Christy Britton is always bringing people to stuff related to Jesus. But is Jesus just one of the things she brings people to or the main thing she brings them to?
Share the gospel with someone in another country? Sure. With your unbelieving aunt? No way. Why is it so complicated with family?
How many friends do we have with whom we’ve failed to share the gospel? How many times have we put it off? How many opportunities have we justified away?
Light gets our attention. Our eyes are naturally drawn to it. The warm, illuminating effects of light beckon us to come closer. We become curious to see what the light frames for our eyes. Our interest in the light often involves our desire to become spotlighted. Many find it difficult to resist being the center of attention. Our capacity for self-exaltation is limitless. Spotlights get easier to procure every day. Social media is a prime outlet for building our platforms, brands, and personal kingdoms.
We throw our energy into shining brightly. We misapply God’s good command to let our light shine before men by projecting ourselves into the world. Often, we are oblivious to the fact that we’re drawing attention away from our father to ourselves. We deceive ourselves into believing we’re promoting him when our heart’s true desire is to live in the spotlight.
We seek the wrong light. We settle for the spotlight when we already know the Light. More than that, our father has given us his light. It’s ours to shine. We must shine his light into a dark world, so glory is given to him, not to us.
God is the Light
During his earthly ministry, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). David said, “The Lord is my light” (Ps. 27:1). In Genesis 1:3 God creates light for the whole world. However, in Revelation 22:5 he says that heaven will have no need for such light because God himself will be our light.
We would happily live in darkness but for the grace of God. He exposes the darkness in us and opens our eyes to sin. He exposes our wickedness and illuminates his holiness. But he doesn’t leave us in our helpless state. In mercy, his illumination extends to our great rescue. His light guides us toward himself. He welcomes us into his family, making it possible to live as children of the light through Christ (Eph. 5:8).
His light is incomparable. When we attempt to stand in the spotlight, we desire to outshine our maker. The world is living in darkness. We once lived in darkness (Eph. 5:8). Charles Spurgeon said, “He who has been in the dark dungeon knows the way to the bread and the water.” We aren’t the light. We aren’t what people need. We point others to what they need.
We are Light-Bearers
2 Corinthians 4:6-7 teaches, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” We are the clay jars, not the treasure. We hold what we want others to behold. We hold the light.
When others look at me, and my eyes are on Christ, they will become curious to know what has my attention. They will shift their eyes from me to him. This is the goal—to make much of Christ. If people look my way for whatever reason, I want to leverage that opportunity to point them to the true light.
John the Baptist is a great example of a light bearer. He drew man’s attention to the light of Christ. “He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:8-9). He gladly watched his followers become followers of Christ.
Do we point all who follow us to Christ or to ourselves?
Shining the Light
As light bearers, we carry the light of Christ everywhere we go. He’s given us his light to shine into the darkness. Jesus commands, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). When God tells us to let our light shine, he doesn’t mean to shine the light on ourselves. He means to let the light that he sparked in our hearts shine. His light draws people to himself.
When we stand in the spotlight, people will be drawn to us. When we shine his light within us, people will be drawn to our father. When we shine rightly, he will get the glory, not us. When we shine rightly, our motivation and our joy will come from the advancement of his kingdom, not ours.
We must be careful, always examining our hearts to make sure that our good works are done for the glory of God and for the good of his church. The spotlight is tempting. But living in the spotlight will never satisfy us and will ultimately be disappointing to others. It is only when we shine God’s light inside of us that we will be truly satisfied.
True Light Transforms
God shines his light into our lives. This light within us is the light that we shine before others. When we stand in the spotlight, we settle for lesser glory. Worse, we tempt others to do the same. True and greater glory exists.
People may be attracted to a source of light, but they can only be changed when God gives them the light of life. He must open their eyes. He must illuminate their sinful rebellion of his rule and their necessary dependence on his grace for their redemption. He alone transforms former rebels into beloved sons and daughters. Spotlights may illuminate us, bringing us glory, but God’s light transforms us, bringing him glory.
