Category Archives: Light in the Darkness

Light in the Darkness

“A very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying:   “Hosanna to the Son of David!  ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’  Hosanna in the highest!”   Matthew 21:8-9

Chuck Warnoc, a small church pastor and regular contributor to Outreach Magazine, in a message titled, “What Kind of King Did You Expect?,” wrote, “If Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was triumphal on Palm Sunday, what went wrong less than a week later?

Why did the crowds who adored Jesus on Sunday, turn on him by Friday of that week?” Both the title and the questions are thought-provoking.

This is especially so in this day when there are so many different ideas and images of just who Jesus really is. Paul implied early on that there would be those who would proclaim a gospel (s) different from the one revealed by Jesus.

Such a perverted gospels would, come from men emanating from the human heart which God long ago warned is, “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.”  (Jeremiah 17:9).

Such were the hearts of many in that crowd who greeted Jesus that day He rode into Jerusalem. It was the day we now call Palm Sunday, remembering the palm fronds and garments they used to pave His way.

They had their own idea who Jesus was and what He had come to do. And they were wrong.

A few days later, when they realized that Jesus was not who they had expected Him to be, many turned on Him and joined the crowds crying out for His crucifixion.

Not that their expectations did not seem reasonable to some degree. Certainly the Jewish people were right in their anticipation that a king would come from the line of David. Years before they had heard the rumors that this king had been born in Bethlehem.

And, after all, what do kings do but protect their people from their enemies?  In their case it was the occupying Roman forces.

What you might not know is that Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem that day was not the only one the people witnessed. Historians tell us that Pontius Pilate had come to Jerusalem that same day. He knew that the Passover Feast celebrated the deliverance of the Jews from their Egyptian oppressors. He was also aware of the rumors that a King and deliverer had been born of the Jews and there were rumors that Jesus was that king.

That, combined with the increased activity among the Zealots and others, caused Pilate to consider Jerusalem be at ‘Code Red’.

So, though his preferred headquarters was in Caesarea-by-the-Sea, he had traveled with a contingent of his finest military to Jerusalem just in case. On that day of two spectacular entries into Jerusalem, Pilate’s was a show of military might and strength while Jesus’ was meant to demonstrate just the opposite.

But back to the problem of the heart. All that threatening display of might and power on Pilate’s part, along with the heightened awareness that God was doing something spectacular caused many to believe that the deliverer, the Son of David, had come to dramatically overthrow the Roman oppressors and that meant the army which had just arrived.

Their desires for freedom and deliverance, fed by fertile imaginations led them to unbiblical expectations. Jesus was coming to show Rome who God’s people were!

Talk about anticipation and excitement! But a few days later they realized their mistake. Yet having made wrong assumptions, they did not blame themselves as they ought to have done, but rather turned on Jesus.

Oh, how he had let them down. He was, in many eyes, a fraud who had gotten their hopes sky high only to dash them to the ground and so,  “Crucify him!!”, they screamed.

What do you do when the Jesus you thought you knew doesn’t do for you as you expected? In your disappointment do you turn away from Him or do you in humility, recognize who it is who was wrong?

The true test of faith and those who prove they have it, are those who remain faithful and obedient even when the Savior disappoints. They recognize that the disappointment resulted not from His lack of love or ability, but from our own desires and expectations that distorted our image of who He is.

Pastor David M. Grey      

Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church 

Light in the Darkness

“The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him”            (Nahum 1:7)  

I read somewhere that the simple affirmation that God is good is a wonderful and marvelous thing to consider.

It is certainly true. Think what an all powerful, all knowing God who is everywhere at once would be like if he was not also good. Perfectly good and unchanging.

Imagine even a god who is good today but might change his mind at any given moment. What a frightful thing to contemplate.

A. W. Tozer believed (and rightly so, I think) that we tend, “by a secret law of the soul” to gravitate toward our mental image of God and that in so doing, over time, we grow to resemble that mental image.

As a result, Mr. Tozer was convinced that what comes to your mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you. Lofty thoughts of God bring us into a more pure worship and careful walk, while low thoughts of God defile us as our deceitful hearts ultimately corrupt that walk.

