Welcome to Spreading Light Ministries

Welcome to the new, and hopefully improved, Spreading Light Ministries website.  Aside from a new look and a design that is hopefully easier to maintain on our end, the website is clearly broken up into five distinct sections.  In addition to this main section, you’ll also find sections on Bible study, sermons, prophecy, and theology.  We have also branched out into an audio format with our own podcast.  You can listen to our podcast, Spright, on our website, on youtube, or through iTunes.

This new format is easily searchable – just use the box at the upper left corner.  In addition, you can see how articles have been tagged so you can quickly find something that focuses on a particular topic of interest.

This section houses some of our oldest articles regarding issues that the church often debates about but aren’t necessarily thought of as theology.  You’ll find them under the category heading “church issues.”  You’ll also find answers to some common Bible questions.  These were previously on another site and have been moved here.  Feel free to ask us any burning Bible questions that you may have by contacting us or by leaving a comment on any page.

One of the great things about this new format is that it provides a place to learn what is going on in Spreading Light Ministries across its network of sites.  This is your first stop to find out what’s new.  Of course you can really stay on top of things by following our Facebook page.  This will have a post anytime there is something new to report.

What’s even better, at least in our opinion, is that this site is now a showcase for what was once a separate site in A Pastor’s Thoughts.  Now, right on our homepage, you’ll get updates from Pastor Mike regarding what is going on in his mind and what his take is on things.  You’ll get a view from the pulpit, hopefully without feeling like you’re being preached at.

Whatever your reason for stopping by today, we hope that you are blessed and that you come back and visit us again.  And if you are blessed, the best way that you can help us, aside from your prayer support, is by telling your friends to check out the site as well.  Go ahead and click one of the share buttons below.  It’s just like ringing the bell on your way out of the restaurant if you got great service. :)

What is Forgiveness?

It has become apparent to me that we really have no concept of what forgiveness really means.  Of course it’s not a surprise that the non-Christian world cannot understand the concept of absolute forgiveness, but I’ve been rather shocked that the church doesn’t seem to grasp the concept either.  As a pastor I’ve perhaps foolishly assumed that since forgiveness is something I spend a lot of time preaching about, that the church would actually understand it.

Theologically every Christian should understand the idea that sins are forgiven through Jesus and the cross.  This is not the stumbling block for forgiveness.  The real stumbling block becomes in how it is applied in everyday life.

When we ask God for forgiveness, there are no strings attached and it is instantaneous and complete.  Forgiveness from other people is a much more complicated venture even though it shouldn’t be.  Make no mistake about it, sin carries consequences and just because forgiveness is granted, it doesn’t mean that the consequences don’t still exist.  A criminal is not released from prison just because he is sorry for his actions or even if the person he has wronged has forgiven him.  Likewise, if a sin occurs within a relationship, that offense can easily be forgiven but that does not mean that there has not been damage done to that relationship.

The trouble with forgiveness from a human perspective is two-fold.  The first is whether the forgiveness we offer is truly unconditional.  There can be no forgiveness unless it is unconditional.  Our tendency is to attach strings to our forgiveness.  We’ll forgive someone so long as they make up for their wrongdoing.  We’ll forgive someone so long as they never do it again.

The second problem with forgiveness is that we place limits on the number of times we will offer it.  Matthew 18:21-22 has a telling example of forgiveness.

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Peter thought he was being gracious by being willing to forgive someone seven times but Jesus responded by saying “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”  The number is not meant to be literal but rather as a statement that forgiveness does not have a limit.

This certainly goes against our human nature.  There is a saying, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”  In other words, if we’ve been wronged more than once, it’s partly our own fault for forgiving and trusting a person again.  But this isn’t the way that forgiveness works.  Yes, we can forgive but the relationship remains damaged.  However, our forgiveness should not be contingent on whether a person may or may not wrong us again.

It’s easy to forgive when we believe a person made a solitary mistake.  Whether it was an out of character burst of anger or a momentary lapse in judgment, we find it easier to forgive when we think it’s not going to happen again.

However, when a person continually disappoints us, whether it’s through continual drug relapses or through repeated infidelity, that’s where forgiveness really matters.  Can you forgive someone when they’ve done the same thing to you a fifth time?  The Bible not only says that we should, it is demanded of us.

