Part 8: Let’s Build a Bonfire (Christian But Not series)

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Ziv walked along the path as it wound through small campsites on its way up a mountain. It was just past midnight, and the darkness pressed in on him as he hurried along. The tiny individual lights of the camp fires he passed, those that were still lit, reassured him that he was not alone, but did little to chase away the darkness. Ziv tried not to breathe through his nose, for each breathe brought with it a nasty odor of decay that seemed to come from all around him. Covering his nose with the top of his shirt had only made breathing harder, so he had given up and was now rushing up the path heading toward an unknown destination. All he knew was that he had to somehow rise above this evil darkness.

As he walked, Ziv noticed that some of the campfires he passed, as small as they were, were slightly brighter than others. Were they larger fires? Were their fuel sources different than the smaller fires? Or were they being better maintained? Not only that, but the rotten odor seemed to disappear the closer he got to those fires. Ziv’s curiosity made him want to stop at the next bright fire to ask, but a particularly foul odor suddenly swirled out from the dark site he was just passing, overcoming all thoughts of the fires. He had to get out of this nastiness.

Slowly he climbed higher than the campfires, seeing less and less of them. The darkness was still pressing in, but not quite as strongly as earlier. He was relieved that the odor was also decreasing. When he could no longer smell the tainted air, he stopped and looked around. The path ahead of him, illuminated by the stars as they began to come out as clouds dissipated, continued up the mountain, disappearing around a curve about twenty feet from him. On both sides of him scraggly bushes filled the spaces between tall evergreen trees. Branches stuck out at every angle, as if to grab any passerby who carelessly got too close. Behind him was the path he had just climbed. Where should he go? Going down was out of the question, and he didn’t want to attempt pushing his way through the underbrush, so sighing, he turned back to the only option he felt he had. Forward. When he got to the curve, he took one last look back, then determinedly faced forward and continued walking, not knowing what he would find.

What he found was a rock. A very large rock. A rock so white it seemed to glow in the dark, making it stand out from everything else. Ziv followed the path as it circled the rock and returned to the curve from which he had just emerged. There were no side paths splintering off from this main one. Apparently, this was the final destination of this path.

Not wanting to go back down, he decided to climb atop the rock. It would provide a safe place to rest as he considered what to do next. Finding some foot and finger holds, he managed to pull himself up until he was sitting at the top of the rock. It was as hard as he had expected, but that gave him a sense of security. It would not be crumbling under his weight. What he hadn’t expected was its warmth. At this time of night, it should have been cold, having lost its daytime heat. Yet, here it was, well past midnight, and this rock felt as warm as if it were midday. Confused, but thankful, he settled down in delight, enjoying the clean fresh air and bright stars. His gaze eventually wandered down the slope of the mountain that lay before him. If he looked hard enough, he could just barely make out a few tiny sparks of light. Although most campfires apparently had gone out, a few were still burning. Feeling safe and cozy, he began to doze.

Suddenly a voice jarred him awake as it called from somewhere below him, “Hi, up there. Room for one more?”

Apprehensive about who this stranger might be, he called back, “Who are you?”

“A friend,” came the swift reply.

Had one of his friends followed him? Although the voice sounded somewhat familiar, he couldn’t place it with a face. Besides, he had not heard anyone approaching, neither while he was walking or while he was on top of this rock. If it was a friend, how did he find him? Ziv needed to take a look, but leaning over the edge of the rock was not an option, not if he wanted to keep his balance. And, in spite of the star light, he probably wouldn’t be able to see the guy well enough in the dark to identify him.  So instead, he asked another question. “What’s your name?”

“Ryder.”

“Where did you come from?”

“A long distance. Can I come up? It will make talking easier.”

Ziv frowned. Why was he being so mysterious? Was he was a thief? If so, he would be disappointed. Or was he friendly like he said? Something in his voice made Ziv want to believe the latter. He decided to trust his gut. “Sure, come on up,” he called back.

When the stranger came into view, Ziv scooted over making room for him to sit. Ryder quickly joined him, giving out a loud, relieved sigh as he stretched out his legs.

“Amazing how the warmth of this rock is so soothing after a long hike. Wouldn’t you say so?”

“Yeah, I guess so.” Ziv tried not to stare at the stranger’s appearance. His dark face seemed to be lit from the inside. He wasn’t exactly glowing, but there was definitely something there. His black curly hair framed his head and reflected the light from the stars that were still shining brightly. His long sleeve hoodie and denim jeans barely had a spot on them. No twigs, no layer of dust, not even a wrinkle. It was like he had just put them on. Even his hiking boots looked clean. Ziv looked down at his own dirt-coated pants and self-consciously picked off some hitchhiking seeds that had managed to attach themselves there. Wherever this guy had come from, it wasn’t from the same path Ziv had taken. Giving up on removing all the hitchhikers, and not wanting to rudely stare at his visitor, Ziv looked down the slope of the mountain at the tiny flickering fires.

