Hiding in the Light

Here is a very old joke.

A man, apparently named “Mac”, is walking down the street when he sees a second man, “Bud”, looking around the sidewalk for something. Mac, being a very astute individual, says, “Hey Bud, you lose somethin’?”
-Bud responds “What’s it to you, Mac?”Image result for lost wallet
-“Nothin’.” replies Mac, “Just seein’ if I could help. What did ya lose, Bud?”
-“Well Mac, it’s like this. A few minutes ago I was walking down that narrow alley. I know I had my wallet going into it, but when I got out, it was missing.”
-“So Bud, why in the world are you out here looking when you know the wallet is in that alley somewhere?”
-“Why strain my eyes looking for my wallet in there, Mac, when the light is much better out here.”

It sure sounds foolish to look for what is lost, where what is lost is not. Jesus went where the lost were. He sought out all that would hear His good news. The “Light of the World” sought out darkness, not to become dark, but to make the darkness light.

We also are told to be lights to the world. We are told not to hide that light. And often, as good Christians, we obey Jesus and do not hide our light. We boldly proclaim the Gospel, in church. He discuss deep spiritual matters with anyone, in our Bible study group, who is interested. We confidently share our faith with our Christian neighbors and relatives.

When we share our faith only with those we believe share our faith, we are like Bud, who is looking for his wallet where it isn’t. We, like Bud, are hiding in the light—seeking to obey God in action, but only where it is comfortable. We are called to be uncomfortable. Obedience to God is not merely in action, but location.

Where are you looking for God’s lost children?

Thoughts on “Knowing” God

Cover of "Finding Faith"
Cover of Finding Faith

“In our society, the way we think we really come to know something is to doubt it, to question and test it, to dissect it (requiring us first to kill it), to analyze it by breaking it into smaller and smaller pieces– pieces that are smaller than we are, pieces we can control and feel we can explain. We will never know God this way, and I think you can see why without me trying to explain. The very opposite approach would be more appropriate, don’t you agree? …to trust God, not doubt; to see God as big and whole, not in disintegrated pieces; to submit to God’s superiority; not to try to feel (absurdly) superior ourselves; to recognize that we are fully understood by God, not to pretend that we ourselves fully understand …in short, to worship God.” -Brian McLaren (Finding Faith, 1999, p. 172)

Translation and Diffusion

Lamin Sanneh uses Translation and Diffusion as terms to describe two types of mission work. Diffusion is the traditional (although not universal) form of Islamic mission. The assumption is that the culture of land of its origin (Arabia) is the ideal form for its missional expression. Translation is the traditional (but by no means universal) form of Christian missions. The message of faith is translated into the culture of the recipient. It will transform the culture… but not replace it with the host culture.

Quote from Lamin Sanneh in “Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture”, 2009 edition, page 35.

“As translation, mission begot faith and obedience to God, whole humility and humanity were conveyed in multiple cultural systems without these systems hardening into exclusive pillars of truth. This might suggest an arid, Spartan view of culture, but in fact it ennobled culture by introducing the safeguard of nondeification. God is not an interchangeable cultural concept, a pious projection of cultural conceit: God is in art, music, architecture, nature, and creation, for example, but these things are not God per se. God is not an abstract notion bounded by cultural restrictions. To the Jew, God must speak as a Jew, with a repetition of that particularity in respect to the Gentiles.”

Missional Church Quote

“The two primary wrong questions that misdirect churches away from mission: How do we get people into our churches, and How do we help people?” Both questions leave us in control, in a position where we don’t need to change, and besides, church questions are the wrong questions. The right questions are about What is God up to in the neighborhood?” The right questions are God questions, not church questions.” -Alan Roxburgh (quoted by John Chandler at http://www.SpenceNetwork.org)

Church as a Communal Organism

“It’s the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.” <Quote by Graham in the movie “Crash”, 2004>

Gordon Kaufman in The Theological Imagination: Constructing the Concept of God points out something that most of us know, but sometimes forget. diversity-tree-2014

