I saw The Light, and it Hurt

“15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” (Eph. 4:15 NIV)

This is, barring something newsworthy to someone other than myself, our last installment from this blog’s series I’ve loosely titled “Reflections from the Water Tower”.  We’ll go on to other things next week.

But if you’ve been following this blog you’ll know much of this came out of the controversy surrounding a group known as the Freedom From Religion Foundation asking, by which I mean petulantly demanding, that the town of Wilmore Kentucky remove the lighted cross from its water tower. The details of this  have been chronicled in earlier blogs, so I’d encourage you to go back and reared hose if you want further information.  I will say this.  As a rule of thumb anytime an organization has the name Freedom From something, you can rest assured they want to take someone else’s freedom away.

This water tower, sitting on the Campus of Asbury University, is an important part of my life, and memories of living in Wilmore for seven years, through college and Seminary. You can tack on another three as I worked on my doctorate at Asbury. That lighted cross became  a symbol of faith, of home and a beacon to be with cherished friends.

But more than anything else, it’s gotten me to think about the image of light in the Scriptures. After all Jesus calls us to be the light of the world.  Truthfully Jesus doesn’t give us any options. He says we are the light of the world.  In other words, there is no other light. It’s either us as the church, or nothing.

When we think of ourselves as the light of the world we usually look to all the pleasant aspects of light.  It’s warm. It shows us the way, it protects us. It keeps us safe. All of which it true. The difficulty we find in the church is that this is not all that light is. And if we only pattern our faith after the pleasant side of being light we either lose  our effectiveness or we are in for a rude surprise when the world reacts poorly to our being the light.

If we are to be the light of the world, we must also embrace the unpleasant part of light in a dark world.  Light can be painful.  Have you ever had someone turn on the lights in your bedroom in the middle of the night? It feels as if your retina’s are virtually being burned out of your head.

That’s because your eyes have adjusted to being in the dark. Imagine being in the dark is all you’ve ever known and suddenly a light is turned on. All you want is for the light to go off so you can go back to the darkness.

As the church, that’s the world we have been plunged into. All around you is a world, and people you care about, who live in darkness. And they like it. And when you are dropped into the middle of that darkness and are made the light of the world it hurts.  The world will react poorly. They like the dark. They don’t want to see their sins exposed. They don’t want to see their pain.  They don’t want to face their need for a savior or the possibility of an eternity without one.  All they want is for you to turn off the light.

Paul admonishes us in our Scripture, not to turn off that light, but to be one who speaks the truth in love. That, of course, is where we often struggle. We either want to dim our light so we can get along with everyone, or shine it like a police officer at Make Out Point and expose everyone’s sins.  Paul says we are to be the light in a world that loves darkness, but we are to do so in love.

How do we do this? Probably by spending more time being the light and less pointing out everyone else’s darkness.  If we spent more time actually being the light,living a holy life, loving other’s as Jesus did we’d be much more effective.

Does that mean our light would be more palatable to the world around us? No. Remember Jesus did this (after all it’s His light that shines through us) and you know how it worked out for Him. The world will still react. The world loves to talk about hypocrites in the church. But truthfully they don’t mind hypocrites in the church. That actually makes them feel better about themselves. What they can’t stand is those who actually live out what they believe.

Being the light in love is painful. But if we don’t do it who will. Live out the light let it shine. Live out the truth. And do it in love.

Amen.

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

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A Light On The Hill

“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.” (Matthew 5:15 NIV)

In my last blog I wrote about the ongoing controversy about the water tower in Wilmore Ky (hometown to Asbury University and Asbury Theological Seminary).  The water tower has, gasp, a lighted cross on its top.  The Freedom From Religion Foundation has asked for the cross to be taken down.  As it may offend the sensibilities of the one atheist in Wilmore or cause a town filled with world-renowned professors, students and graduate students to assume there is no separation of church and state.

So as not to offend the sensibilities of anyone from the FFRF I want to warn you the next picture may not be safe for work.

If anyone from the FFRF or other groups did not heed my warning, nad have been converted to Christianity, or if one of your coworkers glanced over your shoulder and is now delving into the Gospel of John, you were warned.

