Light Within Light

Another Friday night is in the books. The ladies are hugging; the bros are bro-fiving, and everyone is taking off from the man cave to sneak in before curfew – maybe one or two minutes after curfew. As your favorite group of people disappear into the black, chilly evening, you head back inside, and your thoughts begin to race about how you rocked as a host and how perfect the hangout went. The night started with some pizza, transitioned into catch phrase, and ended with everyone taking out their flashlights and shining them around the well-lit room. You couldn’t have imagined a more perfect nigh…. Wait. What?

Shining your flashlight in a well-lit room – this might not be everyone’s favorite activity, but it definitely cracks the top five. And WHEW! We sure are good at it. There’s nothing quite like having a nice, cozy, warm, bright room to shine a flashlight in! Or put a spotlight in… or light a candle in… Oh, now I see where this is going.

Light is something that humans are naturally drawn towards. Whether it’s at the end of a tunnel or the lamp in our living rooms, light is something that people constantly want to be surrounded by. It feels kind of nice sitting next to a fire on a cloudy, autumn night. But what if the fire went out? Suddenly things are not so nice anymore, and our instincts scramble for anything else that might be able to give us some clarity – some form of illumination to give us comfort. Because you see, by nature, we’re all scared of the dark. And there is only one cure for that.

Christian living in the church community really is not all that hard all the time. Learning about God in all of the subject areas is followed by catechism, which is followed by hanging out with school friends, which takes us all the way through the week until it’s time to straighten our ties and curl our hair on Sunday morning. This schedule of life is fantastic. Living a life of holiness is seldom even mentioned because that’s just what we do; it is part of the schedule. It is part of the routine. Everybody’s flashlights are on, and everything is 20/20.

Now it’s graduation. Next thing you know, you are nailing trim at the jobsite, or booking your basic classes to get college started. You still get to see your Christian high school friends a couple times a week. And when you do, the conversations are mature: often talking about life goals, your developing roles in the church body, and other wholesome things. You can almost feel yourself growing into an adult – ready for anything. That light is on full blast in an already bright room.

Then you hop in the car the next morning and go where you need to go. No longer are your childhood friends around – instead replaced with coworkers and fellow college kids. The conversations here are much different than what you’re used to. There are jokes about sex, some swearing, and more than a few bad habits to indulge in. Suddenly, everything grows very dark. The holy conversations that you participate in with your church friends are not taking place here. It’s not high school anymore. The calendar is marked a year ahead, and that schedule of life that we used to enjoy is no longer an expected routine. That warm, comfy fire is extinguished. We cannot see clearly anymore. Sure, there’s a flashlight on your phone you could use. But the pitch black isn’t so bad. And besides, you only use the flashlight when it’s bright outside.

Wait. What? In the midst of blinding darkness, we keep the light off. And we only switch it on once things start to brighten up again? You’re right. It doesn’t make any sense. So then why are we doing it?

The calling for Christians to live a life of holiness is a difficult task. But while people stand in the midst of their Christian circles, with encouragement and aid on every side, it is made significantly easier. This fact is a huge positive. The communion of the saints is a great benefit in the life of a believer. As we stand in the midst of the church, we grow in our knowledge of God, allowing us to experience a fuller relationship with Him. And as we strive for holiness, we are able to see the examples of church members around us that help push us in this calling to fight against sin and to put on righteousness. By nature, we enjoy being in the midst of this light, as we should. We soak it up. We grow from it. And we are better because of it.

But when the lights around us disappear, what happens to our light? Do we keep it on and let it guide us through situations that tempt us to sin? Even more importantly, do we keep it on in the hopes that another in the darkness might see it and follow it as well? Or do we blend into the blackness? Do we allow the sin around us to scare us into extinguishing that light? Or even worse yet, do we become of a part of and enjoy the darkness for a time when no other lights can be seen?

Going along with the world is an easy thing to do. Parties are fun. Swear words flow easily off of our tongues. Getting buzzed is addicting. And what’s worse is that keeping these things in the darkness is easy to do while still maintaining a resemblance of light. While we prefer to be in the light, it does not take long for our eyes to adjust to the dark. While it’s still a pitch-black night, we can begin to make out the shapes of objects in the darkness. While things may appear to be brightening, it is only making us more prepared to justify growing comfortable with and living in the darkness. We must not allow ourselves to adjust to the dark.

In the calling to witness, it is so important that people in the world take notice that we are different. Fitting in is easy. If a coworker cracks perverted jokes, it would be easy to laugh, and respond with another one. Hitting up a party is a quick way to get to know college kids. But if we turn off our lights to fit in with people in the world, then we are turning off our desire to live a holy life, and quitting our job as Christians to be an example of Christ in pure living.

Adding more light to a well-lit situation has never hurt anything. But one might also argue that it is not living up to its full potential. There is a need for a blinding light that helps others see their way out of the incapacitating darkness. There is a need to be an example of holiness that others can latch on to as they seek to develop a closer relationship with God. Let us be the city on a hill; an example to others that will not be hid.

Philippians 2:14-16: “Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.”

Trent Hordyk

Perfectly Normal

Each Christian struggles with their own trials and personal vices in this life. I’d like to discuss one of mine, because I’m sure I’m not the only one. I have, for almost as long as I can remember, struggled with self-image, but not really in a low self-esteem sort of way. I struggled with the idea of being average. I always saw myself as smart, but not genius, funny, but not hilarious, talented, but not exceptional, etc… Although I could see my own talents, there were always lots of people who were prettier, more athletic, better singers, better piano players, even better horseback riders. In the last couple of years I’ve resolved those feelings a little bit, and this article will explain some reasons why. Spoiler alert, though: I’m not going to end this article by saying I found something I’m so good at it makes up for all my “average.” I consider myself a good vet tech, 4H leader, and friend, but I’m definitely not the best at any of those things either. Instead, let me tell you why these things don’t matter.

