Longing for the Light

Sometime during High School, I learned that our human capacity to see is made up of two kinds of receptors in our eyes. Some of these receptors enable us to see black and white. Others enable us to see color. The ability to see in black and white is important for night vision. People who do not have highly developed capacity to see variances of black and white have difficulty seeing at night. I happen to be one of those people. If we are driving at night looking for a home that we’ve never visited before, I must slow down and turn on my “brights” every time I try to read a street sign. Even then, most of the time I can’t see clearly enough to read the sign. A week or so ago, Kathy and I went to visit people that we know very well and whose house we’ve been many times. I got lost even though I had been there earlier in the day!

It would be nice if our lives could be lived in an eternal, bright, and sunny summer in which the past, present, and future stand before us with perfect clarity of understanding. It would be nice if we always knew what to do and how to do it. It would be nice if there were  no problems in life we cannot understand, accept, and face with wisdom and courage.

Unfortunately, we all go through times of mental, emotional, and spiritual darkness. We all go through times in which it is difficult for us to discern right from wrong, a good decision from a bad decision, wisdom from foolishness, and the like. During these times, we feel like a person with my level of night vision. Things that were clear in good times, filled with the color of happiness and joy, are no longer clear. Instead, we feel that we are stumbling around in the dark unable to see the world the way it is and unable to adjust to our changing environment. At such times, we long for some kind of light to illuminate our way. Fortunately, in Christ, God has made available to us that light we need in the dark times of life..

Isaiah Longing for Light.

When Isaiah wrote his book, the Jews were in a time of spiritual and moral darkness. The enthusiasm with which they began their national journey had ended. The “Good Ole Days,”represented by the kingship of David and Solomon, were over. There were no good kings in Israel (the Northern Kingdom) and only a very few in Judah (the Southern Kingdom). The religious purity of their temple worship became obscured as the Twelve Tribes melded their worship of God with worship of the gods and goddesses of the nations around them. The Jews (like us) were tempted to worship fertility gods and goddesses—the gods and goddesses of sex. They lost their distinctive culture and began a period of national decay. Religious people longed for light.

Let us ponder for just a few moments to these familiar words from Isaiah 9:

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest,as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. 
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this
(Isaiah 9:1-3; 6-7)

Prayer: God of Light, in Whom there is no Darkness: Come into the darkness of this evening and reveal again to us the True Light of Christ. Amen.

The Jewish People as they Longed for Light.

We Americans are impatient. Sometimes, this is an asset. However, when there are big problems that take a long time to solve, impatience is a big liability. Impatience is not unique to our nation. I think that most human beings, most of the time, are impatient. One quality of the wise life is learning to walk in darkness from time to time while keeping your faith intact. Once upon a time, I was a pretty impatient person, and sometimes I still am. It has been my experience that when God wants to teach us patience, he gives us a long period of suffering. It’s unfortunate, but true.

The Jewish people were not much different than we are. When their nation began to decay, and the prophets spoke the words of warning, they were impatient. Moreover, they didn’t immediately see any big problem. They were like the proverbial “Frog in a Kettle.” Then, the Assyrians came and conquered the northern nation of Israel around 730 B.C. This conquest meant the loss of the fertile areas in the northern part of Israel we call Galilee. In Isaiah, they are referred to as Zebulon and Naphalti. This area of Israel was always, as it is today: a wealthy, fertile, beautiful land—the most fertile in Palestine. The destruction of the Northern Kingdom was a big wakeup call in the midst of their national spiritual and moral nap.

A few years later, King Nebuchadnezzar came from Babylon, destroyed the city of Jerusalem, and conquered Judah, the Southern Kingdom. He took representatives of the remaining two tribes into captivity. Even after they returned, they were conquered again and again. Alexander the Great conquered the Jewish people, as did the Roman general, Pompey. [1] These were dark times. Throughout it all, the Jews longed for a Messiah. They longed for some word from God, for some indication that God was going to fulfill his ancient promise to David. 400 years of waiting will make a nation patient. They longed for a light in the darkness of their national decay and destruction.

Christians Today Longing for the Light.

Christians today are concerned about our nation, about religious liberty in our nation and other nations, about the growth of terror groups, and about many other things. Just to give one example, recently our church and denomination has been praying for Andrew Brunson and his wife. The Brunson’s have lived in Turkey for more than twenty years, where Andrew pastored a little church with the knowledge of local authorities. At the time of Brunson’s detention in October, his activities were suddenly alleged by the Turkish government to be “against national security.” No other reason was given for Andrew’s incarceration and no formal charges were filed. He was held without charges for sixty-three days. In more than two months of detention, Andrew was permitted only two U.S. consular visits. His attorney was not permitted visits until just before a final hearing. On December 9th of this year, there was a hearing, and Andrew was imprisoned. [2] Andrew Brunson and his wife are probably longing for a light to come into the darkness of his prison cell and relieve the darkness of their family situation today.

