Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Shine His Light

Recently, a reader of my blog told me she appreciated the candor in my writings and asked me how I am able to write fearlessly with such openness and vulnerability about my life, my struggles, and my faith.  She asked, "Aren't you ever fearful of what someone might think as you share from your heart and about your faith so blatantly?  Don't you worry since you aren't using a pen name?"  My initial response to her was, "A little at times, but I needed to be stretched in this way, especially now that I am attempting to pursue a music ministry.  I have nothing to hide, and how can I really be a witness if I hide my identity with a fake one?!"  But as I pondered her question later, I found myself thinking, "Gosh.  Maybe I am too open and honest.  Perhaps I am writing things that offend others or that will get me in trouble with someone.  Maybe I should be using a pen name."

It never ceases to amaze me how sly the enemy is.  He even uses well-intentioned, kind-hearted words (and sometimes, even other believers) to attempt to get us to doubt and fear.  He knows our weak spots better than anyone, and he loves to concoct plays and clever moves that target those frailties. His ultimate desire is to stifle and silence believers from sharing or wearing their faith on their sleeve.  Being the gifted "people-pleaser" that I am, it doesn't take much to get me to resort to fear, doubt, and foolishly fall for his tricks at times.  But God is always faithful to show me the real essence and truth of who is attacking me (sometimes, it's me)!  God reminded me yet again that if I really believe what I say I believe, then sharing openly and honestly about my faith is the only choice I have.  If I truly believe that the only way to heaven is through Christ, (by realizing our need for His free gift of salvation by grace through faith, confessing and repenting of our sins, and professing a desire to have Him in our hearts and lives), then I should be sharing openly, boldly, and fearlessly about my faith in an attempt to bring as many others to this truth as I can.  If I didn't, then I would be a liar, a narcissist, or both. To not share the truth of Christ with others would either mean that I don't really believe the validity of it and/or that I don't really love others or care about their eternal status with salvation enough to let them in on the Good News.  Sharing the truth of Christ requires honesty, great courage, and a truck-load of vulnerability--especially in a society that seems to give credence and tolerance to every other faith but Christianity (hmm...could there be some deeper reason for this?)!  No one wants to be preached at by someone who self-protects or piously appears to be "perfect" and without any personal struggle or dare I say it, "a past."  It just isn't credible or real.  So I believe that effectively sharing the truth about my faith in Christ demands and requires bravery, transparency and honesty. 

We've all been taught from a very early age to keep up good appearances.  We learn early on in life that what others think of us is very important, and it is.  However, when it comes to the Gospel of Christ, there is no place for appearances and guarded coverings.  We are commanded to share the good things that God has done for us in Christ and the good things He is doing, giving all glory to Him for anything good we have or have accomplished.  This isn't a command given only to preachers and Bible teachers, or a right reserved only for doctrinal giants and theological wizards.   If you know Christ and call yourself a Christian, you are commanded to share your faith with others on a regular basis, to confess your sins to God (and to at least a few others), and to give glory to God in all things.  No one is exempt.

In Matthew 28:16-20, Jesus gives what is famously called, "The Great Commission," to His disciples.  The passage is as follows (NIV):  "Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'"  People have argued that this command to, "go out and share the Gospel," was given to the disciples, not to all of us.  But if you read carefully, it is clear that He is telling the disciples to go make MORE disciples; therefore once we become a disciple for Christ, we have the same job to do, as well.  There are also tons of other Scriptures that clearly state that we are to shamelessly and fearlessly share our faith and our belief in Christ with others.  So the argument that we don't is a shallow one at best.

In Matthew 5, Jesus is speaking to the disciples and a crowd of people.  He goes up on the mountaintop to begin preaching what is famously entitled, "The Sermon on the Mount."  In verses 13-16, Jesus says, "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.  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."  Here again, it is clear that we are called to share openly about our faith in Christ and to be open and honest about what He has done for us and all that He is doing for us.  We cannot do this if we are most concerned with keeping up appearances and maintaining a guarded lifestyle where we hide our struggles, sins, victories, or our faith.  We are supposed to be a light for Christ, and just as the childhood song, "This Little Light of Mine," states, we are to, "let it shine," and not, "hide it under a bushel."

Furthermore, Jesus makes it clear that nothing we say or do here on earth will remain hidden anyway.  In Luke 12:2-3, Jesus tells the disciples and a crowd, "There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.  What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs."  So our meager attempts at hiding our sins, flaws, and struggles are totally pointless.  We might as well be open and honest about them, as well as our need for a Savior, because when the day of reckoning comes, it's all going to be brought into the light anyway.  In James 5:16, we are told clearly to share our struggles and sins with each other so that we can pray for one another and help one another:  "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective."  No matter how hard we search, there is nothing in God's Holy Word that will tell us to maintain appearances by hiding our sins and our faith so as not to offend and to self-protect. 

