A Light In The Darkness
We are in the middle of a series on Modeling Love in the Model City and I want to start our time together by doing a little impromptu silent survey. Let’s start with a 5 question happiness survey that I want you to answer on a sale of 1-10 with 10 being totally satisfied. This either sounds fun or scary, but here we go:
I am doing better in my professional life than other people.
I feel happy with my general health, weight, and appearance.
As of this morning I am satisfied with the way things are going in my life.
I wouldn’t change much if I could re-live my life
I expect my life to get better than it is right now.
So how did you do? I would venture to say that most of us didn’t do as well as we hoped. In the face of so much urban blight it becomes very hard to see the blessings. We could do the same survey, but shrink it down to one question: When was the last time you complained?
I am sure there are those here today and watching in the internet who can’t remember the last time you complained about life, or another driver, or long lines at the grocery store. But I know there are others who were complaining yesterday, or last night, or a few minutes ago. The truth is that some of you woke up this morning and stood in front of a closet filled with clothes, and muttered about how you didn’t have a thing to wear. Some of you stood in front of your refrigerator full of food and thought, there's nothing to eat. When we're busy, we complain about being busy; when we have nothing to do, we complain about being bored. When it's warm, we complain and wish that it was cold. Today, because it is cold, we complain and wish that it was warm.
God calls His children to be a light in the darkness, but often times we allow the darkness to consume our light and we forfeit our ability to shine. When the church looses it's ability to shine, our communities suffer. Take your bible and turn with me to Philippians 2. We are going to be looking at a text from the 2nd chapter this morning. Let’s start in verse 12: Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. (12-15)
Paul includes in this section of his letter a powerful command in verse 14: Do everything without complaining and arguing. This is one of the most difficult text in all of Scripture. Wherever you are, whom ever you're with, no matter what time of the day it is, no matter what circumstances arise, regardless of what is rumbling inside of you, do everything that you do without one word of complaint. Can we just let that hang in the air for a moment?
How would your life change if you lived one whole day without complaining in some way. How would your life be different if you woke up and there was no desire to grumble about all of the things on your todo list that you really have no desire to do. Can you imagine lying down at night with not a single complaint about what happened during the day? What would a trip to Wal-Mart be like if you didn’t complain a single time about the person who brought their dog, or parked their buggy in the middle of the aisle so no one could get around them, or the person who has 500 items in the self checkout line.
I want you to imagine being a parent and not complaining about your children or better yet being a child and not complaining about your parent. Imagine being a worker and not complaining about your boss or being a boss and not complaining about your workers. Imagine a life that is absolutely absent of complaint. Would it change your life if there was no room for grumbling or complaining? Would your satisfaction in life go to an 8 or a 10 if there was no room for complaining in your life? Maybe the reason that Paul addresses this attitude is because what we consider a little thing, is actually not a little thing at all.
Once again we can’t get fixated on the perceived problem to the point that we forget about the root cause. While we can sit around and bemoan all of the things that contribute to to the brokenness found in our community, we need to look a little deeper and find the root of the problem. Jesus says in Luke 6:45: Your words show what is in your heart. According to Jesus, the words we speak reveal the condition of our heart. If He is telling the truth, and I fully believe that Jesus tells the truth, when we grumble and complain we are revealing what is actually going on in our heart.
Paul says that we need to Do everything without complaining and arguing. The word complaining carries the emotional side of the words. It is how we feel about the person or activity that we are doing. When we complain we are elevating ourselves and angry that someone or something else is stealing our glory.
The word that Paul uses for arguing here is the content of complaint. It's basically an argument with life. It’s the feeling that you deserve better or that you are better than the other people who are also created in the image of God. Complaining says, I deserve better. It places you in the center of your universe. Arguing says, I am better, I deserve better than you.
This morning when you stood in front of that closet and thought, I don’t have a thing to wear, you overlooked at how packed full that closet was with clothes. You didn’t see the lavish wardrobe that billions of people living around the world would never own in their wildest dreams. When you say I have nothing to wear, what you really mean is that the particular thing that you want to wear, doesn't happen to be hanging in that closet. It’s self-focused and self-absorbed.
When I stand in front of our refrigerator and lament the fact that there is nothing to eat, I am overlooking all of the different food, the leftovers, the cold cuts, the eggs and cheese while there are so many in the world who are starving. We have the ability to look at a lavish blessing and not see the blessing. When we say there's nothing to eat, what we are saying is that what I think I deserve to eat, given who I am, doesn't exist in that refrigerator.
We complain when we are inconvenienced, or when someone does something different from what I want or what I expect. I mean it’s shocking that people would have the audacity to stand in front of me in a line. I am appalled when someone is so rude that they would disagree with me. I complain because I believe that I am important and it is a cardinal sin for me to ever experience a delay or difficulty or suffering of any kind. My every want should be indulged; my every need should be fulfilled; my every feeling should be taken seriously because I am me. I deserve better. I know that sounds harsh, but what scares me even more, is that it sounds familiar.
This is a difficult passage for me, because I want to think that I'm a man at peace with God. I want to think that my heart follows where He leads. But this passage reminds me of the truth that complaining and arguing is not a little sin. When I complain and argue, just like Adam and Eve, I am trying to sit on the throne of God, and Paul is reminding me that I know better.
Paul continues: Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.
Paul doesn’t just arbitrarily say don’t complain or argue, Paul says there is a reason, You're the children of God. You have been invited into the family of God, you carry the family name, and people make their decisions about God based on what they see happening in the life of His children. When I was a little boy, I had the habit of getting into some of mischief. I still remember my dad sitting across the table from me and saying, Your last name is Houck; your father's name is Frank Houck; everywhere you go, every decision you make, somehow, some way, reflects on the Houck family.
