We live out in the county. We literally live at the end of a dead end road. We’re almost as far out as you can get and still be in the same county. Up where we live, there is a vast network of logging roads giving access to all the state-owned forest land. And some of the roads are open to the public. So, there are some folks who like to go up there to drive their big, jacked-up 4×4’s, shoot guns, drink beer and push cars off the cliff. We love living out in the country, one of the reasons being the peace and quiet. This group of folks don’t really help us out in that way. Many of our summer evenings are set to the backdrop of gunfire.
In the past couple of years, these guys have also found a way to rob us of our nighttime as well. It has become popular to put a great big 1 gazillion lumen LED light bar on the top of their trucks. And, as courteous as these folks can be, they often don’t turn them off when you’re driving past them. It’s nearly impossible to see your part of the road when you’ve got the sun shining directly in your face in the middle of the night.
I’ve also noticed times when I’m driving on these pitch-black country backroads that my phone will light up with a notification. Because of its proximity to my face, it nearly blinds my ability to see the road. That’s my fault. That an whoever sent the notification – don’t they know that I’m driving?
In the winter months in the northwest we get about 9 hours of sunlight per day. That means I’m often leaving and coming home in the dark. And I love looking up to see the stars. But, we also have some motion lights on the house, and when they come on, it’s nearly impossible to see the stars. Of course the stars are much more powerful than my 100 watt floodlight, but because the floodlight is so much closer to me and pointed in my direction, it seems to overpower the light of the galaxies.
In 1882, Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. By 1885, roughly 300,000 light bulbs were sold. By 1914, 29 years later 88.5 million were sold. In 1945, 795 million. I think it’s safe to say there are trillions of lights around the world and light pollution is starting to become a real problem. Light pollution is thought to be having an effect on various ecosystems and wildlife. Some people will never see the milkyway galaxy that we call home because of light pollution. Before mass adoption of the lightbulb, people slept an average of 11 hours per night. Today, the average is 7-9 hours. Light pollution is also having an effect on the quality of our sleep giving products like blackout blinds a surge in recent years.
Light pollution is becoming a serious concern for our world. But there’s another kind of light pollution that’s an even greater problem for the church today. Our problem isn’t just that we like to light up the night with our energy efficient LED’s. There are thousands of other lit up devices around us. In my office right now there are 7 light bulbs providing light, even though I could probably just open the blinds and use the light of the afternoon. But there are also 4 screens pointed in my general direction. My computer monitor, my digital picture frame, my desktop phone and my smartphone.
When you have a thousand different lights pointed in your direction, insufficient though they may be by comparison, our proximity to them makes it so that we can’t see the bigger more important lights. And just like kids growing up in the city will never be able to look up into the night skies over their homes and see the milkyway and be in awe of the creator of it all, we Christians today are ‘growing up’ in a world where we have a million different ‘lights’ pointed at our faces for a whopping 11 hours per day. And these ‘lights’ are overpowering our ability to see God.
There is actually a greater tragedy than that. Christians are consumed with the lights of this world, so much so that the non-believers aren’t able to see anything different about the way we live our lives. We spend just as much time on social media, just as much time on our smartphones, watch all the same shows that non-believers watch and exhibit most of the same behaviors as well.
We aren’t that different, set apart or holy like we are called to be. And yes, I’m doing the same thing. I don’t spend nearly as much time on my phone as many do (I took social media off my phone a while ago and have since gotten my daily screen time down to about 50 minutes per day.) and I don’t watch TV all day long like I used to. We generally watch a couple of episodes of one of our favorite shows on DVD in the evening. And it affects me. It affects you too, whether you want to admit it or not.
