“Our meeting place with God, and our beholding His glory, lies not in our going up to Him, but in His coming down to us in the person of Jesus Christ our Lord. “God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ” the divine radiance for our soul.” The Way of the Sevenfold Secret
Afterglow of Christmas. The house is still adorned in holiday finery – greenery draped on mantel and doors, creches and candles on table tops, the tree shimmering with tiny lights and sentimental ornaments. I’m embraced by the stillness and beauty – memories of Christmases past and present – the “work” of preparation now history for this year.
Throughout the house stars shine in various form and function bringing me back to a different time and place – and the dear givers of these many luminaries. A group of high-school girls drafted me to lead a “small group” at our home. Having previously retired myself to make room for a younger leadership, their appeal was persuasive: “We’re struggling to maintain a Christian walk among our peers as we enter high-school. Won’t you meet with us weekly for Bible Study and support?”
Thus began the Sub-Club (named for our weekly meal of subs from a local deli), a time of sharing and studying Scripture. The apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians was our first text and early into our study we read the verse that became our theme: “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe, as you hold out the word of life. . .” In short: SHINE!
Our focus shifted from the darkness they faced daily – drugs, alcohol, sexual permissiveness to name the most obvious – to their unique opportunity to “shine” in the midst of the darkness. To be a light. The darker the surrounds the brighter the light. “SHINE” became our mantra re-enforced verbally at school and beyond and, visibly, through gifts of stars in all shapes and sizes. Candleholders, charms, ornaments.
A century earlier, Lilias likewise experienced unimaginable darkness. The world she inhabited, the Casbah of Algiers, was darkened by sin so grave she would not name them to her prayer partners in England. Her heart broke for children born into families to be married off at the tender age of ten or twelve, only to be discarded for younger versions in a matter of time. Women were helpless subjects to men – husbands or male family members – without recourse if abused or abandoned. She witnessed men, women and children live in an atmosphere of fear and suspicion, drugging and charms a common form of control. She ached for their souls.
And she resonated with images of light. She wrote a booklet for mothers, “Heavenly Light on the Daily Path,” to provide direction for living within their difficult circumstances. She pictured raising children, pure and clean, like lilies drawn by the sun through the mud and mire of their surrounds. How she loved the image of Jesus, self-proclaimed “light of the world,” as a morning star! “It is so utterly like Him in its pure glory!”
Fast forward. Once again I’m in a study group, the text Philippians. Together we women explore what it means to “shine like stars” in a society in which our most cherished beliefs and values are challenged. We wonder, is the present state of the world unique in its challenges? How could it be worse?! Households polarized by politics. . . social interaction limited by pandemic, past and present. . . fear for our children raising their children in a culture that disdains constructs, ethical and moral, we believe to be God-ordained. Newscasters report, 24/7, devastation and disaster globally. War. Famine. Homelessness. Trafficking of drugs and humans.
How do we survive, much less “shine like stars” in a darkened world? What difference can my faint flame make in a jet black sky? At the risk of being simplistic, I offer, in response, several observations and suggestions.
First, the spirit of fear is not from God. Scripture has made it clear that fear is not His intention for us nor should it be the motive for our actions or reactions. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7/NIV) To cower or despair is not of God. To act from fear is a denial of the power, love and soundness of mind intended for Christians.
Rather than despair, with the proverbial throwing up of arms protesting “What has this world come to?!” let us see in that very darkness its potential: to be the foil against which we can SHINE. Even a dim light can brighten the darkness.
Perhaps in our frustrated efforts to “change” the world we overlook the simple things we can do to make a difference in our here and now. It begins with our response to our daily challenges – what each day brings – and how we live out lives of integrity, faith and purpose. It continues with hearts attune to needs we encounter at home and beyond. Paul sets the bar high but he makes the point in no uncertain terms: “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation – in which you shine like stars . . . as you hold out the word of life. . .” SHINE!
As overwhelming as it may seem to stand up or stand out amidst the daily challenges, we must remember that, in truth, we can’t do it on our own. It was never expected of us. If we are to be that light that shines in darkness, we must receive that light from the true Light. It is as we live in Christ’s light, through Scripture, through communion with Him by prayer and fellowship with other believers, we reflect His light. Churches all over the globe recently have played out this dynamic in their Christmas Eve Candlelight Services. The flame from the Christ candle becomes the primary source from which all the other candles receive their light – one candle, one person at a time – eventually flooding the entire sanctuary with its collective light. SHINE!
Yes, it is a challenge to live as a minority in what was once considered, if naively, a “Christian nation.” New York Times columnist, David Brooks, speaks to that challenge in a piece about “living in the age of the creative minority.” Noting that many people today “feel like strangers in their own land,” he explores several ways to cope with that reality then recommends the following: “Integration without assimilation is the only way forward. It is, as the prophet Jeremiah suggested, to transmit the richness of your own cultures while seeking the peace and prosperity of the city to which you have been carried.” (1) Perhaps this is the light and salt of which Jesus speaks. Being in the world but not of it. Bringing peace not argument and division. Shining like stars.
I wonder, with George Herbert, what difference I make, so faint a flame – and affirm his conclusion:
“Lord, how can a man preach Thy eternal word?
He is a little crazy glass. . .
Yet in thy temple Thou dost him afford
This glorious and transcendent place
To be a window, through thy grace.
. . . Making thy life to shine within. . . “
“Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light.”(2) SHINE!
1 “We’re Living in the Age of the Creative Minority,” December 2, 2021
2. Ephesians 5:8