First of all: these things don’t matter because that’s not how God sees me. Although God is the One who has blessed me gifts, that isn’t how he defines me. I Samuel 16:7 tells us that God doesn’t look at the outward appearance. This means God doesn’t particularly care if I’m the best vet tech in the world. He looks at the heart. God doesn’t care if I can’t remember the quadratic formula, if I sometimes make really lame jokes, or if I don’t actually understand what a flying lead change is. God looks on my heart. He placed in me a love and desire for Him and His ways. That’s what’s really important.

Secondly: these things don’t matter because they don’t determine my value. God alone gets to determine my value as a person. Matthew 10:31 says I’m of more value than the sparrows. It doesn’t make a difference that I will never be a soccer superstar. God already has decided to save me. He has already given me value, and even when my tone falters on an acapella key change, that value does not decrease.

Thirdly: these things don’t matter because I’m fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14 says so. I mean think about it, this verse doesn’t say “Hey, you’re a pretty cool person if you can back a truck up to a gooseneck trailer” or “You are amazing if you’ve got the people skills to handle that difficult client at work.” No. This verse says I am fearfully and wonderfully made, and then goes on to say that my very soul knows it. Even when you look in the mirror and think “Why on earth do I have to be the girl/guy that isn’t _____ (fill in your choice of personal vices).”  It doesn’t matter how you look, how good of a sports player you are, or how many friends you have. God formed you, intimately and carefully, and that is what creates in you true value.

Finally: these things don’t really matter because my talents are from God. Part of Matthew 25 records Jesus’ parable of the talents. It doesn’t matter exactly how much talent God has given me. As long as I use those talents in a way that serves to honor and glorify Him, I am doing as He would have me do. Recognizing that these talents are from God not only shows me how I should use those talents, but also how I should view them. Knowing that I have a way with words means that even if I’m not the absolute best at writing or speaking, I should use that talent to write or speak words of encouragement. Even if I’m not the best at something doesn’t mean God won’t use that talent and double it or double the blessings it gives to others. Just because I’ve been given 5 “talents” instead of 10 (as the parable describes) doesn’t mean I can’t use them to be a good and faithful servant of God.

In this article I used a lot of my own personal experiences, talents, and flaws. I obviously say all this hoping you, the reader, will exchange my words and fill in yours. Whatever are you talents, remember that even on your best day, that isn’t what gives you honor in God’s eyes. Whatever are your flaws, remember that even on your worst day, that isn’t going to demean your standing before God.  I Peter 3:3-4 “Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.”

Suzie Kuiper

Welcome to the Real World (3)

One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the constant accusations of intolerance from people in the real world. Christians are labeled as narrow minded, bigots, intolerant, bullies, and many other horrible things. It’s the irony here that gets to me. The very same people who tell me I’m not supposed to tell a homosexual that I believe that their lifestyle is wrong are those who vehemently tell me that I am wrong, or that some other human action is wrong. I have had people I know from the real world express how Christians shouldn’t tell people what the “right” way to live is, and then days later, complain that something else is wrong.

So often, I hear people say that if I think that divorce is wrong, I don’t have to do it. If I think gay marriage is wrong, I don’t have to do it. If I think that premarital sex is wrong, I don’t have to do it. As if that should alleviate my feelings of those actions being wrong.  However, do you think that same argument would stand for the things we believe? Imagine if you told an evolutionist that if he doesn’t believe in creation, he doesn’t have to, but you still would. Or if you told an animal rights activist that if they think that eating meat is wrong, they just shouldn’t do it, and they should leave you alone with your steak. Nothing like that would ever fly with the real world. We are told we are bullies for expressing our beliefs and holding to them, but they tend to bind and gag us in the process. This, in my mind, qualifies as bullying.

I asked some of my friends who have been out in the real world a bit what they thought and what they ran into, and I got a lot of varying responses. Conservative Christians have been called narrow minded, intolerant, and practically labeled as idiots by teachers in secular universities. Why is it that when a creationist states their opinion, it’s seen as idiotic, but if an abortionist stands up, their opinion is widely respected and practically applauded? It baffles me.

We are told that we are crazy for believing what we believe. Often, the people telling us this don’t even understand why they believe what they do; they just are convinced that we are wrong. In my freshman year, I was quite literally laughed at to my face for answering questions about what I believe. I went to the dining hall with my roommate and a couple of guys from our floor. There, I was sort of bombarded with loaded questions. I was asked my opinion on creation, abortion, and gay marriage. Even though my roommate had already told these guys what I believed, they asked simply to hear me say it and be able to laugh in my face. Don’t think this kind of thing only happens in liberal college campuses. I have been asked the very same loaded questions, asked for the intent of amusement at my expense by people who live right here in West Michigan, by people I thought respected me and cared about me. This is what the world does to us. It bullies us, but labels us bullies. It tells us to be quiet in loud, harsh voices. It does not tolerate our faith, but tells us we are intolerant.

Stand fast. It is all worth it. We cannot let ourselves become cold or angry because of it either. We are called to continue to live our lives with Christian joy radiating from our every action. Even when we are discriminated against, mocked, humiliated or fought with, we must stand our ground and do it with humble joy in our Lord who gives us that strength.  The real world isn’t really all that nice to Christians. It never has been. So don’t be surprised when you come face-to-face with it. Instead, repeat with me the quote that has gotten my through college so far: Martin Luther—“I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I can do no other. So help me, God.” Stand fast, beloved. We cannot deny the God in whom we trust. No matter what the world says or does, we will continue to follow the commands of God.

Suzie Kuiper