“We are social beings to the deepest recesses of our nature. The attachment of infant to mother and of mother to child, of members of families and other intimate groups to each other, and later the wider loyalties to community, guild and nation, are expressive of our fundamental interdependence as human beings. …the real human being exists only in community, in a network of relationships which sustain her or him biologically, psychologically, or culturally and without which he or she could not exist.” <pgs. 58-59>

When I was living in Orlando, Florida, a police detective came to my door, and asked questions about a neighbor. I had not known the person, and I soon realized that I knew no one in my apartment complex. The few people I spent time with were fellow students at school. We were friendly, but not all that close. At church I was put into the singles class, a dumping ground for church misfits My family and friends lived over 1,500 miles away. My situation then was not that different from millions in America and beyond today.

What does it mean for the 21st century church?

  • The church must be countercultural. American culture drives people apart. Church culture must bring people together, developing interlocking networks of relationships… a community.
  • The church should model cooperation, not competition. Leave competition to sporting events. Church should model a team concept where failures are dealt with within a supportive network, and successes are shared.
  • The church should break barriers. Race, cultural background, and distance should not be barriers, but add excitement and interest to the community.
  • The church should act as a communal organism. It is communal in the sense that it is made up of interrelating individuals, not mindless drones. It is an organism in the sense that each part has a function that works towards a communal goal.
  • The church is on a mission. Church is not a love-in, a feel good place to hang-out. It is not a social club, but an organism created by God, for a mission. That mission comes together, in part, because of trusted relationships within the community.

As John Bowlby in Attachment and Loss, stated:

“Human beings of all ages are found to be at their happiest and to be able to deploy their talents to best advantage when they are confident that, standing behind them, there are one or more trusted persons who will come to their aid should difficulties arise.” <Vol. II, pg. 359>

Kaufman goes on to further:

“The strong undercurrent of anxiety which most of us experience much of the time appears to be directly correlated with the absence, or potential absence, of such supporting figures.” <Kaufman, 59>

Perhaps the church of the 19th or even 20th centuries did not need to have this sense of community, because other social structures existed that met basic human needs. That is no longer true, and the church must change to adapt to this new reality.

Proactive Availability

Lifeguard jumping into action in Ocean City, M...
Image via Wikipedia
The lifeguard stood at his post, attentively searching the water for some poor swimmer who is in need of rescue. He is ever vigilant. He is an expert swimmer, and has been properly certified in CPR and all manners of Water Safety. The lives of hundreds are in his capable hands.

Suddenly, he sees him—a child has gone out too far and is flailing and gasping for air. The lifeguard sounds the horn to clear the water. With speed and grace he races for the parking lot with keys in hand. He jumps in his car and races home to get his swimsuit and life ring. Years of training will pay off today, certainly.

Or will it?

Will the child still be seeking help after the lifeguard has found his suit and life ring and returned to the beach? Very doubtful. One of two likely possibilities will have occurred by the time he returns.

  1. The child will have drowned.
  2. Someone with less training will have saved the day.

Let’s consider the situation of a lifeguard. A lifeguard does not know what will happen. His job is to be available for the unknown– unknown circumstances at an unknown point in time. But how does he prepare for the unknown?

  • Learning to swim and the gaining of water proficiency
  • Training, practice, and certification in water safety
  • Training, practice, and certification in life saving methods
  • Learning beach procedures/regulations
  • Maintaining and keeping swimming and rescue equipment near at hand
  • Being at the beach vigilant

The failure in achieving and maintaining any of the above preparations may well make him useless when the need arises.

So WHY are we talking about lifeguards?

One can use a lifeguard as a useful model for the life of a Christian. We know what we are needed to do in a general sense, but often not in a specific sense. As a lifeguard knows he is to help those in need, but does not know the exact time or circumstances, a Christian also knows he is to help those in need, with specific knowledge. As a lifeguard must prepare for the unknown, Christians must as well. A failure to be prepared may mean failure to be available. We may look and act prepared, but we aren’t.

I have known many people who do not prepare because “they don’t feel called.” First, I think that is bad theology. All Christians are called to serve. Frankly, the question is not about being called, but being prepared, available, for when the need arises. If you are called… are you ready?