Church: Lamppost or Lighthouse

I love the analogy Jesus applied to himself and to His followers of light shining in the darkness. Speaking to His disciples, He said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)   He also said, “I am the Light of the world; He who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” (John 8:12)  Paul used the same metaphor in his letter to the Philippians.  He wrote, “So that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.” (Philippians 2:14)

The bottom line is this; God sends light into a dark world, a light with the power to dispel the darkness.  As John said in his Gospel, “And the light shines on in the darkness and the darkness has never overpowered it.” (John 1:3 Amplified Bible)

In addition to these biblical metaphors of candles on lamp stands, and cities on hills, historically the church has used the metaphor of a lighthouse to describe the purpose of the church in the world.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone pray, “Lord, make our church a lighthouse in this community.”  I understand their intent, and I have even prayed something similar myself in times past.  However, is this best figure of speech to describe the purpose of the Church?

While it is true, a lighthouse, like a church, serves as a beacon shining in the darkness, the analogy stops there.  Is the metaphor of a lighthouse the best way to communicate how the followers of Christ dispel the darkness in their world? I think not.  Let me suggest a different analogy – the lamppost.

A lighthouse is a tower, building, or other type of structure designed to emit powerful beams of light, and serve as a navigational aid to ships at sea Lighthouses mark dangerous coastlines, hazardous shoals, dangerous reefs, and safe entries to harbors.  A lamppost or streetlight is a raised source of light on the edge of a road or walkway.  From the time of the Greeks and Romans, lampposts served primarily for safety and security.  It is still the primary function of modern streetlights today.

Both the lighthouse and the lamppost serve to dispel the darkness.  The similarity however, ends there. The beacon from the lighthouse serves those many miles away, while the lamppost serves those nearby.  It is at this point the analogy of the lighthouse fails to communicate the true purpose and mission of the Church in general, and of local congregations in particular.

The image of a towering structure next to the ocean shining a beam of light seen hundreds of miles away is appealing; but does it help those who live in darkness next door?   Somehow, I don’t think Jesus was thinking about a lighthouse when He said, “You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14) nor when He said, “Let your light so shine before men that they my see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:16)

Letting our light “shine before men” happens locally, and in the context of real, authentic relationships.  What makes us think if our light does not shine in our neighborhood, we can somehow make it shine from our “lighthouse,” where we gather for worship miles away?

Honestly, we have enough religious lighthouses.  What we lack are lampposts – local communities of believers who are living out the light and life of Jesus and driving out the darkness in their neighborhoods.  We need to see the Body of Christ in the communities where people are broken by sin, suffering from hurt, and crying out for someone to love them.  It is here, next door, where we hear the cry, “Sir, we would see Jesus.”

In spite of what we learned from those gospel songs, the unsaved are not out there somewhere in the fast ocean of lostness looking for a beam from a lighthouse.  They live next door and down the street.  They and their families are groping for a light switch in the darkness of everyday living.  If the gospel light is not shining in our neighborhood through the way we do business, in the way we treat our neighbors, in our response to human suffering, through the feeding of the poor and caring for the most vulnerable, then the “light” from a lighthouse is meaningless!

The church can and should be a beacon for the truth and the love of God in a dark world.  However, our primary function is to shine God’s light in our immediate community – to be the lamppost on the street corner giving out the Gospel of God’s amazing grace.

The challenge is for us to be faithful lampposts where God has planted us, and to let our light shine so others may see His glory.

Can you hear me now?

Remember this familiar question?  It was part of a well-known TV commercial about a cellular provider claiming to have the capability to provide phone service almost anywhere.  Supposedly, if you used this company you would never have to ask, “Can you hear me now?”

Think about that question from a different perspective.  Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  For the follower of Christ, perhaps we should ask, “Can you hear Him now?”  Are we listening to what God is saying to us?

Hebrews 1:1-2 says, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. (Hebrews 1:1, 2 NASB)

Do we hear what God says to us through His Son?  God spoke clearly through His son Jesus.  He said, He loved the world so much that He gave His only son to take our place, and to become the sufficient sacrifice for our sins.

Do we hear what the Son says to us through His Spirit?  Jesus, before leaving His disciples, said, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.”  (John 16:12, 13 NASB)

Can we hear Him now?  If not, the problem is not with the provider.  He has provided everything we need to clearly hear what He has said, and what He continues to say.  The problem therefore, is not with God, but with us.