After a few minutes, Ryder’s voice broke through the silence. “A penny for your thoughts.”

“Oh, I wasn’t really thinking about anything,” Ziv said without looking up. “I’m just kind of daydreaming I guess.”

“About what?”

“Those fires down there.”

“What about them?”

“Well, I know the people who are sitting by them are probably thinking they are a decent size, but all the darkness around them pretty much swallows them.”

“True, but the light is still there, no matter how small it appears.” Ryder said with a shrug.

“Yeah, but…”

“They don’t seem to matter much when compared to the amount of darkness that surrounds them, is that what you mean? That they don’t do much to drive away all the darkness?” Ryder looked at Ziv. “We both know that’s not their purpose. But let’s suppose for a moment that it was.”

“That campfires are supposed to provide light up an entire mountain? That’s crazy.”

“If we’re talking about campfires, then yes. But what if they are something more than just campfires. And the darkness is more than just the natural darkness of night on a mountain.”

Now it was Ziv’s turn to ask, “What do you mean?”

“Well, when I look out, it reminds me of the darkness that covers this world. Not a natural darkness, but a spiritual darkness. And those lights down there are like the prayers of the people as they pray against the darkness. Do you understand?”

Ziv nodded. “I can see that. As people pray, they light up their immediate areas.”

“Right. And the people down there who have  gone to sleep, letting their fires die out, are like the people who are no longer praying for one reason or another. What do you think would happen if everyone woke up and relit their fires?”

“Well, there would be a lot more light. But it still wouldn’t be enough. Those fires would still be very little.”

“What if groups of people decided to combine their fires?”

“You mean share a campfire?”

“No, I mean add their campfire to another campfire.”

“That would make it twice as big, giving it twice the light. I think I see where you’re going with this. People combining their prayers with the prayers of others would create a brighter light that would illuminate more of the darkness. But even if everyone got together and made one huge bonfire, there‘s still way too much darkness that wouldn’t be touched.”

“What if the bonfire drew others? Like those who, through their own choices, had walked away from the light? What if they saw it and turned back to the light? And what if those who never had a light were drawn to it and wanted to join in?”

“Then the large fires would spread and become even larger.” Ziv’s eyes lit up. “Eventually the darkness, including that evil smell, would be gone. Everyone would be in the light!”

“Well, almost everyone. There are always those who prefer the darkness.”

Ziv was disappointed. Then what would be the point? And then it hit him. He turned to Ryder. “But that wouldn’t matter as much because the light would be greater than the darkness. The world would still be a better place.”

“Exactly.” Ryder smiled and closed his eyes.

Not wanting to disturb Ryder’s rest, Ziv continued to stare at the fires. Could it be that simple? Everyone praying together against the darkness, adding their light to the light of others around them? Turning from their own evil deeds making sure their light was as bright as possible, and strengthening each other’s lights in the process? What would it take for everyone to come together like this?

I have the same question. What would it take for all of us who call ourselves Christians to join together as Christ’s disciples – fully committed to all His ways – in order to share the light of God with the whole nation? I think maybe we’re beginning to find out.

Ecclesiastes 4:12  And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

John 3:19-21  And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come into the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

(Ziv as a boy’s name (also used as girl’s name Ziv), is pronounced zeev. It is of Hebrew origin, and the meaning of Ziv is “radiance, brilliance or light of God”. The name Ryder is a boy’s name of British origin meaning “cavalryman, messenger”.)

Part 7: Glowing Christians (Christian But Not series)

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” ( Matt 5:14-16)

Jesus said He is the light of the world, but He also said we are the light of the world. Knowing how much greater He is than the brightest of us, I wondered if He was talking about two different kinds of lights, so I looked it up.  Nope. The original Greek word for ‘light’ is the same in both verses.

Light 
φῶς (phōs)
Noun – Nominative Neuter Singular
Strong’s Greek 5457: Light, a source of light, radiance. From an obsolete phao; luminousness.

Luminous means emitting or reflecting light, startling bright.

Radiance means bright or glowing light

We Christians are glowing! And not just any glow, but a radiant, transparent and flawless glow. Turn to someone and say, “You’re glowing!” Just kidding. I hate it when pastors tell us to do that.  But the truth remains, we are all glowing – or should be glowing – whether we are aware of it or not.

Why do some of us seem to glow brighter than others?

