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Faithlife

Outdistancing The Darkness

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Scripture: John 8:12-30

 

I believe in Christianity as I believe the Sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else. 

 

   -- C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory.

" 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.” The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.” Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. But if I do judge, my decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.” Then they asked him, “Where is your father?” “You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” He spoke these words while teaching in the temple area near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his time had not yet come. Once more Jesus said to them, “I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.” This made the Jews ask, “Will he kill himself? Is that why he says, ‘Where I go, you cannot come’?” But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.” “Who are you?” they asked. “Just what I have been claiming all along,” Jesus replied. “I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is reliable, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.” They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him." (John 8:12-30, NIV) [1]

1.    We struggle with the “exclusivity” of the Christian faith.

More and more, I am realizing that faith singles a person out.  Not long after I came to Fredericton I attended a seminar sponsored by a government agency.  The proceeding were opened by an aboriginal medicine man of some sorts.  As an act of “blessing” of some sort, he was burning some sort of smoke producing material in a shallow bowl and coming around the room to people.  The response that was appropriate was to move your arms through the smoke, embracing it and drawing it to yourself.  I do not remember the total symbolism that this signified but I felt personally that to do this was to compromise something that God had put in my heart.  I didn’t want to offend anyone there that day.  I was participating in the seminar because I wanted to cooperate in what I felt to be a good cause.  I still believe that the cause was good.  But I felt trapped by what was taking place around me.  While the sentiment that this ritual was expressing may have been good, it was tied to a religious belief that I was unwilling to validate by my participation.  I had a choice to make.  What would you do?  Is there room for us to live as spiritual eclectics and still experience vitality in our relationship with God or will our high-mindedness reduce our experience to form and function?

It’s what we don’t want to say to people that many times inhibits us in communicating the gospel.  The things that we refuse to be a part of make a statement.  In our silence and non-participation we will stand apart by times.  I have never wanted my life to make another person feel condemned or driven away from Christ.  I want them to believe when they look at me that I am human, flawed, forgiven, pursuing a crucial connection with God that impacts the way that I live.  And I want them to be able to see my mistakes as much as my successes, the end being that they will believe that God loves us and delights in our diligent efforts to integrate our faith with everyday living.  I don’t believe that God is upset with my failures unless I deny them or refuse to maintain an honest accounting with Him.  My prayer is that people will want to know Christ because they find a joy or a peace in my heart that is desirable. 

I don’t believe that Jesus is a Divine option, I believe that He is the only way. 

There are consequences to what I have just said that I don’t like.  That means that I believe that no person in this world can find their way to eternal peace with God apart from His Son.  Does that mean I am intolerant?  I hope not.  I accept the right of any person in this world to believe differently than I do and I won’t treat them differently because of that.  But I cannot tell them that their path will lead them to God.  I know of only one way.

I realize that my beliefs and the way that I live my life will create discomfort for some people.  I don’t think we can help that totally.

"Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?" (2 Corinthians 2:14-16, NKJV)

[2]

I enjoy this thoughtful poem by Carol Wimmer who gracefully expresses the heart of a person who wants to communicate their faith to another.

WHEN I SAY, "I AM A CHRISTIAN"

When I say, "I am a Christian,"

I'm not shouting "I am saved."

I'm whispering "I was lost";

That is why I chose this way.

When I say, "I am a Christian,"

I don't speak of this with pride.

I'm confessing that I stumble,

And need someone to be my guide.

When I say, "I am a Christian,"

I'm not trying to be strong.

I'm professing that I'm weak,

And pray for strength to carry on.

When I say, "I am a Christian,"

I'm not bragging of success.

I'm admitting I have failed,

And cannot ever pay the debt.

When I say, "I am a Christian,"

I'm not claiming to be perfect.

My flaws are too visible,

But God believes I'm worth it.

When I say, "I am a Christian,"

I still feel the sting of pain.

I have my share of heartaches,

Which is why I speak His name.

When I say, "I am a Christian,"

I do not wish to judge.

I have no authority;

I only know I'm loved.

Copyright 1989, Carol S. Wimmer

Jesus said:

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

These words remind me that there is one body of truth that we find in the scriptures.  No denomination or individual has it totally right.  I do believe that the fundamental truths are readily seen and easily understood.  Jesus expresses it in these words.