The bottom line is that you become what you believe about God. Now, that is not to say that this happens apart from the ministry and work of the Holy Spirit but that He works through our thoughts and meditations upon who God is.

If we conclude that God is who He says He is, a good God and that He has our best interests at heart, then we naturally  hold that His Word is true and the necessary guide for all of life. One thing leads to another and another and we are transformed by the Holy Spirit into the image of God, the Son.

Make no mistake, the goodness by which God makes possible our reconciliation, and by which He will one day judge the world, doesn’t mean that all will be saved and none lost (Romans 11:22).

To commit sin is always, in one way or another, to refuse the benevolence of God’s will and if we’re lost in eternity, it will be the consequence of having refused that love for so long that time ran out (John 3:16-19).

Some will simply not accept God on His terms, and we’re told that these will experience, “everlasting separation from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

It is not so much that God sends them to eternal punishment as that He allowed them the freedom to choose and they will not have for all of eternity that which they chose while choice was still theirs. God will not force His goodness upon any whose final choice is to refuse it.

But no one needs to reject the truth about God’s goodness. Peter wrote that we can entrust ourselves “to a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19).

This truth is far reaching. Whoever truly comes to terms with the unfailing goodness of God will never again treat sin or future concerns in the same way.

A deep, grateful confidence that God is good will win the war against both wickedness and worry.

Pastor David M. Grey

Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church

Light in the Darkness

“I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst.” Hosea 11:9

Some may wonder why I am writing so much about the holiness of God? Why is it so important?

Well, it is important because it is nothing less than His holiness that we need. We do not need moral perfection according to any other standard. We need God’s very Holiness within.

We human beings, even (dare I say especially?) Christians, are too often content with a simple standard of morality. Such contentment, even with the highest standard of moral behavior reveals a sad misunderstanding of what God requires.

It blinds us to true holiness and more often than not results in silly standards and behavior. When true holiness as God means it, is confused with morality…  no matter how high that standard of morality… it muddies the waters terribly.

It seems right, but it is so, so wrong. The standard is mistaken for true holiness of life.

Thus ‘holiness’ becomes associated strictly with outward behavior, resulting in prohibitions against things like drinking, dancing, playing cards, chewing tobacco, the use of makeup, attending  movies and a score of other behaviors. When such moral standards are equated with Christianity, thinking saints have questions and are often confused.

I remember well attending a church sponsored night at the roller rink and one of the women who loved to ‘dance’ on roller skates (and boy could she make those skates sing!) asked the question, why is it is OK to dance with wheels on our feet but it is prohibited otherwise?

There was also the standard that Christians did not attend the movies but nearly everyone had a television. What made the big screen sinful but the little screen OK?

Or, and this one that many struggle with, if the drinking of all alcohol is bad why did Jesus turn water into wine? Why does it say that an elder must not be a man who drinks too much? And if all alcohol is bad, why did Paul tell Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach’s sake and his chronic illnesses?

Questions which led to confusion and ultimately to guilt-ridden behavior when the believer secretly engaged in those practices they were told were wrong. Why? Because the focus was upon a moral standard or code without understanding that the holiness God requires is nothing less than His holiness operating in our lives.

There is no true holiness in mere morality. Though there may be much that is highly esteemed among men, there is nothing about it that is right in the sight of God. That holiness operating in us results in the best of moral behavior, of course. Do not misunderstand. But it is so very much more.

Joel Scandrett, an associate editor with Intervarsity Press, put it well when he wrote “I believe one crucial ingredient to healing our moral confusion is the recovery of the biblical idea of holiness, which, though it results in private morality is in truth, so much more. (It is) the very life of God in us. Holiness stands at the beginning and centre of God’s call on our lives: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” (Lev. 11:44).

Biblical “holiness” carries a strong secondary connotation of moral purity, of course, but moral purity is not, first and foremost, what Scripture is talking about.

Instead, the most basic meaning of the words is to be “set apart” or “dedicated” to God. “I will be your God, and you will be my people,” says Yahweh (Lev. 26:12; Heb. 8:10).

Thus, prior to any consideration of morality, biblical holiness describes a unique relationship that God has established and desires with his people. This relationship has moral ramifications, true enough, but it precedes moral behavior.

