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Before His crucifixion and death, Jesus prayed to His Father for His people:

“Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are” (John 17:11).

Last year, we awakened to a strange new normal. We went from having plans, going places without thinking, and smiling at people, to avoiding people and eye contact, unable to read the expressions on their faces.

When I tell my children to remain six feet away from oncoming strangers on sidewalks, they make an obvious wide circle and shuffle around them. I can’t help but feel sadness when I see my children avoiding human contact as though it is normal.

Even before the advent of COVID, many were dealing with terrible loneliness, a loss of community and purpose. A July 2020 National Geographic article is titled “We are not made for this new normal” and states, “In perilous times, our deepest human impulse is to draw closer to each other — the very thing we’ve been told not to do.”

The Bible bears this out. God said in the Garden of Eden that it is not good for man to be alone. The same holds true in churches. Despite distance restrictions, are we united in purpose as a church community during this difficult time? There are many beliefs, identities, and ways of viewing this world. However, as a community of faith, our identity is in Christ and nothing else, and we must reflect that message to others.

Lights in darkness

We are called to be lights in a dark place. Light is the opposite of dark — a city on a hill, shining children of light, not unlike fireflies roaming in the night. Sometimes in the quiet whispers of night in a city full of lights, fireflies are hard to see because there is too much light. Nonetheless, if you watch carefully, you can see them shining in the bushes, reminding us of God’s light.

Spiritual fireflies shine God’s light, and they do more: They resist their enemies peacefully, fighting for true light, though all you can see is darkness engulfing their lovely illumination.

There is so much information today. Much of it is good, but plenty is not. This is a caution to us. As Christians, we are in the world but not of it (John 17:14-16). We are called to be separate, which includes properly analyzing the vast information and politics, and not contributing to violence as the world battles with itself. Can we be like fireflies in this dark place? Sometimes fireflies lose their way, yet somehow they manage to return to their original purpose and find other lights true to their peaceful cause. So must we.

The world is a scary and volatile environment. Fear and anger bring out the worst in us. Though God made us in His image, I wonder how far we — including God’s people — have fallen from that image. We also get caught up in the intensity of choosing sides and causing division. Our minds veer from Christ. But the truth is, our citizenship is in heaven, and we must bear witness to the world of that citizenship.

Peace and love

As representatives of Christ, we are called to be that city on a hill, blameless. When Paul writes that “we give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed” (2 Corinthians 6:3), he’s saying there is another way other than hate and anger. Peace and non-judgmental love toward others is possible, but sadly, our own carnal desires unknowingly feed the god of this world (4:1-4). He would rather keep us in bondage than allow us to renounce our worldly desires. Our hope is in a new heaven and new earth, free of suffering and death. But as Christians, we too often get caught up in the world’s politics, hoping that it holds the solution to all our suffering.

One thing that will help our focus is Philippians 2:3. Paul says to do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but rather esteem others more than ourselves, in lowliness of mind. We must therefore pursue humility in our actions and speech, and search out the true meaning of empathy.

A sign of genuine Christian humanity is truly feeling the pain of another member in the community. But if empathy and humility are not evidenced among believers, we ruin our witness to those outside the church.

Humility begins with self, so we must never forget to keep our eyes on Christ’s example. In a society of constant disinformation, twisting of words, and tarnishing of Christ’s image, we must look to how Christ lived in order to filter, analyze, and ultimately forgive those who hurt us. This will help our light shine.

Safe place

The world enjoys shaming for past sins. Too often, those of malicious character abuse the Christian ideal of love and forgiveness — even those who call themselves brethren. Can we therefore call the church a safe place? Can we voice our struggles openly without fear of judgment from others in our Christian community? Not having this freedom affects our impact as fireflies.

In the world, the church should be that safe place — a hiding place (Psalm 32:7). And still, I have yet to find a truly safe church, free of judgment and anger. Instead, I have often found fear and paranoia of the unknown. A sense of critical thinking and honest discussion seems next to impossible within many church circles. Sadly, I have often found more openness and greater love and empathy for fellow human beings in secular circles. How is this possible?

As the Western world becomes increasingly secular, the innate desire in all of us is for community. When the church fails to be that “hiding place” of safety, humility, and love, people will search for belonging and purpose elsewhere.

Obviously, some lines must not be crossed morally and doctrinally. This may require a person to leave traditions and communities, because Christ’s ways are not the ways of the world. And yet, when we react to others’ criticisms of Christians in a peaceful and loving way, we stand as Christ’s ministers of light, proclaiming another way.

There is no perfect Christian community, and there are many who make wrong choices, which sadly affects everyone who says they belong to Christ. Nonetheless, we must acknowledge the sins made by others in Christ’s name, but never be humiliated by them. As Christ said, by their fruits you will know them (Matthew 7:16).

Changed lives

Actions speak louder than words. Good doctrine doesn’t lead people to Christ (although it is helpful), but rather how we live toward others as shining lights. Changed individuals lead to a changed community. We are all capable of making bad choices. In such cases, it is more heroic to say, “I’m sorry” than to appear as though we have everything under control.

Can we live every day embracing the unknown, confident that we have Jesus, who knew no sin but was tempted in every way as we are? We are not defined by our past. However, we must learn from it so it can positively influence the present and future. We will become unequally yoked with the world if we live as if the solutions to our past problems can be found somewhere other than in the reconciling forgiveness of self and others, found in Christ (2 Corinthians 6:14).

The world under Satan’s darkness resists forgiveness and wants to smear our past sins endlessly. This is detrimental to everyone. Victimization leaves people in endless stagnation, with no hope in sight. The solution to our problems must be future focused, as Paul says, “forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13, 14).

Therefore, our identity and citizenship are in Christ. Regardless of our past, our bad choices, or even the choices of others that tarnish our image, can we honestly say that we follow Christ’s example of humility, love, and peace?

The world will not change; it will remain in darkness even after COVID is gone. But Jesus never told us to change the world. He did say we must change ourselves, by God’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s help. Doing this will help us shine like fireflies in the dark!

Lynn Briscoe
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Lynn Briscoe writes from Canada.