There are no other options that I see.  And certainly if you accept the Word of God as the will of God for your life, we cannot allow for other “belief systems” to guide us.

And when we talk about guidance we talk about direction or following the teachings of Christ.

2.   When we talk about the Christian “walk”, movement is implied.

“Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness . . . “

Organizations are always at their most zealous points when they are movements.  As soon as we introduce human order, bureaucracy and politics enter into the picture and the driving force is buried beneath secondary pursuits.  James and John, the Sons of Thunder wanted the power positions in the kingdom to come, one sitting on his right and the other on Christ’s left hand.

"Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.” But Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They said to Him, “We are able.” So He said to them, “You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father.”" (Matthew 20:20-23, NKJV) [3]

We’re still disgustingly like James and John.  Forget the purpose, forget the movement.  Just give me the position of power and privilege.  We think that we can change anything in this world sufficiently if we are given a place of power or authority.  Those positions create spiritual impotence because they swallow people whole and they begin to act in their own interests and self-preservation and once again the movement is stalled.

This is the age of the conference and study group -- people talking about what they know they should be doing.  In a subtle way, talking about something becomes an excuse for not doing it.  This new bolt-hole of the conference and study group is not confined to the local congregation.  It is a painful fact of life in the central structures of the churches.  We have a welter of reports, commissions, surveys, liaison bodies, and so on.  They have the appearance of progressive thinking and readiness to face change, combined with the function of being delaying devices.  They are the sacraments of current Christianity, and its dilemma.  Outreach is a move from power structures to meekness structures, and, in spite of the fact that Christians believe that it is the meek who shall inherit the earth, they show (as in the ecumenical movement) a distinct reluctance to relinquish power-structure thinking.

                             ... Gavin Reid, The Gagging of God

Do you remember Jesus response to these folks?

"And when the ten heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”" (Matthew 20:24-28, NKJV) [4]

God help us to remain moldable and movable as individuals and as a church.  God cannot use a person who will not be moved or molded.  If you are a follower of the teachings of Christ you will be changing forever.  If there is no freshness in your relationship with Christ, no new insight, no fresh vision, nothing stirring your soul to heights that you have not yet known, no passion that causes you to inconvenience yourself for the sake of Christ then you have forsaken the heart of the faith.  If you are a follower of Christ then you become involved in the things that he is involved in.

When we are given light, we are given understanding and movement is required.  We are “promoted” if you will.  As understanding comes there is an expectation relative to behavior.

" This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives." (1 John 1:5-10, NIV) [5]

To “walk in the light” means to move ahead in the current understanding or perspective that God gives us.  There are times when God will “highlight” his truth or will to us.  Sometimes it may come around a particular issue or experience and we realize that there is a response of some sort that God wants from us.

It may be to make and apology, to right a wrong, to take initiative to restore a relationship, to conquer something that is currently conquering you, a call to surrender something that you have been holding in reserve and refusing to lay on the table with God.  A Yankee swap sort of thing where you get something you like and you try to hide it so that someone else will not take it.  We do that with God you know.  We play those games.  And when it we do it is as pitifully obvious to God as someone trying to shoplift a TV underneath a T-shirt.  We think that we are so clever, so cunning and God sees right through us.

Someone has written a parody of "Onward, Christian Soldiers," and it runs like this:

   Like a halting caravan

      Moves the church of Christ;

   We are feebly faltering

      Toward our timid tryst.

   We are all divided,

      Many bodies we,

   Kept apart by doctrine

      And lack of charity.

   Careful, Christian pilgrims!

      Walk in doubt and fear,

   With the cross of Jesus

      Bringing up the rear.

   -- J. Vernon McGee

We have to move in tandem with truth.  To cease is to fall.

3.   If we fail to move we are overtaken by darkness.

Darkness overtakes the person who stops following the light.

"Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them." (John 12:35-36, NIV) [6]

This is the frightening reality for the fitful follower.  You are being pursued by the forces of darkness.  When you come to Christ you are a target for spiritual attack and a cause of concern to the kingdom of darkness.

