Tag Archives: Light

Life, and Light, Under the Bucket

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people, not at all meaning the people of this world...
1 Corinthians 5:10 (NIV)

There once was a Christian man, raised in a Christian family. From his infancy he attended a Christian church and then was placed in Christian school where he had many Christian friends. He listened exclusively to Christian music on the Christian music station and read Christian novels from the Christian publisher that he purchased from the Christian book store. During high school he involved himself with Christian athletes and in his senior year he attended the Christian prom with his Christian girlfriend. After graduating from Christian high school, the young man attended a Christian college. He went on several Christian missions to the third world and interned at two different Christian organizations. He met a good Christian girl from a Christian family, and he married her. After graduating from the Christian college, the man returned to his hometown to start a Christian business, listed in the local Christian business directory, and joined a Christian men’s group to help him raise his Christian family. And, it started all over again.

Jesus said,

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”

If I was the enemy of Light, and I wanted to keep the Light from penetrating the darkness, I would simply convince the Light bearers that “holiness” was totally dependent on keeping their Light hidden under an overturned bucket of social, cultural, and familial exclusivity. Then, I would sprinkle in the notion that those in darkness will either be  1) somehow attracted to their little circle of exclusivity under the bucket or 2) deserving of the hopeless, eternal darkness outside.

What the hell?

Glory!

 

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.”
Isaiah 60:1 (NIV)

There is a piece of the creation story that is often overlooked. Even those who have a mere trivial knowledge of the Bible know that “Let there be light” was the first act of creation in the Great Story. What most people don’t stop to realize, however, is that the sun, moon, and stars were not created until the fourth day:

“And God said, ‘Let there be light in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth. And it was so. God made two great lights – the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness.’ And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the fourth day.” Gen 1:14-17

Fascinating. The universe begins with light, but not from sun or stars or moon, but from a mysterious unmentioned source. What makes this even more intriguing is that end of the Great Story also contains light without sun or moon:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away… The city does not need sun or the moon to shine upon it, for the Glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” Revelation 21:1, 23

So there is the theological answer to the riddle. God’s “Glory” is the source of the light. The same Glory that radiated so brightly off Moses’ once he encountered God on the mountain that he had to cover his face. The same Glory that radiated off Jesus so brightly on the mountain top that Peter, James, and John were reduced to frightened, babbling fools. The same Glory that literally blinded Saul on the road to Damascus.

In today’s chapter Isaiah prophesies the coming of God’s Glory amidst the dark days of his current national circumstances (defeat, destruction, death, exile). He prophesies a Moses-like radiance for those who look to the Light:

Then you will look and be radiant,
    your heart will throb and swell with joy;

He goes on to offer precursor to John’s Revelation:

The sun will no more be your light by day,
    nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you,
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your God will be your glory.

Most of us are familiar with the word “glory.” We sing “Gloria” in Christmas carols and may even utter a “glory hallelujah!” in exclamation. I’m sure few of us stop to consider what that “glory” is. It is Light direct from the divine source. Its power is terrifying. It is blinding Light that fills dark voids. It is Light that cuts through evil like the most powerful cosmic laser. It is light that radiates off those whom it fills.

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he 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

Like a lot of people I’ve been feeling the shadows creeping over my soul of late. A dark sludge of anger, conflict, bitterness, doubt, and fear seems to have flooded our collective cultural consciousness. I have to believe it was even worse for Isaiah considering the realities he and his contemporaries were facing. We are so self-centered to think we have it bad when just a hint of historical context reminds us we don’t have a flippin’ clue. Nevertheless, I identify with the darkness Isaiah describes in his prophetic poem and am encouraged by the Glory-ous Light he prophesies.

I’m praying for a little Glory to penetrate my spirit and radiate out through the creeping shadows today.

Hope and Despair in a House of Cards

So justice is far from us,
    and righteousness does not reach us.
We look for light, but all is darkness;
    for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows.
Isaiah 59:9 (NIV)

Wendy and I have been watching the acclaimed Netflix series House of Cards over the past year or so. Last night we finished the third season. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright are amazing actors. The story is compelling and the plot has some incredible twists that have caught me completely off guard. (FYI: There is some very graphic content, for those who desire to avoid it.)

Over the past couple of episodes Wendy and I have both felt the heaviness that comes when you find yourself mired in dark, depressing storylines. Even Shakespeare’s Hamlet gets depressing by the end of the play; The stage littered with the senseless dead. Last night Wendy and I began to analyze and unpack what in the series had brought us to feel this with House of Cards.