This coming Wednesday, (February 26th) is Ash Wednesday which is the beginning of Lent. A lot of people are familiar with the concept of giving something up for lent. Some people give up coffee or chocolate, others give up soap operas or the bachelor. It’s actually an incredibly significant season for followers of Jesus. It origins are from the early church. It began as a fast for newcomers to Christianity. They would spend a couple of years learning all that it meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ and then the 40 days before Easter when they would go public with their faith and put their very lives at risk, they would fast. The idea of the 40 days comes from Jesus fasting for 40 days in the wilderness before He began His public ministry. Over time the other Christians started fasting with the new believers in solidarity. Of course, originally the fast was much more intense and significant than simply giving up meat except fish on the Fridays of lent.
Why should we fast something during lent? Well, we live in a very affluent society of abundance. We rarely lack for anything. When we do lack, it’s not a necessity it’s a luxury. I mean, I don’t remember a time when we didn’t have food to eat. I remember times when we didn’t like the food we had to eat, but we had food. As a result, it can be easy to forget what it’s like to be hungry and thirsty. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”
Most of our problems with rebellion against God are tied to our flesh. As John says in 1 Jn 2:16, we struggle with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. At least two of those problems are triggered by our physical bodies. If we’re not in the practice of denying our flesh, how do we know how to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus.
Much like the early church significantly prepared themselves for Easter every year, I think it’s time for us to get more serious about preparing ourselves for Easter. Everything in our faith hinges on Easter. The path that Jesus took through the cross and out of the tomb is the same path we take.
In 1 Jn 3:1-3 we read: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”
We are God’s children, which is absolutely amazing. It blows our minds, as it should. We draw comfort from the fact that the reason the world doesn’t understand us is because we are God’s children. This is a fact that should be celebrated. But, we stop too soon. Because John goes on to say, “All who have this hope”, that’s the hope of being like Jesus when He appears, “purify themselves, just as He is pure.”
The body of Christ is contaminated with light pollution. We can’t see God’s light anymore because we’re distracted by the millions of lights around us on any given day. There are thousands of messages demanding our attention each day. And we give it to them. We don’t even realize how polluted we are. And we probably won’t unless we start denying ourselves some of the abundance we’re used to consuming. Whatever consumes our attention and our affection is what we worship. And we are consumed with the false light of this world, a system that is controlled by the spirit of the antichrist and is actually opposed to God.
The word for purify means to cleanse. That’s what lent is about. A lot of people have done a juice cleanse, maybe I’ll do one someday. We do it to clean out our colon, intestines and whatnot. Well, lent is a spirit cleanse. It actually comes from the word ‘lengthen’, referring to the lengthening of days leading up to Easter. This isn’t a season of trying harder, it’s a season of spending more time with God. Our souls are burdened with the junk of a thousand fake lights. Our identity is being shaped by false gods. We need to start denying our souls the abundant junk foods around us all day every day. While this junk provides our flesh with some form of instant gratification, it’s numbing our spirit. From where I sit, this is an epidemic in our time. As C.S. Lewis has said: “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”
I think the reason so many Christians are treating other human beings who bear the image of God with such contempt simply because they hold to a different political viewpoint is because our spirit has been so numbed by the junk-food of our souls that we don’t listen to our hearts anymore. Jesus was moved with compassion to the deepest part of his heart, but our hearts have been numbed with politics, media and a thousand forms of entertainment. We’re entertaining our souls with a thousands lights of death. No wonder so many Christians are like the walking dead.
If we want to see God we’re going to have to deal with the light pollution keeping God’s light from getting to our souls. I hope you’ll join me on this journey. If you will, getting started is simple. What can you give up to get 5 extra minutes per day with God. Just 5 minutes. This first week it’s that simple. 5 more minutes with God a day. Maybe you can give up one of your smartphone games and read the Bible instead. Maybe you can delete one of the 17 social media apps from your phone. Maybe instead of mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or Pinterest while you’re using the bathroom, you could pray for someone and send them a message to tell them you did. (Just don’t tell them where you did it, that’s too much information. At least with a text they can’t hear the echo of the bathroom.)
5 minutes. Can you find 5 minutes to take away from one of the idols of this age that we all worship and give that time to Jesus?