When we hear truth and consistently refuse to follow we create a place for darkness to reign in our lives.  It’s like a windowless room in our hearts to which we deny God access.  We close the door every time He approaches to maintain the secrecy and the shadows.

Let me ask you today about the areas of your life that you have set as “off limits” for God.  Many times we deny people access to the same areas.  They are the things that we refuse to talk about with anyone.  The sensitive areas and the longer that we harbor them the greater our blindness becomes.

It ruins a whole spiritual perspective, these areas of darkness.  We have to change the way we relate to God to justify the existence of darkness.  So we develop twisted perspectives on scripture that come from our self-willed determination to rule our own lives.

"Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart." (2 Timothy 2:22, NIV) [7]

We are admonished to “run away” from things that diminish our relationship with Christ.  There are many things that have that “diminishing” influence.  They are not outwardly wicked.  We might even consider them harmless but somehow they erode the fabric of the faith – it is compromised somehow.  It may be difficult to identify but somehow in this pursuit or that relationship we are distanced from God.  His reality fades from our hearts and in that distanced state we question God and his intentions and our rights.  We can wake up from this spiritual stupor a thousand miles from where we started.

"Don’t stop listening to correction, my child, or you will forget what you have already learned." (Proverbs 19:27, NCV) [8]

". . . . let us live up to what we have already attained." (Philippians 3:16, NIV) [9]

When you stop following, you are at an extremely vulnerable point.  Like the weak animal that is separated from the herd who becomes easy prey for predators.  Satan is a predator.  He will eat you alive.  It won’t be a shocking bloody ordeal, just the encroachment of darkness and the diminishing of life.  I’m not sure if you’ve ever watched the light of life grow weak and fade from a person.  It is a sad thing to watch in the physical realm.  I’ve seen the same thing happen in the spiritual lives of folks.  You watch their relationship become casual.  They wonder why nothing is working anymore and rather than running to keep pace they stand back.  And when they do the predators gather and they smell an easy meal.

A couple of challenges from the scripture today:

þ     Don’t be apologetic for your beliefs or your faith today.  By the way, I chose not to “embrace the smoke” that day.  You believe what you believe and you base it on something much more substantial than most people.  At least you believe something.  You may have questions unanswered and you may struggle to find answers that will satisfy skeptics but the truth is that the skeptics of the faith do not reject it for lack of answers but for lack of answers that they like.  They want something different and easier that makes them feel more reasonable and intelligent and in control.  Something that won’t interfere with their interests and their lifestyles.  Your life will make people uncomfortable if they are determined to live for themselves.

þ     Remain movable.  Don’t dig your heels in around anything except scripture.  Refuse to love anything except God and His Word.  Don’t let yourself be paralyzed by any influence that causes you to love God less or removes your concern for people who are dying without the knowledge of Christ.  You have to go into the world if you are to share your faith effectively.  Singing pretty hymns and choruses alone will not impress God.  What you sing on Sunday will be delivered to God with greater meaning depending on what you do with your life between Sundays.  There is no greater way to tell God that you love Him than to obey Him.

þ     Don’t stop.  Keep moving.  Follow the teachings of the scriptures.  If you stop there is a pursuing darkness that will blind you to spiritual realities and threaten your faith relationship.

C.S. Lewis said it so well: “I believe in Christianity as I believe the Sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.”


Fodder for Next Week

Freedom follows obedience.  “if you hold to my teachings, then you will know the truth and the truth will set your free.”

"“No one, when he has lit a lamp, puts it in a secret place or under a basket, but on a lamp stand, that those who come in may see the light. The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, the whole body will be full of light, as when the bright shining of a lamp gives you light.”" (Luke 11:33-36, NKJV) [10]

"Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path. " (Psalm 119:105, NKJV) [11]


----

[1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[2] The New King James Version. 1996, c1982. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] The New King James Version. 1996, c1982. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] The New King James Version. 1996, c1982. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[5] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[6] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[7] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[8] The Holy Bible : New Century Version , containing the Old and New Testaments. 1991. Dallas, TX: Word Bibles.

[9] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[10] The New King James Version. 1996, c1982. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[11] The New King James Version. 1996, c1982. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

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