As we began to analyze the characters in the show, it struck us that, across almost 40 episodes the writers had not given us one redemptive character. In fact, on multiple occasions the main characters toy with redemption, play on the edges of doing the right thing, only to be sucked back into the tangled web of greed, lust, power and deceit. In the world of House of Cards, goodness equals weakness. Trying to do the right thing makes you a victim or a fool. It is, admittedly, a bleak vision of our political class.

I contrast this with stories of real people I know and have met. They are stories of individuals who were mired in the types of dark places embodied by House of Cards. In these stories, however, a mysterious mixture of personal courage and divine grace led people to turn from dark places to be enveloped in Light. Greed gave way to generosity. Lust gave way to love. Humility replaced pride. The forsaken found forgiveness.

I found it a bit of synchronicity that in today’s chapter, the prophet Isaiah spins a poetic description of those lost in the darkness. Isaiah describes those entangled and entrapped in the consequences of their own wrong motives, and perpetually poor choices. Living in those places, as I can personally recall, does feel like a house of cards. You live in constant fear that the whole thing will fall apart, and it eventually does.

As with the stories I recall this morning, redemption comes at the end of Isaiah’s poetic vision. The Redeemer arrives in a eucatastrophic moment. With the Redeemer comes repentance, Spirit, presence, and peace. Darkness gives way to Light. Those are stories to which I am drawn. Nevertheless, I think I’ll stick with House of Cards for season four. I’m not one to give up hope on redemption.

Of Twisties and Pantry Lights

Command the people of Israel to bring you pure oil of beaten olives for the lamp, that a light may be kept burning regularly. Aaron shall set it up in the tent of meeting, outside the curtain of the covenant, to burn from evening to morning before the Lord regularly; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations.
Leviticus 24:2-3 (NRSV)

Wendy and I live together quite comfortably, but we are no different from every other couple on the planet. We have our differences, which don’t always become acutely clear until you live together for a period of time. Wendy and I were both raised in our Dutch heritage, and we both exemplify the legendary frugality of Hollanders. Our frugality, however, is exhibited in very different ways.

My wife’s frugality is exemplified in the hoarding of things that might  be useful in her kitchen. For example, one should never throw away a “twisty” (the little colored paper covered wire that binds the bag on a loaf of bread). You never know when you might need a million or three of these incredibly useful utensils. The same principle can be applied to sacks (especially the ones with little handles on them), and zip-loc bags. I may roll my eyes at the piled rainbow of twisties in the kitchen drawer, Wendy will remind me, but I know without a doubt that there is one (or 12) available when I need it, and I know exactly where to find them.

My frugality (thank you, Dad) is exemplified by my compulsive desire to turn out lights that are illuminating empty rooms (and the accompanying rage that rises in my soul when I see it). Wendy has no problem keeping a room illuminated if there’s the possibility that she might enter it some time during her waking hours. When I see lights on in empty rooms I go into panic just short of cardiac arrest. After all, the unnecessary illumination of empty rooms will certainly be our financial ruin. They will drain our retirement fund of necessary pennies and lead to us living in a dark, cold, rat-hole of an apartment in our old age in which we will rock in our chairs and grieve long hours over this stark reality: If we’d have simply turned out more lights in empty rooms all those years, we might be able to afford turning on the furnace to ease our frigid, arthritic appendages.

So, where am I going with this? Well, just yesterday in the middle of a bright, sunny summer day I walked down to the kitchen to get a cold beverage. Sure enough, I found that the light in our empty kitchen pantry was on. Wendy was in her office working away at her desk. My frugality alarm went off and, as usual, my blood pressure went into its rapid, steep ascent. In a moment of lucidity, however, I reminded myself that entering an argument over turning out the pantry light was futile. We’ve been down that road to nowhere before. I am also frugal with arguments (especially those I’ll never win).

I asked myself: How do I get over my obsessive frustration over turning out the pantry light so that I can live in peace and avoid the cardiologist’s bill?

That’s when I remembered the eternal flame.

Growing up in the Methodist church, there hung a large cross over the altar at the front of sanctuary. From the bottom of the cross hung what looked like a large candle holder. I was taught as a child that this was the “eternal flame” which was always lit (except, of course, when the light bulb burned out) as a word picture of God’s eternal presence and Light.

I laughed as I thought to myself that I needed to stop thinking of the pantry light (which is the light I find most commonly lit unnecessarily) as the bane of our financial freedom. Instead, I need to think of it as the eternal flame that illuminates God’s blessing and provision (as evidenced by a stocked pantry).

