Being the Church Jesus Wants to Return To

My boss recently traveled to Turkey with his father who is a Biblical unitarian pastor to see some Biblical historical sites and came back with lots of stories. He did not bring me back any Turkish delight, but he provided a pretty neat church history lesson in the middle of our therapy department this week. He talked about Constantine, the Roman Catholics, church disputes and the historic structure he toured called the Hagia Sophia, that has apparently withstood centuries of empires/turmoils in what is now Istanbul. Though I know a little bit about Constantine and find history pretty interesting, this place he mentioned was completely new to me. Hearing it was from the 400’s and some of the history behind it had us all talking about the nature of conflict that is always a part of world history and church history. And some if it explains a lot.

Arguments and divisions are nothing new in societies or religious organizations. I use the term religious organization because sometimes I hate to even taint the word “church” more than it already is. As followers of Christ we are part of the greater church. The true church. Not the Sunday morning entertainment center or tax exempt non-for-profit club. We are part of the body of Christ/church family that transcends state lines, continents, races, and generations. And within that church we are to be unified in truth/purpose and actively loving one another more while serving ourselves less.

When we think of “church” today, any number of ideas might come to our minds, though I am not sure much of them are what the New Testament church would have hoped for centuries later. If anyone wants a very convicting laugh…..check out the YouTube video “Drive Thru Church”.  A friend shared this with me and it just rang so true. But, maybe we’d have less of a consumer-driven attitude if we, as the body of Christ, were consistently doing what we were called to do. And that calling is high, but worth it. There is a day coming sooner rather than later when it seems that the true church is going to need to become more and more distinct from those who slap that name on their seeker-sensitive organizations or lukewarm social gatherings Jesus tells us he wants to spit out of his mouth. But, this isn’t the time for the pot to call the kettle black. It is the time to ensure that each of us is prioritizing his/her relationship with God and His family, loving the “one another” of the church body, and together upholding the inerrant Word of God as representatives of His kingdom.

Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching”  Hebrews 10:25

“I pray that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17:21

–Jennifer Hall

Keep at the Bible reading plan. Today’s passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Job 21-22 and 2 Corinthians 12

Bearing Fruit

A few years ago, my friend from church, Terri Tschaenn, gave me a single piece of a cactus that was broken off from her huge cactus plant. I put it in a small pot not knowing what to expect, and I have to say that thing has grown so many shoots and sprouts and whatever new chunks of cactus might be called…..I am now onto a third pot myself and it has been pretty cool to see that thing grow and spread! While I am still learning to be careful with the nasty little prickers, I can tell I am going to have cactus to share! So, if I gave one chunk of cactus to 12 friends, and in a few years they gave one piece to 12 more friends, imagine how fast Terri’s cactus could spread. In fact, she told me that several other people she knows have cacti started from her plant.

As Christians, we are called to remain in the vine and produce fruit. One way we see the evidence of fruit is in disciples. John 15:8  tells us:

“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

Bearing fruit to God’s glory is not found in the number of likes on a post that happens to have a Bible verse in it, not in the number of people who show up at our “church” event or the people who follow us/like us/or think we are really “nice”. Fruit isn’t measured the way society measures it at all. In fact, probably most numbers society uses for a gauge of success would demonstrate the exact opposite in the sense of bearing fruit that Jesus asks of us.

Jesus had his disciples. Paul had his team. Scripture speaks of a called-out body of people loving one another, teaching, edifying, building up, holding accountable, sharing, confessing sins, forgiving sins. We all have a circle of influence and relationships, and those relationships with followers of Jesus are the ones prioritized above all else in no uncertain terms.

Matthew 12:48-50

New International Version

48 He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

If we are to call ourselves a Christian or follower of Christ, we had better seriously consider those we yoke ourselves with and recognize that our church family is our family. We all benefit from being discipled and from discipling and we have a responsibility to seek those with spiritual maturity and a shared relationship with God to grow alongside as brothers/sisters.

