Yesterday my husband and I hiked up a mountain trail along the rim of Lake Tahoe. The air was crisp. Pine trees towered over us. The wind whistled through the branches. Birds called to each other. I was in heaven because my favorite smell on earth is a pine forest. We were able to talk and laugh and stop for selfies on the way. It was great.
And when we reached the summit the views were astounding.
To the south was Lake Tahoe – bright blue and surrounded by snow-capped mountains. To the north and west were more mountains peppered with giant pines and lush green. To the east was more of a desert landscape with brown hills and wiry brush. I marveled at how breathtaking it was no matter where you looked. We were completely alone and sat for over an hour taking it all in. I felt like I could stay up there forever.
My husband likes nature just fine and all. But he started hinting that perhaps it was time to go. Reluctantly I headed down the mountain with him. After all, he had big plans to enjoy ALL that Tahoe had to offer and was eager for our next stop. The casino.
I can’t think of a more stark contrast to a mountaintop than a casino. In the casino it is dark. The air reeks of stale smoke. Your senses are assaulted with bells and beeps and flashing lights from the slot machines, all beckoning with gimmicks promising to pay out big bucks. And the point of the whole operation is to take your money. For anyone who is in the market, its a buffet of addictions – nicotine, alcohol, gambling, sex, and money.
I used to visit my dad in Las Vegas and we’d sometimes go to the casino to eat and burn five bucks in the slots. He often pointed out how many people “crawl into the machine.” There is no better way to describe it. Many sit at the slot machines staring at the screen with vacant eyes, a gleam of sweat across their forehead, often sipping a drink and absent-mindedly puffing on a cigarette. They look lost in a hopelessness that is obvious to anyone who is paying attention. And I suspect they feel it more acutely than we realize.
While I sat at my penny slot, looking around and waiting for Dave to lose his ten bucks, I wished I was back on the mountain. I wanted out of the smoky room where a shady looking guy was leering at me. I wanted to go back where the air was clear and the view was pretty and I could pretend this world didn’t exist.
But then a simple truth smacked me between the eyes. God wants us in the casinos.
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. Matthew 5:14-16
Its common to want to withdraw from the world. Everyone likes a mountaintop experience. A vacation. A retreat. An amazing time of refreshment and peace. These are good and healing times which God can use to fortify our strength and draw us near to Him.
Some of us unintentionally or intentionally create our own mini mountaintops in our lives. We stay in our own little circles and comfort zones. We go to work and church and hang out with people just like us. We thank God for the good life He gave us and pat ourselves on the back for keeping it so pretty and nice. We even do our Bible studies and our devotions with fervor. But what good is all of that if we are never leave our mountaintops and head down into the mess?
Withdrawing from the world was never what He had in mind for us.
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Romans 10:14-15
If we stay on the mountain, we can’t even see the needs, let alone shine light in a hurting world.
God calls us into the brokenness, darkness, and pain of the world. Where multitudes of people have crawled into their machines in despair, hopelessly believing in false promises. They don’t all look like the people sitting in front of slot machines. It might look like a perfectly coiffed, Lululemon-clad mom from your kid’s class. It might be a businessman you see every week at Starbucks. It might be a teenager next door. It might be a single mom struggling to stay on her feet. It might be anyone. God calls us to pull up a chair next to them, not avoid them. Because if we don’t get to know people, how can we possibly offer them real hope, real love, and real contentment?
Are you trying to stay on your mountain? I urge you to come down into the fray. Step out of your comfort zone and reach out to the people around you. Make new friends. Volunteer. Serve. Dream about ways you can bring light and hope into the darkness. Pray for God to lead you to folks crying out for help. Of course we need our times of refreshment. We need friends like us. We need our mountaintops. But don’t dwell there. As believers, we know a hope that transcends mountains and pierces the deepest valleys. So go shine bright.
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”