In 1989, Vaclav Havel was elevated from his position as a political prisoner to becoming the first elected president of Czechoslovakia. Years later at his funeral in Prague in 2011, former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who herself was born in Prague, described him as one who had “brought the light to places of deep darkness.”
What Havel’s introduction of light did in the political arena of Czechoslovakia (and later the Czech Republic), our Lord Jesus did for the whole world. He brought light into existence when He created light out of darkness at the dawn of time (John 1:2-3 cf. Gen 1:2-3). Then, with His birth, He brought light to the spiritual arena. Jesus is the life and light that darkness cannot overcome (John 1:5).
John the Baptist came from the wilderness to bear witness to Jesus, the light of the world. We can do the same today. In fact that is what Jesus told us to do: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
In our world today—when good is often considered bad and bad is seen as good, when truth and error are switched around—people are looking for direction in life. May we be the ones who shine the light of Christ into our world.
One of the pieces of wisdom I have come to appreciate is my dad’s often-repeated statement, “Joe, good friends are one of life’s greatest treasures.” How true! With good friends, you are never alone. They’re attentive to your needs and gladly share life’s joys and burdens.
Before Jesus came to earth, only two individuals were called friends of God. The Lord spoke to Moses “as one speaks to a friend” (Ex. 33:11), and Abraham “was called God’s friend” (James 2:23; see 2 Chron. 20:7; Isa. 41:8).
I am amazed that Jesus calls those of us who belong to Him friends: “I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). And His friendship is so deep that He laid down His life for us. John says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (v. 13).
Rejoice in the privilege and blessing of having Jesus as your friend. He is a friend who will never leave us or forsake us. He makes intercession for us before the Father and supplies all our needs. He forgives all our sins, understands all our sorrows, and gives us sufficient grace in times of trouble. He is indeed our best friend!
I like Reepicheep, C. S. Lewis’ tough little talking mouse in the Chronicles of Narnia series. Determined to reach the “utter East” and join the great lion Aslan [symbolic of Christ], Reepicheep declares his resolve: “While I may, I sail East in Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I row East in my coracle [small boat]. When that sinks, I shall paddle East with my four paws. Then, when I can swim no longer, if I have not yet reached Aslan’s Country, there shall I sink with my nose to the sunrise.”
Paul put it another way: “I press on toward the goal" (Phil. 3:14). His goal was to be like Jesus. Nothing else mattered. He admitted that he had much ground to cover but he would not give up until he attained that to which Jesus had called him.
None of us are what we should be, but we can, like the apostle, press and pray toward that goal. Like Paul we will always say, “I have not yet arrived." Nevertheless, despite weakness, failure, and weariness we must press on (v.12). But everything depends on God. Without Him we can do nothing!
God is with you, calling you onward. Keep paddling!
Nezahualcoyotl (1402–1472) may have had a difficult name to pronounce, but his name is full of significance. It means “Hungry Coyote,” and this man’s writings show a spiritual hunger. As a poet and ruler in Mexico before the arrival of the Europeans, he wrote, “Truly the gods, which I worship, are idols of stone that do not speak nor feel. . . . Some very powerful, hidden and unknown god is the creator of the entire universe. He is the only one that can console me in my affliction and help me in such anguish as my heart feels; I want him to be my helper and protection.”
We cannot know if Nezahualcoyotl found the Giver of life. But during his reign he built a pyramid to the “God who paints things with beauty,” and he banned human sacrifices in his city.
The writers of Psalm 42 cried out, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (v. 2). Every human being desires the true God, just as “the deer pants for streams of water” (v. 1).
Today there are many Hungry Coyotes who know that the idols of fame, money, and relationships can’t fill the void in their souls. The Living God has revealed Himself through Jesus, the only One who gives us meaning and fulfillment. This is good news for those who are hungry for the God who paints things with beauty.
When I was twelve years old our family moved to a town in the desert. After gym classes in the hot air at my new school, we rushed for the drinking fountain. Being skinny and young for my grade, I sometimes got pushed out of the way while waiting in line. One day my friend Jose, who was big and strong for his age, saw this happening. He stepped in and stuck out a strong arm to clear my way. “Hey!” he exclaimed, “You let Banks get a drink first!” I never had trouble at the drinking fountain again.
Jesus understood what it was like to face the ultimate unkindness of others. The Bible tells us, “He was despised and rejected by mankind” (Isa. 53:3). But Jesus was not just a victim, He also became our advocate. By giving His life, Jesus opened a “new and living way” for us to enter into a relationship with God (Heb. 10:20). He did for us what we could never do for ourselves, offering us the free gift of salvation when we repent of our sins and trust in Him.
