but we do anticipate things getting pretty tight financially. The reality is that we are still not finished fundraising. This is an aspect of being missionaries that neither of us enjoys, so that causes stress too. I just want to say, though, to those of you who do support us, I don't even know how to express how thankful we are. Without you (and God, obviously), we wouldn't be able to do any of this. It is because of you that we are now able to be a part of the lives of people who God has always loved but who we didn't know existed a year ago. Because of you, we are able to put into practice projects that, before we came, were only good ideas. Yes, we may be stressed at times, but what we have been able to see and to do and the people we have been able to connect with all make it completely worth it. We see God at work here, and we feel so honored to be a part of that work. Thank you so much for giving us this opportunity.

To everyone reading this, whether you support us financially or not, I want to say thank you for keeping up with us. It means a lot to have a connection with people "back home"--and those in locations around the world. If this experience has taught me anything, it is that our world really is "small." But, for the times that it feels "big," thank you all for making it that much smaller.

God bless you all,

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Story of the Light - Part III: MAN

(To see "Part II: JESUS" click here.)

To summarize the first two parts of this lesson, the light came from God the Father—who IS light—and then was brought directly to God’s people through Jesus Christ. This had to be done because, even though the people should have recognized God’s light and should have lived in it by following the Law of Moses, they rejected it. The Jews described in the New Testament had the same problem. In Romans 1:18-21 we read:

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Even though they should have known it, Jesus had to come to reveal God’s nature to the people. He did this by the things he did here on the earth, especially by his death on the cross. However, before and after Jesus’ death, there have been those whom God has used as lights to reveal Jesus’ light—which reveals God’s light.

The Light Spread to God’s Servants

Before Jesus’ death, John the Baptist was described in John 5:35 as “a lamp that burned and gave light.” Similar to the light that shone on the face of Moses after he was in the light of God’s presence to receive God’s commandments, John’s light served to direct people to Jesus, the true light. John 1:7-8 says, “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.”

In the Old Testament, the primary group to which God tried to give light through His law was the Israelites. In the New Testament, their descendants, the Jews, were also the first to have access to God’s grace. The central location of major events like Jesus’ death and the start of the Church was the Jews’ capital city Jerusalem. However, through the Apostles, God spread his light of truth from the Jews in Jerusalem to the rest of the world, even to the Gentiles. We read in Acts chapter 9 that Jesus revealed himself to Saul through a bright light, and Saul became the Apostle Paul who was a light to the Gentiles. In Acts 13:46-48, Paul spoke to the Jews about himself:

“Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: ‘We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us:

“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’’

“When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.”

Many of the books in the New Testament are letters written by Paul to strengthen, encourage, and guide the early Church, which was made up of both Jews and Gentiles. Paul was a light for them, but the Church was intended to be a light for the whole world.

We Reflect God’s Light to the World

Sadly, many in the world are spiritually blind. They don’t understand who God is because their eyes are closed to the truth of the gospel of Christ. However, those of us who do believe in Christ have God’s light which gives us understanding. We read in 2 Corinthians 4:4-6:

“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”

The Law of Moses was supposed to bring light and life to God’s people, but because of the people’s broken nature, it only brought death. But, thanks to Jesus, now we are in a new covenant with God that does bring us light and life. 2 Corinthians 3 talks about this truth in verses 7-18:

“Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!

“Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

As Christians, we are supposed to show the world who God is. Our actions are like a mirror that reflects His glory. We have the light of God in our hearts, and it is our responsibility and privilege to share it with others. Jesus said in Matthew 5:14-16:

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

We Need to Walk in the Light

Again, our actions are like a mirror that reflects God’s glory to the world. Unfortunately, our actions still send a message about God to the world even when our deeds are evil. For this reason, it is so important to make sure that in our lives we are remaining in God’s light. Paul sets a good example in 2 Corinthians 4:1-3:

“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.”

Romans 13:12-14 gives us some more specific examples of what we should do:

“The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.”

