Bob lives in a prison, where Christian kindness gets misinterpreted as weakness. How he loves his neighbor can look quite different. This week while Bob tried answering one neighbor’s sincere question about God, 3 or 4 inmates, listening in adjacent cells, would clamp their hands over their ears and start shouting obscenities, specifically to drown Bob out? According to my dictionary, an "imbecile" is “any adult with the mental capacity of a child, who needs constant supervision to perform daily tasks.” So I chose not to edit Bob’s question.
Jesus tells us to let our light shine. Recently I felt like I wasn’t really “shining” for God. I too asked Him, “How can I shine for Jesus here?” Though I can’t say what I would do in Bob’s situation, God opens ways for us to shine His light into the darkness.
Last week three different people asked me to lie for them. One wanted me to lie to my insurance company. Another wanted me to lie to their parole board. And then a young man came to my door, wanting to sell me a newspaper subscription, to a paper that I don’t much appreciate.
When I declined he asked why. I explained that I’d read that paper and didn’t want my children exposed to its obvious agenda. Then he leans closer and says, “Well, how about just ordering the newspaper and then canceling after your first week? That way, I’ll still get credit for the sale.”
He didn’t actually nudge me and wink but the idea was there. I said, “I just wouldn’t do that.” Then as if I didn’t get it, he clarified, “But if you’ll just subscribe, I’ll get points towards my scholarship?” And I said, “I just can’t do that.” He merely shrugged and walked away.
Later, rolling my eyes, I told Ann about these requests for me to be dishonest. Then I felt conviction. For the Christian, conviction means that God is about to do something in us, that we’ve asked Him to do. I didn’t yet know what He was doing, but God was about to show me how to shine for Him, while also correcting a lie that I was perpetrating.
After talking with Ann about my conversation with the newspaper salesman, the verse that invaded my head was:
“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”
Whenever the Lord brings this verse to my attention now, I respond, “Okay Lord, I don’t see how, but I believe You. How am I doing these ‘same things?’ ” I couldn’t see how I was doing what that man at the door was doing. But if I were, God would show me. First I tried thinking about how I might be doing this, but nothing came to mind. I finally stopped trying, and waited for God to speak.
Later, the only examples that He brought up were old ones, which I had long since repented of. I asked why He was only bringing up the old stuff. I wasn’t feeling guilty, but what was the point? Then the very words I had spoken to that young man at my door came back to me. I’d said to him, ”I wouldn’t do that,” and then “I can’t do that.” And that was what God wanted me to see.
Wouldn’t I or couldn’t I lie, or encourage others to do so for me? Obviously from the old examples, I would and could do this. That I don’t do so now is from my not wanting to grieve the Holy Spirit. I know what that’s like, because I’ve done it. And for those of us in Christ, grieving God’s Spirit is painful because He indwells us. Our sinful speech can grieve Him:
“And do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
That was my forehead-slap moment. I had not been honest with these men. Truthfully, the only reason I wasn’t helping them lie was because it would grieve the Holy Spirit Who is living in me. It had nothing to do with my being morally superior! Christians don’t stop lying because we are morally higher than others. We stop lying because God in us grieves when we do, and we experience that grief. Saying “I wouldn’t do that,” is misleading (A lie). I should rather have said, “No way. My Lord would not want me doing that.”
Had I said something like that it would have been spiritual seed sown, which God could use. The salesman may still have turned and walked away, disappointed in me. But I wouldn't have left him thinking either: 1. “That guy is better than I am.” Or 2. “That guy must think he is better than I am.” The first statement is certainly not true. The second had better not be true if I’m going to have any kind of a prayer life! And so I repented.
Ann and I once lived in a city where buses were crowded, and pickpockets were many. Bus thieves there could rob you without your ever knowing it! Mashed into these buses, you were pressed on all sides. Usually the only foreigner on the bus, I was presumed to be a rich tourist. Before learning to put my money in my socks, I was getting ripped off left and right!
Bus pickpocketing there was so frequent, that there was a customary response when someone was ripping another off. Sensing the thief upon them, the would-be victim would say quietly, but firmly, “It isn’t necessary to steal.” And that would actually get the thief to stop stealing. It worked amazingly! In time, we foreigners were saying it ourselves.
Then one year someone brought in thousands of gospel tracts that were both beautifully illustrated, and pocket-sized. After having one stolen from me, the light bulb went on, and a new “ministry” was born! We called it, “Victim Evangelism.” We would carry these tracts in our pockets, with notes to the thief, asking them to read this message of love, from God to them, and expressing that we forgave their thieving of us. I’d get on the bus with a tract in every pocket, smile my way through the trip and get off, having been robbed 6 or 7 times; then refill my pockets for the ride home. Glory!!!
Christian literature was illegal to hand out there, but there weren’t any laws about having it stolen from you. Hundreds of tracts went out this way! Bringing Jesus into this once dreaded situation totally changed how we rode buses. Now I was eager to get on the most crowded of buses as we watched the stack of literature deplete. “Rip me off! Make my day!”
When the tracts were all gone we had to go back to the, “It isn’t necessary to steal,” line again. And while that got the thieves out of our pockets, it didn’t satisfy. Where was God in that? So to bring God's presence into light, we started saying to the pickpockets, “God can see you, sir.” That not only got them to stop just as well, but it felt right. If we believe God is omnipresent, then He is here now! Why not point Him out, making the most of every situation?
“Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
If I make my bed in the depths, you are there.”
Jesus is with us:
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
We shine for Jesus, by revealing Him among us. Last week I wasn’t shining for Jesus, when I wasn’t saying that my Lord is why I wasn’t about to lie. If I don’t lie, or cheat, or steal, it is because God is holy, and He has chosen to live inside me. And if He’ll live in me, then there is hope for anybody that I meet each day.
Hopefully next time I decide to be of no help, I’ll say something true that the person asking can take away with them. Like me or not, here’s a seed that can really bless them!
“Now, Lord, please help me to get into the habit of revealing your presence in my every situation.”
I can’t imagine how Bob will manage to bring Jesus into his situation. But knowing Bob, by his next letter, God will have shown Him a way. We are all to shine for Jesus, who is our Light; however dark the world around us.
“You are the light of the world. A city 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 men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”