A Guiding Light

photo of two lamps shining on a snowy night
Photo by Hide Obara

Last time we were together, we talked about Jesus’ teaching to be a light to the world, and we studied about the fact that we don’t shine our own lights. Instead, we reflect God’s brighter and purer light. It’s like what C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity: “…Just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it.” We recognize that our lights are not our own.

Because our lights are not ours, they have a purpose. They have God’s purpose. Let’s look again at Matthew 5:14 – 16:

“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.”

Jesus speaks both of being a light and of being a city on a hill together. That’s because in His day, a city on a hill was a source of light to travelers. A modern equivalent might be a lighthouse or the lights on an airport runway. You were traveling over days and nights to reach your destination, and then you would see a light peeking over the horizon. Then you knew you reached not only a place where you could find food and rest, but you reached a place of safety and security. You were home.

Lights in the Darkness

As God’s lampposts in this world, that’s what we do. We show the way to rest. We show the way to safety and to security. We show the way home. There’s so much darkness in this world, but we walk in God’s light so that we may guide others to Him, and the great thing is this: the more people we bring to that light, the less the darkness affects us.

When John introduces us to Jesus in the beginning of his gospel, he describes Jesus as light in John 1:1 – 9.  John calls Jesus the true light that shines in the darkness and that cannot be overcome. Later in I John 1:7, he would write that walking in Christ’s light gives us fellowship with one another and that God is a light that contains no darkness. In chapter 2:10, we learn that the light in which we walk is characterized by love.

Think about all of the terrible things we hear about. Think about the things that make you fear, that make you feel insecure, that trouble your heart the most. What motivates those events? Whatever your answer, love is the opposite in every case, and the light of love can heal the scars left by darkness — no matter how big or small they are. Therefore, if we are going to guide people to God, we have to put away choices, words, and behaviors driven by dark feelings and motivations, and we must instead let our speech and conduct be guided by love in all of its forms.

The Small Steps

What can this look like in our daily lives? As with anything, the first steps are small and simple. They are the little things you can do to brighten someone else’s day. The thing is, they have to be intentional, and you have to be willing to extend these choices when you might not want to.

  • Tip your waiter or waitress more than you think they might deserve.
  • Pay for a stranger’s coffee.
  • Have an encouraging word for a cashier who’s obviously not enjoying their day.
  • Hold the door for someone who has their hands full, or offer to carry something for them.
  • Be the one who listens to that customer who talks everyone’s ear off.
  • Pray for someone who’s struggling.

Sometimes, your light can shine through what you choose not to do as well — choosing to not make that rude or impatient comment when someone in front of you is paying in change or food stamps, choosing to let it go when someone else is unkind to you, choosing to not make a huff if your bill is a couple dollars off. In these ways, we let others feel what it is to have the light of grace touch their lives. We have to be willing to follow Paul’s advice in Galatians 6:9:

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Glowing Brighter

Of course, none of these actions in and of themselves will bring someone to God. In fact, often they may produce no results at all, but that’s no reason to stop trying. Think of how many times Jesus was rejected. Think of how many times Paul or one of the other apostles was rejected, but they kept at it. Occasionally, your light will spark something, and that brings you to the trickier part: forming a relationship. It doesn’t have to be immediately deep, but even the briefest of connections can open opportunities.

Think about the impression Jesus made on the woman at the well in John 4. How did their time together start? Jesus simply said, “Please give me a drink.” The exchange ended with the woman going to her friends and neighbors, proclaiming, “This is the Christ!” In the middle of all that, it looks like rejection is imminent when she questions His speaking to her and her evident disbelief, but Jesus does not grow weary in sharing His light with her. What started as a simple act of kindness — speaking to someone used to rejection — turned into many believing in Him.

This is where we can make the biggest impact. This is where shining His light reaches the most — when we make and build relationships. It starts with the light of graciousness, of kindness, and of love. It may end right there, or you might get a chance to form a relationship, and what did Jesus do once He had a relationship? What do we see Paul and Peter doing in similar circumstances? We see Jesus and His apostles then transferring the light of their conduct to teaching the light of the word. We see them pointing to God.

The Testimony of Light

Our words and our actions testify to the light that is within us. I John 2:8 – 9 reads:

Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

Also, Ephesians 5:8 – 10:

…At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 

Finally, Philippians 2:14 – 16 says:

Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 

All of these come down to our conduct and our willingness to then share Christ with others. Let our speech and conduct testify of the light in our lives. Rather than being harsh lights that make others want to turn away, let’s be warm, inviting lights that encourage building bridges and relationships. Form there, we can share the light of Christ’s gospel that brings them to the security and the safety of salvation.

Yes, bad things happen in this world. Yes, there is darkness all around us. But there is also you. You can be something brighter, something better. Don’t let the darkness define you. Shine the light that you have. Shine God’s light, and its simple message. This world is not your home. There is something better waiting for you. Please come home.

lesson by Robert Smelser

The Bonsai Tree: Sacrificial Cuts

Hokusai_A_lacquered_washbasin_and_ewer

Last week, we looked at the nature of bonsai and how its purpose is to create a miniature image of a tree, just as we are to be in the image of our Lord. We also looked at the care, concern, and stresses involved with producing a healthy tree. Like a master gardener, we know that God is in control, and He refines and perfects us with love, concern, and even trials.