Church, we must shine. We must radiate and reflect him and his glory. We must show others what is true. The world needs authenticity, not artificialness. We settle for a light on us when we have his light in us. The closer we get to the true light, the less we will settle for an imitation. No substitute will satisfy.
Be satisfied with his light. Be motivated to bring others to his light. Let them gaze into his glory and become transformed by it (2 Cor. 3:18). Shine for the good of the church. Shine for the sake of the lost. Shine for the glory of God. Shine on, church.
Christy Britton is a wife and homeschool mom of four biological sons. She is an orphan advocate for 127 Worldwide. She and her husband are covenant members at Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, NC. She loves reading, discipleship, Cajun food, spending time in Africa, hospitality, and LSU football. She writes for several blogs, including her own, www.beneedywell.com.
The world jumps over itself for what’s edgy, new, and creative. Yet for believers, we have an old and unchanging story to tell. The tension between innovation and tradition is not a new conversation in the life of the church. Whether it’s an emerging social media platform, the latest music, or the next trend, cultural shifts so swiftly we often find ourselves grasping to hang on.
The church, in contrast, is always looking back to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), and we gladly rally around the old, unchanging story of a gentle Messiah who was crushed for our sin and raised to life three days later.
Unfortunately, with the ebb and flow of a rapidly changing culture, we might be pressured to come to the Bible with the same expectations.
We may start to wonder if we are equipped to face the challenges of our day—even when we know Scripture is unchangeably and immovably true—as if it’s outmoded or archaic. We come to a quiet time and search for undiscovered angles, to the point of blurring the meaning. We might even start doubting that Scripture really can speak to us today.
When we start to wonder if the Bible’s not enough in light of the particular struggles of our cultural moment, here are some important truths to keep in mind.
THE BOOK IS FROM HIM AND FOR US
When we constantly feel the need for something new or exciting to come from interacting with Scripture, we have forgotten the most important thing about it—its author. Feeling like we must find something novel or exhilarating each time we come to the Bible will send us scavenging for truth while missing the Giver of truth.
It’s as if we think our own intuitive creativity and knowledge surpasses the God who ordered the stars in the heavens and fashioned the wings of a butterfly. Paul asks, “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” (Rom. 11:34). Even Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, warned that we could not fathom the work of God (Eccl. 11:5). The truth is, we could never know the God who created the world if he had revealed himself to us through his Word and his Son (Heb. 1:1-2, John 1:1).
Because our God is faithful, we can trust that his revelation is all we need to hear pertaining to godliness and life (2 Pet. 1:3). We can rest to know that God has revealed his plan for the fullness of time by speaking to his people through his Word (Heb. 1:1-2; Eph. 1:9-10).
Each word of our Bible reveals the character of the God who created us. We must come to it humbly, allowing his word to tell us what questions matter, and wait as God shows us the unchanging truthfulness of his Word. No doubt he will speak to us in ways we had not noticed before. He desires to speak to us! But some areas we are left with real questions to ponder and wonder, humbly before God.
There is much we will not know, but we can be encouraged to know that each word is given or withheld with purpose (Rev. 22:18). Th book is from him and for us. Let’s remember that the purposeful words of scripture depict the truth, plans, and purposes of its Author. These truths are binding on all peoples across all times and places (Eph. 1:7-10, cf. Acts 17:30-31).
THE MESSAGE NEVER CHANGES, BUT THE WAY WE COMMUNICATE IT HAS TO
The Bible has been poured over, commented on, and debated for over 2,000 years. When we talk about the Bible, we’re not saying anything new. And if we are, we’re in trouble!
We desire to stand, so we are tempted to go to the Bible looking for something no one else has found. Instead of seeing our repetition of an old text as a limitation or as unoriginal, we can see it as an encouragement and confidence, being faithful to the truth handed down “once for all . . . to the saints” (Jude 3).
We can look back at well-known church fathers and theologians, missionaries and martyrs, pastors and leaders, and see how the same God and the same truths grounded and spurred them on to a life of faithfulness to the truth. The church has always been finding ways to communicate old (but good!) news to new audiences. The message is unchanging, but the way we communicate that message is always changing.