There could be several reasons we fail to hear God speaking to us.  First, we have to take the time to listen.  Many times, we are too busy to hear His voice.  The Psalmist said, “Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him;” (Psalm 37:7a NIV) Also, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10a NIV)

Often, the problem is too much noise.  Noise can drown out His voice, and make it difficult, if not impossible, to hear what God is saying to us.  Have you ever noticed how some people are not comfortable unless there is some kind of noise around them, radio, television, iPod, etc?  The human brain however, is limited in its capacity to intake noise.  It automatically filters out some of the noise.  Noise overload can keep us from hearing God’s message to us.

The most serious problem, however, is our inability to distinguish His voice from all the other “voices” that come at us each day.  If we do not know Him, we will not recognize His voice.  Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27 NIV) If you do not know the Shepherd, then you will not recognize His voice, nor will you be able to follow Him.

To illustrate this truth, a local pastor did voice recordings of several members of his congregation repeating the phrase, “Can you hear me now?”  He played the recordings to the congregation on a Sunday morning and asked if they recognized the voices.  Of course they did.  Almost all the members of the congregation identified the different people on the recordings.  I, on the other hand, did not recognize any of them.  I was a visitor, and although I was acquainted with some of the people, I could not identify any of their voices.  I did not have an ongoing relationship with them, and did not hear their voice on a regular basis.

The point is, unless we spend time with The Lord Jesus, and know Him intimately; we may not be able to recognize His voice when He speaks to us.  Knowing Him is a prerequisite to knowing His voice.

How do you know for sure it is The Lord speaking to you?  When I sense God leading or telling me to do something, I always ask, “How does this line up with the Scriptures and with God’s character?”  You can be sure, God never tells us to do something contrary to His character or His Word.

Can you hear Him now?  If it is a noise problem, turn the volume down and listen.  If it is a busyness issue, be still and wait upon Him.  If you cannot recognize His voice, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8 NASB)

If you cannot hear Him now, what is in the way, and what are you willing to do about it?

Does Practice Make Perfect?

Practice makes perfect!”  Is this true?  Does practice make perfect?

The origin of this familiar proverb comes from the Latin, “uses promptos facit” meaning
“use makes perfect.”  Teachers, trainers and coaches have used this phrase for years to encourage students and athletes to practice.  The idea is that through consistent, repetitive practice you can increase your skills and achieve your goals.*

Although continuous, dedicated practice shows discipline and hard work, the reality is, practice alone cannot make us perfect. Practice increases productivity, improves performance, and may enable us to reach an exceptional level of accuracy.  It cannot however, make us perfect!

So, why do we continue to foster this myth on our students, our children and ourselves?  A quick search on the Internet turns up some scary thinking about how intentional practice can make you the best in anything you want to do.  Practice is important, but we cannot practice our way into perfection!

Not only does practice not make perfect, it cannot make up for a lack of talent.  The NBC reality show, “America’s Got Talent,” underscores this truth.  Singers, dancers, magicians, comedians, and other performers compete for the prize of one million dollars. However, some of the people who try out for this talent show appear to have no talent at all.

I remember, as a youngster growing up, I loved to play basketball and dreamed of becoming a professional player in the NBA. I practiced like crazy, thinking that practice would somehow make up for my lack of talent. I had a little talent and an enormous amount of desire, but playing in the NBA was not going to happen regardless of how much I practiced.

Is there anything that can make us perfect?  That depends on our definition of perfect. If perfection is “an unsurpassable degree of accuracy or excellence in an activity or performance,” then I am afraid none of us will ever achieve it.  Nothing is “unsurpassable.”  There is always room for improvement and growth.  If we define perfection as “freedom from fault or defect,” then there is no hope for any of us to be perfect, with or without practice.

When I think about perfection, there is only one person who comes to mind who was and is, perfect.  That person is Jesus – the One we worship as Lord and God.  Practice did not make Him perfect.  He is perfect by nature, and completely without sin or fault.  Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The One who “had no sin” was “made sin” on our behalf, so we might “become” the very righteousness of God.  What an awesome thought!  What a life-changing truth.  We will never achieve perfection on our own, yet in Christ we can become the very righteousness of God!

