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Shining Your Light

Dear friends,                                                                                            April 2017

            March was an eventful month for us and, in this LifeSharer letter, I’ll review a few of those activities before closing with some observations about three Scripture passages I’ve been focusing on in recent days.  Let’s get right to it.

            We have experienced cold, windy weather in our prayers and pro-life witness outside the wicked Planned Parenthood abortion business.  But, on one particular morning, I had an additional blustery force to deal with in the person of a hot-headed young man who was vehemently harassing one of the sidewalk counselors.  I had to physically intervene and finally persuaded him to back off and return to the martial arts business he runs in the strip mall next to the abortion mill.  Other confrontations were not as tense but still very significant, including one young woman who escaped Planned Parenthood’s clutches and was guided instead to EPS, the pro-life pregnancy center just down the block.  

            On another morning, we learned about a large “sexual health” training service being held in that building and that one of the groups involved was a health-centered charity in our city whose director I had known many years ago.  I wrote him a letter, a courteous one but containing a firm reproach for being associated in any way with such a wicked business.  I was somewhat encouraged with his reply and have hopes that he will avoid such entanglements in the future.  I have invited him to lunch to explore things further. 

            Finally, here’s one more item from our recent pro-life witness outside Planned Parenthood. I print below a post from Vital Signs Blog that I put on a couple of weeks ago.

The car pulled into the Planned Parenthood parking lot this morning with a bumper sticker lauding “Nebraskans for Peace.”  I spoke to the PP employee when she got out of her car: “Surely you’re aware of the startling hypocrisy of a Planned Parenthood worker trying to promote a message of peace.  After all, you guys make war daily on the most innocent and helpless of all human beings…and you utilize the most cruel and painful methods to do so. Mother Teresa once said that the greatest killer of peace in the whole world was abortion. She couldn’t have been more accurate.  And you know in your heart that's true. So, how about it? You have the opportunity to do more than merely pose as a peacemaker; you can actually do something about it.  Quit this barbaric job and start working to protect preborn boys and girls from slaughter.  You really want peace in the world?  Then let’s start with protecting the sacred peace of a mother’s womb.”

                  Okay, now on to some other March activities. We hosted both our quarterly Vital Signs Ministries Board meeting and our quarterly letter-writing party.  Also, Claire and I met with a friend and her siblings to plan a memorial service for their sister.  I then officiated and delivered a sermon at that service.  I also presented “Piety on the Plains” (my religious history of Omaha talk) to an appreciative group from Harvey Oaks Baptist Church.  Our thanks to Larry & Deb Harrold for setting that up. March also saw a lot of social media activity, my regular Panera meetings with colleagues, hospital visits, and my participation in a 10-week Wednesday evening study with young men from my church.

            And, of course, there was our “When Swing Was King” ministry.  In March, we distributed 400 copies of our quarterly “When Swing Was King” newsletter to the nursing homes on our regular schedule. And, like the previous two editions, they were very well received.  In another development, we added yet another facility to our schedule. That now makes 13 senior care places that we go to every month.  The response continues to overwhelm us with blessing and the audiences keep growing.  In March, the numbers of residents and family members in our audiences was 312.

            In all of these actions, of course, we are trying to faithfully shine the light of Jesus Christ into our dark, decadent culture.  So, it will be no surprise that we are thinking a lot about the Scriptures that emphasize this specific responsibility.  We are also praying with these passages in mind and talking with close friends about them.  Let’s take a quick look.

            1) “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under abasket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.”  (Matthew 5:14−15 NASB)

            This is a wonderful statement by Jesus, one that emphasizes not only the marvelously high position the Christian occupies, but also the noble responsibility we bear.  We are, by our faith in the substitutionary atonement of Christ, lights of the world. And we are to boldly let our light shine from the heights where all can see.  We are not to hide our light in our homes, or for that matter, in our churches.  No, we are lights of the world.  There is a new move in the church to retreat from the fray and adopt a monastic approach to life. The proponents of this idea argue that the post-Christian pagans have already won the culture war and so the best thing Christians can do is leave the public square altogether and protect our values in insulated cloisters like the monasteries of the medieval age or the Amish communities of the early 20th Century. Then, we either wait for heaven’s upward call or be ready for a re-emergence of the Christian culture we’ve protected in some distant future.  

