When You're All Mixed Up

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : John 8:12

In a world full of noise and confusion and conflicting ideas, it’s easy to get mixed up in your thinking. But here’s the way to see the truth clearly.

Have you ever gotten all mixed up, totally disoriented? Was there a time when you lost your bearings, so that you didn’t know exactly where you were headed?

My wife Helen sometimes has difficulties like that. When she’s walking about in unfamiliar surroundings, she has trouble retracing her steps. We spent a few days one winter at a convention in our nation’s capital. Almost every time we came out of our hotel room, she would start in the wrong direction. We needed to go left to get to the elevators, but she kept turning right.

I teased her about that, but not much, because I had an experience like it once which was really embarrassing. I’ve never been able to swim very well except under water. I keep going only as long as I can hold my breath. During one vacation time, I was with a group of friends at a lake in upstate New York. Everyone was going down this long, steep slide out into the lake. As I surveyed the scene, I was confident that I could manage the distance back to shore under water. So I went down, head first and on my back. That was almost my undoing. When I hit the lake, I began to swim, toward shore, I thought. Actually I had gotten disoriented on my wild ride and I was swimming for all I was worth out toward the middle of the lake! When my breath was almost gone, I was sure I was in shallow water so I let down my feet. Nothing solid! I swallowed enough water to lower the lake level and had to be rescued. I, who saw myself as a daring athlete, had to be towed to shore by a girl lifeguard who weighed all of 103 pounds. So I can’t laugh too much about Helen’s sense of direction. She was there when I swam the wrong way!

LOST IN THE DARK

Sometimes we have problems like that with the course our whole life is taking. We’re not sure we’re on the right road, going the best way. We may even be uncertain about where we want to end up! We have lots of company in the way we’re traveling, but that’s not always reassuring. All those others may be mixed up too. I saw a bumper sticker once that issued this warning to cars coming up behind: Don’t follow me. I’m lost. Maybe you feel that way today, somehow out of it, somehow adrift, just a bit lost.

According to the Bible, that’s how things are, not only for some but for all of us. “All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned every one,” says the prophet, “to his own way” (Isa 53:6). We’ve rebelled against God’s directions for our lives and refused to follow his road map. We’ve gotten ourselves lost. Now it’s as though we were groping in the darkness. We can’t be sure where we’re headed or whether we’re making progress. As far as we know, we may be going around in circles. We can’t spot any dangers that may be along the road – any pitfalls or lurking enemies. We’re wandering about aimlessly, and it’s making us anxious.

We may seek comfort in the knowledge that many other people are in the same condition. “After all,” as people used to say, “forty million Frenchmen [or 270 million Americans] can’t be wrong.” But they can. According to Jesus, many, many people are on a highway that leads nowhere, “a broad road,” he says, “that leads to destruction” (Matt. 7:13).

We may assure ourselves that we’re all right. We don’t need any help. We’ll find the way for ourselves. That’s how most of us men drivers think, isn’t it? Even though we’re hopelessly lost, we won’t stop to get directions. We’ll go a hundred miles out of our way first. “We know how to get there,” we say, even when we don’t. It’s that way in the journey of life too. The old proverb says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 14:12).

So sometimes it’s a good thing to know we’re disoriented, to be mixed up, to admit that we’ve lost our way. It’s all right to make that bumper sticker confession: “I’m lost.” Then, you’re ready to seek help. Then you may be found. Then this word from Jesus Christ can be great news for you, a welcome relief. Listen: This is from the Gospel according to John, chapter 8, verse 12:

I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

A PROMISE OF LIGHT

What a claim for anyone to make! It’s not just, “I can give you directions. I can help to enlighten you. I can clear up a few things.” Jesus says, “I am light.” Yes, and not simply one luminary among many, one lamp post along the road. I am the source of brightness. I am the light of the world. Jesus maintains that what the sun is to Planet Earth, with the moon and the stars thrown in, he is to the human race. In the personal domain, in the realm of mind and spirit, he is the world’s one light. He assumes that apart from him, everything is darkness; without him, no one can find the way.

Now pause to ponder this. Is that usually the way in which religious teachers talk? Isn’t it their habit to hide themselves behind their message? Don’t they ordinarily come forth with modesty, as mere spokesmen for a truth more important than they are? Giving prominence to one’s own role, making enormous claims for one’s self – that sounds quite different. We customarily associate that style with people who are absurdly self-important. They make grandiose claims, but no one takes them seriously.

But in Jesus, these lordly claims are combined with extraordinary lowliness and self-giving. He comes, he says, not to be served but to serve. He is “meek and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29). Somehow, in him, the combination seems appropriate. People don’t scoff when Jesus claims for himself meekness and majesty. They sense somehow that our usual stereotypes don’t fit him. He can say things that on the lips of anyone else would seem like bombast. But coming from him, they have the ring of truth. Either he was a monstrous fraud, the most shameless charlatan of all time, or else he was what he claimed to be. Which would you say seems more likely?