My dad wanted me to understand that I was not a lone wolf in this world. I am connected to my family, he wanted me to acknowledge my identity. I think that’s what Paul is trying to do. He is reminding us that we carry the name of God’s family, we are representatives of that family wherever we are. We define what God’s family looks like and what they care about. We are the ones who show the world what Jesus looks like, we put skin on faith and practice it in the real world.
Greenbrier is not a church, we are the body of Christ and the world get’s to know Christ by the way that we love and accept one another. It is your responsibility to represent the grace and love of God so that the world can see what love and acceptance actually looks like. You have been saved to make the invisible kingdom of God visible by the way that we live. That's not something you do once in a while. That's your identity, it is what you do, it should be the core of who you are.
Your reputation influences God’s reputation in our community. We should live our lives in agreement with the gospel. But if we have the reputation of complainers, our lives are actually a contradiction to the Gospel. How can you talk about a God of glorious grace and lavish love and then be bitter or dissatisfied or a griper. You were called to live a better life, to be a better representative of God. You were called to live a life of joy, peace, and gratitude that is so foreign to the world around us, that our community desires to know what makes you tick, why are you so different.
Peter captures the beauty of this life style when he writes in 1 Peter 3:15 Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. This is reverse evangelism. Instead of you going out and telling people about Christ they see your life and come to you and ask you about Christ. People won’t understand: We have the same boss, but you're so gracious, and you're so thankful, and you're so content, and you're so joyous. What is going on? I've never lived by a neighbor who was so kind and so content and so joyful. You are celebrating all the time. I don't understand. There seems to be this gratitude that bleeds its way out in the way that you talk about life.
Paul and Peter are calling us back to a life of holiness. Real Christianity is not based on what building you go to, or how many church ministries you are involved with. Real Christianity is a life lived worshiping God. When you grasp how deeply God loves you, when we understand what God offers us through His love and mercy, we cannot help but find real lasting joy in our lives. You understand that being a Child of God doesn’t mean your life is perfect, but you can handle the pitfalls and struggles of this life with grace. You will be able to meet anger with peace, condemnation with acceptance, and trials with joy. And that joy is attractive to a world that is searching for peace in everything from a pill to a bottle.
There was not a person in this room today who woke up believing that their neighbors were perfect. No one in this room lives in the delusion that their family is perfect. There is not a single one of us who live the perfect life. We have bills to pay, deadlines to meet, family to deal with. There are some days that are more difficult than others. But even in the midst of all of this brokenness we can still wake up with a deep gratitude, a deep joy, a thankful heart. We can wake up and acknowledge that we have been loved and wonder how God could love us this way? We all have a reason to celebrate, smile, and rejoice even though our Model City is dealing with Urban Blight because we are the object of God’s love.
Paul continues and says we are to shine like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.
One of the things I enjoy about going to the family farm for my sabbatical is that there is nothing around for miles. The farm is in Hoomesville, Alabama and the closest city is a 30 minute drive. Every night, when I am there, I go outside, sit in a chair, and look up into the sky. There and always a million stars in the sky, as far as you can see, in every direction, you cannot look in the sky without seeing light. I believe that is what Paul is talking about in this text. It’s like Jesus takes us, lights us up with His love, compassion, and grace, then He scatters us out among our culture so that everywhere you look the light of Christ can be seen.
It has been God’s plan all along for His people, His children, to take the message of grace and forgiveness into our culture and community. The love of God is supposed to shine in the halls of a hospital, the aisle in the grocery store, the barber shop, the library, the mall. We are supposed to shine in the city, the suburbs, the county. We are supposed to shine in the mornings, the afternoons and the evenings. We are called to reflect the light of Christ everywhere we go, so that there is not a single person in the Model City that has not been exposed to the light of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Your ministry is to take God’s magnificent love into the dark places in our community as well as the well lit ones. Your ministry, if you really believe what you claim to believe, is to shine like a bright light so that God’s love can been seen by those who so desperately need the light of that grace. Paul says, your life is ministry and ministry is your life. There's no separation. You are called to be light where ever you are.
We are saved so we can bring light to a crooked and perverse generation. If you are halfway paying attention, you have to acknowledge that we live in a world that is bent and not operating the way it's supposed to operate. As a matter of fact, every time we try to remove God from the world, or from your consciousness we end up being horribly bent. We are suffering Urban Blight because our world is bent, twisted, and distorted.
Our world resembles that shopping cart from the grocery store that was hit by a car. The one that has that wheel that rattles and vibrates your whole body to the point that it won’t push straight. The cart that veers to the right and then lunges back to the left and you keep hitting things you don't want to hit. Our world is like that cart. Where we might be tempted to abandon that cart and get another one, God responds to our crooked generation with magnificent love. God allows His creation to descend into our own personal darkness so that the bent people will see and be attracted to the light of His glory. God will not force us to love Him, but He makes it so attractive that we cannot miss the light of His glory.
So how does this passage point us to Model Love in the Model City? Two quick thoughts. First, we need to admit that we live like our lives belong to us. While Jesus bought our lives on the cross, we act like His sacrifice only entitles Him to weekend visits. That as long as we get Sunday’s right, we can do whatever we want during the rest of the week. That is why we have moved from gratitude into entitlement, complaining, and arguing. Complaining is the default language of a shrunken kingdom.
Secondly, it reminds us that Jesus sacrificed His life so that we could find abundant life. This morning we find hope in the Gospel; the story of the death, and resurrection of Christ. It doesn't matter how broken you are, how many times you have failed, how selfish you have been, Jesus still offers us grace, a fresh start and new beginning. And since you have been offered a new beginning, you carry the responsibility of living your new life in such a way that your life shines in the darkness.