Of course, the Brunson’s are a particularly  dramatic case. There are, however, many people in our congregation, among those who visit our church regularly, in our neighborhoods and city, that live in darkness. It can be the emotional darkness of family problems. It can be the personal darkness of bad health or job losses. It can be the slow darkness of a terminal illness. There are a lot of ways people struggle in the darkness and long for the light. Many, if not most, of us come to Christmas Eve night filled with expectations and with a longing for God to come into our situation.

Surprise: True Light Has Come—Personally!

In the Gospel of John, John tells us right at the beginning that, “The true light that gives light to every person has come into the world” (John 1:9). The True Light did not come as a principal, or as a book, or as a philosophical system, or as a flash of insight, or as an energy or power; the True Light came as a human being, as a real flesh and blood person ordinary people could see, touch, and feel. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. Tonight, we celebrate the coming into the world of the only light that can permanently banish our personal darkness and the darkness of our world—the Light of Christ.

There are some things that we human beings can learn in the abstract. Mathematics is one of them. Practical things, like how to play baseball or how to build a house cannot be learned that way. Life cannot be learned that way. Discipleship cannot be learned that way.  Where life is concerned and reality is concerned, we must see another person do the thing, practice the thing, and learn by doing. God knew this important fact. God knew that for us to be saved, to grow in becoming more like God, and find the true light, he was going to have to personally show up on the scene and show us how to think, feel, and behave. There was no other way for all human beings to “get it.”

Therefore, a child had to be born. A Son had to be given. The wisdom that made the universe had to be distilled down to the life of one single human being. The Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, had to come as a little baby, so fragile, so frail, so dependent that a night of freezing cold might take his life.

There had to be a mother (Mary), a father (Joseph), a long time spent growing up, learning to be a carpenter and a rabbi (his life in Nazareth). There were Bible verses to memorize and wisdom to be gathered, stories from the Old Testament to be learned. There were disciples to call and train. There were enemies confound.  Finally, the True Light was arrested, tried, and executed by his own people—all this was necessary if the True Light was to come into the world in such a way that the people of God, the people of the ages, and the people of today might be able to be in a relationship with that True Light, a light so unusual, so unexpected that we might miss it. This is a the True Light and True Wisdom that the Apostle Paul recognized would be seen as foolishness by a whole lot of people (I Corinthians 1:18-25).

On Christmas Day we gather to celebrate the birth. On Christmas Eve, it is enough to stop and ponder the darkness of our world, the darkness of the world of Jesus, and the darkness of the ancient world and marvel at a single fact: into this darkness the Wisdom of the Ages came not in power, not in majesty, not in a blinding physical light like some atomic explosion, but in the first cry of a new born baby, a cry that could even be heard a half a block away. His coming was like a flickering candle in the night, but it changed everything. The true light that can enlighten every single human life had come into the world (John 1:9; 8:12; 9:4).


Copyright 2016, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Alexander the Great took control of Israel about 332 B.C. In 63 B.C, the Roman general Pompey conquered the land of Israel, ended the Hasmonean state and bringing Palestine into the Roman Empire.

[2]  This is based upon an article in the Presbyterian Layman entitled, “Imprisoned American Pastor Formally Charged in Turkey which can be found at www.layman.org/imprisoned-american-pastor-formally-charged-turkey/ (December 15, 2016). We have been asked to not disclose Andrew’s wife’s name though it as been revealed in other media.

Longing for Comfort

The word “comfort” is an interesting word in the English language. Here in the South, we talk and about “comfort food,” by which we mean food that fills you up and makes an empty stomach feel full. imgres-2Comfort food has plenty of carbo’s, starches, protein, and especially bacon grease (an essential element in all comfort food). In the intelligence world, they speak of giving “comfort to the enemy.” Comforting the enemy means betraying your country and helping someone else. If we have enough money and a nice house and plenty of food we talk about “living comfortably,” by which we mean our needs are met. When we comfort a child we hold them in our arms and speak softly with love and encouragement.

The root of this word “comfort” are two Latin words meaning “with” and “to strengthen.” [1] The “fort” part of comfort is the same word from which we get our English word “fort” or “fortress.” A fortress is of course a safe place. Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as the “Comforter.” The Greek word being used there has a similar connotation. It means “helper” or “advocate,” because an advocate is someone who helps another person through legal proceedings. When we are in legal trouble, it is comforting to know we have a capable attorney to help us. To comfort is come beside another human being and supply a strength that, for the moment, they need.

The God of All Comfort.

images-1The book of Isaiah falls into two general parts. Chapters 1-39 are chapters of judgement, as the prophet warns the nations, and especially Judah, of coming judgment. It often makes hard reading because of the constant disclosure of sin and coming suffering. Chapter 40 begins a second section. [2] This section begins with a message of comfort encouragement and assures the Jewish people that God is a God of Compassion who will save his people from their sins and national humiliation. It is in this section that many of the famous Messianic passages and disclosure of the Messiah as the Suffering Servant of Israel are found. In other words, the book of Isaiah begins with judgement and ends with forgiveness, restoration, and new hope. It ends with the hope that God will create a new heaven and new earth in which the problems of our world are absent (Isaiah 66:22).

Here are some famous  words of comfort we find in Isaiah chapter 40:

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?” “All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm (Isaiah 40:1-10).

