Monday, December 24, 2018

Let God's light shine through you

As Christmas approaches, the nights grow longer. Clouds often dim the little available daylight. This is a time when we celebrate light. We light advent candles in church and hang lights on our Christmas trees and houses and drive around to see our neighbors' decorations.

We love light. Flashlights, nightlights, porch lights, refrigerator lights; they make us feel safe. The first recorded word that God spoke was, “Let there be light!”

God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” (I John 1:5)

Sometimes, however, the darkness is within us. Sorrow and despair cloud our minds and our hearts. Christmas isn't merry for some. They look around and see a hurting world.

During a time when half of Israel has taken into captivity and the remnant was oppressed by other nations and their own cruel leaders, the prophet Isaiah wrote of a future hope, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned...” (Isaiah 9:2)

Jesus is that promised light. He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

The Gospel of John proclaims that the darkness cannot overcome the light. (John 1:5) Darkness is negative. It is the absence of light. It has no power of its own. All the darkness in the world can't put out a single candle. However, the smallest light shines brightest when it is darkest.

Light is greater than darkness and God’s good news is always greater than Satan’s bad news. Jesus' crucifixion could not extinguish the light, the cross would transform evil into good; a curse into a blessing.

The promised Savior had come to earth. He would love the world and bring his light to it. He would teach us his ways, and become the sacrifice for our sins.

Jesus told his followers, “You are the light of the world...” (Matthew 5:14)

The Bible says that Jesus' followers are “... a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light...” (1 Peter 2:9)

Darkness stunts growth and leads to death. Light, on the other hand, promotes growth. Bring the light wherever you go.

Let your light so shine before men,
that they may see your good works
and glorify your Father in heaven.
Matthew 5:16

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Healing our children

The Gospel of Luke tells us of a father who brought his son to Jesus' followers, seeking healing for his son's seizures. The disciples had failed and a mocking crowd had gathered when Jesus enters the scene. The father called out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.” (Luke 9:38-40, NIV)

The Apostle Paul wrote that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12,NIV)

This boy and his father were battling forces beyond their control. People, often, find themselves in terrible plight due to the powers that make decisions that impact all of our lives.

These decisions include deed restrictions that insured some neighborhoods would remain “white.” Unrestricted neighborhoods would have smaller lots, poorly built homes, inferior roads, sewage and other municipal services. These deed restrictions were struck down by the US Supreme Court in 1948 (Shelley v. Kraemer) but the damage was done. When you realize that the majority of most American's wealth is invested in their homes, you can see the long-lasting implications of this policy.

Another such decision occurred when the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) was created in 1934 to encourage home ownership during the Great Depression by guaranteeing bank loans. They green lined (approved) mortgages for new construction in the suburbs and red lined (declined) mortgages in inner-city areas with high crime rates, poor housing stock, and poor infrastructure. Those who could, moved out. Only the poorest remained. A lower tax base impacted the quality of schools trapping families into generational poverty.

In 2012, Pew Research named San Antonio the most economically segregated city in America. The south side has high unemployment, low high school graduation, few job opportunities, lack of nearby fresh food markets and healthcare, large numbers of people receiving government assistance. has declared the south side a low opportunity area for children, increasing vulnerability to human trafficking and drug addiction. A child born and raised in 78210 has a life expectancy 20 years shorter than one born & raised in the north side.

Like Jesus' disciples, non-profits, government agencies and churches want to help but seem to fall short. Donor contributions and tax dollars fund programs that show promise but generational poverty continues.

It is possible to overcome these unseen forces. Two Baptist Temple youth, who grew up on the south side and graduated from south side high schools, each received full scholarships to private universities in San Antonio. The resources to succeed are available on the south side. The key is to encourage more kids to take advantage of them.

Jesus succeeded where the disciples failed. Later, he would tell them that “This kind can come out only by prayer.” (Mark 9:29, NIV)

Spiritual weapons are required to fight spiritual battles. Jesus did three things in this passage:
  1. He REBUKED the spirit. We need to speak out against injustices that bring harm to vulnerable people.
  2. He HEALED the boy. We need to bring healing to the people of our communities through mentoring relationships that minister to physical and spiritual needs.
  3. He RETURNED the boy to his father. We need to restore families, not replace them.

The crowd that had gathered to mock the disciples for their failure, now were amazed at God's greatness. The church is at its best when it brings healing to our fallen world.