It may seem much ado about nothing, yet that lighted cross has a lot of significance for many around the world.  For me it was a way to get to where I needed to be. There are no straight roads into or out of Wilmore. And it’s very easy to get turned around on one of the meandering paths. However if it’s night-time, the adepts know that if you drive around long enough, you’ll be able to see that cross and it will point you a way to safely get to where you need to be.

It is sort of our Central Kentucky version of a lighthouse.  A lighthouse’s function was to point the way for a ship, to safely find it’s way to the Harbor. They were a signal to get to where you needed to be. The choppier the waters, the darker the sky the more important the lighthouse was. I particularly like the one below mostly because it appears the lighthouse operator is a Jedi.

When Jesus speaks of us being the light of the world, this is the image that he has in mind. We are to be the light that leads the world to Jesus. We are to be, by how we live, a light that brings others to where they truly wish to be, safely in the arms of Jesus.

I think of General William Booth’s vision of the church as a party on  the dock, the music playing loudly and the food and drink flow while all around them there are people in the water drowning.  Booth asked who cares?

Who is willing to be  a light to the lost and drowning and bring them to safety? Can you imagine being in a storm, desperately trying to get to shore and the lighthouse goes dark?

Yet is this not what many of us do on a daily basis? God has placed in our lives several people who are lost. They are  a part of your family.  You work with them.  They are your neighbors and friends. And they are desperately searching for hope. They search for freedom. They look for redemption and a better life. Whether  they know it or not, what they seek is Jesus.

Yet tragically, we who are the light of the world, when they need it most, go dark. We hide our light. We Don’t offer them Christ by our words, actions or examples. We sit quietly by snuffing out the light of Jesus lest we stand out or offend someone.

But Jesus has placed us in a dark world for a reason.  He loves every single lost person he places before us. He wants them to find what their souls long for. Don’t hide your light. Let it shine. There are people you love looking for a safe way home.

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

A Light to Bring Us Home

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14)

The water tower in the town where I went to college and seminary has been on my mind lately. I don’t, on the whole, think about water towers much. But I do this one.  In the past few days it has become the center of controversy. The water tower in Wilmore, Kentucky is a light colored tower with the words Wilmore printed on it.  It sits on a hill on the campus of Asbury University, high enough that it’s easily seen from most vantage points around the community.

So far, nothing that controversial. It’s pretty much what you would expect from any small town water tower in central Kentucky. But this one has committed the audacious crime of having a lighted cross on the top of it.  Rather than describe it further, let me show you.

The cross isn’t new.  It’s been there since the water tower belonged to the university. It was given to the city back in the fifties with the stipulation the lighted cross would stay. All these years it’s not created any controversy. Until now.  Now the Freedom From Religion Foundation has, or intends to file a complaint that the cross on top of a city water tower is in violation of the separation of church and state.

There is a lot I could say about a group based in Wisconsin filing a complaint against a small community in Kentucky, where no one has complained about it for over sixty years.  I also have a lot to say about the complete misunderstanding of the intention of the separation of church and state, and religious freedom in general.  Don’t worry, I’m going to spare you the histrionics. I’ve always felt those types of things need to be said when one can have a dialogue, not a bully pulpit.

But I do want to say a word why this water tower is important to me. It was in that town that I experienced most of my spiritual formation in my formative years.  I became a Christian there. I learned about a life of Holiness there. I learned about the richness and uniqueness of our Wesleyan heritage there. I learned what it meant to form small groups of people who loved you enough to keep you accountable. In many ways whenever I came into the town and saw that cross it was a light that beckoned me to Jesus. It drew me home.  I still feel that way. Whenever I come to WIlmore and see that cross I feel I am home and I feel closer to Jesus.

In Matthew, Jesus tells us we are to be the light of the world. Well, that’s not exactly correct. Jesus says we ARE the light of the world. No hesitation of equivocation. When we give our lives to Christ,we become the light of the world. So what does it mean to be the “Light of the World” I want to look at this idea over the next several weeks, because the answer is deeper than what we can address in one blog.

