Dark Caves

Several decades ago I worked as a Resident Advisor in a dormitory at my alma mater. It was a wonderful job that actually prepared me for being a pastor. Resident Advisors were required to do an impressive amount of training that focused on peer counseling, active listening, leadership skills, personnel management, and personal skills development. The training was intended to make us better at assisting the students who were in our care.

All of the RAs in my all-female dorm were teamed with RAs in an all-male dorm under the supervision of a graduate student who was our Coordinator. One year the residence hall leadership decided it would be good to send us to a nearby camp on the weekend prior to the opening of school for some team-building. We hiked, cooked, discussed, listened, and it was all going swimmingly well…right up to the point when they announced that our final activity would be spelunking.

Having grown up eleven miles from Philadelphia in a thriving suburb, this girl didn’t know what spelunking was. But the area in central Pennsylvania where my university is located is well-known for its vast mountains, hills, valleys, and caves. Yes, we were going to explore a deep underground cave together.

This was when I learned for the first time in my young adult life that I have a pretty significant case of claustrophobia. It was not a good time to learn that.

It was in the final passage to the last underground chamber when the darkness overcame me and I froze. Inching along on my belly in a cold passage (where the space was so tight I could not lift my head up without the Pom Pom of my knit cap touching the ceiling) was my undoing. Fortunately, the only person behind me was the coordinator, and she knew what to do. The two of us backed up until we were in a space large enough to sit up and trade places. Then she passed me to catch up to the others and complete the trek. I sat in the darkness alone and had to wait for them to come back out before we could all make our way up to the surface.

I probably wasn’t alone in the ink for more than 5 minutes, and I could hear them exploring the final chamber. But the isolation and fear that I felt seemed to last more than 5 days.

1 John 1:1 (Common English Bible)

1 We announce to you what existed from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have seen and our hands handled, about the word of life. The life was revealed, and we have seen, and we testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us. What we have seen and heard, we also announce it to you so that you can have fellowship with us. Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy can be complete.

The message: God is light

This is the message that we have heard from him and announce to you: “God is light and there is no darkness in him at all.” 

Sometimes on Sundays after worship, someone will ask me where I learned how to pray. I am sure it was in that cave as a frightened nineteen-year old. I had enough “church“ in me to know that I needed the light to come right away to take away the darkness. Jesus sat beside me in the cold and comforted me until it was time to climb back up toward the light.

If we claim, “We have fellowship with him,” and live in the darkness, we are lying and do not act truthfully. But if we live in the light in the same way as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin. 

There are many seasons of life that come at us with the threat of darkness. Losing a child, losing a home, losing a job, losing a marriage…any loss is a dark place to be. But when we turn our faces heavenward and seek out the Light of the World, eventually our eyes will adjust to the dawn of redemption and hope.

So keep climbing, my friends. Set your face toward the light of the Son. God is light and there is no darkness in him at all.

And There is No Darkness in Him by Cheryl Smith

Stone-Blind

Super Bowl 2021 was its usual combination of pretty boring football, a controversial halftime show, outstanding commercials, and a great excuse to eat a lot of snacks, albeit in the safety of our homes rather than at parties. In the spirit of full confession, I am that person who watches it every year to see the entertainment pieces that keep getting interrupted by a game. This year was no different.

One thing that captured my attention was the Light Gloves worn by the dancers in the halftime show. Now THAT was notice-worthy. They made really cool moves with them, and the choreography was designed to highlight the gloves and the patterns of light that they made. This was a good thing, since the headpieces that were worn should have been left in the players’ lockers.

Man, I would love a pair of Light Gloves! On the Outer Banks, we don’t have a lot of light at night. There is no ambient city light, and street lights are few and far between. The blessing of this is that we can clearly see the stars. The curse is that we can’t see where the door lock is when we come home at night.

Paul encourages us to think about the light-vs.-dark dynamic in a new way in his second letter to the Corinthians. He creates a word chain about darkness: obscure looking—going the wrong way—refusing to give the message serious attention—eyeing the fashionable god of darkness:

2 Corinthians 4 (The Message)

3-4 If our Message is obscure to anyone, it’s not because we’re holding back in any way. No, it’s because these other people are looking or going the wrong way and refuse to give it serious attention. All they have eyes for is the fashionable god of darkness.

Then he creates a contrasting word chain about the light: dayspring brightness—message that shines with Christ—best picture of God:

They think he can give them what they want, and that they won’t have to bother believing a Truth they can’t see. They’re stone-blind to the dayspring brightness of the Message that shines with Christ, who gives us the best picture of God we’ll ever get.

The invitation to all believers today is to go out into the darkness of your family, your workplace, your neighborhood, and indeed the world, and be a messenger or an errand runner for the Message.

5-6 Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful.

Where is God calling you to be a light-bearer for him? Where are you meant to shine some light into someone’s darkness and bring them into the beauty of the Son?

Light up the darkness! When we all do as we’ve been instructed, our lives will fill up with his light, all bright and beautiful.

Pull on your Light Gloves and go.

Wolf Moon by Michelle Robertson

Having an Epiphany

(This was originally published in January 2020. It is a good reminder as we approach Epiphany Sunday that God is always shining a light on some aspect of our lives that needs illuminating. Where is he shining his light into your darkness? Follow THAT star. Enjoy, and Happy New Year!)

Ever have an epiphany? Like a really, really good one? I recall having an epiphany once about a toxic relationship I was in. For the longest time I had been blinded to the reality of it, following along and taking the negativity toward me as “personality-driven.” Every time something was said that made me wince, I wrote it off to the other person’s stress/having a bad day/quirky humor/maybe I heard it wrong. But I was hearing it right, and when the epiphany finally came that this relationship was causing me harm, I had to begin the painful process of extricating myself from the friendship.

An epiphany happens when we finally see the light. The word harkens back to the time in scripture when people literally saw the light: a star hanging over Bethlehem that lit the way to the manger and thus lit the way to the salvation of the world.

Matthew 2 (New King James Version)

Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”

When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.

The star led them to Jesus, but an epiphany warned them to stay away from Herod. An Epiphany epiphany.

The word epiphany comes from the Greek word meaning appearance or manifestation. We celebrate the day of Epiphany on January 6th as the final day of the twelve days of Christmas. Many people keep their decorations and lights up until this day to commemorate the Light of the World being made manifest on earth.

In all senses of the word, epiphanies are about the breaking of darkness by the sudden intrusion of light-power. That is what happens every time God appears. Yet in the sense that God is always there, perhaps it is more accurate to say that it happens every time we finally are ready to see the light.

The irony of the Epiphany is that the pagan astrologers saw what the religious scholars refused to see. Trapped in their ritual, expectation, scripture memorization, and endless arguments about doctrine, they missed the entire event, while the star-gazers got to see the Messiah.

Take a look around you. What is God trying to show you? Where is he shining a light on something in your life and yelling, “Pay attention to this!”

Epiphanies happen every day. God breaks into darkness every day. God sheds new light on bad situations every day.

Open your eyes, and behold.

The Hilton’s Epiphany star.