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. :)

Where Should our Loyalty Be?

Today is Independence Day in the United States and there will be a lot of celebrating along with hemming and hawing about what the Founding Fathers would think of our country today.  There has been nearly endless discussion over what flags are appropriate to fly and what our Constitution says about free speech and marriage.

Perhaps though, we take far too much of our identity from the nation and/or state that we were born in.  This is not to imply that I would want to live somewhere else.  It’s just the fact that we should identify ourselves as Christians first and foremost.  If the laws and morals of our land do or don’t match up with our biblically defined values is almost secondary.  We must obey God rather than men.

The author of Hebrews shows us where our loyalty should be.  Hebrews 11:13-16:

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

No matter how much you believe in your country, the fact remains that we are citizens of something greater.  We can discuss all we want about how the country was founded on Christian values and it is getting away from them.  An earthly kingdom – even one founded on Christian values – still pales in comparison to the heavenly kingdom we await.

Each of us may have a certain responsibility to stand up for our beliefs and hold fast to what God teaches us rather than what man says we should or shouldn’t do.  In the end though, we are surrounded by people who are not Christians and they will act as non-Christians act.  While there are good Christian men and women in government, there are many non-Christians in government as well and they will pass laws that are not in line with our values.

Our nature is to despair over the laws of our country changing and moving away from how we understand the Bible.  And certainly there is some reason to despair and be concerned over the moral decay that we see around us.  On the other hand though, we must keep things in perspective.  Whatever nation or state we pledge allegiance to is not the one that God intended for us.  True Christians long for a better country – a heavenly one.

Whatever you do today, whether it is celebrate the founding of a country or despair over the loss of the values it once had, remember that this home is only temporary.  We are strangers and foreigners in this land.  Our citizenship lies elsewhere in a place that is perfect.  We are awaiting that place.  Jesus has gone ahead to prepare that place for us according to John 14:2-3:

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

While we may disdain over what our earthly nation has become, let us keep in mind that this is not our true home.  Our true home is being made ready for us.  And with that in mind, the best we can say is “Come quickly Lord Jesus.”

Where is the Victory?

Another tragedy has rocked our country and has left pundits scrambling to be heard the loudest for their cause in order to take advantage of it.  While racism and guns will be blamed – and may be part of the problem – the root of this is sin.  Racism does not exist without sin.  Gun violence does not exist without sin.  If we fix the sin problem we won’t have these tragedies any more.

And that’s the biggest problem.  Even if Christianity is wildly successful at taking people who are full of hate and filling them with the love of Jesus, all it takes is one person for such events to happen again.  But more to the point, does the church appear to be the least bit successful in reaching our culture and turning people from hate to love?  Certainly there are grand stories to be shared but overall it seems as though we are losing the battle.  And this is not just an issue in the United States.  In many places that were once predominantly Christian, it appears as though the battle has already been lost.  Grand cathedrals are no longer places of worship but are tourist attractions and markers of history of a bygone era.

From the perspective of most people, society seems to be getting worse, not better.  If that is the case, the broader question is why.  Why has the church lost ground in society?  Why has sin become so predominant everywhere we look?  And more importantly, why wasn’t sin defeated at the cross?

There are no easy answers to these questions and how a person responds to them will vary widely on the theology they’ve been taught to believe.  It wasn’t that long ago – a hundred years or so – that the predominant theology said the world would keep improving until the gospel reached everywhere and it would usher in Jesus’ Kingdom.

Now, many people believe just the opposite.  The world is getting worse and worse and it will only be fixed when Jesus returns with a sword to strike down His enemies.  Regardless of the interpretation or how literally one takes it, the book of Revelation certainly depicts a lot of calamity before peace is achieved.

This still begs the question of why though.  Why has the devil not been defeated?  It’s certainly a very hard argument to make that he is not present and active in the world today.  Where is the victory over sin and death that we were promised?  Are all of the promises of the cross only valid at the end of this age?

I don’t have all of the answers but I do have a few thoughts.  For starters, Satan has definitely been defeated already.  In our limited ability, we often depict a battle between God and Satan; I still use such metaphors myself.  That gives far too much credit to Satan and not nearly enough credit to God.  This was never a battle because that would imply that Satan ever had a chance at winning.  Satan has led a rebellion and that rebellion has been thwarted because it never stood a chance to begin with against an all-powerful God.

What we experience today is the effects of the rebellion.  The world is currently Satan’s domain.  He is the prince of this world.  To depict things in a modern context, Satan is holed up in a little house with the full force of the military outside of his door.  He currently has full reign over the things in that house but there is no way that he is getting away.  His rule is not absolute nor is it eternal.  While he holds sway over humanity now and he holds us hostage, it is only temporary and he has not usurped God’s power.

Satan has been defeated at the cross but we still see the effects of sin and death because we are incapable of viewing time from God’s perspective.  Two thousand years and counting since the time of Jesus is a very long time to us but it is the blink of an eye to God.  The rebellion has been crushed but Satan is still going to take as many people with him as he can.

We live in “the end of this age.”  Ever since Jesus ascended to heaven, every generation has had people who were convinced that He would return in their lifetime.  No matter the signs that people see, we don’t know when His return will be.  The end of the age can end tomorrow or it can stretch on for another two thousand years.  That seems unlikely to us but it certainly seemed unlikely to many in the early church who also expected Jesus’ immediate return.

The victory that we experience now is not the victory that we long for.  We long for a time when there will be no more sin or death.  We long for a time when all things will be perfect.  That is not this time.  There will be a day when that is realized however.  It has already been accomplished but it has not been put into effect yet.

We do see parts of the victory in the world around us though.  Amidst the kind of horror that we can only hope and pray we never experience, we can see Christians who respond with love and forgiveness.  This does not mean that there is not also sorrow and anger but I believe that it is only through the power of God that any kind of peace can be given in this kind of situation.

Compare the response of Christians to tragedy to that of non-Christians.  While I can’t say that it is universal, in general there is certainly a greater amount of love and forgiveness that surrounds a tragedy.  That is the victory of the cross that we experience today.  It is the ability to handle the worst of what life has to offer and still awake the next day and say “God is good.”  It doesn’t mean that a Christian is happy about the circumstances but they can still have a peace that passes understanding knowing that God still has the victory despite the evidence that sin is alive and well today.

In the end, we still long for the day when all sin is eradicated and Satan has no power over us.  While we wait, we will endure the effects of a broken world that is in rebellion against God.  But we do so knowing that it is temporary.  We will see the full effects of victory and we can experience the partial effects of it now.

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.