Jesus gives us a hint in Matthew 5:15. He said that hiding a lamp under a bowl defeats the purpose of the lamp, and keeps everyone in the dark. How often do we do just that in our work places, in crowded stores, or when other drivers get in our way? It’s hard to shine when we’re angry or frustrated, or where it would make us conspicuous. I remember a time when my colleagues wanted us all to do something that I considered dishonest. They were all good people, so I was surprised at the animosity I received when I mustered my courage and told them that, based on my belief, I couldn’t participate with them. I found out the hard way that my light was not always welcomed nor tolerated even among friends, and its lasting effect caused me to think twice before allowing my light to peek out from under my bowl again.

Another way a Christian’s glow can be diminished is found in Luke 11:33-37. “No one lights a lamp and puts it away in a cellar nor under a basket, but on the lampstand so that those who enter may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body…

The same Greek word for ‘lamp’ is used both in Matthew and in Luke. It means an illuminator. Jesus is saying in Luke that our eyes are the illuminators for the light within us. Did He mean our physical eyes? That light should be shooting out of our eyes like the rays in a sci fi alien? Let’s keep reading and also look at the definitions of some of the original Greek words. (Some Bible translations use different words for a few of these. I will note those in parenthesis next to the applicable words.)

“…when your eye is clear, your whole body is also full of light; but when it is bad, your body is also full of darkness. So watch out that the light in you is not darkness. Therefore if your whole body is full of light, without any dark part, it will be wholly illuminated, as when the lamp illuminates you with its light. (NASB)

eye
ὀφθαλμός (ophthalmos)
Noun – Nominative Masculine Singular
Strong’s Greek 3788: The eye; fig: the mind’s eye. From optanomai; the eye; by implication, vision; figuratively, envy.

body.
σώματός (sōmatos)
Noun – Genitive Neuter Singular
Strong’s Greek 4983: Body, flesh; the body of the Church. From sozo; the body, used in a very wide application, literally or figuratively.

clear,  (also healthy, good, single)
ἁπλοῦς (haplous)
Adjective – Nominative Masculine Singular
Strong’s Greek 573: Single, simple, sound, perfect. Probably from a and the base of pleko; properly, folded together, i.e. Single.

full of light.
φωτεινόν (phōteinon)
Adjective – Nominative Neuter Singular
Strong’s Greek 5460: Bright, luminous, full of light. From phos; lustrous, i.e. Transparent or well-illuminated.

poor, (also unhealthy, bad, evil)
πονηρὸς (ponēros)
Adjective – Nominative Masculine Singular
Strong’s Greek 4190: Evil, bad, wicked, malicious, slothful.

[is] full of darkness.
σκοτεινόν (skoteinon)
Adjective – Nominative Neuter Singular
Strong’s Greek 4652: Full of darkness, dark. From skotos; opaque, i.e. benighted.

you
σοὶ (soi)
Personal / Possessive Pronoun – Dative 2nd Person Singular
Strong’s Greek 4771: You. The person pronoun of the second person singular; thou.

darkness.
σκότος (skotos)
Noun – Nominative Neuter Singular
Strong’s Greek 4655: Darkness, either physical or moral. From the base of skia; shadiness, i.e. Obscurity.

radiant, (also fully illuminated, wholly bright, fully light)
φωτεινὸν (phōteinon)
Adjective – Nominative Neuter Singular
Strong’s Greek 5460: Bright, luminous, full of light. From phos; lustrous, i.e. Transparent or well-illuminated.

were shining
ἀστραπῇ (astrapē)
Noun – Dative Feminine Singular
Strong’s Greek 796: A flash of lightning, brightness, luster. From astrapto; lightning; by analogy, glare.

Linda’s interpretation:  our eyes are the filter by which light enters and leaves our body, not in a physically sense but in a moral sense. If we look at life through the lens of goodness and perfection, and if we act in accord with that, doing good whenever we can, then we are filled with the light of Jesus which will also shine like a spotlight on us for the benefit of everyone around us. But if our lens is tainted with evil, then that light is cut off and we are left in darkness along with everyone around us.

God makes it very clear what evil is. Do a search for “evil” and you’ll find numerous lists throughout the Old and New Testaments including Is 5:2-23; Is 59;2-25; Ez 22:1-31; Rom 1:18-32; 1 Cor 6:9-11; Gal 5:16-24. Likewise, search “do good” and you’ll find enough scriptures, such as Isaiah 1:16-18 and Micah 6:8, to keep you reading for some time. Some places, such as Eph 5:1-17, describe both evil and doing good. Jesus gave us some additional ways to do good in His sermon on the mount (Luke 6:27-28). His ways are hard, and don’t make sense to our natural minds, yet that’s what we are called to do, regardless of how painful it might be, if we are to shine brightly.

So in a nutshell, what we do and don’t do controls the amount of light in us and coming from us, and thus impacts what others are able to see.

Why does it matter how bright we glow?