Prayer: God of Comfort, come by the power of the Holy Spirit, your great comforter, to convict us, convert us, and make us wholly yours. Amen.

The Comfort of Good News.

I’m sure we’ve all had this kind of experience: We are worried about something. We fear something bad is going to happen. Then, we get a letter or phone call or a visit from a friend. They bring good news. Suddenly, our worries are gone. I remember worrying about business problems. I remember being afraid of our family’s financial future. Then, one day an envelope and arrived at the office. It contained a check! Good news! Good news is comforting. It’s comforting in all the ways I mentioned earlier. Good news takes the gnawing fear from our stomachs. It fills us up. Good news reminds us that were not alone. We have friends and allies. Good news reminds us that we have some protection and things are not going to be as bad as we feared. It reminds us that God has not forgotten about us.

Of course, the very most important good news is the Good News of the Gospel. The Good News of the Gospel is that God himself  acted in the life, death, and resurrection to save his people from their sin and brokenness. When Paul and the apostles speak of  Good News they are always speaking of the good news that God, in the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as provided for our salvation and eternal life.

The book of Isaiah contained  Good News for the people of his day and for the people of our day. Isaiah doesn’t deny the reality of sin and judgment. Isaiah doesn’t deny that God’s people  suffer  consequences from sin. However, Isaiah is clear: In the end, God is going to remove sin, end suffering, restore his people, and bring the time of peace and plenty. Isaiah 40 is comfort food for the soul!

imgres-3Isaiah promises us four forms of comfort in Chapter 40 of the book:

  • First, the comfort of Good News, this good news of and end to suffering comes from the most reliable source possible: God.
  • Second, the personal  comfort of the Presence of Immanuel, God with Us, as our comforter is on its way. Like a parent who personally hold a child and comforts the child, God intends to come to comfort us personally.
  • Third, the comfort is the promise of  the all wise  God, who conceived and designed the heavens and the earth. The God of perfect knowledge has promised us our salvation. The God who promises our salvation knows everything he needs to know to accomplish it.
  • Finally, the comfort of knowing that the source of our comfort is the all-powerful God who made the heavens and the earth and is in control of all things. The God who has designed our salvation is able to provide us the comfort and salvation we need and desire. His power and might will accomplish what He has promised.

The Ministry of Comfort.

Most of us know that the Holy Spirit is referred to as the “Comforter” in the Gospel of John. Jesus promised to send us the Comforter  who will lead us into all truth (John 14:15-16; 25-26; 16:12). This Spirit of Truth will also permit us to testify to the world about the salvation God offers, just as Isaiah was empowered by the Spirit to testify to the comfort and salvation God was going to provide his people Israel.

In Second Corinthians Paul writes these important words:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).

In this passage, Paul uses the Greek term for Comfort nine times. [3] Nine times! In the person of Jesus, whose birth we will celebrate next Sunday, God has “come beside us” not abstractly, but personally to remove the curse of sin, to restore our damaged psyches, to renew our worn spirits, to give us victory over sin and death, to give us new life—a new life that will last into eternity.

Several years ago, I was injured and became sick in a new and somewhat strange city. I was unmarried and all alone. A Christian I did not know very well came to visit me as I was recovering. He came beside me—literally beside my bed and figuratively beside me in this moment on injury and illness. This person has been special to me ever since. He had been comforted by Jesus. Now, he was sharing that comfort; and in sharing that comfort, he was sharing the Good News of the Gospel.

imagesHis example is an example to all of us: We have been comforted by Christ or we would not be here this morning. Now it is our turn to share the Good News that the Messiah is coming—indeed he has already come. He did come as we expected. It is better than we expected. He came as a Suffering Servant to share the hidden wisdom and compassion of God with the entire world. The night to which we are coming in a few days is the night that God came close to us, like a mother comforting a child in the night, with a strength and a power we lacked then and lack now. He came to save us now and for life eternal.


[1] The root word is “fortis,” a word that means “to strengthen.” The “com” is based on the Latin “cum,” that means “with.” When a friend comes to be with you and encourage you they are “with you” to “strengthen you.”

[2] Scholars are divided about how to understand Isaiah. Conservative scholars hold to a single author writing at the time of the Assyrian conquest or thereabouts. Liberal scholars believe that there are multiple authors, sometimes referred to as “Isaiah,” “Second Isaiah,” and “Third Isaiah.” Moderate scholars often hold to a single author whose work underwent editing from a “School of Isaiah.” This is an instance where, in my opinion, Christians do not have an essential “dog in the hunt” concerning who is right. Whenever Isaiah was written and by whomever it was written it was written centuries before Christ and its prophesies of the Messiah are truly prophetic of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

[3] In this passage, Paul uses the very same term John uses in his Gospel, “parakaleo,” or “one called beside. This Greek term, among other uses, can be used for an attorney who is called beside his or her client to defend them in a time of accusation or conflict. This word means encourage, help, strengthen (the comfort root) assure, reassure, exhort etc. See, Geoffrey W. Bromley, ed. Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament Abridged Ed. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1985), 778-784.