If we refuse to forgive someone because they’ve hurt us for the fifth or tenth or twentieth time, do we want God to hold us to the same standard?  How many times have we hurt God?  How many times have we placed something at a higher value than God?  How many times have we felt God calling us to do something but instead said “no thanks, I’ll do it my way”?

As I’ve said, sin has consequences and this isn’t in any way to imply that forgiveness means that a person should continue to stay with an abusive partner or to endure whatever other things sin brings about.  But it does still mean that we’re called to forgive.  In some cases the hurt is so great and the damage done is so terrible that it will take years in order to unconditionally forgive someone.  That’s possible but it is not an excuse to not forgive.

If there is no sin so great that God can’t forgive, there should be no sin so terrible that we are not willing to forgive it.  If the pain is too terrible right now, at least begin by acknowledging that there can be a time in the future when you can forgive unconditionally.

When we forgive, we open ourselves up for the possibility of future hurt.  We expose ourselves and take down our guard.  Our nature and perhaps even common sense says that this is foolish because we naturally seek to protect ourselves.  But the reality is that if we refuse to forgive unconditionally, we don’t need anyone else to hurt us.  Instead we’re just continually hurting ourselves.

Common sense as well as scientific research tells us that when we hold on to grudges and do not forgive, we cause ourselves harm.  Not only do we find ourselves filled with anger and bitterness, our health suffers when we won’t forgive.  We suffer from high blood pressure, stress, tension, and all other manner of problems.

In the end, there can only be one kind of forgiveness and it has to be the same kind of forgiveness that God grants us.  That kind of forgiveness is unconditional and without limit.  There is no sin so great that God will not forgive us when we repent and God will continually forgive us no matter how many times we fail Him.

2015 – The Year of Rest

For the last several years I have assigned a theme for my year.  Last year I declared to be a Year of Grace and this absolutely turned out the be the case.  The Lord blessed my wife and I with a son after five years of struggle and heartbreak.  A couple of times throughout the year I had to return to my own writing to remind myself that things were out of my hands and that I needed God’s grace to make it through.

Typically I assign a theme at the beginning of each year and I’m late this year because of my theme.  I need rest.  Having a newborn in the house is cause enough to need rest.  My son actually sleeps well through the night but this still doesn’t negate frequent sleep interruptions.

More than just physical rest though, I need a break from my burdens.  God rested on the seventh day as an example for us to follow.  I know that there are different views on whether Christians should still hold to the Sabbath and whether it should be celebrated on the seventh day like the Jews or on Sunday like the early church.  I’m unconcerned about that debate as far as the need for rest goes.

As a pastor, I work on Sundays.  Even if I take the rest of the day off, there’s no way of getting around the fact that I work on Sunday.  So ideally I try to take another day off each week where I do nothing “productive” and don’t beat myself up for watching tv, playing games, or doing anything that would be classified as work.  Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes it is impractical because even if I’m resting, everything else around me is not.

What I have discovered though is that if I go 2 or 3 weeks where I don’t intentionally take a day off where it is decided that I won’t work, I will exhaust myself.  And typically when this happens, I’m out of sync for several days, not just one day.  Often I may skip my day of rest because there is too much work to be done but in the end I actually lose more time.  If I just took a regular day off, I’d be far more likely to prevent the kind of burnout that leads me to getting sick or too emotionally drained to do anything for several days.

The last several years have been kind of crazy by my estimation.  My responsibilities as a pastor and my personal struggles have both been greater than I believe is typical.  The Lord has been gracious and has kept me strong through it all.  He has showered me with blessings beyond measure despite the trials that I have endured.  Because of all that I’ve been through, I’m asking for rest this year.

I know that I am incapable of just deciding to rest.  Just like with grace, this needs to be something that God grants to me.  So I am praying that the Lord grants me rest this year; that He would remove obstacles from my life this year that I might recuperate and recover and be more willing and able to serve Him faithfully when the time of rest is over.  I pray that the Lord would grant me the opportunity to enjoy my new son without the interruptions like I have experienced in previous years or even ones that are typical in everyday life.