In a moment of synchronicity, this morning’s chapter is the source of the “eternal flame” concept. It began with the Levitical law commanding that the high priest (Aaron) keep a lamp burning in the temple, just outside the curtained area which metaphorically represented God’s presence.

Today I’m thinking about frugality and eternal flames. I’m thinking about our individual differences and the compromises we learn to make in living together harmoniously. I can think of compromise as a negative (e.g. I’m having to “give up” or “give in” to something) or I can choose to find something beneficial in the process. The illumination of a pantry void of humans is also a pantry illuminating the evidence of God’s blessings and faithful provision. Perhaps that reminder is worth the pocket change it costs me.

Conflict and the Narrative

Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God.
John 16:2b (NRSV)

Stories are boring if there is no conflict.

In 8th grade, Mrs. McLaren taught me that conflict in stories and literature can, in general, be broken down into a handful of categories:

Person vs. Self (think A Beautiful Mind)
Person vs. Person (think Kramer vs. Kramer)
Person vs. Nature (think Tom Hanks in Castaway)
Person vs. God/fate (think Michael Corleone in The Godfather)
Person vs. Supernatural (think of any ghost story)
Person vs. Technology (think The Matrix)
Person vs. Society (think Fahrenheit 451)

The epic stories, whatever mix of narrative they employ, are stories of good versus evil. Good stories are a reflection of the Great Story, and I have encountered many people along my journey who seem to forget that even the Jesus story is a story of good versus evil. Jesus regularly came in conflict with demonic power. He spoke clearly of the enemy who was arranging circumstances that would lead to His death. In todays chapter, Jesus’ even told His followers to expect that others will try to kill them and think they are worshipping God.

The tactics of evil do not change much over time. I have come to believe that we, as human beings, are lemmings by our sinful nature. As such, our enemy uses common tactics across generations. Despite our desire to think ourselves progressive and enlightened, we have, I fear, learned very little from history. Getting people to commit deathly acts as “worship” of God is evil 101. In Jesus’ day the Jews were trying to kill Jesus and His followers thinking they were doing God a favor. Later the Christians would kill the Jews and muslims thinking they were doing God a favor. Today, ISIS and their ilk are killing Jews, Christians, and any who refuse to accept Allah.

How fascinating to think that Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same God of Abraham. What goes around, comes around.

[sigh]

Today, I am reminded that in each chapter of my personal narrative I may encounter different types of conflict from conflict with others, to conflict with myself, conflict with fate, conflict with society, et al. As I live out my role in the Great Story, I must not forget that this is a story of good versus evil. I do not want to be caught unaware, but rather desire to be ever mindful of how my words and actions are contributing to the grand narrative. In my story, as it dovetails into the Great Story, I want to be an agent of Love, Life, Light and redemption.

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Pursued

source: spencerslife via flickr
source: spencerslife via flickr

Since you did not hate bloodshed, bloodshed will pursue you.”
Ezekiel 35:6b (NIV)

This I have observed along my life journey, that we are pursued by the powers of darkness which we refuse to stand against.

  • If we refuse to stand against hatred, it will pursue us.
  • If we refuse to stand against injustice, it will pursue us.
  • If we refuse to stand against violence, it will pursue us.
  • If we refuse to stand against ignorance, it will pursue us.
  • If we refuse to stand against bigotry, it will pursue us.
  • If we refuse to stand against prejudice, it will pursue us.
  • If we refuse to stand against misogyny, it will pursue us.
  • If we refuse to stand against misandry, it will pursue us.

The things of darkness respond only to a forceful assault of Light.

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”   – Jesus

First Impressions

King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba
King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Arriving at Jerusalem with a very great caravan—with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones—she came to Solomon and talked with him about all that she had on her mind. 1 Kings 10:2 (NIV)

It is said, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

For the past couple of weeks Wendy and I have had our house cleaner, less cluttered, and more organized than it has been in nine years. We have had it on the market since the first of the month and have been entertaining a river of strangers flowing in and through. When you’re selling your house, you want the house to make a good first impression.

I thought about the Queen of Sheba this morning and the impression she must have made on Solomon with her traveling entourage and her caravan of goods and riches. Based on the Queen of Sheba’s response to Solomon, the favorable first impression went both ways.

Today, I’m thinking about the first impressions I make in business and in the community. Jesus said that we are to be Light in a dark world. I don’t want that light on a dimmer switch or utilizing a slow fade in. I want that Light to shine with instant brilliance when I meet others.

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