Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Light Shines Here

Out in the courtyard there is a Bradford pear tree. I usually appreciate them most in the spring, when their blossoms sit at the end of each limb like cotton balls, waving white in the spring breeze. They're first responders, those pear trees. They respond well to the changing seasons. While everything else is gray, their tiny petals taunt the winter, warning her that spring is on the way.

But this morning, I caught a glimpse of the courtyard tree and noticed that it had boldly taken on a hue quite different from the oaks and crepe myrtles that surround it. Its companions seem content to remain green or perhaps don a tawny yellow- only appealing to the eye because it offers a slight contrast to the same dull green we've seen all year. But the Bradford pear, the only tree brave enough to dare the waning seasons, dazzled me with something I did not expect to see anywhere nearby- red.

When I took the dogs for a walk, I walked up to the tree reverently. It is still mostly greenish-gold, but at the top of its boughs, I saw a handful of crimson leaves that made my heart swell. It's not only because I love fall. It's because they represent a great truth, one that has rooted its way into my life the past year, one that I will never forget.

When I took Botany in college, I discovered that plant senescence (which causes leaves to change color) is a hormonal response. Like some of our hormones, plant hormones are stirred up by environmental factors. Like a lot of students, I thought that the factor that influenced senescence was the changing weather. Cooler weather means winter is coming, and if you're a tree, it seems like a good time to let your leaves die. But I was so delighted to hear that plants don't rely on something as shifty as the weather for their life cues. It's not chilly autumn weather that causes leaves to change- it is shorter autumn days. Plants senesce in response to the light.

Since I've been writing about Jesus as the Light of the World, I smiled at the Bradford. We're kindred spirits, in a way. Only I am just now learning what God designed into its genome. The light is always what causes the true response. I thought I knew this. But I am a child when it comes to such things. Good thing that it is to children that God decides to reveal His greatest wisdom.

We tend to think of things simply. Good is light. Evil is dark. But the Bible says it's more tricky than that. 1 John says that God is light but 2 Corinthians warns that our enemy Satan masquerades as an angel of light. Isaiah says that God hides his servants in the shadow of His hand, and Jesus said that what He speaks in the darkness should be proclaimed in the light. Revelation says that the Kingdom will be lit by God's own glory, and Moses, after being in the presence of God had a shiny glow to his face. So the Bible is FULL of words and warnings about light- the light of God, the shadows He allows us to walk through, and the false light Satan and his followers wrap around themselves.

Being Satan's follower is a easier than you think. I've never sacrificed an animal or worn a pentagram, but, according to the Bible, I've partnered with him many times. Because God's word is clear- when you are not doing His will, you are accomplishing the enemy's. It's that truth that caused me to sit across from my husband yesterday at breakfast, confessing the work that I've done for the enemy-begging that he not mix up my sin with the glorious light that God insisted upon shining here. It's not that I wanted to partner with him, but that I abandoned God to try to save myself. It's easy to do. It happens all the time. The flesh convinces us that it's necessary for survival. That we have to lie and manipulate and deceive one another. That we cannot let another see what is truly in our hearts. And most of us, out of pity for ourselves or each other, accept this. But God is pure, and demands purity. Anything not pure is not His. This is why my friend Kinsey warns me that the way is narrower than we originally thought. And it's why Jesus said, in regard to true and false light, we should "be on our guard."

There's a poem I like, by William Stafford called, "A Ritual to Read to Each Other." Here is a stanza or two-

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider-
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give- yes or no, or maybe-
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

William Stafford, that tree and I are onto the same thing.

What I mean is this- when Light shines, whether in light or shadow, when God burdens us with His Word and lays His hand heavily upon our heart- we must respond. Like the Bradford, we must take courage and respond to the cues He's given- even if everything around us stays tawny, we must be brave enough to become scarlet.

What does this look like? It's a curious thing. So tricky, you see, to figure out if you are enlightened or crazy. But the Word is the lamp unto my feet- and here is what it says.

The fruit of the light is goodness, righteousness and truth. (Ephesians 5:9) The first one is easy enough to fake. It's not that hard to be good. Any person with morals and self discipline can be good. But righteousness, true righteousness- a right relationship with the Almighty. No one can fake that. Because the Light knows. And the Light won't produce real fruit in something that is faking righteousness. It's impossible. This is the glory of God. This is why I stick with Him when everything is dark, confusing, frightening. When I don't know the answers and I am afraid of other people, even afraid of my own heart. He cannot be fooled. He searches us. He knows us. He requires nothing less than holiness.

And holiness can only come about when we face the truth- incidentally the third fruit of the light. Truth is that we are sinners. We're liars. We're manipulators. We're abusers. We can blame it on others. We can blame it on the enemy. Are they culpable? Yes. Indeed they are. But we are too. All of us. That is the truth we must face when the light shines. It is the truth that draws us to our knees and begs mercy from a Holy God.

If we hide, we cannot shine. If we hide, we cannot be changed. We must face the truth. We must ask for mercy, but then...

He will make your righteousness will shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Psalm 37:6

Friends, not only is the darkness around us deep, the darkness within us is too. But there is Light. The Light that gives life to the souls of men. And to this tired woman. Jesus, my Defender, shines and produces something beautiful and scarce- righteousness, holiness, mercy, humility, love. It's pure. And, like Paul said, I have not attained these things. All I can do is press on toward them, forgetting the tawny around me, responding, changing, trusting the Light.

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