Longing for Justice


When I was in undergraduate school I took a class in Political Philosophy. One question we discussed was, “Is there really any such thing as justice?” Some don’t believe in a separate thing called, “Justice.” They believe that the only thing that really exists is power. Later, in law school, I trained to be an officer of the court system, which theoretically seeks justice. Interestingly, we never, ever had a single discussion about the subject of justice. We were training to win cases, and we just assumed that justice was something that happened if we all played by the Rules of Civil Procedure. Later on, every so often  I would wonder, “Is there really anything called ‘justice’ or is ‘justice’ just the name we give to the opinions of whoever wins in a social or legal conflict?” [1]

imgres-2Then, we had children. The subject of justice never came up so long as we had one child, the apple of our eyes and of the eyes of her grandparents. Our lucky first child got pretty much whatever she wanted. Then came our second child; and when they got old enough, we would hear one or the other claim, “That is not fair. _____ got more than I did.” By the time we had four children, we heard this a lot. For a time, we tried to be fair about everything, but no matter what we did someone would think that someone else got a better present, a bigger room, or whatever.

At some point every parent has experienced the claim that what he or she is doing is not fair. What interests me about the claim is not whether it is true or false, but the fact that children and adults have a natural idea of justice and fairness,  We complain when we are not treated as we believe we deserve or when we feel that we have not received what we deserve. In other words, the idea of justice seems to be an innate part of human nature.

We human beings do not necessarily agree about what justice is in any particular situation, but we long for justice. We want ourselves, our people, our family, our religion, and our friends to be treated fairly. People have always had such a longing. This longing for justice alerts us that there may be (and almost certainly is) something called “justice” out there for which we long. Similarly, our longing for God is an indication that God exists and has implanted this longing within our hearts.

A Day for Which We Long.

Injustice is a fact of human existence. The Jews have always possessed a heightened sense of injustice. The history of the Jewish people is filled with instances of great injustice. After being invited to enter Egypt, they were enslaved for over 400 years. After they escaped that captivity, they were frequently attacked by neighboring tribes and nations. After the kingdom of David divided, the ten northern tribes were subjected to dispersion and terrible treatment by the Assyrians. After Judea was captured, it was subjected to captivity by the Babylonians. The Jews were mistreated by the Greeks and Romans. Throughout history, anti-Semitism has been a terrible problem. The Jews have been mistreated in the 20th century, especially in Germany under Hitler.

images-1The prophet Isaiah longed for a just society. A major theme of Isaiah is the theme of justice and injustice. Isaiah believed that the punishment of God was coming upon Judah partially because of social injustice (See Isaiah 1:21 and 59:4-8). Repeatedly, the prophet speaks of the injustice of Jewish society. The prophet also looks foreward to a day in which there will be justice for all.  Our text this morning comes from Isaiah, chapter 32, verses one through eight. Hear the Word of God to us this morning from the Prophet Isaiah:

See, a king will reign in righteousness and rulers will rule with justice. Each one will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land. Then the eyes of those who see will no longer be closed, and the ears of those who hear will listen. The fearful heart will know and understand, and the stammering tongue will be fluent and clear. No longer will the fool be called noble nor the scoundrel be highly respected. For fools speak folly, their hearts are bent on evil: They practice ungodliness and spread error concerning the Lord; the hungry they leave empty and from the thirsty they withhold water. Scoundrels use wicked methods, they make up evil schemes to destroy the poor with lies, even when the plea of the needy is just. But the noble make noble plans, and by noble deeds they stand (Isaiah 32:1-8).

God of Justice and Mercy: Grant us the eyes to see the world as you see the world and the desire to bring justice to our world, just as you desire to bring your justice, and did bring it through Jesus Christ, in whose Name we pray…. 

A Cold and Unjust World.

imagesSeveral years ago, our church’s Christmas season was themed after movies made from C. S. Lewis’s Narnia novels. [2] In the first book, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, four children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie are magically transported into the world of Narnia. When the children arrive, Narnia is ruled by an evil witch, who has arranged for Narnia to be perpetually frozen in winter. In her Narnia, it is always winter and never spring, and Christmas never comes. The witch is cruel and powerful, and everyone who opposes her is immediately frozen by her magic wand. There is no justice in Narnia.

Of course, Narnia is meant to be a magical rendition of the Planet Earth. Just as Narnia is under the rule of the White Witch, our world is often under the domination of an evil king—that spiritual reality or person we sometimes call “Satan.” Just as the White Witch has made of Narnia a cold place, so also our world is not as God intended it to be. Just as there is no justice in Narnia, there is a lot of injustice in our world. There is social injustice, racial injustice, prejudice against all sorts of people, including Christians and Jews, laws that discriminate, judges that do not do justice, and a host of other kinds of injustices. None of this makes God happy.