We, as the light of the world are called to function much as that lighted water tower cross does for me. We are to live our lives in such a way that we draw others to Jesus. We should be so full of the light of Christ that we beckon people to come home. We ought to be so full of the love and grace of Jesus that how we live draws people into HIs presence.

I think we sometimes forget this aspect of our faith. We can work so earnestly at “being right” or getting our own way, or “being prophetic” (although we need to be prophetic) that we forget we are to be people of love and grace. I’ve observed that the people in my life who draw me in. Who give me a sense of love and grace are the people closest to Jesus.

That’s the type of light for Jesus, I want to be. I want to shed more light on Him than I do myself. I want to be so full of His love and Grace that it draws people in, helps them to feel at home.  I want, in my own way, to be a light in the darkness that draws people to Christ. You are the light of the world. What type of light will you be?

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones

If Not What, Then Why?

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19  NIV)

I spoke yesterday how life is like a rope of sand. You can’t hold onto it, no matter how hard you try.  We also can’t predict what might happen at any moment.  My heart has been heavy this past week after the shooting in Oregon.  I think about the conversations at breakfast. Plans being made for the weekend  or perhaps just for the afternoon. And then in one senseless evil moment nine lives were lost and an entire community was shaken to its very core.

Every indicator at this point says that the shooter, for whatever reason, was targeting Christians. I say this with caution because when events like this happen, its difficult to completely  get a true accounting of the events. But let it suffice to say, at this moment the targeting of Christians seems to be the case.

How are we, as the church, to respond to something like this? That’s not an idle question.  We may focus more on an event like this because it happens in our own country, but perhaps it ought to wake us up to the truth that Christians are being persecuted all over the world. Always have been, really, in one form or another.  Consider, just in the past year or two we have seen a systematic mass murdering of Christians in Iraq and Iran. Consider the mass killings of Christians in Syria. When we take our eyes off of our own situation and take a more global view we quickly understand we must have some type of response.

So how are we as Christians to respond? If we are to take God at His word, and if we are to believe the Scriptures as the authoritative word of God we have only one response. We are to respond with forgiveness. Responding with forgiveness does not preclude, in any way, the work to end persecution and asking for justice to be done to those who perpetrate it. But when it comes down to it, there is no wiggle room in our response. We are to respond with forgiveness.

Which you probably already knew.  I mean, it’s not a new concept. We don’t always do it, but we pretty much know we are to respond with forgiveness. But why? Why are we to forgive? Why we do something is as important as what we do.  Truthfully what we do is shaped by why we do something.

Very often I’ve heard God asks us to forgive because of what hatred does to us.  I forgive so that the evil you have done to me doesn’t control me. You have already done something terrible to me. I’ll not let you control my heart or my emotions in the future. And I’ve no doubt  some of this is true. There is a personal benefit to forgiveness. If nothing more it allows us to  let go of a bitterness that can destroy our spirit.

But this also comes off as a selfish reason why to forgive.  I forgive because it benefits me. One could reason that if one could not see or experience any benefits from forgiveness they would not necessarily be compelled to forgive.

Our response is forgiveness because that is Jesus response. That’s it. It’s not about us or the benefits we may experience from forgiving someone. We forgive because Jesus forgives. And as Christians our lives are to be shaped from the inside out by the Holy Spirit.  As we grow in our relationship with Jesus, we become more like Jesus.  If I am unwilling to forgive it shows my spirit is not being shaped by the Holy Spirit. If Jesus forgives, then I forgive. It’s not about the person. It’s not about the evil they have done.  It’s not about me.  It’s about Him.

That’s what Paul is getting at in the Scripture at the top of the page. Jesus’ ministry is one of forgiveness and reconciliation. If we are His, then our ministry and the way we live will reflect HIs life. A ministry or forgiveness and reconciliation.

Yes it is hard. It is at times unfathomable how anyone can forgive such evil. But perhaps that’s the point. When we allow God to forgive through us and we exhibit an unworldly ability to forgive our lives point back to Jesus. And that ought to be reason enough.

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><