Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Life that Shines

In his book The Rise of Christianity Rodney Stark wrote:
“Let me state my thesis: Central doctrines of Christianity prompted and sustained attractive, liberating, and effective social relations and organizations.

“I believe that it was the religion’s particular doctrines that permitted Christianity to be among the most sweeping and successful revitalization movements in history. And it was the way these doctrines took on actual flesh, the way they directed organizational actions and individual behavior, that led to the rise of Christianity” (p. 211).
The implication of what Stark says is that the best evidence for the Christian faith is the conduct of Christians. When the followers of Jesus Christ make the doctrines come alive by the way they live, then much of the talking of Christianity’s critics will be silenced. Peter wrote about this reality in 1 Peter; For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people (1 Peter 2:15; ESV).

The key here is that we are to live counter-cultural lives. The Church in the United States has been good at speaking against the culture, but we have not been very good at actually living differently. We can say that we oppose gay marriage, but we also have to consider what our marriages say about God’s ideal for marriage. Opposition to recreational drugs is a good thing since they destroy so many lives, but what are we doing to alleviate the pain that drives people to these addictions? Being lights in this dark world is not just about taking the right stands, but more importantly it is about doing the right things.

We are expected to be shine in the darkness, just as the apostle Paul expected the Christians in Philippi to stand out for good in their wicked culture:
Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain (Philippians 2:14-16; ESV).

According to Paul we shine by the way we live. You and I will influence people more deeply by how we live than we will by what we say. That is why faithful living is such a powerful testimony of God’s work in the world.

Faithful living begins with what we believe. Paul says that we are to hold fast to the word of life. This requires that we keep God’s Word in front of us as much as possible. As Christ Followers we need to be intentional about daily reading the Bible. Yet we also need more than reading. We also need to be committed to studying the Bible. Study needs to take two forms in our lives. We need personal study as we study the Bible on our own through the help of books, podcasts, and different Bible Study methods. We also need group study. Learning in a community of faith, to be challenged and encouraged by the thoughts and reflections of other Christians is vitally important to our walk of faith. To Bible reading and Bible study we need to add meditation. Meditation is the act of reflecting, pondering, or thinking about a portion of Scripture. It is process that makes God’s truth a part of our lives, and thus becoming an influence in how we live.

To shine brightly requires that we don’t demand our rights. A life of faith is not about me first. Paul urged the Philippians to do all things without grumbling or questioning, because we are to live humble lives, putting others before ourselves. The way of the world looks to use other people for our own gain, which leaves a trail of wounded and broken people in our wake. While the world tells us to “look out for #1”; Paul tells us that the way of Jesus is the way of humility. In verses 5-11 of chapter Paul tells us that we are to follow the example of Jesus, the example of love and humility. Jesus came, not so He could use people for His advantage, but to serve people and save the world. By putting others first and helping those in need the follower of Jesus is set apart from the world.

We are to live blameless and innocent lives. That is the choice Paul is urging the Philippians, and by extension us, to make. The reality is that there are other choices that we can make. We can declare Christ as Savior and Lord and live like the world, but that wouldn’t make us lights because we are not standing in contrast to anything. We can declare Christ as Savior and live strange lives, like pulling out of society and living in a bomb shelter; that might make us odd, but it wouldn’t make us lights. We shine brightly in this world when we declare Christ as Lord and then align our lives to His will. It is the act of living according to Jesus’ will that sets us apart and makes us lights.

Living differently from the world isn’t going to happen by accident. Without making a decision to be different we will be pulled along by the current of our culture and end up being like everyone else. Therefore we need to make the choice to live differently from the world, not the choice to be strange, but the choice to follow the example of Christ in loving and humble service as we take the Good News of God’s love and forgiveness into the world. We are called to be the lights of the world. It is time to flip the switch and start shining.

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