The Big Picture

My favorite comic strip of all time features a man sitting next to a strange man on an airplane and then an open aisle seat. Coming down the a There’s just something about it that makes me laugh out loud. Perhaps it’s the judgmental, pretentious attitude of the man in the middle seat. We’ve all sat next to this guy on an airplane—and if you haven’t—you’re the judgmental, pretentious guy. I have to confess, after my last few flights, I’ve started to think that I always have to sit next to the guy with bad breath or bad B.O. So, in a way, there’ve been times when I’m the judgmental, pretentious man on a plane who always has to sit next to the weirdo. I think what makes this comic humorous, is that we see the big picture here…and the man complaining has NO idea what that “big picture” happens to be. We know what it is. We say to ourselves, “Just wait a few seconds dude, and then you’ll experience the true definition of ‘weirdo.’ And guess what? You’ll be sitting right next to him…like always”

So often, we get caught up in minute details, we fear the unknown, we major in minor issues, we focus on the things that are right before our eyes, and we end up missing the big picture.

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).

When I first hear this statement of Jesus, I’m reminded of two scenes from Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. The first scene illustrates walking in the darkness along with the feelings of loss and insanity that accompany that walk. The second scene describes the light of life that only Christ could portray:

Scene 1: “A terrible cry of anguish burst from me. Upon earth, in the midst of the darkest night, light never abdicates its functions altogether. It is still subtle and diffusive, but whatever little there may be, the eye still catches that little. Here there was not an atom; the total darkness made me totally blind. Then I began to lose my head. I arose with my arms stretched out before me, attempting painfully to feel my way. I began to run wildly, hurrying through the inextricable maze, still descending, still running through the substance of the earth’s thick crust, a struggling denizen of geological ‘faults,’ crying, shouting, yelling, soon bruised by contact with the jagged rock, falling and rising again bleeding, trying to drink the blood which covered my face, and even waiting for some rock to shatter my skull against.”

Scene 2: “By some phenomenon which I am unable to explain, it lighted up all sides of every object equally. Such was its diffusiveness, there being no central point from which the light emanated, that shadows no longer existed. You might have thought yourself under the rays of a vertical sun in a tropical region at noonday and the height of summer. No vapour was visible. The rocks, the distant mountains, a few isolated clumps of forest trees in the distance, presented a weird and wonderful aspect under these totally new conditions of a universal diffusion of light.”

We often interpret Jesus’ claim to be the light of life, in the simplest manner…and Ockham’s razor would suggest that this is the correct approach. Before following Jesus, we live a life in total darkness rendering us totally blind. We begin to lose our heads, stretch out our arms before us as we attempt to painfully feel our way along life’s inextricable mazes. We cry, we run, we shout, we yell, we become bruised by contact with the jagged rocks that only the darkness brings. We fall, we rise again bleeding, and we pray for some hope to release us from the utter darkness.

Then He comes! And by some phenomenon which we have difficulty explaining, He lights us up all sides equally. His light emanates with such diffusiveness, that shadows no longer remain. His Light guides us to Truth and the Presence of God.

What an awesome picture of Christ as the Light of the World. For centuries, the Church symbolized the Light of Christ by lighting candles, lamps, or other luminaries. Talented artists have designed immaculate stained glass windows where the sunlight casts beauty throughout the sanctuary. And, unfortunately, for centuries, wise theologians, writers, and ministry leaders have argued over whether the church should continue to consent to these heartfelt tributes as a way of worshipping the Light of the World. Here are just two ridiculous examples of this within the last century:

October 3, 1913: Queen Mother Alexandra ordered that candles be burned in Sandringham church in London, England. Queen Mary ordered them out. In a valiant compromise, the Archbishop of Canterbury ordered the candlesticks remain, but made sure no one lit the candles.

January, 1950: J.A. Stephens argued in Ministry Magazine that burning candles in church was a pagan ritual, and should be forbidden. Stephens wrote:

“The Church of Rome features not only marriage candles but also baptismal candles and burial candles. If we are to follow their example, we must use only wax candles. Stearine or tallow candles simply will not do. How far are we to go in this candle burning? Marriage and the Sabbath are the two reminders of Edenic purity left in the world today…the adversary of God and God’s people is tireless, and unless constant vigilance is practiced, we will allow his devices to creep into these sacred things. We of the ministry should stand as watchmen to guard our people from these evil trends.”

This stuff cracks me up! I could go on and on citing instances from church history where someone got his undies all up in a wad over meaningless absurdities such as these.

The Golden Lampstand in the Tabernacle tent provided the priests with light in an otherwise dark place. It helped guide the priests toward the far end of the Tabernacle where a veil marked the entryway to the Holy of Holies—the very place where God’s glory rested.

The candle—whether wax, tallow, or LED—helps us envision the big picture, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It helps us understand that there’s more to this picture than just a candle burning in the front of the church. The candle is a reminder that Jesus is Light in dark places. That where we were once sinners with “red on our ledgers” we are now free to walk in the Light and our ledgers are as white as snow. The candle is a reminder that, like the headlights of a car or a flashlight in the wilderness, Jesus guides us to Truth…to our ultimate Destination—to bask in the Light…in the presence of a Holy and Brilliant God.

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