"You are the light of the world"

It's confession time. I have not been reading as voraciously as I sometimes do. I have allowed myself to get caught up in the things of this world. Not bad things necessarily, but things that waste my time; such as watching too much campaign coverage, economic news and listening to virtually the same things spoken over and over again. It becomes addictive. And it can even become destructive when our cares and concerns take our focus away from God. I try to remind myself daily that He is in control of all things, great and small.

I started my morning with a cup of coffee and the Today show. I felt happy when I heard that OJ Simpson was found guilty. Adding poetic justice to criminal was the fact that he was convicted thirteen years to the DAY of his acquittal. If you knew me then, you know that I was consumed with watching his trial and the news coverage. I knew every player, every "talking head" and every shred of evidence. And I was horrified when he escaped justice. I can be a bit of a news junkie at times. And when history-making events are occurring, I'm glued to the coverage.

As I sat listening to the verdict this morning, with a smile of smug satisfaction on my face, I immediately felt convicted. I'm glad that OJ is finally going to face consequences. I think he is an arrogant, unremorseful abuser and murderer. And he should not have gone free thirteen years ago. But although those things are true, as a Christian, I should not enjoy another person's downfall -- even if self-inflicted. My desire for OJ Simpson or anyone like him should be that through his calamity he would come to know Jesus, be drawn to repentance and be saved. My heart wants to have that desire, even for a murderer. But it does not come naturally in situations where there has been terrible injustice and an absence of remorse.

I watched a little more news and then decided to turn off the TV and read. I felt the need to focus my thoughts on God and begin my day differently than I have been lately. It was such a good decision.

I read a couple of chapters from two different books. I am reading "When People are Big and God is Small" for the second time. And in the chapters I read this morning, the author was addressing how to grow in the fear of the Lord. In the other book, "Lord, Only You Can Change Me," the author was concluding the last chapter with thoughts on Jesus' statement (Matt. 5) that we are the light of the world.

Edward Welch explains the two very different fears we experience with respect to God. There is terror-fear or fear of punishment, which causes us to withdraw and hide from God. And there is reverential, worshipful, obedience fear that does not fear punishment; rather, it fears displeasing God. He writes about the cross and how fear should always end in the gospel:

For he bore the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:12).

This is the Old Testament zenith of the holiness of God. If your jaw doesn't drop when you read it, then read it again. Read and be in awe.

Such awe attracts you to God; it does not repel or leave you feeling shame. It makes you want to come to him and know him. When the fear of the Lord matures in you, Christ becomes irresistible.

Welch writes that after seeing the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, Isaiah did what anybody would do in such a situation.

He forgot about himself and offered himself as a servant to the living God. His fear of the Lord was expressed by reverential obedience. This is one of the great blessings of the fear of the Lord. We think less often about ourselves. When a heart is being filled with the greatness of God, there is less room for the question, "What are people going to think of me?"

...When Isaiah was called by God, he was given a message that guaranteed he would be rejected and physically threatened by others (Isaiah 6:9-14). There were going to be daily opportunities for him to fear man rather than God. As a result, it was essential for him to have the fear of the Lord absolutely branded into his heart, because the person who fears God fears nothing else.

What does the fear of the Lord look like? In reverence, we will submit to God's authority and obey Him. Not an obedience based in fear of punishment but an obedience that comes from a heart of reverence, worship, adoration, love and awe.

Welch writes about the mighty acts of God that show both His holy love and justice, kindness and sternness (Romans 11:22).

The psalmist reminds us that those who fear the Lord say, "His love endures forever" (Ps. 118:4), but they also say, "Who can stand before you when you are angry?" (Ps. 76:7). Scripture speaks of unimaginable love alongside holy anger. God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love, but he also does not leave the guilty unpunished; "he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation" (Ex. 34:6,7). Therefore, we cannot rightly say, "My God is not a God of judgment and anger; my God is a God of love." Such thinking makes it almost impossible to grow in the fear of the Lord. It suggests that sin only saddens God rather than offends him. Both justice and love are expressions of his holiness, and we must know both to learn the fear of the Lord. If we look only at God's love, we will not need him, and there will be no urgency in the message of the cross. If we focus narrowly on God's justice, we will want to avoid him, and we will live in terror-fear, always feeling guilty and waiting for punishment.

Earlier in this same chapter, Welch explains that because most sins are ungodly exaggerations of things that are good, "we can supply proof texts to justify our behavior long after it has become idolatrous." He goes on to say,

The world takes these tendencies and rationalizes them. The world reminds us that, whatever our sins or "shortcomings," we are only human. Everyone else is doing it too. Right and wrong are determined by popular vote. And who is to say that God really cares about such things?

There are so many good quotes from these chapters, I could share even more. But this post is becoming quite long and I want to conclude with something from the book, "Lord, Only You Can Change Me." I was impressed with how both books and topics intersected for me this morning. They intersected in their emphasis on glorifying and honoring God (not ourselves). After reading two chapters on growing in the fear of the Lord, I returned to Kay Arthur's book and read the last chapter for a second time. She concluded her book by focusing on Jesus' admonition that we are to be the light of the world. That means that I (we) will be different from the world. I won't embrace the outlook of the world on sin (minimizing it). This does not mean I am beating up on myself. It means I am hating what God hates; my sin. Arthur closes her book with these words:

As we said before, light has one purpose: to dispel darkness. In Matthew 5:16 Jesus' admonition is very clear. We are to let our light shine before men so that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.

Our good works cause the light to shine. But those good works are to be done in such a way that they do not glorify us but our Father. If they do not point men beyond us to the Father, then something is wrong with the way we are letting our lights shine.

I'm not saying that it's wrong for people to love you and appreciate you. This is obviously going to happen if you are used of God in a significant way in somebody's life. That love and appreciation, however, should never stop with you. It should rather bring the focus around the true Light, the Source of all Light, Jesus Christ. The lampstand is not significant, but the light that comes from the lampstand is. The lampstand is merely a vessel to bring light to those who are in its presence. Just as the moon reflects the sun's light, so we are to reflect the Son's light!

...As John was a witness of the Light so that people might believe through Him, so you and I are to be witnesses of the Light. Jesus, the Light of the world, has returned to the Father. Yet He has not left the world in darkness because we, His people, remain here...We are to let those who grope and stumble in the darkness know where the true Light may be found.

At the end of this book, the author reminds her readers to remember that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. She points out that "the world sees the difference" as we...

walk in poverty of spirit,
mourn over sin,
bow in submission before His sovereignty,
walk in true meekness before God and man,
hunger and thirst for righteousness,
and count it all joy when [we] are persecuted for righteousness.

...In His love and by His power, you and I can light up this dark, despairing world!