We can say with confidence, practice does not make perfect.  With equal confidence we can say, the only perfect person who ever lived, gave His life so we might have a perfect right standing before God.  Through His death on a cross, Jesus makes us perfect in His righteousness!

Practice does not make us perfect!  However, Jesus’ death on the cross can give you a perfect standing before a Holy and Righteous God.  In this sense, you become perfect in Him.  That is why Paul said with conviction, “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold new things have come.  Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18)

Stop trying to practice your way to perfection.  It cannot be done!  Put your trust in the only One who is perfect – Jesus Christ.

Larry Doyle

  • * From “Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings” by Gregory Y. Titleman (Random House, New York, 1996)

Ashamed?

Here is a story from God’s Word about how something shameful became a person’s greatest source of glory and pride.

Sometime after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, Saul of Tarsus arrived in Jerusalem.  He came to Jerusalem to study religion with a well-known Jewish Rabbi by the name of Gamaliel.  Saul was from a devout Jewish family and a Roman citizen by birth.  He was proud of his Jewish heritage, and could trace his ancestry back to the Tribe of Benjamin, one of the original 12 tribes of Israel.  His love and passion for Jewish law and traditions caught the attention of the religious leaders in Jerusalem, and he rose quickly through the ranks to become a leader among the Pharisees.

Shortly after arriving in Jerusalem, Saul began to hear the stories of the recent uproar over a rabbi and teacher called Jesus of Nazareth.  Some people said this Jesus was the long awaited Messiah.  Others said he was a prophet. Saul’s Jewish teachers, however, assured him this Jesus was nothing more than a troublemaker and a blasphemer.  They shared with him some of the many rumors and stories about Jesus, such as the time Jesus said he was going to destroy the Temple and build it again in only three days.  The most disturbing thing Saul heard about Jesus was his claim to be equal with God.

In addition to the rumors, Saul also learned the religious authorities arrested Jesus, tried him for blasphemy and treason, and crucified him along with two other common criminals.  The thought of the Jewish Messiah dying on a cross in public disgrace was scandalous.  Shameful!  This was certainly not the Messiah Saul and his ancestors expected. What surprised Saul was the fact that Jesus’ followers were not ashamed at all.  Instead, they seemed to be proud of it.  Even worse, now they were spreading the rumor that Jesus arose from the dead and was alive! How could that be?

Saul was troubled and angered as he saw the growing popularity of this sect.   Their message was spreading like a firestorm throughout Jerusalem.  All the talk kindled unrest in Saul’s heart, and his hatred grew. Soon, Saul joined other leaders who were trying to destroy the movement.  He actively participated in the stoning of Stephen, one of the sect’s leaders.  After this experience, he became even more embittered and determined to stop this heresy.

Stephen’s death caused the group to scatter outside of Jerusalem.  When Saul learned this, he asked the Chief Priest for permission to go with authority to the synagogues in Damascus to arrest and bring back to Jerusalem anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus.

On the road to Damascus, something happened to Saul that altered the course of his life.  About noon, a light brighter than the sun itself blinded him.  He fell to the ground in terror, and heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”  Saul responded, “Lord, who are you?”  Then he heard the words that changed his life forever, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”  “Get up, and go into the city, and it will be told to you what you must do.”

When he got up, he was completely blind.  Someone had to lead him the rest of the way into Damascus.  There, he spent three days in prayer without food or drink.  As he was praying, a man came into the house with an amazing message.  The man’s name was Ananias.  God spoke to Ananias that same day, and told him to go to the house belonging to a man by the name of Judas.  There, he would find Saul of Tarsus in prayer.

Ananias had heard of Saul, and he was afraid. He wondered why God would send him to a man he knew hated and persecuted followers of Christ.  He also knew Saul came to Damascus with the authority to arrest anyone teaching about Jesus.  However, God assured him He had special plans for this man Saul.  Therefore, Ananias obeyed God and went.

Ananias entered the house; spoke to Saul, and laid his hands on his head.  Saul received his sight, and was filled with the Holy Spirit.  Saul, later called Paul, became known as the “Apostle to the Gentiles” and he helped to spread the message of Christ throughout the Roman Empire.

It is interesting to reflect that Paul, who had physical vision, was so blind to the truth of the Gospel. God had to take his physical sight away so he could see the truth before him in Jesus Christ.

