A couple years ago, I joined my friends in their backyard to view the heavens through their telescope. I put my eye to a lens and gazed at a star millions of miles away from me. I witnessed the glow of a fire that burns 140,000 times hotter than our sun. I viewed photons, or particles of light, that began traveling to my eyes 642 years ago (Betelgeuse, for those of you who are wondering).
It was an incredible display of the majesty of God!
I was reminded of this verse:
“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 order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.”Philippians 2:14-16, NIV 84
We are called to shine like the stars, not complaining and arguing, but holding out the Word of life to others. This passage comes in the context of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in which he was reminding them to imitate the humility of Jesus.
He said we should be one in spirit and purpose, do nothing out of selfish ambition, and consider others better than ourselves (Ephesians 2:1-4).
Unity, humility, respect–those qualities are supposed to characterize us as Christ followers–not complaining, arguing, and gossiping.
Jesus, likewise, said that we should shine.
You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”Matthew 5:14-16
He doesn’t want us to hide our faith but to shine brightly for all the world to see. Our light should be dispelling the darkness around us and pointing others to the Father.
Something else rocked my world that same weekend. I finished a book called The Insanity of God. If you haven’t read this book, you need to. It’s the true story of a man and his family who dedicated fifteen years of their lives to minister to the people of Somalia, only to return home disillusioned about the realities of sharing Jesus in a war-torn, dangerous, and mostly-Muslim environment.
So, the Ripkens decided to travel to nations where Christianity has grown in the midst of severe persecution in order to interview those who live out the Gospel in a dangerous climate every day. What they found in the stories of hundreds of saints in places like Russia, China, and the Middle East, was a faith that brought light to some of the darkest places on the planet.
From prison cells, men and women sang. Where there was no Bible, youth memorized the entire Gospels. There were no worship wars: believers gathered together, mouthing the words of praise songs so that they might not be overheard and arrested. No worries about church running past noon: many of these believers gathered from midnight to 3 A.M. to avoid detection by authorities.
And yet they were shining.
These believers could have kept the truth to themselves and avoided persecution. But, no, they held out the word of life–shining like stars in the universe. They traveled many miles to meet together with other believers. And God performed miracles, signs, and wonders in their midst.
I read of another star in my Bible: a Hebrew woman named Hadassah but given the Persian name Esther, which means “star.” She, too, could have kept quiet and not risked her life. But she knew that the lives of others were at stake. And so this “Star” laid it all on the line. She, too, held out the word of life, and declared, “If I perish, I perish.”
Sometimes I won’t even share the Gospel in the grocery store, in the Bible Belt, in a nation in which I could possibly be ridiculed, but that’s about it. Our brothers and sisters around the world would be appalled. In China, a Christian is not even considered for leadership until he has been to prison. Not Food Lion. Prison.
I want to shine like a star, like an Esther, like these men and women who so courageously share the Gospel with their friends and neighbors. I want to stop playing it safe and give it all for Jesus. I want to be so red-hot, on fire for the Lord, that when I start shining, I burn for all eternity.
“Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.”Daniel 12:3
Pray for the persecuted church, that they would be faithful unto death. (That’s what they pray.)
And pray for the courage to shine like a star in the universe, holding out the Word of life to those around you. Don’t get caught up in the complaining, arguing, and gossip that so often characterize the church. It’s just not worth the damage it does to the cause of Christ.
Instead, let’s commit to put our faith in action, to choose unity over strife, humility over spiritual pride, love over petty comparisons. Let’s stop focusing on what we don’t like and turn our eyes to Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith.
And let’s commit to shining our light for Jesus, holding out the Word of life to those around us who are in darkness. We may not perish for sharing the Gospel here in our corner of the world, but those around us will perish if we don’t.