All of this is not to make us feel guilty for the sinful things we do. Jesus has already taken care of the sin of those of us who have chosen him. The fact is that being God’s people is a great honor which gives us the ability and the right to be his representatives to the world, as we see in 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

Living in the light is just a part of who we are in our new relationship with God. If we remain in the light we get to enjoy not only the glory of His presence inside of us but also a connection with everyone else who has been brought into the light, as we read in 1 John 1:5-7:

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

As people who get to experience this great fellowship, we should want to do everything we can to bring everyone into the light with us. Really, the thing that we are experiencing through God’s light in our lives is LOVE because God IS love. We are able to understand what real love is because we see it in the life and death of Jesus, who reflects God’s love to us. Others can understand this same love when we reflect God’s light to them by loving them and by loving each other. John 13:34-35 says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

To really be in the light, it is not enough only to appear righteous. In fact, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:14-15, “And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.” If we want to reflect to the world who God really is, we need to do more than only to follow a set of rules, like the Israelites tried to do only to find death. We need truly to live lives of love.

We Will Live in the Light Forever

As I explained in the first part of this lesson, the light talked about in the Bible follows a story. It originated with God, who was and IS HIMSELF the light. However, He didn’t keep His light to himself but put it into its physical state where it was able to benefit man. God used His control over the physical light to help His people and to serve as a metaphor for His spiritual light, which represents things like majesty, comfort, guidance, truth, and life. We know from what is written about it in Old Testament that God’s people sometimes recognized his light, even though at that time God’s presence was separate from man. However, the people were incapable of remaining in His light forever. Through Moses, God had given laws to his people that brought them light when they followed them, but because of their broken nature, the people remained in the darkness. Because of this, it was necessary for God to come down to the people Himself and bring His light to them in the form of His Son Jesus. While Jesus was physically on the earth, he displayed the light of God’s glory in everything that he did, especially through his death on the cross to save us from our sins. In the light of Jesus, we see the most important truth that God is love. We also see that if we love others, God’s light shines through us as well.

I will leave you with one final thought. If we do live lives of love here on the earth, being careful to stay in God light, we will be rewarded with dwelling in the light forever. Revelation 21:23-25 says:

“The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there.”

Also, we see in Revelation 22:3-5:

“No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”



The Story of the Light - Part II: JESUS

(To see "Part I: God" click here.)

The People Were Living in Darkness

All throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites continually fell away from God and had to be brought back to Him. God had told them exactly what He wanted them to do, but they always ended up not doing it. They were constantly having to offer sacrifices for their sins, and no matter how authentic was their repentance, they would always fall again. The fact was that they were clouded in darkness. Isaiah 59 describes their situation, starting in verses 9 and 10, “So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like people without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead.” Proverbs 4:19 puts it more simply: “But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.”

Reading this, we may ask, if God is light, displaying his majesty and giving comfort, guidance, truth, and life, then why would anyone be in darkness? One reason is that people may purposely hide from the light in order to indulge in sinful behavior. Job 24:13-17 talks about people who act like this:

“There are those who rebel against the light, who do not know its ways or stay in its paths. When daylight is gone, the murderer rises up, kills the poor and needy, and in the night steals forth like a thief. The eye of the adulterer watches for dusk; he thinks, ‘No eye will see me,’ and he keeps his face concealed. In the dark, thieves break into houses, but by day they shut themselves in; they want nothing to do with the light. For all of them, midnight is their morning; they make friends with the terrors of darkness…”

When we do things that we know are wrong, we try to hide from God like Adam and Eve did after eating the fruit (see Genesis 3:8). However, by behaving this way, we show how blind to the truth we really are. If we were thinking clearly, we would know that God’s light exposes all of our deeds anyway. Psalm 90:8 states, “You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.” Likewise, Daniel 2:22 says, “He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.”

Another reason that the Israelites were in darkness despite the existence of God’s light was that God resided apart from man. There was a lot of separation between God and His people. He revealed himself through certain, special people, but individual, regular Israelites did not have full access to Him. For example, only the high priest could enter into the Most Holy Place once a year to offer the yearly sacrifice for all of the people (see Leviticus chapter 16). Also, Moses came into the presence of God on Mount Sinai to receive His commandments, but anyone else who got too close was to be killed, even the animals (see Exodus 19:12-13).

