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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Walking in the light

I just returned from a few days hunting with my brothers in the badlands. What a great time to get away! We camped (yes, in a tent over the first of December) at the edge of a canyon, nestled among the junipers. Each morning we were up a couple hours before daylight and hiked out to look for mule deer. Each night we returned after dark to eat, talk, and strategize together for the next day's hunt.

Throughout my life, times like this have been critical to help me understand God and his word. The Bible was not written in an age of laptops, ipods, cell phones, electric lights, or even automobiles. So getting away from those things for a while frequently helps me to understand God's word better. The fact that so much of our technology has changed does not mean that human beings have changed. When I can get away from the distractions, I begin to see clearly the wisdom God has placed in his word.

One contrast, for example, that came very clear to me this past few days was the contrast between light and darkness. Jesus frequently used these terms to help his followers understand what it meant to know and follow him. (See for example John 8:12 or John 12:35-36.) Camping during the long winter nights, one becomes all too familiar with darkness. And hiking in the dark through rough terrain can be difficult at best.

One example. Tuesday morning I left camp about an hour and a half before sunrise. I had a strong headlamp to show me the way as I skirted the edge of a canyon looking for a manageable way down into the bottom. Even with my strong light, I learned that walking with a flashlight is different than walking in daylight. Because the source of light was coming from me, I didn't see a washout that was hidden behind a large clump of grass. Carefully watching my path eight or ten feet ahead, I stepped through the grass and put my foot confidently into the washout, dropping down a good two feet farther than I expected. Needless to say, I fell hard. Fortunately my leg was not held tight in the narrow washout so I didn't sprain or break anything. More amused and embarrassed than hurt, I climbed up and walked much more carefully on my way.

When the Bible talks about walking in darkness, it's not saying that we are totally blind or ignorant. It's talking about relying on ourselves as the source of light. My reason, my experience, my understanding are important -- but without a source of light that comes from beyond just myself, I will stumble and fall. That is why we strive to live according to God's word.

One of the things I treasure about the staff team I work with is that both among ourselves and in our roles as church leaders we strive to "walk in the light." This is not referring to issues of salvation but to daily practice. How do we walk in the light? We live according to God's word. We do not hide things from each other. We communicate openly. We try to be up front about our needs, agendas, and motives. If someone offends us, we go to that person directly and deal with the offense in the light. We strive to avoid actions that are "dark" -- hidden, manipulative, unclear, or indirect. When others have tried to draw us into gossip or triangulation, we stop the conversation and say, "I encourage you to talk to that person directly, and just so you're aware, I'm going to talk to them about this conversation." This practice of "walking in the light" is not going to save us from an afterlife in hell, but it does save us a lot of anguish in this life. I enjoy a level of trust with the other members of this staff that I have rarely known with coworkers. Similarly, we enjoy a level of trust and a shared sense of mission with key leaders in this church because we have consistently tried to walk in the light together.

Once I figured out I had nothing broken after my fall, I walked down into the canyon about a quarter mile, very cautiously. Finally I found a sheltered spot at the edge of the canyon bottom where I sat for a half hour until daylight. When the sun rose, suddenly my little light was unnecessary. I could see the terrain clearly. Drop-offs and potholes that could have tripped me before were now revealed. 1 John 1:5-7 says that "if we walk in the light as [God] is in the light, we have fellowship with each other and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin." This is the goal -- to walk in the light God gives us in his word in every daily matter so that we can have fellowship with one another. When we fail, we are able to receive forgiveness and to extend forgiveness to one another. It's like a sunrise that gives light and clarity to the whole landscape.

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