Jesus is the best friend we could ever have. He said, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). Others may hold us at arm’s length or even push us away, but God has opened His arms to us through the cross. How strong is our Savior!
One of the most recognizable images in the US is the “HOLLYWOOD” sign in Southern California. People from all over the globe come to “Tinseltown” to gaze at cement footprints of stars and perhaps catch a glimpse of celebrities who might pass by. It’s hard for these visitors to miss the sign anchored in the foothills nearby.
Less well known in the Hollywood hills is another easily recognized symbol—one with eternal significance. Known as the Hollywood Pilgrimage Memorial Monument, this 32-foot cross looks out over the city. The cross was placed there in memory of Christine Wetherill Stevenson, a wealthy heiress who in the 1920s established the Pilgrimage Theatre (now the John Anson Ford Theatre). The site served as the venue for The Pilgrimage Play, a drama about Christ.
The two icons showcase an interesting contrast. Movies good and bad will come and go. Their entertainment value, artistic contributions, and relevance are temporary at best.
The cross, however, reminds us of a drama eternal in scope. The work of Christ is a story of the loving God who pursues us and invites us to accept His offer of complete forgiveness. The high drama of Jesus’ death is rooted in history. His resurrection conquered death and has an eternal impact for all of us. The cross will never lose its meaning and power.
In the summer of 1861, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s wife, Frances, died tragically in a fire. That first Christmas without her, he wrote in his diary, “How inexpressibly sad are the holidays.” The next year was no better, as he recorded, “ ‘A merry Christmas,’ say the children, but that is no more for me.”
In 1863, as the American Civil War was dragging on, Longfellow’s son joined the army against his father’s wishes and was critically injured. On Christmas Day that year, as church bells announced the arrival of another painful Christmas, Longfellow picked up his pen and began to write, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”
The poem begins pleasantly, lyrically, but then takes a dark turn. The violent imagery of the pivotal fourth verse ill suits a Christmas carol. “Accursed” cannons “thundered,” mocking the message of peace. By the fifth and sixth verses, Longfellow’s desolation is nearly complete. “It was as if an earthquake rent the hearth-stones of a continent,” he wrote. The poet nearly gave up: “And in despair I bowed my head; ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said.”
But then, from the depths of that bleak Christmas day, Longfellow heard the irrepressible sound of hope. And he wrote this seventh stanza.
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep! The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good-will to men!”
The war raged on and so did memories of his personal tragedies, but it could not stop Christmas. The Messiah is born! He promises, “I am making everything new!” (Rev. 21:5).
Due to its location among sheer mountains and its northern latitude, Rjukan, Norway, does not see natural sunlight from October to March. To lighten up the town, the citizens installed large mirrors on the mountainside to reflect the sunrays and beam sunlight into the town square. The continuous glow is made possible because the giant mirrors rotate with the rising and setting sun.
I like to think of the Christian life as a similar scenario. Jesus said His followers are “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14). John the disciple wrote that Christ the true light “shines in the darkness” (John 1:5). So too, Jesus invites us to reflect our light into the darkness around us: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). That is a call for us to show love in the face of hatred, patience in response to trouble, and peace in moments of conflict. As the apostle Paul reminds us, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” (Eph. 5:8).
Jesus also said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Our light is a reflection of Jesus the Son. Just as without the sun the large mirrors of Rjukan would have no light to reflect, so too we can do nothing without Jesus.
A church group invited a speaker to address their meeting. “Talk about God,” the group leader told him, “but leave out Jesus.”
“Why?” the man asked, taken aback.
“Well,” the leader explained, “some of our prominent members feel uncomfortable with Jesus. Just use God and we’ll be fine.”
Accepting such instructions, however, was a problem for the speaker who said later, “Without Jesus, I have no message.”
Something similar was asked of followers of Jesus in the days of the early church. Local religious leaders conferred together to warn the disciples not to speak about Jesus (Acts 4:17). But the disciples knew better. “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard,” they said (v. 20).
To claim to believe in God and not in His Son Jesus Christ is a contradiction in terms. In John 10:30, Jesus clearly describes the unique relationship between Himself and God: “I and the Father are one”—thus establishing His deity. That is why He could say, “You believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1). Paul knew that Jesus is the very nature of God and equal with God (Phil. 2:6).
We need not shy away from the name Jesus, for “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).