The same thing was true in the time of Isaiah. Here is how he describes his own day and time:

No one calls for justice; no one pleads a case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments, they utter lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil. They hatch the eggs of vipers and spin a spider’s web. Whoever eats their eggs will die, and when one is broken, an adder is hatched. Their cobwebs are useless for clothing; they cannot cover themselves with what they make. Their deeds are evil deeds, and acts of violence are in their hands. Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent blood. They pursue evil schemes; acts of violence mark their ways. The way of peace they do not know; there is no justice in their paths (Isaiah 59:4-8).

The situation as Isaiah saw it was just as difficult as the situation we often see around us. And, just as our own prophets foresee trouble if we do not change our national ways, Isaiah foresaw suffering if the Jews did not change their national behavior. Sin, it seems, has consequences—something we sometimes forget.

Our world is a place in which injustice too often occurs. This is not “just the way things are.” Instead, as Lewis would have us see, it is a sign that there is something deeply wrong with our world. We live in cold place and we need the warmth of justice and of the Spirit of God so that we can be freed from this cold world of injustice and enjoy the justice for which we were created.

The World We Long For.

In the Narnia books, the true King of Narnia, Aslan—who is a Christ figure—is coming. One indication that Aslan is coming is that the long Narnia winter is slowly ending, and spring is coming at last. (Even Santa Claus arrives on scene to give the children gifts before spring arrives!) In Isaiah, the prophet also uses an image of nature being changed because of what the Messiah will do when the Messiah comes as a symbol of the spiritual healing of the land of his people (see, Isaiah 35). In Isaiah 11, after speaking of the supernatural justice of the expected Anointed One, the prophet has the following vision:

Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11: 5-9).

The idea is that nature is impacted by justice and by injustice. Human beings and human life are changed for the better when we seek justice and live peacefully with others. [3] Isaiah sees a spiritual and moral spring arriving when the Messiah comes, ushering in a time of peace and plenty as old antagonisms and alienations are overcome.

imgres-1Whether or not we visualize the future in poetic terms, we all long for a just world and we all believe that a just world would be different and happier than the world we live in. Unfortunately, most all of us also desire for our injustice to remain in that world. We want the injustice that impacts us to be removed, but we do not feel so strongly about the injustice we inflict on others. God will not have it this way. God wants to get rid of all injustice, the injustice of the rich and the poor, of the powerful and of the powerless, of the insiders and of the outsiders. God desires a perfectly just world.

This week, my facebook post was as follows:

Human nature is paradoxical. We long for things to stay the same as to things we like, but we also long for a day in which the things we don’t like change. Too often, we forget that we cannot eliminate the injustice of others while holding fast to our own. Our longing for a day of universal justice requires a New Heaven and a New Earth filled with the wisdom, love, and justice of God.

We long for justice, but too often we long only for the justice that will benefit ourselves and those like us. Unfortunately, that is not what God intends. God intends justice for everyone.

The Work We Must Do in the Meantime.

Of course, we are not going to have a perfectly just world, at least not for the foreseeable future. Our world will always imperfect. Just as the Bible gives us a humanly unreachable standard for leadership, the Bible also gives us an unreachable standard for justice. We are not God, and we are not gods and goddesses. Therefore, on this earth we will never have a perfectly just world or society. This does not mean we should not work towards one. [4]

imgresNot so many years ago, Kathy and I had the opportunity to meet the singer Sarah Groves. She sang for a retreat we were on. I learned that she donates a bit of her time to an organization called, “International Justice Mission” or “IJM.” IJM is an international justice mission dedicated to eradicating slavery worldwide. We do not like to think about it, but there are more slaves today than ever before in history. In particular, many women are essentially enslaved in the prostitution industry. Some of these women are kidnapped, drugged, and sold into the trade. In poorer countries, families may sell one member into slavery to provide for the rest of the family. IJM attempts to expose, halt, and assist in the prosecution of this kind of slavery.

Not so many years ago, one of our elders, Georgia Smith, and some other people from our denomination, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, went to Cambodia to study and learn about the problem of sex trafficking in that nation and in the Far East. They spent twelve days or so learning about this serious problem and ministering to those who were escaping this injustice. As they learned more and as they helped and served the women who had been enslaved, they served both Christ and the cause of justice.

We had an Adventurers’ luncheon Thursday, and Kathy talked about Casa Mami, an orphanage we support in Mexico. At least some of the girls Casa Mami helps would otherwise be on the streets of Reynosa and other cities of Mexico. We help in a lot of ways. We help with operation ID downtown. Many people cannot get basic social services help unless they have an ID. By helping the homeless get ID’s we are helping them find a justice in our city.

There are so many examples of injustice in our world that this blog could consist of nothing but examples of injustice. Right now, however,  I want to point out some things we can all do to bring justice into the world as we await the time in which God will act to fully and finally bring justice upon a “New Heaven and New Earth.” Each of us in our hearts know of some area in which there is an injustice that we would like to overcome or help others to overcome. None of us can do everything, but each of us can do something. Here are some ideas:

  • Invite the Risen Lord into the situation. We can pray that God will intervene and that God’s wisdom and love will come into situations of injustice.
  • Resist the temptation to defeatism and negativity. It is easy to complain. It is hard to do something positive.
  • Study the Bible and the specific injustice you are interested. Gaining a Godly perspective and a worldly understanding is a part of learning to overcome injustice.
  • Act. For a long time, we have been talking about Worship, Grow, and Serve as three pegs of the Christian life. Doing something is part of serving.
  • Be patient. No problem, and especially no serious problem, is quickly or painlessly overcome. We should hang in there.

