Flicking The Light On

Lighthouse

“Let’s put some light on the subject.”  That is a common phrase people use when there is a lack of clarity on what to do in a small thing or how make a big decision.

But sometimes getting clarity on what is common sense becomes a matter of “be careful for what you wish for, you might get it.”  Once someone know what their encounter with truth is and its consequences then they may have to make a change in their life course that stretches them beyond their comfort zones.  Working in a substance abuse treatment center I see often where clients have their toxic drug habits and their toxic relationships for what they are.  From there they see their faith in their abilities or their desire to change wanting and take the stress out on those who call them on their %$# (insert vernacular here).  Lucky me!

When Jesus came not the scene there we see the natural reaction of hard hearted people with light.  “And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).  Just as the world was “formless and void” (Genesis 1:2) before light was made, so were the consciences of enemies of God’s love in need of formation and filling.

As tempting as it is to dust off our hands and say that how God touches the world is a mystery and between Him and the individual.  It is tempting because it could appeal to someone who calls themselves “religious” and a “Christ-follower” to finding an individual spirituality without passing it on. But Jesus called, and still calls, His disciples to touch and be touched by the message of the kingdom as a community experience of in- reach to a fruitful outreach.  Thus He lays down the gauntlet here.

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:15-16)

To be a navel gazing Christian as I described above is like hiding in that bushel.  And the navel gazing that keeps us from letting faith working itself out through love can have so many excuses.  Too busy.  Too stressed.  The people one would interact with are too different.

But light is invasive.  There is no flick of a switch that makes darkness turn out the light.  But if one has established themselves to be salt of the earth (see last post), then the next turning point is to “preach the gospel at all times, if needed, use words” (St. Francis).  To lean forward towards those who do not know Jesus is to be one who shows clarity by the clarity of the gospel that is being applied to your own life first.   An example of this light being done right is in how the personal sin you hate the most is ones own.  You pass on what you have.

So for the believer or the unbelieving reader going over these words I want to say emphatically that people of Westboro Baptist Church who scream homophobic epithets are by no means a light of Christianity.  By some of the working definition I outlined above they are clanging symbols who have not love.

But examples who live out such good deeds are too numerous for me to write here.  I could speak of close friends who were still my friends when I was unworthy of their friendship.  There are some heroes like Mother Theresa, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Andre Bissett, St. Pope John Paul II…and possibly you.  What is stopping us?

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When I was a teenager and then much later into adulthood at Portland State University, I saw my share of street preachers.  They were not short on the ability to project and get the attention of the people.  Much of the time it was not positive attention.  

The ways that the negative attention happened were many.  There were political statements mixed in with Bible verses, there were the “sexy” sins set apart to make people feel bad enough to convert (this never seemed to happen in my observation) or the emphasis especially to know facts and figures of the Bible.  Especially when I was a teenager, I wanted to be like them; then I put aside such childish things.  

This is not to say that I am ashamed of the message of following Jesus.  I both like and love Jesus.  But if one is going to bring a message that brings essential transformation, then the essentials should be emphasized in speech and example.  The examples stated above were none of that either with moderate or loud volume.  

Peter had a different view of bringing the message of Christianity to the people.  

1 Peter 3

14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.

This patter is few and far between, but not impossible.  I would like to show here some concepts  that Peter is telling the Christian to have in their toolkit.  

1: But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated.   This is powerful because, as the apostle John says, “Perfect love drives out fear…because fear has to do with punishment.”  Do you know that God loves you and wants what is best for you?  Then bear that in mind if you are worried about being rejected. Imagine that there is a coliseum around you of people that have gone before you, faced rejection for a the testimony of what Jesus did in their lives, and have their reward now.  

2: but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.  This is powerful too because the human nature is prone to experiencing God and thus explaining Him out of too much of a logical box.  Yes, I believe like St. John Paul II that faith and reason are two wings that give the spirit flight, but if we clog up Christianity from being a relationship with God and others through mental assent (Uh, sure, I know that verse…”) then what does the believe have to offer the world?  

But what does it mean to sanctify Christ as Lord?  Isn’t He already holy?  

Yes, he is holy.  But the nature of our hearts is to treat God Incarnate as inconvenient and a scandal to a life lived for convenience.  Repentance is about getting over that and it starts with you before you preach it to someone else.  

yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.

If Peter could see the handiwork of The Westboro Bapstist Church, he would be tempted to slice someone’s ear off.  But if he were to see a certain little lady in Calcutta  by the name of Theresa he would weep with joy.  A quote from Pope Francis that comes to mind is that he wants to see a “Church that is poor and for the poor”.  

These latter two parties that I mentioned tend to evoke warmth and positive reflection even from a skeptic of the Church.  Too many of them, one could malign the supposed priest down the street but don’t you dare tell a dirty joke about Mother Theresa!

On the gentleness and reverence point, I would like to end with a challenge to all of us who call themselves a follower of Christ.  When dealing with the unbeliever and/or the skeptic, being quick to listen.  It is possible that God may be bringing valid criticisms on where you or many of us have missed the boat in walking the faith like we talk it.  Besides, in a world of so much hurt, perhaps my worst critic has a poverty of being heard on what has hurt them.  

Pope Francis said when he was in the papal conclave as a cardinal that the Church needs to stop being so self-referential.  I would add that in out presentation be mindful of referring to the grace of Jesus in your life and not the latest philosophical line, the “it” political party or just another Judeo-Christian ethics lesson.  Be real as a fellow work of God in progress an let Him take care of the rest.