What he once believed to be disgusting and shameful – the Messiah dying on a cross – became the only thing in which he would glory. In addition, the truth that the Messiah arose from the dead became the cornerstone of his faith.  Telling that story became the driving passion of Paul’s life.

After his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road, Paul would never be ashamed of the message of Jesus death, burial and resurrection.  Years later, in a letter to the Christians in Rome, he explained why he was not ashamed, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ because it is the power of God unto salvation. . .”  (Romans 1:16a)

Are you ashamed of the Gospel, or are you like Paul, telling everyone you meet?

Larry Doyle

Note:  The biblical texts used in this story – Acts  9:1-19; Philippians 3:2-11; Galatians 1:11-24; Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Commitment or Surrender?

Recently, I have seen several United States Marine Corps billboards with the slogan, “We don’t accept applications, only commitments.” The message is clear.  Don’t sign up Only Commitments 2unless you are ready to make a serious commitment.  The billboard message reminded me of a similar message Jesus gave to those who expressed interest in becoming His followers without truly understanding what it was they were asking.

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25 (NASB)

While commitment may be sufficient for the United States Marines, Jesus demands much more from His followers.  According to the New Testament, Jesus does not accept applications or commitments, only total surrender.  While it is true a commitment is better than an application, following Jesus goes far beyond a simple commitment.  In other words, nothing short of complete submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ will do for those who wish to become His followers.

The problem is the word commitment does not adequately describe what is required to follow Jesus.  The story of the rich young ruler illustrates what it means to totally surrender to Jesus.  We find this story in Matthew 19:16-22 (NIV)

Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”  “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good.  If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”Which ones?” the man inquired. Jesus replied, “‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.'”  “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack? Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.  “When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

 

Jesus knew what this young man needed to lay aside in order to totally surrender his life to Christ. We may not be rich, but we all have things we cling to, things we do not want to let go of, that in effect, we hold in a higher esteem than we do our Lord. He is not the Lord of our life if we do not let go of our stuff, and put Him first. He is Sovereign!  He is Lord!  He deserves and demands nothing less than unconditional surrender of our lives. We should freely give ourselves to Him.

This past Saturday, I attended the funeral service of a dear missionary friend, Dr. Ronald Hill.  Ron and his wife Evelyn gave their lives to spread the Gospel in Thailand for 41 years.  After his retirement in 1993, Dr. Hill continued to serve others, working with Laotian and Burmese immigrants in North Carolina, up until his death at 86.  His life was an example of total surrender.

The United States Marine Corps is looking for commitment.  Jesus is looking for surrender.  We make commitments for many different reasons – a sense of obligation, duty, or loyalty.  Surrender however, requires love and submission.  This is why Jesus defined the first and greatest commandment in this way, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Matthew 22:37 (NIV)

Is your relationship with Jesus a matter of commitment or surrender?

Checking Our Blind Spot

We know how important it is to check your blind spot when you are driving.  It is one of the most important lessons we learn in driver’s education class.  Failing to check the blind spot could easily result in an accident.  After years of insistence and persistenceBlind spot mirror from my wife, I finally purchased blind spot mirrors for our cars.  Now, I don’t know how I got along without them all these years.  And, I don’t know why I waited so long.  They have literally saved my life more than once!

There are however, other kinds of blind spots in life equally important.  The truth is, most of us have huge blind spots when it comes to understanding ourselves, and seeing ourselves as others see us.  It is easy to recognize the faults and shortcomings of others, and to fail to see our own.  Jesus taught this truth to His disciples, “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?” Matthew 7:3 (NASB)

Our inability to recognize our weaknesses and vulnerabilities are also dangerous to our spiritual and emotional health.  After the last supper with His disciples, Jesus predicted His arrest by the authorities and His subsequent death.  Then He said to His disciples, “You will all fall away because of me this night.” Simon Peter answered and said, “Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.”  To this, Jesus responded, “Truly I say to you that this very night, before a cock crows, you shall deny Me three times.”  Peter then exclaimed, “Even if I must die with You, I will not deny you.” (Matthew 26:31-35)  We all know what happened shortly afterward.  In the face of accusations from a little girl, Peter denied the Lord three times.