Because of this separation, the people did not always see God’s light. They knew it was there, as we can tell from the many Old Testament scriptures that mention it. They would even sometimes try to follow God’s law, which was supposed to bring them light. However, just as the light of God’s presence faded from Moses’ face after he came down off of the mountain (see Exodus 34: 29-35), the people were incapable of remaining in the light of God’s law forever. The law would have brought life, but the people were already destined for death because of Adam and Eve’s sin (see Genesis 2:17 and 3:6). Their situation was completely desperate. Therefore, it became necessary for God to bring His light of life directly to His people and to tear down everything that had separated them. God spoke to His people through the prophet Isaiah (in Isaiah 9:1-7) to tell them what He was going to do:

“Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”

Later in the same book, Isaiah speaks for God in chapter 42, verses 6 and 7 to tell us that he is going to rescue not only the Israelites but the Gentiles as well, “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.”

We know that the One God is speaking of here is his only Son, Jesus.

Jesus Brought God’s Light to the People

The gospel of John speaks much about Jesus as a light coming into the darkness. In chapter 1, verses 4-18, John says of him:

“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

“There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

“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.

“(John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”

Later in the same book, in chapter 8 verse 12, Jesus says of himself, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life,” and he says the same in chapter 9 verse 5, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

We understand that the law was unsuccessful in giving the true light of life to the people, so God had to send His own Son to fulfill this purpose. But, what does this really mean in our lives? We know from verses like John 3:16 that we can have eternal life because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, but what does that have to do with the light? The rest of the passage, through verse 21, gives us some insight:

“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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”

In the Old Testament one of the main things that God’s light symbolizes is the truth, and Jesus’ light in the New Testament is no different. It shows man’s actions for what they are, and it helps to guide us in the right way to live. We can take Jesus’ life as an example of what we should do, including his compassion for those in need, his defense of the truth, and his complete sacrifice for those he loved. However, because of that sacrifice, even when we inevitably do wrong we know that God has saved us from the deadly punishment that we deserve. Jesus’ light shows us this truth most of all.

Something important to understand is that all of the things we know about God’s light are true of Jesus’ light as well. Whether we are talking about God the Father or about Jesus His Son, the light still represents majesty, comfort, guidance, truth, and life, and there are probably even other aspects that we have missed. What we need to realize is that Jesus is the perfect reflection of God’s light to the world. In Hebrews 1:3 we read, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” Jesus reflected God to the people so that they would know him. After declaring himself to be “the way and the truth and the life” in John 14:6, he says to his disciples in verse 7, “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” Earlier in John, in chapter 12, verses 44-46, we read, “Then Jesus cried out, “Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”

If we know Jesus, we should know the Father, but who exactly does Jesus show the Father to be? In 1 John chapter 4, in both verses 8 and 16, we read that “God is love.” Verses 9 and 10 say, “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.”

Jesus had to come into the physical world as a human being and to die a human death in order to show God’s love for us. He did this so that we could have eternal life in heaven. However, he also did it to show us how to love others here on earth. Continuing in verses 11 and 12, we read, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” In fact, Jesus’ light is all about love. John says earlier in 1 John 2:10-11, “Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.”

When Jesus was here on the earth, he was the perfect example of love. All throughout the gospels we read about the many miracles of healing he performed as he took compassion on the people he encountered. He showed his disciples how to love each other through service when he washed their feet in John chapter 13. Of course, his death on the cross shows us how to love through total sacrifice. In all of these things, Jesus perfectly reflected the light of God’s love to the people. However, Jesus couldn’t stay on earth forever. John 12:35-36 says:

“Then Jesus told them, ‘You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.’ When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.”

After Jesus died, rose again, and then ascended to heaven, he was no longer physically here on this earth. However, the light he brought was still here. It continued to shine in the people who believed in him and who lived lives of love, and that light is still shining today.

Continue to "Part III: MAN" to read about how Christians are the light of the world.