putting skin on the sermon: shine the light

 

We camped out in Matthew 5.14-16 during yesterday morning’s sermon. However, before saying anything about it further here, I want to say “thank you” to my immensely helpful and bright assistant yesterday, Danielle Marshall. Your consistent eagerness to serve others with the true love and joy of the Lord never ceases to encourage and inspire me. It is easy to see the Lord in you, and so I thank him for all the good that he works in this world through you.

Jesus told his followers (us, you understand): “You are the light of the world.” While this is what he says, it’s equally important to grasp what he did not say. He didn’t say: “Aim to become the light of the world.” He didn’t say: “Someday you might be something like a hint of light to the world.” And he didn’t say: “Now what I’m about to say applies only to a few of you, so most of you can just let this one go: you are the light of the world.”

No, he declared: “You are the light of the world.”

His words point us in the right direction: outward, not inward. His words remind us of our great responsibility: our calling is to be what he says we are in fact. His words are energizing words of encouragement, for it is often difficult, can be dangerous, and is sometimes deadly to be light in the midst of darkness. We must not deny our Lord, but believe him when he tells us we are this world’s light, for in telling such he is emphatically telling us that what we think, say, and do makes a real difference in this world, even when our experience seems to tell us otherwise.

So, what to do with that? Here are three practical things you can do – along with some things to avoid doing! – toward your fulfillment of your reason for being, this world’s light …

1. Every day, pray early in the day for God to open doors of opportunity for you to give Christian witness. Then, work at developing an eye for recognizing opportunities. While it’s much easier to simply complain about or condemn and curse the darkness, choose the high road and set the light of God in the highest and best places you can to shine in all the darkness you encounter. Be willing to take God’s light into places where little or no light has been for some time. Open yourself up to the possibilities of God working things through you that you have never done before. He is able to do far more than what we can ask or imagine, and so, live out that belief in him.

2. Naturally, you can create a list of good things you can do that will “shine the light” and then go on to work that list. Perhaps that’s obvious. However, what might not be as obvious is the most critical thing about such a list: that you recall why you’re doing such. Make such a list to help you develop your eyes for opportunity and your habits. Don’t make such a list and then allow the list itself, or the attention you might receive from doing such things, to become your point of focus or reason for doing. The latter, in particular, would be precisely the sort of thing Jesus warned against (cf. Matthew 6.1-18). What you’re after is something like a “holy forgetfulness” where you remember God in what you’re doing and forget about yourself.

After all, such a list is only a means to the end, not the end itself. Nor are you the end; God is the end. Your relationship with the Lord is not about checking items off on a checklist or doing things so people will think highly of you. Your task is to allow God to develop your mindfulness and habits of behavior so that you come naturally think and do the sort of things you have on your list … without the list. Your desire should be to do such things while melting into the background of the doing of them so that people recall the good done and praise not you, but God, for what is done.

Now, go make your list and think of it as your exercise guide or manual of discipline.

3. Many recall “the mind of Christ” passage in Philippians 2.1-11. Many of them will also recall that what follows that magnificent passage is the marvelous statement for believers to “be blameless and pure, innocent children of God surrounded by people who are crooked and corrupt. Among these people you shine like stars in the world because you hold on to the word of life.” (Phil. 2.15-16a) However, I suspect few recall what bridges those two texts: “Do everything without grumbling and arguing …” (Phil. 2.14) In fact, Paul says we take on and live by the attitude of Christ, doing things without grumbling and arguing “so that” we will “be blameless and pure,” and thus, enabled to “shine like stars” in this dark world.

You see, to grumble and/or argue is to hide God’s light from this dark world. Surely there are precious few things that extinguish Christian witness more quickly and effectively than for those yet to believe to overhear Christians grumbling and/or arguing about anything. Take note: a huge part of letting our light shine involves keeping our emotions in check and our mouths closed. And so, work at this. If you find yourself drawn to drama, work at this doubly hard. If you grumbling has become just a matter of course for you, make a maximum effort to repent of such, praying to God instead each time you’re tempted to grumble to others. If you think you are immune to these ways, ask those who know you best to speak candidly to you with love. And refuse to allow your time in prayer become a habitual gripe session with God. Too many disciples have become distracted through the course of life and taken this road. As a consequence, they have only put a cloak of Christianity around their relatively untouched and unchanged heart. Don’t go there. Remember who Jesus says you are – the light of the world – and so first, deliberately allow the light from the Lord illuminate the darkest parts of you.

You, Christ-follower, are the light of the world. Do not shirk your responsibility and hide your light in any way. Do not become deaf to the encouragement. Do not veer off the path and set your own direction. Shine brightly today. Let him shine brightly through you. To the glory and praise of God.