-Jennifer Hall

For those following along with the yearly Bible reading plan, you can read or listen to today’s Bible passages at BibleGateway here – Job 19-20 and 2 Corinthians 11

Current Events & Proverbs

When I first started reading my Bible regularly as a teenager, my youth pastor suggested reading a Proverb each day because they were full of wisdom and you can read one for each day of the month. Years later, I heard my pastor at the time, John Railton, suggest the same to his church. I have implemented that strategy intermittently over the years, and while I don’t do it every month,  I have come to learn that the book of Proverbs is a terrific source of reading for wisdom/comfort/practical teachings. I would definitely recommend reading words from “wise King Solomon” to anyone! And, no matter how many times I read them, I still find new lessons and comforts.

Just this week I was reading Proverbs 3, and found a few of them to be very relevant with what I had read a few minutes before in the current events of this world! In fact, if there is one thing that makes me realize how much I need to read the Bible more, it is reading the news these days. So, in case a few words of wisdom that brightened my day brightens yours, here goes. And there are lots more where these came from. Smack dab in the middle of your Bible. Or under “P” in your trusty Bible app.

Proverbs 3:5-7

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.[a]

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord and shun evil.

And a few more wise words of comfort, verses 21-26

21 My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight,
    preserve sound judgment and discretion;
22 they will be life for you,
    an ornament to grace your neck.
23 Then you will go on your way in safety,
    and your foot will not stumble.
24 When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
    when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
25 Have no fear of sudden disaster
    or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked,
26 for the Lord will be at your side
    and will keep your foot from being snared.

-Jennifer Hall

Keep up with that Bible reading plan – read or listen at BibleGateway here – Job 17-18 and 2 Corinthians 10

Little Magic Screens

If you had told me as a youth, when I was attending FUEL, that there would be these little boxes you held and talked to and they could tell you anything, connect you to anyone, and navigate/track you anywhere, I would have thought that sounded as futuristic as the Jetsons. Yeah, I remember the Jetsons. On our little black and white antenna TV that required you walking over to turn the knob to channels A, B, D, and some numbers too I think.

If there is one thing that has changed the world over its history, it has been technological developments! I remember my Great Grandma, who died at 103 in Oregon, Illinois,  telling us that when she was a child there were still wars going on with the American Indians over land and people rode horses to church…. and by the end of her life, people were flying across the world, driving cars with all sorts of gizmos and gadgets, and going into space.  My family was really impressed to hear what had changed in her century. But, change has always been a part of life and always will be- just like Ecclesiastes tells us. Despite the advancements she saw, she never knew what a cell phone or the internet was, but when we went to visit her we didn’t bring work, Zoom meetings, social media, texts or ask her to take a selfie with us. She would have undoubtedly been fascinated with our magic screens and boxes and always loved to hear about current events. But, I think there is a very good chance if she told me them today amidst the stream of visual/auditory distractions and demands that are in front of me, I wouldn’t have truly heard them enough to remember them 30 years later.

There are pros and cons to technology and our culture/work/schools are built on technology which I am sure will continue to increase between now and Jesus’s return.  Technology isn’t inherently bad and I am grateful for many aspects of it. You are obviously reading this on some sort of device yourself. But, until the kingdom, we know there will continue to be deceit and intentional battles to draw us away from God and to the world, and those wars seem to be running rampant in our little magic screens and virtual worlds. We live amidst crafty deceivers. Enticing distractions. Ones sometimes masquerading as “neutral” when they are anything but, and instead are very effective at destroying spiritual minds and health.

As an occupational therapist, part of my job is working with children with sensory processing challenges. They are absolutely exploding in frequency, and the screen addictions, visual problems, learning/attention problems, and social/mental health challenges associated with too much technology/screen time are very very real. I am reading the book “12 ways your phone is changing you” by Tony Reinke and learned that the average American checks his/her phone every 4 minutes.   How often does the average American pray? Does the “average American” even pray? How often does the average follower of Christ spend time with God? Even think of God at all? The list of convicting questions could go on and on. As technology and culture continue to change, we have one source of constancy we are asked to hold onto. That can be very hard.  I don’t have the solution, but God does.  And we can be thankful that He never changes and doesn’t require an IT department to access.

“Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”  James 4:8

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”  Luke 5:16

-Jennifer Hall

If you’ve been working on the SeekGrowLove Bible reading plan this year – keep it up! You can read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway here – Job 15-16 and 2 Corinthians 9

Set Apart – Together

Earlier this week we read about the importance of being set apart from the world as a follower of Christ. To be called out. Sometimes at work, I get “called out” of a meeting to talk to someone. Sometimes I help patients of mine by intentionally setting him/her apart from other distractions to complete a task. Since I work at a hospital, I frequently go to the waiting room to call out a name, asking that person to stand up and separate from the others to come with me.  Depending on your contexts in life, being called out or set apart might bring that visual of being alone or isolated from others. Maybe sometimes that might sound nice?  For sure at other times, that can sound scary and undesirable.

While we are asked to be set apart from the world in the spiritual sense, we are not created to live, love, worship, and serve in isolation. In fact, 2020 shed some light into the devastations that can be caused by being set apart….alone. That isn’t what Jesus was talking about. The Greek word most frequently translated as church in our Bible is “ekklesia” which means the idea of an assembly of called out people.  The church is called to be set apart from the world. Since our English language often associates the word “church” with building and not the group of people, it is easy to overlook the meaning of the importance of our calling sometimes. In the New Testament we see a group of people called out from the world…..TO GOD. A group asked to be set apart together.

Ephesians 3:16-21: 

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

He calls us out to love one another. To be mindful of other’s needs and meet them. To edify one another. To be unified. To bring glory to God and Jesus in what we do as an ekklesia. To come together in prayer. To find strength and function as one member of a greater body. 

As we navigate another season of viruses and news stories laden with fear and confusion, let us not do it alone. And let us also not find our church families looking and sounding just like the world. Instead, let us actively seek to be set apart from the world following Jesus in our own individual lives, to find the planks in our own eye, so we can best build up the ekklesia  as we await the return of His son.

We are the church.

“For where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them.”  Matthew 18:20

-Jennifer Hall

This week the devotions are on other passages reminding us of the importance of of being connected to God, Christ and the church, but if you are using the SeekGrowLove Bible reading plan keep enjoying the daily passages. They can be read or listened to here at BibleGateway Job 13-14 and 2 Corinthians 8

Growing Out of the World

Yesterday we talked a little bit about the idea of remaining in Jesus/the vine from John 15. Continuing on in that chapter today, we see that we are called to be set apart from the world’s “garden” of goods. We are to belong to Jesus and be called out from the world. And it sounds like we shouldn’t anticipate popularity for this.

John 15: 16-19:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.

Verse 19 tells us that that world will love us when we belong to it.  It seems like many days it is easier to be loved by the world than it is to be set apart. If we watch what the world watches, busy ourselves with its entertainment, immerse ourselves in its news and social media, agree with its “wisdom” and ambitions, share its worries, and dedicate our time and energy to pursuits of this world, we can easily find ourselves part of it. With some pretty deep roots. We will be accepted and liked. We won’t offend anyone. We will fit in. Or at least we won’t stand out? We might have some temporary fun. People will smile at us, agree with us, boost our ego, and…..we will belong.  But, we will belong to the world, and there are consequences.

Scripture speaks heavily to the idea of being “called out” or “set apart” from the world. This passage is one of those. We are currently living in a world abounding in evil and deceit. Deceit that runs so deep in so many places that anyone who follows Jesus likely will be hated at times. Looking at Jesus’s example, being watchful for times the world’s ideas contradict that example and his words, and seeking to love and obey are crucial to ensure that we are growing “out” of the world and not “in” it.  I look forward to a day when Jesus reigns and is no longer hated ,when we are in God’s perfect kingdom without sin, and when this world and its problems have passed away!

–Jennifer Hall

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway here – Job 11-12 and 2 Corinthians 7

The Vine and the Branches

John 15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  2  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes [a]  so that it will be even more fruitful.  3  You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.  4  Remain in me as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can
you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  6  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is
thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.

One of my favorite things about summer is the chance to have a garden and watch seeds grow from tiny seeds into plants taller than me sometimes. This summer I planted a spaghetti squash seed for the first time. The tiny seed I planted in the spring has now become a huge plant, growing into a vine so big that it keeps spreading into the neighbor’s yard and crowding many of
my other plants. At first I tried to wind it around our fence to keep it climbing there, but that vine continued to spread and really wanted to bear fruit next door too! It has forced me to really watch to see which branches have the flowers turning to fruit and which do not so that I can determine which to remove.