Two reasons. One reason is because we love God, want a relationship with Him, and want to go to heaven when we die. We want to see in the darkness, to have our path lit up. We understand the need for people to live good lives in order to benefit society. The problem is that although most of us Christians (Christian: a person who has anything to do with Christ) want God in our lives, we only want Him on our terms. We want to live with God. We don’t want to live for God. While we’re here on earth, we’d rather live in as much darkness as we can away with and still get to heaven. We don’t think of it in those terms, but that’s what our lives say nonetheless. Sometimes, though, we don’t shine as strongly as we think we do because of deception. We may think we’re living according to the Bible, but our interpretation – or the interpretation of those who taught us – is faulty. Others of us who have become disciples (disciple: a person who is totally committed to Jesus and all He said) work to shine as brightly as we can, willingly paying the price to do so, because that’s what Jesus wanted.

Paul gives us the second reason in 2 Cor 4:6 For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. We want to glow brightly to reveal God through Jesus to those who don’t know Him. The problem we run into is stated in 2 Cor 4:4  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers; to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  It’s hard to keep shining brightly though when no one seems to understand, when people don’t want their deeds exposed to the light, or when it’s easier to conform than to stand out.

I discovered something else in these verses. The original Greek listeners/readers probably got it right away, but I missed it because I don’t read Greek. It wasn’t until I looked up the original Greek words and meanings that I made this discovery. In verse 34 “your eye is the lamp to your body”, the Greek word for ‘body’ is singular noun but is used in a very wide application, such as the body of the Church. Yet, the Greek word for ‘you’ is singular personal pronoun. That means how much each of us individually shines – or doesn’t shine – impacts the whole body of believers as a whole. That is definitely true in our country today. As Christians, we have earned ourselves a bad name because of our behavior. Paul had to address a similar issue with the Roman believers in Romans 2:17-24. But if you call yourself a Jew (think Christian) and rely on the law (think Bible) and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth – you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles (think non-Christian) because of you.’

When I look around America today, when I listen to both Christians and non-Christians, I am grieved at how God is blasphemed because of our actions. If what non-Christians see when they watch Christians (and yes, they are watching us) defines how they see God, no wonder they want no part of what we offer. We’re really no different than they are, and in some cases, even worse. If only more Christians would commit to being a disciple (a Christian-But-Not), then unbelievers could see God through clear lenses and be drawn to Him.

One more thing – maybe something a little more fun. Jesus mentioned a lamp because that’s pretty much all they had besides candles. However, we have many devises for light today: flashlight, nightlight, spotlight, lamp, lantern, Christmas lights, laser, glow in the dark light, etc. Each puts out a different amount of light for different purposes. Thinking about your life, which devise best fits you? Are you shining more like a nightlight (only seen in the dark) or a flashlight (pointing your light in only one direction at a time) or a lantern (shining your light everywhere at once)? Do you just glow softly, not really lighting up much of anything, or broadcast your light in intense ways? Is one way better than another? Are there times when different devises are needed? You might see all of these in the Christian body as a whole. Would the same hold true in a group of fully committed disciples?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. It’s been fun thinking about this but I haven’t drawn any conclusions yet.

You Are the Nightlight of the World

Feeling sad and discouraged, she read the words in Matthew 5: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  (v.14-15)

Really?

Where was that light when an old friend told her, “I don’t need Jesus. I don’t want Jesus.” She had been too confused to respond. How could anyone not want Jesus?

Where was that light when she visited her siblings? The discord she found there had worked its way inside her until she had gotten drawn into it. OK, maybe not as deeply as they were, but still. Where was her light?

Sadly, she read Matthew’s words again and thought, if Christians are the light of the world, I must be a nightlight. And I don’t seem to be doing a very good job at even that.

IMG_20180412_051155146

That next couple of days, she kept getting the message to persevere. To take things one step at a time and not compare herself with others. She sighed. She’d rather be a bright light in the lives of those around her, but if the best she could be was a nightlight, then she’d persevere in being that nightlight. Yet, deep in her heart, she continued to struggle. How could Jesus be happy with her when her light was little more than that lamp under a bowl?

Years later, she received a letter from a friend.  In it, he described a vision he had had. He had seen a small girl, standing before Jesus, head down, ashamed because she feels she’s disappointed Him. He saw Jesus lift her head and tell her…

“I’ve told you time and time again – I love you just as you are. I didn’t create you to be a flame that bursts forth with brilliant light. You are my glowing ember and you will warm the hearts of many, many souls.”

Astonished, she knew this had to be from God. She had never told this friend about her struggle with not being a bright enough light. As peace replaced the struggle in her heart, she thanked God for this friend’s courage to share that message with her. And she thanked God for caring enough to let her know that being a low level light – a nightlight – was exactly what she was made to be, and it was OK.

“God, after all the times I ignored Your reassurances out of fear and doubt, You never gave up. Thank You for loving me enough to find a way to get Your message to me loud and clear. You’re amazing!”