It is obvious; Peter had a huge blind spot.  He was not self-aware. It cost him his testimony and broke his heart.  It took the convicting work of God’s Spirit to bring him to a point where he could see both his strengths and his weaknesses, and to the realization that he must depend totally on God.  Many years later, a more humble and self-aware, Simon Peter, would write these words:

“If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever.  Amen.”  1 Peter 4:11 (NIV)

God’s Word serves as a spiritual “blind spot mirror.” The Apostle Paul wrote, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”  Romans 12:3 (NIV)

God’s Word, just like the mirrors on our cars is effective only if we put it to use.  God’s Word is not a magical book of formulas and incantations to be recited when we are in trouble or need advice.  In a real sense it serves as a mirror, reflecting back to us the reality of our sins and human limitations, of God’s mercy and grace, and God’s desire to transform us into “likeness of His Son.”  In order for God’s Word to be effective we must apply and obey the Word, not just hear it.

“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.  But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.” James 1:22-25 (NASB)

Have you checked your blind spot today?

No Expiration Date

We often worry about expiration dates on medicine and food, and we should. There are some things however, that do not have an expiration date; their shelf life is limitless. One of those things is God’s calling on our lives.  The Scripture says, “… for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.”  (Romans 11:29)

The following story from Bryan Presson, a pastor and church planter working with refugees and immigrants from Burma, in Greensboro, NC, illustrates this truth.  He shares this powerful story of God’s calling and of His faithfulness to those whom He calls.

“In the service of God, one often finds interesting coincidences as evidence of God’s grace working in our lives. This past Sunday, we had a special speaker from Burma/Myanmar at our church –the uncle of one of our members here in Greensboro. (Due to strict government control and the desire to protect the individuals involved, I cannot give names and places.) This man is the pastor of the “T” Karen Church in a mountainous part of Burma. His small village, “T” holds a special place in my heart, because it is where my wife Paula and I felt God speaking to us about ministering to the Burmese mountain hill tribes.

Back in 1985, Paula and I traveled there to connect with churches regarding a pastors training we were helping to set up. Back then, communication was difficult and dangerous, so personal contact was necessary. We traveled on an ancient overnight train, got off in the middle of nowhere, and took an eight hour ride in a pick-up truck through several treacherous mountain passes to get to the small village of “T.” On the way, we passed beautiful teak tree forests and village after village of poor tribal mountain people. Our hearts were touched by seeing so many people, but few, if any, churches. As we were burdened about these precious folks and wondering who would share the Gospel with them, we felt God began to speak to us about the Burmese. It seemed odd to us at the time, since we were working with the Thai people.

However, instead of connecting with any churches, as soon as we arrived in “T,” I became so ill with some tropical fever that I was unable to even move. Paula thought at one time I might not make it, but with God’s grace, prayer, and her nursing skills, I finally pulled through. However, I was so weak we had to leave, and were not able to go out to find the churches. We did eventually hold several pastors conferences in one of the main cities, but I always felt like a failure regarding “T” because I was unable to connect with anyone there at the time.

By God’s grace, we did ultimately work with Burmese/Karen hill tribes in Thailand, and now we have, by that same grace, planted a Burmese refugee Karen church here in Greensboro. Now, God, in his mercy and amazing grace, brought the pastor of the “T” church to the United States, to Greensboro, NC to speak in our church this past Sunday. Talking with Pastor H, he said he was actually in “T” in 1985 as a youth pastor.

Pastor H has invited me to come to his church sometime in the near future. The Karen here in Greensboro have been putting money in a “missions” offering box for years for the purpose of supporting mission efforts in their home towns and villages. The Karen have told me they want to take me back to their villages to preach the Gospel to their unsaved relatives and friends. Now I have an invitation to “T.” Perhaps after over 20 years, it is time to complete the visit I started so long ago, Lord willing.

God does not make mistakes!  There are no coincidences in His providence.  Everything works together for His sovereign purposes, especially the desires His Spirit places in our hearts.  “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him, and He will do it.” (Psalms 37:4, 5 NASB)

When God calls, He is always faithful to complete His divine purpose. He doesn’t have expiration dates. We can trust Him to do what He promises.  He will always come through for us. The difficulty we have is our understanding of His will, and our obedience to His calling.  Perhaps the greatest promise of God’s faithfulness is found in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, “Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.” (1 Thess.5:24).