The branches I cut off are tossed away, turning brown and withering very quickly. While I have removed many branches and seen withered plants over the years, this particular squash plant has been so prolific with fruit (which not everyone in my household is thrilled about!) and grown into such a large vine, it has really been a good practical lesson for me regarding this passage.

Fruit doesn’t grow unless it is attached to the vine. But, flowers/branches attached to the vine can grow bigger and bigger producing exponentially more seeds than I started with in April. It is clear from the book of John that is true of us also. It is a nice picture really, but one we should take seriously considering what happens to the branches in verse 6. God is the perfect creator and gardener. He knew we couldn’t bear fruit alone and sent His son, Jesus, to be our mediator and through his sacrifice and forgiveness we are able to have a relationship with God and bear fruit for His glory. To bear fruit we must remain on the vine. If you read further in John 15 you will see some descriptions of what remaining in the vine involves. Keeping the commands of Jesus, laying down our lives for other followers of Jesus, and loving one another as we have
been loved.


But, we aren’t asked to do it alone. We are asked to bear fruit alongside other believers growing in love and obedience to Jesus together. And we aren’t told to do it just so we aren’t cast away and die. In fact, we are appointed to do it “so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete (v.11)”. God’s master gardener plan is to bring us joy, and that can be found nowhere but in Him.

-Jennifer Hall

Even when the devotions are on other great passages – you can keep on reading through the Bible plan – read or listen to today’s passages at BibleGateway.comJob 9-10 and 2 Corinthians 6.

United in Hope

john 3 17

I remember learning in a college psychology class that the two emotions most commonly selected by people meeting the criteria for clinical depression are guilt and shame. I saw the list that was given out in the assessment, and it included lots of others that I thought might have topped the list. Ones like grief, anger, fear, sadness, despondence, loneliness, rejection, etc. But, the two that were the most common consistently were guilt and shame. At the time I was a little surprised by that just because there were so many choices and they all seemed so “depressing”, but as the years go by, I am more surprised that I was surprised.

That is because guilt and shame are crippling and powerful negative emotions that we all experience. In definition, guilt and shame are a bit separated in the sense that guilt refers to the feeling associated with our behavior while shame is associated with a negative feeling of ourselves. Sin causes both. Because we all sin, we all experience the devastation of both emotions. And in a world where we find ourselves with divisions of race, socioeconomic class, culture, language,  and background. . . let it be known. . .we all experience guilt and shame because we are all guilty and shameful. If there is one thing uniting us all, it is that we are all intrinsically unworthy desperately in need of a savior. There aren’t those who are “really guilty” and those who are a “little guilty”. And even if that were the case, I think I’d want to be the former because in human reasoning, that is where the “man after God’s own heart” falls, and I believe those who recognize their unworthiness also recognize their need for God more. The human race is made up of innately sinful people completely unrighteous and unworthy constantly falling short of our perfect sovereign God.

“As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10, NIV)

“The LORD looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)

But, long before our existence God knew this and had an eternal plan. A plan to send a savior, His begotten son, Jesus.  So, while we experience that guilt and shame, we are also able to experience mercy, forgiveness, and hope. His desire is not to condemn us because of our guilt, but to save us from it. We feel shame because we don’t deserve that love and favor, but despite how we feel about it, it is there for the taking. Always. Again and again.

“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved”  (John 3:17, NIV)

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV)

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9, NIV)

Just as we are united in the sense that we all sin and experience guilt and shame, we are also able to share forgiveness and hope together. We all have the opportunity to be forgiven by God, but not so we can “feel better”. . . so we can glorify Him. One of the most beautiful ways to do that is to forgive others. Who doesn’t love the story of the Prodigal Son? So, may we seek to live with the mercy of the father and not with the bitterness and pride of the brother. The inheritance that matters is our shared one. And part of loving our giver is sharing the gift with others.  It is worth returning for. It is worth staying for. It is worth learning about. And it alone is the lasting source of hope.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21: 1-4, NASV)

 

–Jennifer Hall

God Willing

psalm 37 5

“What do you want to do when you grow up?” can be an entertaining enough question to ask a young child if we are looking for an answer that can’t be taken too seriously and a lighthearted conversation starter. For example, our daughter might tell you “a fish” on any given day because “they can swim underwater and I want to swim underwater and see it there”.  Too quickly though, it seems those questions turn into the far more burdensome “What are you doing when you graduate?”, “Which job pays more?”, “How many kids do you want”, “When are you going to get married?”, “Where do you want to live?”, “What do you want to __________”. . .and the list goes on.