It is a strength of Christianity that we look forward to God’s help in overcoming injustice. We need to hold onto our need for God’s help. Nevertheless, we cannot give up on working for justice, because that is what God would have us do in the meantime.

The One Hope We Have.

This week at staff meeting we were talking about the human search for justice. We were, of course, noting that we cannot possibly be completely sure of what justice is in this world. We also cannot know completely that our actions are bringing about justice. Often in liberal churches sight is lost of the fact that we cannot bring the Kingdom of God upon the earth solely by our own actions. Conversely,  in conservative churches we sometimes forget that God has created his church upon the earth to assist God in bringing in the kingdom until Christ returns.

imgresThe cross is the great reminder of the reality that God suffers injustice with everyone who suffers injustice. Christ was arrested unjustly, tried unjustly, and crucified unjustly. God knows and understands the reality and power of injustice. The cross is where the mercy and justice of God collide—and it is a reminder that God is with us when we suffer injustice. The resurrection is a reminder that God will have an ultimate victory over injustice. The king has come. Our moral winter may not be entirely over, but spring is coming.


Copyright 2016, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] One major issue in modern (what I would call the decadent phase of modern society is the pervasive loss of belief in invisible and spiritual realities, of which justice is one. This is not the place for a philosophical analysis, but a loss of faith in the reality of justice inevitably reduces political and legal disputes to power plays and power politics. Such a development is not consistent with the requirements for a free and just society and ultimately leads to injustice and suffering on a massive scale. See, G. Christopher Scruggs, Path of Life: The Way of Wisdom for Christ Followers (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2012014). My analysis is as always reliant upon the critical realistic work of Michael Polanyi (see Footnote 4 below) and others. ‘Justice’ is real and the search for justice, when fairly and consistently engaged in, progressively reveals an ever deeper and inexhaustible content to human beings. Justice’s reality is shown in its power to create a better world as it is progressively revealed to those who believe in it and seek it diligently. Justice is “real,” though its reality is different in kind from physical reality. Its reality is intellectual and spiritual and must be known according to its character by faith, diligent inquiry, and constant revision of our ideas. See, Tomas F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (New York, NY: T&T Clarke, 1980).

[2] The Chronicles of Narnia are published by Harper Trophy, A Division of Harper Collins, New York, New York. The first book in the series is, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.

[3] I have more than once noted in the past that I think we modern people too often discount and fail to recognize the impact of sin on the world we inhabit and its consequences even upon those with whom we have no direct impact. Just as in the physical world there can be “spooky action at a distance” in the subatomic world, in the macro world I am convinced that spiritual realities “act at a distance.” As a pastor, for example, I have noted that when our nation is at war there is a level of anger and violence among those whom we counsel that is absent in times of peace. As our society has deteriorated, there is not question but what we have seen more crime, more dysfunction, and more anxiety among people.

[4] Last week I made mention of the fact that some philosophers, like Michael Polanyi, critique conservative Christianity because its unreachable moral ideal often results in a kind of fanaticism. This fanaticism is especially dangerous when it emerges in its secular form unrelated to the love and mercy of God, as it does in Communism and other secular movements. This is Polanyi’s concern. This danger is ameliorated if we remember that our world will always be characterized by some degree of injustice. We cannot even by our best efforts eliminate all injustice, and those who try often engage in the most serious forms of injustice imaginable, as Stalin and Lenin demonstrated. The unattainability of our goals to perfect society should not keep us from seeking that better world. See Michael Polanyi, Science, Faith, and Society (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1946) and Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Chicago, Il. University of Chicago Press, 1958).

Longing for Leadership


What's-NextOur theme for this blog and our church this year is, “What’s next?”. Our theme for  Advent season 2016 is, “Longing for What’s Next.” Most of us, when we think of longing for a word from God, think of longing for some message in human speech or language. While it’s true that we often need a verbal message from God, more often we want a relationship with God. The “Word” we want is the Word Made Flesh, Jesus. We need a person not just words. The longing we have is not just for information but for a personal relationship with a person (God) who can bring us to the next stage of life.

Because this year was an election year, most of us have thought about the subject of leadership. We long for a world in which we have better, more ethical, godlier, and more caring leadership. Of course, in the end our longing for better leaders cannot be fulfilled except by Christ. All human leaders fail. All human leaders fall short of our expectations. Only God can give us leadership we desire in the depths of our hearts. The frailty of our human leaders does not, however, mean we don’t need good and godly ones.

This blog is about the longing we all have to be led by leaders who truly care for us and lead is wisely. This longing is part of our human condition. Human beings have always longed for better leaders. This longing especially comes to the surface during election years or other times like the one our church is experiencing: times when we are thinking and looking for new leadership. It may help us to know that people have always longed for new leadership in times of transition and in troubled times.