Before we are ever called to be good, we are called to be holy. Unless we understand this, we fall into the inevitable trap of reducing holiness to mere morality.

How much more God is asking of us than mere morality! As long as our notions of holiness are limited to doing certain things and not doing other things, we can go through our entire lives obeying the rules (or at least maintaining the appearance of doing so) without dealing with a far more fundamental question: To whom do we give our first love and loyalty?

To be a disciple of Jesus Christ requires nothing less than death to our fallen, egocentric selves in order that we might live in and for him. “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it,” says Jesus, “but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:35-36).”

Why study the holiness of God? Because the Christian life is nothing less than His Holiness in us. It is not some imitation of His life or adherence to his perceived standard. It is not simply obedience to some moral code. It is not even doing what Jesus would do.

It is His life,  his holiness within, lived out in us. As the Apostle Paul said, “For me to live is Christ.”

 

Pastor David M. Grey

Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church

Light in the Darkness

“There is none holy like the Lord, there is none besides thee.” 1 Samuel 2:2

“I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst.” Hosea 11:9

God is holy because He is God and not man. His holiness is his essence and it is utterly unique.  It is who He is, what He is and is not determined by anyone or anything else.

His holiness is what he is as God and is what no one else is or ever will be. He alone is infinite, unchanging, eternal. He is in a class by himself.  He is the Alpha and Omega. Everything begins and ends with God.

We can never understand the full significance of anything until we understand its relation to God. This also means that ultimately, everything is about Him. All praise and thanksgiving; all worship, honor and glory are due Him. All.

Unfortunately, because He has been so very gracious to us who have believed; because Has been so wonderfully kind to us, it is easy for us to begin to think and act like everything is about us, but it most certainly is not.

All existence holds its being in Him and the zeal of God burns for the holiness of his great name. (Ezekiel 36:22).  That holiness is manifested dramatically whenever it encounters un-holiness in any form.

As Habakkuk says: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil, and you cannot tolerate wrong.” (1:13).

Furthermore, because He alone is Holy, in the final analysis, all the evil in the world is an offense against Him only. David understood this in a most personal way. He cried out, “against you and you only have I sinned.”

I wrote last week that the holiness of God cannot be described or expressed in words. Rather we understand the holiness of God through its effect upon the unholy.

When the un-holiness of men is confronted with the holiness of God, the result is dramatic. Isaiah, upon seeing the Lord cried out, “Woe unto me. I am undone for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips!”

Even God’s prophet, chosen for his faithfulness and obedience to God, could not stand comfortably in His presence but felt apart. A psychologist would describe his experience as one of personal disintegration.

A person who believes he or she did the right thing to get saved has no awareness of how deeply stained they really are. We must be undone before we can be remade. The Holy Spirit has to awaken us to our sinfulness before we can be summoned to His grace.

I close this week’s column with an illustration. I understand that it is a true account and helps to illustrate the kind of attitude the Lord is looking for as he reaches out to draw a man or woman to him.

KING FREDERICK II, an 18th-century king in Prussia (Germany), was visiting a prison in Berlin when the inmates crowded around him to proclaim their innocence. All, that is, except one man. He sat quietly in the corner, head bowed.

“Frederick walked over to him and said, ‘What are you here for?’”  “Armed robbery, your majesty,’ the man replied. ‘And, are you guilty?’ the king asked. ‘Yes, sir. I deserve this punishment.’

“The king turned to the guard and ordered, ‘Set this guilty man free. I don’t want him corrupting all these other innocent people.’”

Pastor David M. Grey

Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church    

Light in the Darkness

“And they were calling to one another:   “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3). 

“Who among the gods is like you, O Lord?   Who is like you — majestic in holiness.”  (Exodus 15:11)

We are told that God’s Holiness is so central to His being that, “Holy is His name.” (Luke 1:49); and, because  we are told to, “be holy for He is holy” (several times in Leviticus and again in 1 Peter 1) it is important that we know what God means when He says that He is Holy.

Now this is not as easy a task as it may seem because God never tells us straight out what He means by His holiness. He can’t.