We stand surrounded by a “great a cloud of witnesses” to the same truth, the same story, and the same God (Heb. 12:1-2). We should be encouraged by the example of generations before us, how they read Scripture, and how Scripture’s unchanging truth still speaks specifically to our cultural moment.
Let’s dig deep into the Bible, but not to search for ways to make it shine more attention on ourselves. Rather, let’s see how we can retell the same old story in a brand new day, all to his glory.
GOD NEVER CHANGES, WE DO
Finally, while it’s true that God’s word does not change—we do. And we do so constantly! R.C. Sproul has stated that if anything defines human existence, it's change.
And our impermanent selves are what we bring to the Word each day. We come to the text with different knowledge, different circumstances, and different places in sanctification. Yet we also come to God’s Word with his Holy Spirit, who is constantly working in our hearts through each changing situation. He is removing blind spots, giving insight, and revealing the truth. This is why we can read the same passages repeatedly but still see new truths.
We don’t need to do mental gymnastics to get some sort of profound new insight. Instead, we can rest in the Spirit’s work to grow our hearts closer to him (Phil. 1:6). We can press on to know the Lord, and rest in knowing that when we do, God will respond and reveal himself through his Word (Hos. 6:3).
THE STORY THAT NEVER GETS OLD
We don’t need to feel inadequate because our story never changes—it is our lifeline. It’s the solid hope to cling to for a world drowning in ever-changing uncertainty. So let’s enter our Bible studies and conversations with humility and confidence in the truths that have lasted from the beginning of time, and will continue to last for all eternity.
The unchanging God, the Ancient of Days, has revealed himself to an unstable and shifting people. Through his Spirit, he has chosen to make inconsistent people more and more like their consistently faithful God. And that story (John 1:1) never gets old.
Brianna Lambert is a wife and mom to three, making their home in the cornfields of Indiana. She loves using writing to work out the truths God is teaching her each day. She has contributed to various online publications such as Morning by Morning and Fathom magazine. You can find more of her writing paired with her husband’s photography at lookingtotheharvest.com.
The person I’m most uncomfortable being alone with is myself. And that’s okay, because I’ve become very good at avoiding myself. For example, if I get stuck alone on an elevator, and I start to feel that anxiety, the dread of having to examine my life—even for a minute—I just take out my phone, and poof! it’s gone. Or if I sense that I need to have a heart-to-heart talk with myself about sin or doubt or fear, all of a sudden I remember that it’s my night to do the dishes—and I can’t do the dishes without listening to a podcast. Self-avoidance is probably my most advanced skill set. I’ve developed it over the years in response to the burden of being alone, which can bring up so many unsettling truths. Of course, I have plenty of help from the rest of society. I’m always being encouraged to read something, to do something, to watch something, or to buy something new. It’s an unspoken but mutually agreed upon truth for modern people that being alone with our thoughts is disturbing.
A friend once described a similar feeling of existential dread to me. He said it would hit him only when he woke up in the morning. Sometimes he’d feel like killing himself. It wasn’t something he shared with friends. But he’d get this sick feeling—like there’s no point to any of it—every morning. He said he needed something more to get him up in the morning. My friend could stave off this sense of hopelessness all day, except for those few moments right after he woke up. Lying in bed, he could feel the pressure of being alive constrict his breath. But once he got moving, drank his coffee, watched the news, and went to work, he was okay. He got swept up into the movement of the day, as most of us do.
The beauty of using my iPhone as my alarm clock is that when I reach over to turn it off I’m only a few more taps away from the rest of the world. Before I’m even fully awake I’ve checked my Twitter and Facebook notifications and my email and returned to Twitter to check my feed for breaking news. Before I’ve said “good morning” to my wife and children, I’ve entered a contentious argument on Twitter about Islamic terrorism and shared a video of Russell Westbrook dunking in the previous night’s NBA game.
