Let Light Shine Out of Darkness

2 Corinthians 4:1-6 – Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

2014-02-03 - Let Light Shine Out of Darkness (IMG_0573_CROP)A lone tree painted in light stands in contrast to the dark February skies.  Caesar Creek State Park, Waynesville, Ohio.

I took this shot while a professional photographer friend spent about two minutes highlighting the tree with a flashlight (to see some of his excellent work visit the MD Herald Fine Art Photography website).  This technique is known as light painting and it produces a great image to go along with today’s passage, nicely emphasizing the message of letting the “light shine out of darkness.”

Paul begins this passage by acknowledging that his strength to continue in the ministry of preaching the gospel is only “by the mercy of God.”  Considering all that Paul suffered in order to share the good news of Christ, it is all that much more poignant when he speaks of not losing heart.

He then points out a problem present in the church during the first century and one that is alive and well today, that of false teaching.  And, though there are many sources of false teaching in the world, Paul here is specifically pointing to those who “practice cunning or…tamper with God’s word.”  These are teachers with malicious intent who cloak themselves in Christianity by using passages out of context, or twisting the meaning of passages by adding to them, or by using the language of Scripture without any regard for the actual meaning behind it.

Paul next admits that the gospel he and the other apostles are preaching is not understood by those who stand outside the Christian faith, “those who are perishing.”  In fact, he even says that the “gospel is veiled” from them because Satan, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God”

Paul then gives us a clear way to discern true from false teachings, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord.”  A great test of false teachings is what, or rather who, is at the center of those teachings.  If it is supposed to be a Christian message, and Christ is not at the center, beware!  The promises of the modern day prosperity gospel for health, wealth, and abundant happiness sound appealing, after all who wouldn’t want all those things; but these teachings are false because they put us at the center, and not Christ.

Finally Paul gives us the only means by which we can find salvation, the only light that can illuminate the darkness of this world, and it is not of our own doing, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

Read more about my “God is Revealed…“ category of posts

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2014.

The Wind Blows Where It Wishes

John 3:1-8 – Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

2014-01-31 - The Wind Blows Where It Wishes (IMG_8140)The wind-blown waters of Upper Two Medicine LakeGlacier National Park, Montana.

We cannot see the wind, but we can certainly see and feel its effects; and, when you are hiking in the mountains the wind can get rather chilly, even on a warm summer day.  On the particular August day that this photo was taken the temperatures were probably near 80 degrees Fahrenheit, but by the time we got to Upper Two Medicine Lake the wind coming down off the mountains was cold enough to warrant putting on a jacket.  Never underestimate the weather in the mountains.  Always be prepared and carry extra layers of clothing, even if it is warm when you are starting out on your hike.

Today’s passage from John’s gospel recounts a late night discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus, one of the Pharisees.  Although Nicodemus seems to acknowledge Jesus’ authority, at least as “a teacher come from God,” he clearly does not understand, or does not want to understand, what Jesus is telling him when he says, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

The term “born again” is not just some catchy phrase used by Christians; it is a real transformation that takes place in the hearts and minds of those who come to know and accept Christ as their Lord and Savior.  The term “born again” is often the subject of much debate, but there is another term also used to describe this transformation, that term is “regeneration,” found in Titus 3:4-7,

4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Christ’s words in John 3:5 and Paul’s words in Titus 3:5 definitely appear to be describing the same process, “born of water and the Spirit,” and “by washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”  In both passages it is clear that this process is not of the individual believer’s own doing, it is only by the action of the Holy Spirit that this transformation takes place.

How exactly this regeneration, or rebirth, happens is a mystery, and Christ basically tells us just that when he says, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  We know that we cannot see the wind, but we certainly can see and feel its effects, so it is for those who have come to know and accept Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Read more about my “God is Revealed…“ category of posts

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2014.

Creation Waits With Eager Longing

Romans 8:18-25 – For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

2014-01-28 - Creation Waits With Eager Longing (IMG_1725_B10_C20)Frozen waterfall on Flat Fork CreekCaesar Creek State Park, Waynesville, Ohio.

For Christians living in North America today, we should be humbled when we compare our own circumstances to all of “the sufferings” that Paul endured for the sake of the gospel.  I won’t deny that we live in a culture increasingly hostile to much of what we believe; but, unless we serve in certain foreign missions or a few difficult ministry fields, I think it is safe to say that few of us will ever face imprisonment, torture, or death for sharing our faith.

Though our present circumstances are far better than Paul’s, we do still live in a fallen world as he reminds us, “the creation was subjected to futility,” it is in “bondage to corruption,” and “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”  This is because of the curse, brought on by the fall, described in Genesis 3:16-19.

16 To the woman he [God] said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” 17 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Not only were troubled relationships, pain, and death brought on by Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the garden, all of creation suffered as a result, ”cursed is the ground because of you.”  Fortunately this is not the end of the story.  By God’s divine providence the solution was already planned, as we read one verse earlier in Genesis 3:15, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”  This verse speaks of the Messiah who would later come to conquer death and the grave.

Of course Paul knows that Jesus Christ was that promised Messiah and this is to whom he refers when he says, “For in this hope we were saved.”  He also tells us “that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” when all of creation is redeemed and the “sons of God” are revealed at the second coming of Christ.  And although he has not seen this glory, he reminds us that “hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”  In a similar manner, we cannot see the blossoms of spring, and yet we have hope, waiting patiently for their arrival to announce the end of the ice and cold of winter…

2014-01-28 - Creation Waits With Eager Longing (IMG_7192)Springtime view of the waterfall on Flat Fork Creek with the redbuds in bloom.  Caesar Creek State Park, Waynesville, Ohio.

Read more about my “God is Revealed…“ category of posts

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2014.

Like a Flower of the Field

Psalm 103:13-18 – As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. 14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. 17 But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, 18 to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.

2014-01-16 - Like a Flower of the Field (IMG_2357)Woodland sunflowers backlit by the setting sun. Sugarcreek Metropark, Bellbrook, Ohio.

The wildflowers of late summer fade and die and soon get covered by the snows of winter.  Today’s passage from Psalm 103 reminds us that we are “like a flower of the field,” flourishing for a time, but soon returning to the dust.  Thankfully those who are in Christ, those who fear the Lord, are assured of “the steadfast love of the LORD [that] is from everlasting to everlasting.”

Life is short and uncertain, but to know and love Jesus has eternal significance.  If you know him, then strive daily to draw closer to him through prayer, devotion, and study of his Word.  If you are uncertain, or do not know him, I would challenge you to seek him out today.

Read more about my “God is Revealed…“ category of posts

© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2014.