Florida is strange.
I remember visiting my grandparents in Florida on a few occasions when I was young, and being baffled by how numbingly boring it was. When we drove through town, the ratio of legal offices to anything remotely interesting was astonishing. At thirteen I would even ride around town with my guitar and sing at people as they passed by, and very few even mustered the muscular fortitude to crack a smirk.
Everyone in this strange community of Jupiter, Florida seemed to be completely and extensively private, intolerant of any intrusion or interruption. I remember waking up at 5am on more than one occasion to catch the sunrise, and trying to interact with people enjoying the enthralling scenery, to no avail. My thirteen-year old mind could not fathom how seemingly an entire city could be so opposed to any kind of casual or spontaneous interaction whatsoever. I simply could not comprehend it. Apparently Larry Bird saw something I didn’t.
Then I moved to Chicago and learned the lengths that people can and will go for their complete and total solitude. But that train(wreck) of thought is for another time.
A particular city in Florida recently began enforcing some legislation that I found particularly interesting given my limited interaction and observations there. The enactment was a type of penance enforced on young people caught shoplifting. What the city legislature was doing was requiring these young people to return to the place where they had stolen and stand out front holding a large sign that read “I Stole From This Store”, usually for hours at a time. The were made to stand out there all day, enduring the sometimes brutal ridicule of pedestrians and spectators.
Apparently some teenagers cried the entire time they carried out this reparation, while others went on record as saying “I didn’t learn anything. I’ll steal again.”
Can you imagine what life would be like if our every violation or transgression were made into a sign that we then had to parade around with all day? To “return to the scene of the crime”, so to speak, and make public what we had tried so desperately to keep discreet. Or what if we were forced to wear t-shirts that listed our “Top Ten” most egregious shortcomings? Most of us would become complete shut-ins, unable to face the condemning sunlight of the outside world, buried beneath the guilt of what we had become.
To be honest, I think that some of us already live like that, in a much less visible and dramatic fashion. I have met with countless people who are utterly haunted by the mistakes of their past, and find the notion of exposure impossible. That is probably true for most everyone to some degree. We all have regrets and shortcomings, some that may even terrorize us to this day.
But it’s in those moments that God reminds me that in light, darkness has no residency.
In Philippians chapter 1, Paul is writing to a beloved church in Philippi, but keep in mind that he’s doing so from prison-likely chained to a wall. He encourages, extorts, and challenges this unique body of revolutionary believers. In verse nine of chapter one, he makes an interesting statement. He says:
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)
The word “pure” here is actually a compound word “ellie creenase”. Now, “creenase” means to judge or discern, similar to the “Judge, lest ye be judged” passage in Matthew 7. But the word “ellie” literally translates “The shining of the sun.” One preacher interpreted this small section this way:
“When the full splendor of the sun shines, you see things for what they really are”
Even as I write this, I am overwhelmed by my tendency to conceal, disguise, and hide. The reality of how deeply and endlessly our God loves us is simply too much to truly comprehend in an existence trademarked with secrecy all around us. Exposure, to most of the world, is to be weak. To surrender, to yield. We are not taught that these are virtues, but vices -plagues to be avoided at all cost. But Jesus said:
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
The concept of Him being “light” was not a cute metaphor or clever catch phrase. For us, it means more than to simply do our best to be “light-ish”, but to live as though we are so engulfed by His radiance, that we ourselves can’t help but shine as well. To be so fully His, so fully surrendered to the leading of His spirit, so deeply captivated by His love, that those we interact with don’t even see us. They can’t. It’s too bright to make out any features except those of Christ. Romans 13 even calls it an “armor of light”, one that protects us from the lies that we are better off secluded and hidden with our shames and hurts.
I want to know this to be true, but even more so to live it out in my daily life. I want to carry that sign of transgressions through town with a blood red cross painted over it. I desire people to know so intimately my flaws and iniquities, so that any time God may choose to work in or through me, no one, not even myself will have the slightest inclination to credit me with any of it.
May we exude the revolutionary light of the humble carpenter who healed bodies and restored souls with the unquenchable light of our Creator. May Ephesians 5 be our mantra.
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (Ephesians 5:8)