The words to a favorite hymn say, “Great is Thy faithfulness, O Lord my Father.  There is no shadow of turning with Thee.”  Do we believe these words?  Remember, you can trust Him.  He is always faithful, even when we are not. His faithfulness never expires!

Never too young & never too old… To be On Mission

Noah Doyle and Virginia Graves were the youngest and oldest members on our Honduran mission team this year. For the fourteen-year-old Noah, it was his third trip to the Central American country in as many years.  Ms. Virginia, at 83, returned to Honduras for the second straight year.  If you think about it, neither one of them sound like good candidates for a mission trip to Central America. However, young Noah and Ms. Virginia were exactly where God wanted them to be, and made a huge impact on both the Honduran people we went to serve, and the other members of the team. The courage, sacrifice and dedication they displayed all week inspired everyone.

In order to make the trip, both had to overcome significant challenges, not the least of which was raising the funds to pay for the trip. Their greatest challenge however, was the language barrier.  Even though serving people of a different culture was clearly out of their comfort zone, they did not allow their lack of Spanish to keep them from loving and serving the Honduran people.

Noah and Virginia were like magnets all week.  Wherever they went, they drew a crowd of children! It was obvious to everyone how much they loved the children, and how much the children loved them back!

Noah not only played with the children, he took the initiative to pray with them.  He also shared his testimony and prayed with adults, while prayer walking the neighborhoods of Naranjal and Sabanita.  Although he was the youngest member of the VBS team, he was always ready to do his part to make the team’s ministry successful.  He took to heart what Paul said in 1Timothy 4:12  Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.  Noah lived out that scripture the entire week, and I am grateful for his testimony to the Honduran people.  Noah is my grandson, which might explain why I was so impressed by his contributions to our mission work.

Even though she walked with a cane, Ms. Virginia did not slow down the medical team, and she never complained about the rough paths, uneven walkways, and dirt roads. Her job that week was to make sure everyone coming through the clinic got the correct dosage of parasite medicine. You might think her years of training, and her experience as a nurse in the Korean War might have over-qualified her for a job of handing out pills, but not according to her.  She loved what she did, and did it with joy. She wanted everyone to know Jesus loved them, and in her limited Spanish, she communicated that message as she handed out the balloons and toys she brought to give the children.

Ms. Virginia was a living example of what the Psalmist said in Psalms 92:12-14a The righteous man (or woman) will flourish like a palm tree; He (she) will grow like a cedar.  Planted in the house of the Lord, They will flourish in the courts of our God.  They will still yield fruit in old age.

I cannot tell you how much these two team members inspired me. Their ministry during the week reminded me you are never too young, or too old to be on mission.  Mission is not just what we do in a foreign country; rather it is a lifestyle we choose.  It is living out God’s love, and sharing His Gospel every day, right where we live.

Where are you serving as a missionary?  How effective is your service?  You cannot use age as an excuse because being a missionary has nothing to do with how old, or how young you are.  God has a plan and purpose for us at every stage in our life, and every day He brings divine encounters into our lives so His glory can be made known and His love experienced.

You are never too old or too young to make a difference, especially when it concerns being on a mission to advance the Kingdom of God.

The Brightness of His Glory

In July 2010, Paul Crowther, Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, announced he and his research team had discovered the brightest star in the universe. The mass of the star is roughly 265 times that of our sun. But that’s nothing. The brightness of this star is some 10 million times brighter than the light of our sun! Not even a welder’s helmet would help you face the light from this giant!

Think about it: The star, currently named R136a1, is not two times brighter than our sun. It is not ten times brighter. It is not a hundred times brighter, or a thousand times brighter. It is not a million times brighter! This newly identified star is ten million times brighter than our sun! How can anything be that bright?

Just as it is difficult for us to comprehend such a bright star, it is infinitely more difficult for us to wrap our minds around the brightness of God’s glory. Paul, in his letter to Timothy described the presence of God as an “unapproachable light.”  (1Timothy 6:16)  Nothing in our human experience compares to this kind of light. Its brightness is truly unequaled.

Long before the University of Sheffield research team made its historic discovery, the star had been giving off its incredible light for centuries. God placed this star exactly where it is at the beginning of creation. Look how long it took for us to see something so bright and so wonderful in our own universe.