LIFE group guide: shine the light

 

NOTE: Following is the discussion guide we’ll use in our LIFE groups at MoSt Church tomorrow (Nov. 10). This guide will enable your follow-up of my sermon tomorrow morning from Matthew 5.14-16. This sermon is entitled “Shine the Light” and is another installment in the Jesus: Master & Commander series.

To find previous group discussion guides, look under the category title “LIFE group guides” and you’ll find an archive of previous issues. All Scripture texts reproduced below, unless otherwise noted, are from the CEB.

Reason

Stated in a single sentence, this is the purpose of the sermon series, or this particular sermon in a series.

To call our attention, and our conscience, to some of our Lord’s direct charges to us.

Revelation

These Scriptures form some of the foundation of the sermon. Underscored words are emphasized in the Greek text.

You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5.14-16)

Do everything without grumbling and arguing so that you may be blameless and pure, innocent children of God surrounded by people who are crooked and corrupt. Among these people you shine like stars in the world because you hold on to the word of life. (Philippians 2.14-16a)

… since you are immigrants and strangers in the world … avoid worldly desires that wage war against your lives. Live honorably among the unbelievers. Today, they defame you, as if you were doing evil. But in the day when God visits to judge they will glorify him, because they have observed your honorable deeds. (1 Peter 2.11-12)

Relation

These icebreaker questions are meant to help us all start thinking, talking, and relating to the topic or texts. Discuss one.

1. Tell us about someone you have had in your life as an example or model to follow.

2. Tell us of some situation or person where you know your ways had good influence.

3. What are some things that are a “buzz kill” for you as to a person’s credibility.

Research

These exercises/questions are meant to help us grapple with the Scripture(s) related to this morning’s sermon. Choose some.

1. Where did Jesus speak Matt. 5.14-16? How does such help you picture its teaching?

2. In the three texts above, find all of the direct references to speech and words.

3. How does our being “immigrants and strangers” (1 Pet. 2.12a) highlight the need for believers to “live honorably among the unbelievers?”

4. In your own words, what is the last sentence in 1 Pet. 2.12 attempting to convey?

Reflection

These questions facilitate our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us thru his word. Choose some.

1. Instead of being a lighthouse, I sometimes find myself being a _______ (word picture).

2. How can you “let” your “light shine” without being ostentatious (cf. Matt. 5.3-12)?

3. How do I sometimes “hide” my light (Matt. 5.15)? Give some specific examples.

4. What does “grumbling” and “arguing” do to Christian witness (Phil. 2.14-16a)? What are the opposites of grumbling and arguing and how does such further our witness?

5. How does my light as a believer “shine” before unbelievers who live exemplary lives?

Response

These ideas/suggestions are for your use beyond the group meeting; to aid you in living out today’s message in the coming days.

1. Create a list of good things you can do that will “shine the light” … then work the list.

2. Every day, pray early in the day for God to open doors of opportunity for you to give Christian witness. Then, work at developing an eye for recognizing opportunities.

3. Make “stop grumbling to people; talk to God instead” your first New Year’s resolution.

picture Bible commentary

 

Red-sky-2013

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus. In order to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven.

But he replied, “At evening you say, ‘It will be nice weather because the sky is bright red.’ And in the morning you say, ‘There will be bad weather today because the sky is cloudy.’ You know how to make sense of the sky’s appearance. But you are unable to recognize the signs that point to what the time is. An evil and unfaithful generation searches for a sign. (Matthew 16.1-4a)

LIFE group guide: make every effort

 

NOTE: Following is a copy of the discussion guide that will be used in MoSt Church’s LIFE groups tomorrow night (June 30). This guide will enable your follow-up in our LIFE groups of my sermon tomorrow morning from Luke 13.23-30. This sermon’s title is “Make Every Effort” and is another sermon in the Jesus Christ: Master & Commander series. Look under the category title “LIFE group guides” and you’ll find an archive of previous discussion guides. All Scripture texts reproduced below, unless otherwise noted,  are from the CEB.

Aim

To call our attention, and our conscience, to some of our Lord’s direct charges to us.

Word

Go in through the narrow gate. The gate that leads to destruction is broad and the road wide, so many people enter through it. But the gate that leads to life is narrow and the road difficult, so few people find it. (Matthew 7.13-14)

Jesus traveled through cities and villages, teaching and making his way to Jerusalem. Someone said to him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?”

Jesus said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow gate. Many, I tell you, will try to enter and won’t be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and shuts the door, then you will stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you are from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ He will respond, ‘I don’t know you or where you are from. Go away from me, all you evildoers!’ There will be weeping and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in God’s kingdom, but you yourselves will be thrown out. People will come from east and west, north and south, and sit down to eat in God’s kingdom. Look! Those who are last will be first and those who are first will be last. (Luke 13.22-30)

Open

Icebreaker questions are meant to help us all start talking. Choose one of the following to discuss as a group.