So why do we prefer to remain silent and "keep a low profile" when it comes to our faith and our personal struggles?  I believe it two things--fear and idolatry.  We are afraid that others will think we don't have it all together.  We are fearful that someone will be offended when we tell them that our faith is the only true faith.  We are afraid that we will appear close-minded, irrelevant, or fanatical.  We are fearful that we will lose friendships or create divisions.  It's all about appearances.  But Christ didn't come to earth to suffer and die for our sins so that we would sit in silence to, "keep the peace" or preserve our pop-culture popularity.  He Himself said in Matthew 10:34-37, "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to turn 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household,' (ref. to Micah 7:6).  Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it."  In other words, Jesus didn't humble Himself, come to earth to be our sacrifice, and suffer a brutal death to bring us eternal life so that we would reciprocate shame for His great love.  He didn't give His own life for us so that we could then hide ours, ashamedly keeping our belief in Him private, all in the name of seeking "not to offend," (which in this case, is essentially respecting and loving other people more than Him).  We make idols (essentially "gods") out of our loved ones, friends, and other people when we place more value on what they think of us than we do on what God thinks of us.  We also make idols out of others when we spend more time trying to please them, go along with them, and support their views than we do on serving God and standing for His truths--regardless of who they offend.

It is certainly risky business putting God first and declaring that He is first in your life (or that you are attempting to keep Him in first place).  No one is arguing that.  Paul speaks to this in 2 Timothy 1:6-12 (NIV), "For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.  For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.  So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner.  Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.  He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace.  This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.  And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher.  That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know Whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day."  Paul faced the ultimate risk in preaching, teaching, sharing his struggles, and sharing his faith in Christ.  Most of us will never be imprisoned or suffer physical harm and death for doing so, yet sometimes we act like we will. 

So in thinking about the question posed to me regarding my decision to write this blog and in being so open about my history, my personal battles, and most importantly, my faith, I have to say that my decision to do so stemmed from a realization that I am flat weary of being afraid of everything in life.  I am tired of failing miserably at sharing my faith due to squeamishly avoiding it.  I'm fed up with placing too much stock in people and what they think of me (especially since there is the obvious option to not read this blog, if it offends).  Fear has no place in my life or the life of any believer.  In the past few months I have committed myself to taking some major steps and risks at tackling some of my biggest fears. God has been so faithful to me in this, and I will share more on this later when appropriate.  The stories I share in this blog are true stories of my life.  The struggles I discuss are honest battles and temptations I face.  The Scriptures I quote are words I believe are solid truths written by men who held eyewitness accounts to factual incidents and prophecies that have all come true.  My faith has sustained me in temptation, in sin, in failure, in victory, and in times of great sorrow.  How could any genuine or remotely decent writer not share passionately and transparently from all of those angles?  It is a given.  Besides, many men and women have died so that I can say whatever I want to say about my life and my beliefs, and I'm going to honor their sacrifice by fearlessly engaging in my right to do so.  On this great day, "Election Day," our nation rises to partake in another one of our inalienable rights and freedoms.  I praise God that I live in a country where I have any rights at all, but most importantly, the freedom of religion.  Our faith is all that will stand the test of time and I am exceedingly grateful that I am able to share my faith and not face harsh or dire consequences.  Not to make an idol out of patriotism, but I feel truly blessed to be an American today, and praise God that I can safely write any of the things I write here (pretty safely, that is).

On this topic of, "shining our light before men" by honestly sharing our life and our faith with others, Jesus tells us about another light we are to keep burning.  In Luke 12:35-40, Jesus tells His disciples and the crowd that had gathered, "Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their Master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when He comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for Him.  It will be good for those servants whose Master finds them watching when He comes. Truly I tell you, He will dress Himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them.  It will be good for those servants whose Master finds them ready, even if He comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak.  But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.  You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him."  Jesus is speaking about His second coming and His return.  He is warning us to be ready and watchful for Him, and to keep a metaphorical lamp burning in our desire and readiness for His return.  I am reminded of how I leave a light on for Matt when he will be arriving home late from business travel or a late-night meeting.  Leaving a light on for someone is in essence a way of saying a few special things to them:  that we are thinking of them, that we are perhaps even missing them, that we are desirous of their return, and that we are hoping and praying for their safe return to us.  So we are called to, "keep a lamp burning for Christ," for His return to us.  Even the last prayer in the Bible speaks to His final return, "He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming soon.' Amen. Come, Lord Jesus," (Revelation 22:20).  So as believers, we have a couple of lights to shine for Christ.  One is our lives (the testimony of our faith and what Christ has done for us), which should be a light that leads others to the truth of Him.  The other light is the symbolic light of our eager anticipation for Christ's return to us--or our return to Him...whichever comes first.  Keep on shinin'.