Similarly, God’s matchless glory has been shining in the world since the beginning of time. (Romans 1:20) How many of us miss the light of the Son in our lives, when He is right there, as bright as can be?

Fortunately, we don’t need an elaborate telescope or a team of scientists to discover God’s glory. All we need is to spend time in His Word. There, we can find Him. In His Word, we can see the brightness of His glory in the face of His Son. “For God, who said, ‘Let the light shine out of darkness, has made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”  (2 Corinthians 4:6)

God chose to reveal His unsurpassable glory in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.  John’s Gospel introduces Jesus as the “true light, and the light that enlightens every man coming into the world,” (John 1:9).  As a personal testimony, the Apostle John said, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory as the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”  (John 1:14).

God, through the coming of His Son, broke into our darkness with the unsurpassable brightness of His glory. The reality is many have not yet discovered the light of God’s presence. How is that possible?  Why can’t everyone see it clearly?

Here’s the answer Paul gave to that very question, “But if our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:  In whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” (2 Corinthians 4:4 KJV)

The truth is, this unparalleled light of the glory of God is always present in our world.  Millions of people however, do not see it, and will not see it, until, by God’s grace; the Gospel enters their hearts and dispels the darkness.

For this reason our message must be clear: “We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord.” (2 Cor. 4:5).  Our lives must be beyond reproach: “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.”  (Philippians 2:15)  And, our mission must be compelling:  “As the Father has sent Me, so send I you.”  (John 20:21)

Larry Doyle

Note:  The idea for this article came from Steve Doyle – The Harbins Post, September 15, 2011.  The information about the discovery of the star, R136a1, comes from Michael Sheridan, “Scientists find what may be universe’s heaviest star, R136a1,” New York Daily News (7-21-10).

Being Real: The Gospel According to the Velveteen Rabbit

For some of us, one of life’s greatest struggles is being authentic and transparent in our relationships: in other words, being real. Being real is not easy!  Why is this is so hard for us?  I believe part of the answer can be found in the children’s story, “TheThe Velveteen Rabbit Velveteen Rabbit.”

The Velveteen Rabbit was feeling insignificant and ignored.  He asked the old Skin Horse, “What is real?” “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”   The Skin Horse responded by saying, “Real isn’t how you are made,” “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become real.”

His next question was, “Does it hurt?”  The unforgettable answer was, “Sometimes.”  “When you are real you don’t mind being hurt.”  The Rabbit then asked if it happens all at once or if it happens “bit by bit.”  Here is that classic response:

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”  

In other words, being real means experiencing love – living in relationships where love is given and received.

When we are real, we know what it means to love, and to be loved.  As human beings, we were created to living in community, and to experience love in and through these communities.  This is the ideal.  This is what God intended and designed for us.

According to the Bible, God’s desire for us is to live in community with others, to be authentic and to be real.  Just as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist in community, we too are designed to live life in relationship others.  So, why is it so difficult for us to be real?

One word sums up our problem, and that word is fear.  If being real means being loved, what is the opposite of love?  When I ask people this question, the most frequent response is, hate.  That cannot be correct because the Bible says God, as pure love, hates many things such as deception and abuse of the weak.  Moreover, the Bible also says, “There is no fear in love: but perfect love cast out fear …” (1 John 4:18a)   Therefore, the opposite of love, God’s unconditional love, is fear.

Fear keeps us from loving and being love!  It is fear that destroys relationships and keeps us from being authentic and real.  Fear of being hurt keeps us from being vulnerable and developing close, healthy relationships.  Fear of rejection keeps us from developing and investing in friendships, leaving us isolated and alone.  Fear is the epitome of self-centeredness and is the by-product of selfishness.  Fear drives us away from people and toward self-dependency that ultimately leads to self-destruction.

The good news is “God is love” and He has not given us “the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”  (2 Timothy 1:7)  He sent His only Son to show us how to become real.  In Christ, we discover how, by God’s grace, we can become real by coming to know the One who is love incarnate.  “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son to be the propitiation for our sins.”  (1 John 4:10)

Be real, by becoming real through Jesus Christ!

Larry Doyle

The Velveteen Rabbit, or, How Toys Become Real (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., [1922]), by Margery Williams, illust. By William Nicholson / Copyright © 1922 [expired in USA] Margery Williams (1881-1944)