We can appreciate fully Jesus’ word, “I am the light of the world” only against the background of his nation’s history. According to John, he said this at one of Israel’s annual celebrations. On the first evening of the Feast of Tabernacles, two huge golden lamps were lit just as night was falling. They poured their brilliance down the slopes of the city while groups of worshipers clustered around them, rejoicing in dance and song. These lamps were a glowing memorial of Israel’s past. They called to mind her long years of wilderness wandering and how God had led them by his light.

Perhaps you remember that Old Testament account: “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night; the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people” (Ex. 13:21-22). The fire and the cloud were striking symbols of God’s presence. Again and again, we read statements like these: “The Lord came down in the cloud . . . The Lord went before them in the pillar. . . .” Here was a visible sign that God was with this ragged multitude he had saved from bondage. They could look on that awesome sight and be sure that they were not alone.

It’s in that setting, friends, amid those memories, that Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” He had been Israel’s guiding light. The God who had inhabited the cloud was present now in his body. Jesus is Immanuel, which means God with us. And like that towering beacon in the wilderness, he never leaves his people. “Lo,” he says, “I am with you all the days” (Matt. 28:20).

But the light in the wilderness was not only a reassuring sign that God was near. It gave also constant, practical guidance. Listen:

Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle the people of Israel would go onward; if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not go onward till the day that it was taken up.

(Ex. 40:36-37)

For those wanderers, the pillar of fire and cloud controlled absolutely all halts and marches. It determined when the people started, where they headed, and when they stopped. The place in which they found themselves might be desolate and forbidding, but no one in the camp could stir while the pillar remained stationary. And when they reached some lovely, pleasant oasis, footsore and weary, longing for days of rest, they could not tarry if the pillar of cloud and fire called them to move on. That kind of guide, imagine it, Jesus Christ is claiming and offering to be, for you and me!

When he, the crucified and risen Lord, comes into our lives, we no longer stumble aimlessly along. We have in him a living light, the light of life. But it’s never a beam of our own, independent of him. Light shines on our way, says Jesus, as we walk behind him. “I am the light of the world. He that follows me will not walk in darkness.”

LED BY THE SAVIOR

What does it mean to follow him? That seemed much more plain when he was walking about in Galilee, didn’t it? For disciples, there and then, it meant leaving their familiar surroundings, their ordinary livelihood, throwing in their lot with him, traveling about in his company. But what can it be for us today when he is in heaven and we on earth?

Following means commitment to Jesus as Lord. Remember how the fiery prophet Elijah challenged his countrymen on Mount Carmel? “If Baal is God, follow him; but if the Lord is God, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). “Following” means here the utmost in religious loyalty. It’s taking on the yoke of someone’s authority. It’s submitting to serve. It’s acknowledging that we are “not our own but belong to our faithful Savior” (Heidelberg Catechism, #1).

How vital that commitment is if we’re going to be guided by Christ! So much depends on the will, the choice, to obey. We sometimes act as though discovering God’s will were a mysterious, complicated process. We give the impression that though we want very much to do it, he has made his will obscure and hard to find. Usually, it’s quite the other way around. God is far more willing to lead us than we are to be led. How many difficulties and perplexities disappear like mist before the sun when we set our hearts to obey Christ!

But following also includes trust. It begins there. Jesus says in another passage, “I am come a light into the world, so that he who believes in me should not walk in darkness” (John 12:46). Suppose that you are lost in a jungle, surrounded by perils. Poisonous snakes, hungry predators, even murderous human foes may be near at hand. The jungle is thick, almost impenetrable, dark and gloomy. Suddenly a stranger appears beside you. He promises to lead you to safety if you will stay with him and follow in his steps.

Everything depends now on whether or not you trust his integrity and good will. And friends, this living Lord Jesus Christ, who calls you to follow, is no heartless stranger. He has given strong proof of his kindly concern. He loved you and gave himself up for you, dying the cruel death of the cross for your sins and mine. You can safely entrust your life to his care and direction.

He doesn’t promise that you’ll never be confused or perplexed again. But if you’re willing to trust him and commit yourself to him, if you make it the top priority of your life to stay with him, you won’t walk in the darkness. You’ll never really lose your way again because you’ll have in him the light of life.

All mixed up? Call on Christ. Say with millions of others:

Lead, kindly Light, amid th’ encircling gloom,

Lead Thou me on;

The night is dark, and I am far from home;

Lead Thou me on;

Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see

The distant scene – one step enough for me.