While making my coffee and breakfast I begin working through social media conversations that require more detailed responses so that by the time I sit down to eat, I can set down my phone too. Years ago I would use my early morning grouchiness as an excuse to play on my computer rather than talk with my wife and kids, but now our family tries to stay faithful to a strict no-phones-at-the-table policy. We have drawn important boundaries for the encroachment of technology into our lives to preserve our family and attention spans, but that does not mean we’ve managed to save time for reflection. Instead, I tend to use this time to go over what I have to teach in my first class, or my wife and I make a list of goals for the day. It is a time of rest from screens and technology, but not from preoccupation.
As I drive the kids to school, we listen and sing along to “Reflektor” by Arcade Fire. On my walk back to the car after dropping them off, I check my email and make a few more comments in the Twitter debate I began before breakfast. In the car again, I listen to an NBA fan podcast; it relaxes me a bit as the anxiety of the coming work day continues to creep up on me. Sufficient to the workday are the anxieties and frustrations thereof. And so, when I need a coffee or bathroom break, I’ll use my phone to skim an article or like a few posts. The distraction is a much-needed relief from the stress of work, but it also is a distraction. I still can’t hear myself think. And most of the time I really don’t want to. When I feel some guilt about spending so much time being unfocused, I tell myself it’s for my own good. I deserve this break. I need this break. But there’s no break from distraction.
While at work, I try not to think about social media and the news, but I really don’t need additional distractions to keep my mind busy. The modern work environment is just as frenetic and unfocused as our leisure time. A constant stream of emails breaks my focus and shifts my train of thought between multiple projects. To do any seriously challenging task, I often have to get up and take a walk to absorb myself in the problem without the immediacy of technology to throw me off.
Back at home, I’m tasked with watching the kids. They are old enough to play on their own, so I find myself standing around, waiting for one of them to tattle or get hurt or need water for the fifth time. If I planned ahead, I might read a book, but usually I use the time to check Twitter and Facebook or read a short online article. But it’s not always technology that distracts me; sometimes, while the kids are briefly playing well together, I’ll do some housecleaning or pay bills. Whatever the method, I’m always leaning forward to the next job, the next comment, the next goal.
I watch Netflix while I wash dishes. I follow NBA scores while I grade. I panic for a moment when I begin to go upstairs to get something. I turn around and find my phone to keep me company during the two-minute trip. When it’s late enough, I collapse, reading a book or playing an iOS game. I’m never alone and it’s never quiet.
As a Christian, the spiritual disciplines of reading the Bible and praying offer me a chance to reflect, but it’s too easy to turn these times into to-do list chores as well. Using my Bible app, I get caught up in the Greek meaning of a word and the contextual notes and never really meditate on the Word itself. It is an exercise, not an encounter with the sacred, divine Word of God. A moleskin prayer journal might help me remember God’s faithfulness, but it also might mediate my prayer time through a self-conscious pride in being devout. There’s no space in our modern lives that can’t be filled up with entertainment, socializing, recording, or commentary.
This has always been the human condition. The world has always moved without us and before us and after us, and we quickly learn how to swim with the current. We make sense of our swimming by observing our fellow swimmers and hearing their stories. We conceive of these narratives based on the stories we’ve heard elsewhere: from our communities, the media, advertisements, or traditions.
But for the twenty-first-century person in an affluent country like the United States, the momentum of life that so often discourages us from stopping to take our bearings is magnified dramatically by the constant hum of portable electronic entertainment, personalized for our interests and desires and delivered over high-speed wireless internet. It’s not just that this technology allows us to stay “plugged in” all the time, it’s that it gives us the sense that we are tapped into something greater than ourselves. The narratives of meaning that have always filled our lives with justification and wonder are multiplied endlessly and immediately for us in songs, TV shows, online communities, games, and the news.
This is the electronic buzz of the twenty-first century. And it is suffocating.
Taken from Disruptive Witness by Alan Noble. Copyright (c) 2018 by Alan Noble. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
Alan Noble (Ph.D., Baylor University) is assistant professor of English at Oklahoma Baptist University and cofounder and editor in chief of Christ and Pop Culture. He has written for The Atlantic, Vox, BuzzFeed, The Gospel Coalition, Christianity Today, and First Things. He is also an advisor for the AND Campaign.