This is not because of any inability on His part but on ours. Words we would understand simply would do nothing to communicate what it means that God is Holy.

I like the way that A. W. Tozer put it.  “He is holiness Himself… beyond the ability of thought to grasp or word to express.  Language cannot express the holy, so God resorts to association and suggestion. He cannot say it outright because He would have to use words that we don’t know the meaning of, and we would then, of course, take the words He used and translate them downward into our terms.

“If He were to use a word describing His own holiness we could not understand that word as He uttered it. He would have to translate it down into our un-holiness. If He were to tell us how white He is we would translate it into terms of dingy grey.

“So, unable to communicate His holiness in words, God uses association and suggestion… he shows us His holiness by showing how that holiness affects the unholy.”

An illustration of what Tozer means by association and suggestion is seen when Moses comes into the presence of God at the burning bush (Exodus 3).

Moses is told to take off his sandals for he is standing on holy ground. Then, when Moses hears God say, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” he hid his face, afraid to look at God.

Another illustration is given in the book of Isaiah (chapter 6). The Prophet was given a vision of the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted and when he hears the creatures around that throne crying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” Isaiah says that he cried out, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips.”

In R.C. Sproul’s, “The Holiness of God,”  the author reaffirms that encountering God’s holy presence is the one thing that reveals to us our own great depravity and need.

“When we understand the character of God, when we grasp something of His holiness, then we begin to understand the radical character of our sin and hopelessness.”

How true. Jonathan Edward’s well known sermon titled, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”  is often credited with beginning of a great spiritual awakening in America. It is unfortunate that both the title and the content lead readers to conclude that Edward’s emphasis was on the terrible flames of hell. On careful consideration, however, one realizes that the message reveals man’s utter sinfulness relative to a holy God.

Understood in this way, it becomes clear the theme of the message is not the fiery pit, but the Holy God who holds us from it, having prepared the way of rescue for those who believe. Edward’s sermon captured the essence of God’s Holiness in stark contrast to our un-holiness.

If we want to understand what it means that God is Holy, we must encounter that holiness first hand. When we do, that tremendous gulf that exists between His character and ours begins to sink in.

Only then do we begin to understand Proverbs  9:10 which tells us that,  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

 

Pastor David M. Grey      

Mt. Pleasant 

United Methodist Church    

Light In The Darkness

“His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.”  Matthew 25:23

The words, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” are often repeated. Indeed,  it is  the wonderful acclamation any servant of Jesus Christ hopes to hear when his or her labors on this earth are completed.

It is something to strive toward and look forward to hearing. What could be better than to hear Jesus say those words to you?

Few things, indeed. However, as I have meditated upon the verse, I have come to think that the second part of his statement is even more precious.

It hinges upon our walk with him here, of course, but what could be better than to hear Him say, “Enter into the joy of your Lord”?

That joy is not found in isolation somewhere on the backside of the Kingdom. No, Psalm 16:11 tells us that this joy is found, “In His presence!”  It is the fullness of joy.”

To enter into His joy is to be with the one who is the author of joy unfathomable this side of Heaven. A little verse I read recently (author unknown to me) says it well.

“There, in your blissful presence, reigns immortal joy serene; No wintry storms are heard to roar, nor desolation seen. Around you flow unmixed delights, the rivers deep and wide;

While from the ocean of your love, proceeds an endless tide.”

Such reality ought to captivate our heart above all. It ought to fill us with desire for that day to arrive sooner rather than later.

It should cause us to say… no, not simply be able to say but rather to move our hearts to cry out with Paul,  “Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.” (Phil 1:22-23)

Better by far. When we have passed through the valley of the shadow of death, and are done with all mortal care and grief, the Savior welcomes us home with this joyful invitation, “Enter into the joy of your Lord.”

Thus begins our heavenly joy as we rest with Jesus forever. The joy of heaven is full, satisfying and eternal. It is an ecstatic joy. One writer said that, “It transports the ransomed soul with ineffable delights!”

If your spirit is not as deeply moved by these words as you might wish, do not be too surprised for the joy that awaits us is so far beyond what we can experience here as to sound foreign to our mortal ears.

