It was dark.
It was late.
I was far from home.
But I wasn’t alone.
We were driving from the apartment where we had been meeting, and what we had just experienced was a stark contrast to our present surroundings as we made our way through dim alleys and unlit parking lots.
We were two Americans in a foreign country, neither of us able to speak the language (a typical American thing), but through their varied proficiencies in English and a designated interpreter, we were able to communicate at a deeper level. We had been huddled together with a roomful of people sharing a meal and our hearts (remind me to tell you about the Bublanina). Their hospitality was gracious. Their energy contagious. They shared a friendship with each other that was welcoming and authentic. Their faces revealed a deep and abiding joy as laughter filled the room.
They were a community of followers of Jesus, who had the simple desire to share Him with those they lived near and worked with in practical and tangible ways. They were attempting this in a culture that is cynical of the church, and skeptical of those who gather in homes as a church, even with Bublanina. Yet they press on, motivated by the hope that the One who pursued them would work through them to rescue others. They loved in the same way they have been loved. They were burdened for those around them, and sought to leverage their lives for something that is bigger than themselves. There was a fire that burned within them that naturally spread to those they gathered with.
And yet, fires need to be tended to. Logs must be turned back in on each other when they start burning out. Smoldering embers have to be fanned back into a flame. New logs must be added when the old ones burn away. We were there to come alongside of them to encourage them, because there is always a cost when you’re giving to others, a weight when you’re carrying others’ burdens, and a weariness when you’re serving those around you. My friend and I were able to encourage them in practical and helpful ways, but the gift they gave to us was far greater. They gave us a glimpse of what it looks like for a small group of people who have a vision to impact their neighbors and friends, their city and their country. When you look at them, you see a light that is burning increasingly brighter and brighter.
The apartment we were meeting in was owned by an architect, he and his wife having done some major renovation on their home that is nothing less than a showpiece. He actually included some of the designs of the apartment and pictures of the finished product in a book he published of his work. As I was flipping through the pages, I opened up to a page where he artistically identified where his apartment was in relation to the entire building. As soon as I saw it, I realized what I was experiencing with them in person was beautifully depicted before me in print. It was the entire building in a dark, nighttime setting, with his apartment lit up. I immediately thought of our experience, the subject matter of our discussion, and the heart they have for those around them, and my mind raced to Matthew 5:14-16 where Jesus said “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
They were intentionally and strategically positioning themselves to let their lights shine with maximum impact, to give light to all in “the house” (and countless other houses around the city). They desire to burn brightly with a humility and kindness that is all too rare in the world, and sadly, in many churches. And not so people are impressed with them, but rather with Him who is “the Light of the World”. This is what Jesus said about Himself in John 8:12 – “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” What a beautiful, piercing promise.
This is what motivates them to press on into the darkness around them. Jesus is the Light they follow out of their own darkness. He is the One they display in their lives so brilliantly for others to see. He is the One they invite others to fix their eyes on, and begin the long, steady process of believing and following Him out of their own sin and darkness into His glorious light.
I want to shine like that, no matter how dark the world and culture around me may be. I want to live strategically and intentionally now, no matter how late I may be to living out this way of life. I want to do this wherever I am, in a foreign country or close to home. I want to share in this way of life with others, knowing we shine brighter together than alone.
Let your light shine! I’ll shine with you.
Oh, and when you do, you might want to make some Bublanina to go with it. My buddy and I took ALL the leftovers to eat on our long trip the next day back to the States. It never even made it on the plane. It’s that good. The recipe for this delectable Slovak dessert is here. Let me know when you make it, or drop some by. I’ll leave the light on for you.