A Prophetic Longing.

images-2Our text for this blog is from the prophet Isaiah. The early church valued Isaiah more than any book of prophecy. They saw in Isaiah a foreshadowing of the birth, character, ministry, and sacrificial death of Jesus. As they read Isaiah, the first Christians saw revealed and understood in a deep way the life and ministry of Jesus. Isaiah foresaw that a virgin would conceive (7:14), that the Messiah would be hidden and not attractive to the wealthy and famous (53:2), and that he would sacrifice himself for the sins of his people (53:6-8). They also saw in Jesus fulfillment of the promise God had made to David that he would never fail to have a family on the throne of Israel (9:7; 11:10). Here is a part of what Isaiah prophesies on the subject of leadership:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them (Isaiah 11:1-6).

Let us Pray: Eternal God, King of Heaven, Lord of Hosts: Come to us by the power of your Holy Spirit so that we may understand the kind of leadership that pleases you and become such leaders in our families, businesses, schools, clubs, friendships, and other places we minister your grace. In Jesus Name, Amen.

images-2The Leaders We Too Often Have.

We often complain about poor leadership in our culture—and for good reason. Recently, I went on the internet to look for a few examples of bad leadership. I found many, many examples from 2016 alone. Here are just a few examples of bad leadership from 2016:

  • The CEO of a large internet company who was hired to turn the business around, became a celebrity, and proceeded to lose even more money than her predecessor.
  • The leader of an emerging economic power who ran for office on an anti-corruption ticket and then proceeded to act in a corrupt manner.
  • The CEO of a growing software company used dubious and illegal business practices to grow a company and his leadership style included highly inappropriate conduct by himself and his employees.
  • The CEO of a drug company that bought a generic drug and then upped the price, hurting seriously ill people.
  • Another CEO of a drug company who misstated the results of tests on a new company drug.
  • The CEO of a car company ignored signs that certain tests required by the federal government were not accurately reported.
  • The mayor of a major American city afflicted with crime flip flopped on an alleged act of police violence, losing the respect of voters, police and social activists alike.
  • The governor of a state claimed not to know of a blatantly illegal and politically motivated action of two of his subordinates. [1]

Frankly, too often we settle for bad or incompetent or immoral or dishonest leadership not just in our government, but also in private industry and charitable organizations. If we do not think and work carefully to develop good leaders, we must live with the leaders we get. Therefore, it is a good idea to think about the kind of leadership we desire for the institutions of our society.

The Leadership We Deimages-1sire.

The Prophet Isaiah lived in the times of two of the best kings of Israel and two of the worst. The prophesy of the historical Isaiah covers the period from the reign of King Uzziah (791-740 B.C.), the reign of King Jotham (750-732 B.C.), King Ahaz (736-716 B.C.), and King Hezekiah (725-687 B.C.). Uzziah and Hezekiah were good kings, but Ahaz and Jotham were not. Isaiah 11, quoted above, was probably written sometime during the disappointing reign of Ahaz. [2] The prophet was understandably concerned about the future of his nation. The vision of granted Isaiah is a response of God to his longing and praying for a better kind of leader. He needed a word from God on the subject of leadership, and he received that word he needed.

As Isaiah prayed and thought about the situation, he recognized that what was needed was a new and different kind of leadership. Such leadership would be Spirit-filled, loving and caring for people, wise, knowledgeable about the world and about the ways of God, insightful about the motives of people and the potential of situations, just, and righteous.

From the time of Isaiah forward, the people of Israel longed for that kind of leadership. Over time, the visions of Isaiah and other prophets resulted in a hope for a Spirit-filled leader the prophets called, the “Messiah,” or “The Anointed One.” [3] In other words, what Israel hoped for was a leader filled with the Spirit of God, and so empowered to rule in a godly manner. By the time of Jesus, this hope was fully worked out in the minds of most Jews. Unfortunately, the way God’s people had worked it out was not accurate. The Jews made of the Messiah just another King David, only more moral and without some of David’s most serious shortcomings.

God had a different idea. In God’s mind, the Messiah was to be a totally different kind of leader. I have a doctorate, and my doctorate happens to be in leadership. In the beginning of my research for my degree, I was attracted to the study of some of the most successful and most popular leaders of the church of the 1990’s. By the time of my dissertation, I had come to realize that too often pastors, church professionals, sessions, and church members want church leaders who model the same leadership styles as their favorite leaders in business, government, the military, and other areas. The problem is that secular leaders almost always disappoint, and our search for church leaders who are just like secular leaders but nicer is also bound to disappoint. If we want the kind of leaders for which we long, then we need to pray for Spirit-filled leadership. Truly Christian leadership is leadership that emulates Christ before everything else.

All human leaders human institutions must in some way adapt their style to the culture in which they lead. All leaders must adapt their leadership to the realities of the challenges they face and to human nature. However, we cannot make progress, real progress in leadership unless and until the transcendent example of Christ forms in our hearts an ideal for which we strive.

Getting There from Here.