1. Are you easy to surprise or startle? What would those who truly know you well say?

2. Tell us about something you’ve made a real effort to work hard at for a long time.

Dig

These questions are meant to help us grapple with the Scripture related to this morning’s sermon. Choose some.

1. Compare and contrast the text in Matthew (7.13-14) with that in Luke (13.23-30).

2. How does the context in Matthew (7.7-12,15-20) provide commentary on vs.13-14?

3. The question asked of Jesus in Luke concerned quantity (vs.23). How does Jesus’ reply vs.24-30 not answer that question?

4. God’s grace doesn’t rule out human effort. What other Scriptures stress our doing?

5. What specifically does Luke 13.29-30 teach as to who will reside in God’s kingdom?

6. Notice how personal Jesus makes things in Luke 13.25-28 with the repetitive use of the word “you.” Why do you suppose he worded it so and what does this do to you?

Reflect

These questions facilitate our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us thru his word. Choose some.

1. Does God decide who does and doesn’t enter his kingdom or (2) does God acknowledges who has entered his kingdom and who has refused? Why?

2. You either “make every effort” (Luke 13.24a) or you’re an “evildoer” (13.27b)? Fair?

3. How do you sometimes resemble those who don’t enter the narrow gate (13.24b-28)?

4. What does making every effort look like? Or, what sort of habits might you expect a person bent on entering by the narrow gate to have in their life?

5. What does God’s kingdom being portrayed as a banquet (Luke 13.29b) say to you?

6. It’s not enough to be around Jesus (Luke 13.26); you must be about Jesus. As a group, pray that this “aboutness” is a daily, ongoing reality in every group member’s life.

LIFE group guide: the ‘don’t judge me’ verse

 

NOTE: Following is a copy of the discussion guide that will be used in MoSt Church’s LIFE groups tomorrow night (March 17). This guide will enable your follow-up in our LIFE groups of my sermon tomorrow morning. This sermon is part two in a series that deals with some of the most commonly misunderstood and misused Scriptures. The series title is I Do No Think It Means What You Think It Means. This second sermon in the series deals with Matthew 7.1 and is entitled “The ‘Don’t Judge Me’ Verse.” Look under the category title “LIFE group guides” and you’ll find an archive of previous discussion guides. All Scripture texts reproduced below are from the CEB.

Aim

To examine familiar Scripture more closely, so as to correct our misunderstanding.

Word

• Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. You’ll receive the same judgment you give. Whatever you deal out will be dealt out to you. Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your eye? You deceive yourself! First take the log out of your eye, and then you’ll see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s or sister’s eye. Don’t give holy things to dogs, and don’t throw your pearls in front of pigs. They will stomp on the pearls, then turn around and attack you. (Matthew 7.1-6)

• Watch out for false prophets. They come to you dressed like sheep, but inside they are vicious wolves. You will know them by their fruit. Do people get bunches of grapes from thorny weeds, or do they get figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, and every rotten tree produces bad fruit. (Matthew 7.15-17)

• … be wise as snakes and innocent as doves. (Matthew 10.16)

• Don’t judge according to appearances. Judge with right judgment. (John 7.24)

• So don’t judge anything before the right time—wait until the Lord comes. He will bring things that are hidden in the dark to light, and he will make people’s motivations public. Then there will be recognition for each person from God. (1 Corinthians 4.5)

• In the case of prophets, let two or three speak and have the rest evaluate what is said. (1 Corinthians 14.29)

• Brothers and sisters, don’t say evil things about each other. … There is only one lawgiver and judge, and he is able to save and to destroy. But you who judge your neighbor, who are you? (James 4.11-12)

• … don’t believe every spirit. Test the spirits to see if they are from God … (1 John 4.1)

Open

Icebreaker questions are meant to help us all start talking. Choose one of the following to discuss as a group.

1. What do you do to help you decide when you must make a very difficult decision?

2. In what ways is “judge” today’s “J” word? Give some concrete examples.

Dig

These questions are meant to help us grapple with Scripture related to this morning’s sermon. Choose some.

1. Who is giving the judgment we receive in Mt. 7.2: others, God, both, or can’t say?

2. What is hypocrisy and how does it relate to any of the texts above?

3. What is the connection between Mt. 7.6 and the statements preceding it (vs. 1-5)?

Reflect

These questions facilitate our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us thru his word. Choose some.

1. What’s the difference between discernment/testing and judgment/condemnation?

2. What damage results from giving (or receiving) judgment/condemnation?

3. How have you been hurt by words of judging directed toward you or how have you been helped by realizing you were guilty of such yourself and then fled from it?

4. What fades in Christian faith when the exercise of discernment/testing diminishes?

5. What is necessary in a Christian’s life for them to grow healthy discernment/testing?

6. What are some practical steps you can take to avoid giving judgment/condemnation?