Rest was important enough that God wanted the Israelites to do so every seven days but also every seven years.  The Israelites never celebrated a Sabbath year as far as we know.  I don’t presume to be able to take an entire year off from working and I enjoy my job enough that I wouldn’t want to.  But I am asking that the Lord would grant me rest by easing my burdens this year.

Does God Exist?

When looking at the turmoil around the world today – fighting happening everywhere, innocent people dying, children being abused – it would be easy to question the existence of God.  The sad irony is that this statement is true today, it was true ten years ago, and it will be accurate no matter how far in the future you stumble across this post.  The world is a frightful, violent, and sinful place.  There will always be fighting in the Middle East, there will always be countries undergoing revolution, there will always be sinful people doing horrible things to other people.

So with the presence of so much evil in the world there are plenty of people who want to take this as proof that God does not exist.  Because if God existed – and He is the loving God that we claim Him to be – then He certainly wouldn’t turn a blind eye to all of the horrible things that go on in our planet.

There are two approaches to this false notion.  The first is the truth that God exists but God is not present everywhere.  Listen carefully because this is not saying that God is not omnipresent – everywhere.  I know it sounds like I just contradicted myself.  What I mean is that God does not dwell in the heart of every person.  Sinful people do sinful things.

If you sit in a bright and sunny room and then close the curtains to that room, the room gets dark.  The existence of dark in that room is not proof that light does not exist.  Everyone knows that it is just outside of the curtains and that to make the room light once again all that is needed is to open the curtains.  It’s the same way with God.  Evil exists because God has been shut out.  God does not force Himself upon anyone and turn them into mindless creatures who can do nothing but follow His will.

So, evil exists not because God wants it to but because man wants it to and God has given man freewill to choose rather than forcing us all into loving Him and obeying all that He says.

The other side to the problem of evil is that God has done something about evil; He fixed the problem once and for all by sending His Son into the world to die for humanity’s sin.  As horrific as the problem of evil looks when we glance around at the world today, that is minor compared to the real issue.  The horrors that exist in this world, while certainly not meaning to trivialize them, are nothing compared to the fact that sin separates us from God.  Separation from God is hell, figuratively and ultimately literally as well.  The horrors of this world are just a fraction of how horrible eternal separation from God truly is.

Of course everyone wants a quick solution to the problem of sin.  It would be nice if Jesus’ work on the cross had not only defeated sin but had also eradicated it.  It has been 2000 years, so what’s the hold up?  Clearly God does not work on our timetable and the short lifespan that we enjoy is nothing in the eyes of God.  He is not slow to enact His plan.  The coming of Jesus was first prophesied about way back in Genesis 3:15 in the Garden of Eden.  It took thousands of years until Jesus came.  The Israelites left Egypt in 1446 BC to go to a land that had been promised to their forefathers 400 years beforehand.  While they temporarily possessed much of it, they never took hold of the entire inheritance and still wait 3800 years later.  The Israelites were promised a descendant of King David to reign on his throne forever.  It took 1000 years for Jesus to come and 2000 years after that the people of Israel are still waiting for that literal reign to occur.

The point of the brief history lesson is just a reminder that evil is already defeated; it is taken care of, eliminated, wiped away.  What we see and will continue to see are the death throes of sin and evil.  It’s not that God doesn’t exist or that He can’t handle the problem of evil.  He already has.  The problem is that we cannot see the big picture and we are here for what is ultimately a short time in what appears to be a long process to our eyes.

The unfortunate reality is that while we wait for the culmination of sin’s defeat we will continue to experience sin and evil in this world.  It is not pleasant nor pretty.  It is likely to get even uglier before the end.  Every generation since Christ left has looked around at the evil in the world and been convinced that it was so horrid that it was evidence that Jesus was returning in their lifetime.

Whether Jesus returns tomorrow or in another thousand years is frankly anyone’s guess.  Sin and evil will continue until that day when they are completely eradicated and all of humanity stands to be judged whether at the Judgment Seat of Christ or the Great White Throne of Judgment.  As we wait we have two responsibilities.  The first is to do our best to spread the love of God to fight back against evil.  And the second is to simply pray “Come quickly Lord Jesus.”