In our growth, how nourishing do we let the word be to us? At times, we may suffer from spiritual bulimia. We consume the word, but we don’t digest it properly. We may not take the time to meditate on the word and let it take hold in our hearts as it should. If we are to grow into God’s image, we have to take the time to let His teachings nourish us. This word shapes the type of growth we will have as Christians.

Cultivating Reasonable Service

Romans 12:1 – 2 calls us living sacrifices, dead to the world but alive to Christ. This is reasonable service to God. This is what transforms us, but to what standards are we holding ourselves? What do we consider to be reasonable service? Paul speaks of freedom from sin, unity with our brothers and sisters, being merciful and peaceful. These are the foundation to our sacrificial service.

We become living sacrifices by meditating daily on God’s mercies and then putting those mercies in action. This is how we transform from something old to something new. The world presses us from every side, but we are not to succumb to those stresses, shaped into something resembling the temporary and physical. Instead, we should resist those pressures and allow ourselves to be shaped by God’s wisdom and mercies.

Finding God

Where do you go to find God and be in awe of Him? Do you see Him in nature? Do you see Him in the cosmos? Do you see Him in the love shown by others? We should be looking for God all around us, and we should be setting aside time to meditate on the glory and majesty of our God. In times of joy and in times of sorrow, we can find God around us. It is always the right time to draw closer to God.

In Philippians 3, Paul speaks about doing all he can to attain perfection in God, and he never considers himself to be perfect. He knew it was a daily process to draw closer to God. There is always more we can learn. We can always improve on our journey to find our God within ourselves. Acts 14:19 – 22 even shows Paul getting up and continuing his encouraging work after a stoning. This is sacrificial service.

Finding God in our lives and directing our service toward Him does not guarantee an easy life. Godly service is not a hobby. It is a commitment. It is a sacrifice. Our master gardener will always be at our side to help us grow, but growth can be challenging. Growth can be painful, but the end product is something better and more perfect than the original. We have to be focused, with our roots planted firmly in our God. Then He can transform us into His own image.

lesson by Donn Koonce

The Bonsai Tree

Hokusai_A_lacquered_washbasin_and_ewer

Bonsai involves a tree or a shrub grown in a container that is made to look mature while remaining very small in size. Bon is the pot and sai is the plant within, but bonsai is more than its definition. Classical bonsai represents the product of discipline and harmony, creating a small, healthy plant that looks, for all intents and purposes, like a full grown counterpart. It is a long process. There are no shortcuts, and, in the process, the bonsai artist learns much about life, patience, and attitudes while tending to their plant.

The Master Gardener

A bonsai plant is a healthy, miniature replica of a full grown version. They have all the characteristics of a wild-grown plant while fulfilling the artist’s vision of shape and size. God is our gardener, and our world is the little pot in which He crafts us into His image. Genesis 1 and 2 shows us how God has crafted us and this world around us. This is where we can grow and thrive in our Gardener’s great vision.

The ultimate challenge of a bonsai artist is exposing the essence of the tree within the confines of their art. Psalm 38 records David speaking of God’s unique purpose for him and the importance of submitting to God’s craftsmanship, and Romans 8:28 reminds us that all things work together for good in God’s plan. Our Father has an eternal purpose for us, and He guides us to that purpose with the patience and love of a master gardener.

A Healthy Planting

God wants us to be healthy. Romans 8:26 tells us of God’s spirit interceding on our behalves, helping us reach God’s purpose. In bonsai, stresses are applied to the plant to make it grow in particular fashion, but the gardener has to know how much the plant can take. Our stresses in this world shape us as well. We can accept God’s pruning, or we can reject it, and I Corinthians 10:28 tells us that God knows our endurance levels.

Romans 5:3 tells us that trials produce endurance in us. Every challenge we overcome helps us grow closer to God’s image. II Corinthians 4:7 speaks to the great challenges Christians can face, but our faith in God helps us overcome all of these things. These afflictions are preparing us for something greater and more permanent than this world. These things help us transform; they help us become what God will have us be.

A Time-Consuming Process

The growth process for bonsai takes time, and there is no way around that. There are no replacements for time in the effort. When I fully give myself to God, I will grow closer to Him. I will see things as He sees them. I will see myself as He sees me. The longer I allow Him to shape me, the more spiritual I will be. It can be a careful, painstaking process, and there is no substitute for time — time in prayer, time in His word, time dedicating ourselves to His service, and time adjusting our attitudes.

Ephesians 3:14 – 19:

For this cause, I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that you may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; to the end that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strengthened to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know Christ’s love which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled to all the fullness of God.

God wants us to be like Him. He wants to nourish us and help us grow. This takes humility on our part. It takes a willingness to serve, and it takes an adjustment in our attitude.

lesson by Donn Koonce