            Now there’s no doubt that such a strategy appeals to our comfort.  We all get frustrated and weary in the battle. And there are certainly elements of that strategy that make sense, especially the devotion to live separate from the world’s philosophies and priorities. But Jesus’ prayer of John 17 specifically requests of the Father (verse 15), “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.” Christians are a peculiar people (1 Peter 2:9) who are called to live, unlike the non-believers around us, in purity and righteousness and love according to God’s strict standards. But we are not called to physically remove ourselves from the world. Indeed, we have been charged with living uprightly in the very midst of battle.  And thus we shine all the brighter as lights of the world, set on the hill for all to see.

            2) The night is almost gone, and the day is near.  Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”  (Romans 13:12 NASB)

            Note how the apostle Paul connects personal purity with godly witness here.  You simply cannot have one without the other. Indeed, it is only as we walk in the Spirit that we can overcome the temptations and dangers of the world. But they can be overcome…even when we are living in the world.  Paul famously uses the metaphor of armor in Ephesians 6:12−17, but here he applies that metaphor to the light of Christ we bear. And, of course, the soldier doesn’t need armor if he’s simply hanging out in the monastery.  No, the armor of light is for engaging the darkness.  It doesn’t retreat; it advances. And, ultimately, it conquers. 

            3) “For ye were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord: walk as children of light  for the fruit of the light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth, proving what is well-pleasing unto the Lord.”  (Ephesians 5:8−10 ASV)

            This is one of the rare times I think the New American Standard edition is inferior to others and so I’ve quoted the American Standard Version instead.  (I explained in detail why I think this in a Vital Signs Blog post a couple of weeks ago.)  Of great relevance here are the practical effects of the new birth. Consider -- thoroughly stained and lost sinners are wholly transformed as we believe the gospel and, by that act of faith, experience Jesus applying His sacrificial death to our credit.  We were darkness, yes. But we are not that any more.  Now, incredibly enough, we are light in the Lord. Amazing grace? You better believe it.  And now, we who were once absolutely worthless to the culture are of great value to it for we bring it, not only the good news of the Light Himself, but also the fruits of the Light which are “all goodness, righteousness, and truth.” Christianity blesses culture in more ways than anyone can count…but only if it is authentically preached and lived out in the world. That’s an integral part of our job description while we remain here on the earth.

            The specific applications of these Bible verses?  Well, of course, they will be different for each of us for we have different jobs, family situations, spheres of influence, spiritual gifts, and so on.  And yet, blended together by the Spirit of God, our individual obedience to the Lord’s leading will create a combined brilliance that will bless us, our families, and the world around us – even if that world refuses the tremendous gifts we offer.  The lofty position we have in Christ provides comfort, security, strength, and motivation in abundance.  It is, indeed, a grand thing to be in His forever family with a heavenly inheritance awaiting us.  But, with the same breath, we must acknowledge our present duty to courageously, joyously bear His light everywhere we go: kitchen, bedroom, front porch, TV room, work, vehicle, vacation spot, church, the public square.   Even when it means confrontation.   Even when it requires sacrifice.  The light must shine.

            And, of course, we would do well to remember Paul’s encouragement from the Romans verse cited earlier; that is, that “The night is almost gone and the day is near.”  What an exciting truth this is! For there is a glorious time coming when we will be overwhelmingly glad for each investment we have made for His kingdom -- a time when death and darkness will be overthrown forever by the holy light of the Savior. So let’s be sure that as we eagerly await that great day, we are shining our light wherever and however we can. It will be well worth it.

            Until next month,