It is the promise of something which, in this life, we have only the smallest taste. But, oh, what it will be then!

Pastor David M. Grey

Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church

Light In the Darkness

“I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.”           Psalm 91:2”  

A number of years ago, I found myself asking whether life was essentially a pleasant journey with the occasional painful trial along the way,  or whether it was more of one long, arduous test with occasional moments of peace. 

I have since come to think that for the young, it often appears more like the former and for those of us who have seen the passing of more years, it seems more the latter.

This was and is in the context of a culture that still knows the remnants of blessing that came with the faith and faithfulness of so many who had gone before us.

In other cultures the perception might be much different.  But in every culture life has its trials; its tests to be endured. The way we approach them either leaves us in a weakened condition or stronger than ever.

One thing is certain, sooner or later everyone who trusts in Christ, will have that trust tested in a significant (and often painful) way. Each of us is a little different in this respect and something thing that severely tests one person is but a hiccup for another.

Even in areas where the test would be severe for any believer, such as the loss of a child, a spouse, a serious accident with permanent consequences, one whose faith is strong may seem to be tested for only a short time while the for another, whose faith is not as strong, may struggle for a long time before coming out the other side.

But one thing of which we can be certain is that our faith will be tested.

Our Lord told His people in Ezekiel  21,  “Testing will surely come.”

There is purpose behind the testing of our faith, of course. God is not a precocious, whimsical God who delights his fancy at our expense and James explains that purpose.

He writes, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (Chapter one)

We all know that in the raising of children, the ultimate goal is for them to reach adulthood as mature individuals prepared to face life’s trials and demands.

It is much the same in our spiritual lives. When we are born again, we are born into a spiritual world to which we had been dead. At that point Paul says, we are babes in Christ.

The Lord’s purpose for that new life is that we grow into mature, right-thinking adults; full of faith and able to trust Him in all areas of thought and life.

It is to this end, James says, that He allows us to be tested, that our endurance may be fully developed, so that we become perfect and complete in Him… needing nothing else.”

Can you say with the psalmist, “I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.”

 

Pastor David M. Grey

Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church

Light In The Darkness

“It is God Who works in me both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”   (Phil. 2:13).

Nothing is more important in the life of the children of God than becoming fully persuaded that God does indeed lead his children on their journey from earth to heaven.

Besides building your confidence in God, I hope that this brief message helps you to face the great decisions of life. I hope it helps you this very week as you come to those moments when you must decide, when you come to those crossroads that everybody comes to, and you must make a decision.

It is my prayer that you will have confidence that God is leading you in exactly the direction he wants you to go.

Since God is in control of the minute details of life, you can relax, knowing that he will reveal his plan for your life step by step. God’s will is more like a sunrise than a sunburst.

Early in the morning the sun begins to peek above the eastern horizon. At first the sky lightens, then the first rays streak across the sky, then the rim of the sun begins to rise slowly from the earth.

Eventually the whole sun is revealed, rising until it dominates the sky, giving light to the earth, driving the darkness away.

God’s will is like that. At first we see his plan dimly, then the outline begins to emerge. Slowly over time, the clouds vanish, the darkness disappears, and the brightness of his presence fills our lives.

Do you get anxious at sunrise because all you can see is the tiny rim of the sun? No, because you know that you only have to wait to see the sun in all its brilliance.

The same is true of God’s plan for your life. We never see the whole thing in advance, but if we wait long enough, God reveals his will.

So relax! God is in charge. Soon enough the darkness will vanish and all that is vague will be made perfectly clear. God is in charge and he knows exactly what he is doing in your life.

Our response might be expressed in a prayer like this, “Loving Father, teach us to trust you. We want clear direction, and you say, ‘Give Me your heart.’ When we want precise answers, you say, “Trust me to do right.”

When we want to know about tomorrow, you say, “Follow me today.” So, Lord, help us today to give You our hearts individually and personally. Make us willing to be made willing to do your will in everything. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Then, as you walk through the day, express confidence that these words are true; “I am led by the Spirit of God for I am a son (or daughter) of God.”   (Romans 8:14)

(Adapted with permission from author Dr. Ray Pritchard)

Pastor David M. Grey

Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church