We often particularly burden our youth with questions like these it seems at a time when they are trying to make sense of life and the overwhelming array of choices and decisions sweeping over them in a world that interprets life as far more human-driven than God-driven. Even in the church. Even in our families. We have all answered (and to be honest, likely asked) our fair share of questions similar to the above, and in many cases, these questions are asked by Christian friends, church members, and spiritual leaders around us. So, we answer, right? Even if they should know better than to ask those questions in those ways, we have to answer with something more than “I dunno” or our families frown, we feel stupid, or we know they are just going to ask again next week so we might as well spit out something now.  Sometimes the answers might roll off the tongue quite easily.  Sometimes, the answers might be more guarded and careful, hiding some personal or relational turmoil and confusion. And, sometimes. . .very occasionally it seems. . .the answers might actually be honest, beneficial, and edifying to the Christian body in that they come from scriptural ideas and are remotely indicative of an understanding of what it means to live as a follower of Christ versus just doing what we want. Something, like. . .

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21, NIV)

or

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” (Proverbs 16:9, NIV)

Seriously. It doesn’t really matter what we major in (32%+ of graduates will never even use what they major in anyway), what worldly skills or academic honors we have, how many kids or goats we want, which school/job offers more money, when we think we’ll be ready to get married, what “he” did, what our family says, or what our friends say. It does matter tremendously what God says. Our temporary earthly life gives us so many twists and turns that we need to rely on God for the steps because no path is what we thought it was going to be when we planned for it. If we planned for it. Not now. Not ever. Sometimes the paths we thought were God’s plan turn out to be nonexistent or wrong. Sometimes the paths we wished for or planned for are not God’s plan at all. Remember Abraham? Jonah? David? Joseph?( It doesn’t even matter which Joseph this time, does it?) The point is   . . .God alone knows, and He is not self-seeking and narcissistic like….umm…..all of us a lot of times more than we care to admit it?! He alone is our sovereign Creator and there is absolutely no one else we can trust to know best for us. If we spent even a fraction of the time we spend on things like completing personality tests, FAFSAs, career surveys (last one Jennifer took told her she should be a rabbi or farmer so obviously that was useful), figuring out our love languages, and listening to the always-bountiful opinions of others . . .and instead, invested it in seeking to know God better, love and obey Him . .surely this would be a good thing for us, the entire church body, and our world.

Recently we were ran across Psalm 37. It is a fabulous psalm full of good stuff . . .particularly if you want to be reminded of the fact that you do NOT KNOW and that is not only okay, it is what God desires. Because, He knows. He knows it all . . .so much more than we can understand in this life. And He reminds us of this all throughout His word time and time again. Here are just a few:

“Commit your way to the Lord. Trust also in Him, and HE shall bring it to pass.” (Psalm 37:5, NKJV)

 “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way” (Psalm 37:23, NKJV)

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42, NIV)

“Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:23-25, NIV)

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. (Isaiah 55:8, NIV)

We’ve tried to be intentional in teaching our daughter to understand that life decisions aren’t about what we want, what others want for us, or what others do. And so somewhere along the line, we used the phrase “God willing” and explained the concept of James 4 to her. Interestingly, she catches us all the time in our shortcomings in this area. Just the other day, Brian told her goodbye and said, “I’ll see you after work” to which his daughter cheerfully responded, “God willing. Because, you might die today and not come home. Or there might be an emergency like a tornado or our house might burn or Mommy might go to the hospital. . .”  God willing, kid. You are right. You are more right than us sometimes. And God is more right than us all the time. Regardless of if we like it.

If you want some great advice straight from the mouth of none other than the man after God’s own heart, we think you’ll enjoy Psalm 37. God willing.

