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.