Has the Light Gone Out?

Has the Light Gone Out?

Several months ago my friend Charles and I were delivering school supplies to a church for inner city children living in Church Hill.  This community was named Church Hill because there is a church on nearly every corner; large stately churches that cast ominous shadows.  I mistakenly missed the turn to the church parking lot and was forced to make the block.  As I turned right on “T” street, it became obvious from the number of women standing on the corners that I had stumbled into territory belonging to the “working girls” and their “business managers”.  As I drove slowly past, Charles said “stop the car”.  He rolled down his window and struck up a conversation with a man who was leaning on a large stick.  As he approached the car, I could see the perplexed look on his face.  He knew Charles from the street, I am sure he was wondering what Charles was doing in a minivan with a white woman loaded with school supplies.  Charles just smiled at him, asked how he was doing and said “Man, I will have to catch you later, I got to get back to work” and we pulled away.

I asked Charles who the man was and he shared that he had been in The Healing Place, which is a recovery program, but had relapsed and gone back out on the streets.  He then educated me about how he made is living by selling his girlfriend who was on the corner across from him.  He offered her assurances that if anyone messed with her, he will kill them, thus the importance of the stick and his presence.

We turned the corner, pulled into the church parking lot but my eyes could not help but return to the half dozen women selling their bodies there in the shadow of Christ church.

“The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned”, the author in the book of Matthew in the 4th chapter claims that Jesus is the fulfillment of these words originally spoken by the Prophet Isaiah.  I have a question.  If Jesus is the great light to those living in darkness, has the light gone out?

If you stroll through some of the darkest corners of our city you will see some of the most spectacular church buildings ever built in Richmond.  But instead of being a light casting out darkness, many are abandoned and now their shadows only add to the darkness.

We have all heard that “the Church” is not a building but a people, so where are the people?  Sadly the truth is that the original architects of these churches have fled these communities out of prejudice and fear.  The Body of Christ abandoned not only their church buildings but also the people living in darkness in its shadow.

In my work, I visit many suburban churches and it seems that every one I visit is going through some phase of a building campaign.  They usually give me the grand tour, proudly pointing to an architectural drawing on the wall saying “We are in Phase 4” but in “Phase 8” we will have a gymnasium and a new family life center.  I listen to their sermons many of which are simply creative messages aimed at soliciting the funds needed to complete these grand complexes.  I wonder, will they one day abandon these as well?

When I look at the church budgets, I see 30%-50% of the budget going toward buildings, with less than 1% going toward caring for the local poor.  And I wonder, “Why is it so dark in the shadow of the church?”

So how can we restore the light?  Matthew also gives us the answer to that question in Chapter 5 vs. 16 “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”  The Body of Christ must carry the light into dark places, to the women on “T” street, to the men purchasing their services, to the dealers selling the drugs, and to the children who witness the violence of it all.  We do not carry the light with our words; according to Matthew it is in our “good deeds” that the light shines the brightest.

I asked Charles what we could do for his friend on “T” street and he said “I just did it.”  I looked at him puzzled and asked “What did you do?”  “I let him know that I still care about him and I showed him that the program works simply by me being with you, working an honest job, I am bearing witness that God has saved me and can help him when he is ready.”  Charles is a very wise man.  Sometimes our simple presence in dark places is a light to those living in darkness.

Let us remember Jesus who was and is “The Light of the World”.  I pray you will choose to become little children and live the words we have all sing but seldom embody “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine, This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine, let it shine , let it shine.”  Don’t let Satan snuff it out with fear and lies, don’t hide it under a basket, but choose to hold it high so that it drives away the shadow of darkness and brings hope to a hurting world that thinks the light has gone out.

5 Comments

  1. My friend and co-worker Rudy Green emailed me this comment. Like Charles, Rudy lived many years in darkness. Here are his insights, “that was very interesting, but let me give you my view on the light going out. I am not as wise as Charles, so I can only talk about my experiences. For me the light didn’t go out, I just closed my eyes. You see, I knew that God was there, and I knew what he could do. But I closed my eyes and turned my back. Which meant that I was not only walking backwards, I was doing it with my eyes closed. So when I came into trouble or bad times, I didn’t see it coming. It wasn’t until I turned around and opened my eyes that I saw the light again. That is why you hear a lot of people say my eyes have been opened and I can see the goodness of the Lord. Those people in the church you were talking about have just closed there eyes to the light. We both know that the light(Jesus Christ) never goes out and it never leaves us. We turn away from it. I know that I did and when I turned back, it was right there. This is just what I think about what you asked.”

    Reply
  2. We carry the light with our deeds AND the Word. (Romans 10:17) I know I would never have known Jesus without hearing His beautiful Gospel message preached and taught. One of my favorite pastor/speakers, John Piper, does this so well. He teaches and preaches the Truth of the Bible, but he also lives it out in the inner city of Minneapolis where he has his home and his church. You would love his sermons, all of which are online for free, and his books. (Also online for free, http://www.desiringgod.org.) One of my favorites is called “What Jesus Demands From the World” in which he addresses the issue of the poor. We may ourselves live in the inner city someday, but for now the Lord still has us in the suburbs where there is the same darkness as in Church Hill. We have witnessed divorce, drugs, theft, vandalism, pornography, domestic abuse, etc. right here on our street, but by God’s grace, His Light in us will shine as we seek to bring glory to His Name through our satisfaction in Him alone. (Psalm 90:14) Grace and peace to you!

    Reply
  3. Dear Wendy, I sadly read your entry and you are right on. The darker it gets, the more Christians complain, instead of turning on the light.

    Reply
  4. This subject was one of the reasons I resigned from a church where I had served for a good many years. When the building committee was asked why they felt the need to extend the church which for the most part was never filled to more than half it’s capacity, there was no justification that could be given – except to point out what other churches were doing.

    Now here is a tough question..

    What does the Church need to do to bring about the return of Jesus Christ?

    According to the Bible, as soon as the gospel has been spread to the ends of the earth the end will come. (Matt 24:14)

    To this end there are 2 requirements : people and money. Do we have enough people? I believe the answer to be yes. Do we have the money? Apparently not.

    Think about this. In my tiny little town at the tip of Africa there are more than 35 churches !
    Each of these properties is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars! Imagine the combined value of the real estate that churches occupy in the world! Even if only the empty or near-empty churches were sold, I’m sure a tremendous boost to world-evangelism could be funded.

    If church leaders truly believe the Word of God, and undertook to sell off church properties to fund the final global evangelisation of earth, I believe there would be MUCH more than enough finances to achieve this.

    What do you think?

    Reply
    • Interesting scenario. I tend to view this differently. I believe we are all invited into Jesus mission of ushering in the Kingdom of God. If you read my latest post, I think it is pretty clear that I define Kingdom of God coming to earth as a time when God’s will fully reigns on earth. I believe we join Jesus in that effort of ushering in the kingdom by living our lives fully devoted to loving God and loving our neighbor. My question would be, what if all the Christian’s who actually claim to be Christ followers actually started living like Jesus and loving like Jesus. I don’t think money is going to change anything. If all we end up with is more people who “believe in” but who do not “follow” Jesus, we are no closer to ushering in the kingdom than we are today. I feel pretty certain, you and I may look at this differently but am hoping we can respectfully agree to disagree.

      Reply

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