This blog has been scheduled for almost all this year. When it was scheduled, I had no idea that the election would be so divisive or that there would be so much ill-feelings about the candidates. A few days ago, I wrote the meditation for last week. It was as follows:

This year has been an election year. Therefore, most of us have thought about leadership at least once or twice. One thing most of us long for is a world in which we have better, wiser, more ethical, godlier, and more caring leadership. This longing for better leaders cannot be completely fulfilled except by Christ. All human leaders fail. All human leaders fall short of our expectations. All human leaders are like us: they are flawed, finite human beings. Therefore, we can come to expect too much from them. Only God can give us the leadership we desire in the depths of our hearts. Only Christ can give us the self-giving, servant leadership for which our spirits made in the image of God long. Only the Spirit can help us come closer to being such leaders.

Christians can and should be in the forefront of demanding and seeking good leadership from ourselves and from those who lead us. One of the strengths of our faith is that it gives us an eternal and humanly unreachable spiritual and moral ideal to guide us in all our striving, including our striving to be good leaders.

Our culture is chronically disappointed in its leaders because we do not have a clear and realistic moral ideal of the kind of leader we want. As we have become a secular culture, the ideal of a servant leadership has been cut off from its roots in Christ, the revelation of the Word Made Flesh. The Bible, however, reveals such a vision and ideal—a vision and ideal first set out in Isaiah and fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.

During the most recent election, I had an experience I want to share. For whatever reason, beginning I did not initially feel called to pray for the victory of any candidate. I did feel called to pray for the character of the candidates. I felt called to pray that one particular candidate, win or lose, would become a better person. Interestingly, I feel my prayers were answered! As Christians, we know that we will never fully achieve the kingdom of God on this earth. We know that our leaders will to some degree fail us. In fact, the attempt to seek a merely human messiah always ends in failure, as Hitler, Lenin, and Mao among others abundantly proved. We cannot have perfect politicians. We can and must, however, pray and work for better political climate and better politicians.

What would better leadership look like? Our passage from Isaiah gives us some clues of what we should pray for:

  • First, we should pray for the Holy Spirit to come upon us and upon our leaders. The book of Isaiah speaks of King Cyrus of Persia (see, Isaiah 41:2-4). Cyrus, was not a Jew, was not a Christian (of course), and in so far as we know, died a pagan. Nevertheless, Isaiah speaks of Cyrus as anointed with the Holy Spirit in the decisions he made, giving religious freedom to the Jews.
  • Second, we can pray for our leaders, whether or not they are Christians, in such a way that we can live quiet and peaceful lives. Paul in his Second Letter to Timothy urges us to do exactly that when he says, “I urge, then, first, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (2 Timothy 2:1-2). Many Christians only pray for those leaders they like or voted for. This is a mistake. We must pray for all those in authority.
  • Third, we can pray that our leaders will make good decisions inspired by the Holy Spirit. Isaiah envisions a king who will decide wisely and with true understanding of people, situations, and the options available (11:2). Such a leader will have a kind of wisdom that begins with deep respect for God and humility, a quality that is necessary for true godliness (Proverbs 1:7; 10:9; and 15:33; Isaiah 112-3). One characteristic of such leaders is that they do not merely judge on the exterior, but look deep into reality with a mind attuned to invisible moral and spiritual realities of a situation (Isaiah 11:3). Such leaders will especially care for the poor, the oppressed, and the forgotten (v. 4).
  • Finally, we can pray that our leaders, Christian or not, be filled with the love of God, and will be selfless, servant leaders. Cyrus, as mentioned earlier, was not a Jew nor did he necessarily believe in the God of Israel. He supported all possible god’s and let people worship as they pleased. Nevertheless, Isaiah sensed that Cyrus was, in many ways, a godly leader and a servant of God’s people and God’s intentions in history (Isaiah 44:24-28; 54:1-13).

As Christians, we can and should pray that our leaders will have that hidden wisdom of which the apostle Paul speaks (1 Corinthians 2:6-8). We can pray that they will be wise in such a way that they can see beneath the surface to the true, hidden causes of things (Isaiah 3-4). Finally, we can pray that they will be righteous and do justice, especially toward the poor and the oppressed (vv. 4).images We can pray that our leaders will serve us with a humble spirit of service, and not simply with a desire for more and more power. We cannot achieve a kind of leadership that promotes the healing of the world by our own powers. If lions are to ly down with lambs, we need the power of God, the power shown on the Cross, to allow that to happen.


Copyright 2016, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] See, Fortune Editors, “The World’s 19 Most Disappointing Leaders” Fortune Magazine (March 30, 2016) downloaded November 16, 2016. I could go on and on with examples. Originally, I was going to use Enron as an example, but it seemed outdated. When I went on the internet I found so many contemporary examples I could not believe it.

[2] See, Gary V. Smith, “Isaiah 1-39” in The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2007), 233ff. Most likely this section is related to the time period of Isaiah 7:14 (“A virgin shall conceive and give birth to a son”). The reign of Ahaz had been disappointing to the prophet and many other religious Jews. In such times, there is a longing for wholesome, renewing leadership.

[3] The Hebrew term “Messiah” is “Christ” in Greek. In English, the translation for Christ is “Anointed One.”