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Reflection: Living in the Light

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One challenge of life in community is that people see stuff. And the worse it was, the better they tend to remember it.

  1. Everyone remembers the time you walked into the party with your fly unzipped.
  2. Everyone knows about the time you laughed so hard that milk came out of your nose.
  3. They all remember when you tried to land that trick on the basketball court, or a skateboard, or skis, and landed in the ER.

One challenge of life in the Digital Age is that a lot more people see a lot more stuff than they used to, and the worse it is, the more it sticks to you.

  1. People can see what we do, where we live, and who we know. And they will judge us by our associations.
  2. They can look up what we used to do, where we once lived, and who we’ve always known. And they will judge us by our history.
  3. They can research the people connected to us, and learn what they do, where they live, and who they know as well.

For better or for worse, we are all being watched and must all decide how we will respond.

Do we acknowledge we are on stage?

Do we play to the camera?

Do we live as if no-one is watching? Is that even possible?

That said, the feeling that negatives have defined us, and the desire to put our best foot forward may sometimes compel us to perform our good behavior. This leads to trouble.

The Sermon on the Mount, spanning Matthew Chapters 5-7, is the longest recorded teaching of Christ in the Bible. It offers us lessons in character for our lives as believers, which means it will also force us to confront some contradictions.

In Matthew 5, Jesus says shine in public.

And in Matthew 6, Jesus says, stop trying to shine in public.

In Matthew 5:14-16, in teaching on being salt and light, Jesus says:

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 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. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

And then in Matthew 6: 1-18, in teaching on giving, prayer, and, fasting, Jesus says:

  1. Don’t give publicly to be seen giving. (Matt. 6:1-4)
  2. Don’t pray publicly to look pious, or pray verbosely, to appear more spiritual, but pray earnestly, and do the difficult stuff, like forgiving those who have sinned against you. (Matt 6:5-15)
  3. Don’t fast publicly so people see you suffer, but fast unto God, and let everyone else see you shine. (Matthew 6:16-18)

So what’s the difference?

  1. The first difference is the question of audience. Whose approval do we seek? The person who lets their light shine is shining for God. The person who does good deeds for a crowd is shining for attention.
  2. The deeper question is one of motive. Are we doing good to give ourselves the glory, or doing good to give God the glory?
  3. Alongside it: are we doing good because we think we can curry favor with God, or doing good because we love Him?

Authentic faith is hard. It requires humility. It demands that we learn in public instead of just appearing to know everything all the time. It dictates that we do gross stuff like apologize, and genuinely try to make amends for the messes we have created. It forces us to top being posers and take the posture of someone who is flawed but wants to do better. It acknowledges that we constantly need God’s grace and mercy, both to accomplish His will, and to miss the full consequences of our mistakes.

In a sense, Jesus is talking about two different types of light.

There is the authentic light, that represents God shining in you, or perhaps more accurately God shining through you.

And there is the filtered, exaggerated, amplified light, designed to blind the viewer, obscure your flaws, and make you look brighter than you or anyone else actually is.

So, by all means, please let your light shine.

And please turn off the backlights, the floor lights, the spotlights, the floodlights, and the strobes.

You are bright enough.

(Photo Credit Sebastian Ervi)

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