 

–Brian and Jennifer Hall

 

Brian Hall grew up in Michigan and had fun attending FUEL/RYOT/youth camp each summer for all of his years as a youth.
Jennifer Koryta Hall grew up in Indiana and has lots of wonderful memories of FUEL from attending as a camper and counselor for many years (1997-2007). She hasn’t actually been to FUEL since becoming Jennifer Hall, but would love to come back sometime. 

Brian and Jennifer live in Indianapolis, Indiana with their daughter, Emily,  and attend New Covenant Bible Church there. They value their friendships from FUEL and their greater church family.

This Little Light of Mine

John 8 12

It is now officially summer. I love summer. I love the warmth of sun on my skin, the colorful growth and plant life around me, and the sound of voices as people are outside living life. I appreciate the simplicity of walking out my door without dragging a coat, scarf, and layers that never seem to be comfortable no matter what I do, and being able to simply open the door of my car versus brushing it off, warming it up, or on really bad days. . . digging it out. In general, I prefer sweat to shivers or snot (my nose pours this out in anger toward the cold within a few seconds of me being out there usually). I would rather have mosquito bites itch for a few days than itchy, dry skin for months just longing for warm sunshine days to come. Summer has its cons, but it has its pros, and I appreciate them.  As a child I remember dreaming of carefree summer days to come while sitting at uncomfortable desks in sterile classrooms with not even a window or glimpse of the “outside world” in sight. As an adult working 11 hour shifts, during winter months I would drive to work in the dark and get off in the dark, restricting my only sunlight exposure to the occasional view through a hospital hallway. I do not prefer to live this way.

The sunlight has so many benefits. Of course, lying out in the sun for hours in vanity or laziness are bad ideas. Blistering skin is a bad idea. And since anything can be misused, I do not want to condone anyone making unwise choices for skin or physical health this summer on account of this reading. But, just a little research will tell you how our western “indoor” culture is significantly deprived of sunlight in general. Sunlight helps us synthesize Vitamin D which is essential for so many bodily functions I won’t even begin to name them. Sunlight increases oxygen in our blood, lowers blood pressure, and builds the immune system. Sunlight improves our mood. In fact, areas of the world where there is more sunlight compared to cloudy northern climates further from the equator have significantly less diagnoses such as multiple sclerosis, ADHD, mood disorders, sleep disturbances, etc.  There are many known benefits to sunlight, and I find that concept to be quite spiritually relevant.

When I was in college, I remember being paired up with a girl from my college dorm Bible study, and we were asked to come up with the lesson for the following week.  She said her idea was “Let’s talk about light. It comes up a lot in the Bible it seems”. So, we had a week to casually research light references in the Bible we thought and come up with a little lesson of some sort…..and we realized by the middle of the week that we were not going to even touch the tip of the iceberg of what is there in the Bible in one study. Light is contrasted with dark throughout scripture, and darkness or a lack of light is correlated to evil numerous times. The light is good stuff. God’s son is the light. We are to walk in the light. We are to turn from darkness.  So, I can only provide a drop in the bucket of the idea of light here today. . .but here are some things to think about:

“You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going.  (John 12:35, NIV)

 “Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” (John 8:12, NIV)

We can be overtaken by darkness and lost. We need to intentionally seek and follow the light. The light has been lovingly and freely given to us by our Creator and sovereign God. We don’t know where we are going if we aren’t following the light of his son, Jesus. And, we aren’t following Jesus if we aren’t living like Jesus lived. If we are followers of Jesus, we are also a source of light to others.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:14, NIV)

Ultimately, we need to identify the contrast between light and dark by believing the light is good and turning away from evil.  We are called to accept the light God has provided through the forgiveness and salvation made possible by the gift of His son, our Messiah. As part of that belief, we are instructed to follow Jesus and in turn bring glory to our Father. Also, by doing this, we shine a light for others who are lost, just waiting for a glimpse of that summer sun on a cloudy, wintry day.

I appreciate so much those who have been a light to me on this earth, and those who have taught me of a day to come. One without tears and mistakes and disappointments. A day so bright we won’t even need the sun at all according to Revelation!  Followers of Jesus long for that day where we can reign together with him in his kingdom, but as we wait for it with open arms, let’s not forget to continually seek the light, love the light, and shine the light.

 

–Jennifer Hall