Summary: We are to be a light shining in a dark place.

WHEN OUR DAUGHTER was in Junior High, she became friends with some girls who lived in a little town about an hour’s drive from here. On occasion, these girls would invite her to an activity at their church or their school or even ask her to come to their house. So, I would drive her there, come back alone, then drive back to get her and bring her home. That’s four hours on the road. It was crazy, I admit, but I love our daughter. And I was happy to do it.

One Friday night, we were driving back—it was around midnight. My daughter had fallen asleep in the passenger seat, and I was left to my thoughts.

Now, I have to tell you that I’ve always been a sucker for the night sky. I love looking at the stars. This particular night happened to be during the winter, and there was a clear sky. There’s nothing better than a crisp clear night in winter for seeing the stars. At one point along the way, I noticed that there was not an artificial light source anywhere around except for the headlights on our car. There were no other vehicles on the road, no vapor lamps in the distance, not even the glow from a farmhouse window.

So, I slowed the car, pulled over to the side of the road, turned off the engine, and slipped through the door as quietly as I could so as not to wake my daughter. And then I just stood, gazing up at the stars. There must have millions of them. It looked for all the world like someone had spilled a giant salt shaker on a huge black tablecloth. It was breathtaking. I felt like I was on the front row seat in the theater of God, privileged to see the splendor of his creation. Psalm 19 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” I was so taken with the sight that I forgot the cold, I forgot the car, I guess I even forget where I was. Until…I heard this tiny voice whisper, “Dad, what are you doing?” That was my cue. It was time to go. I didn’t say a word. I got back into the car, a little embarrassed, I guess, but not much. I had seen an unforgettable display of light that made the darkest night seem small.

There’s a place in the Bible where the people of God are described that way—where you are described that way. Tucked away in the second chapter of Philippians is verse 15, where it says of you, “You…shine among them,” that is, among the people of this generation—“you…shine among them like stars in the [night] sky” (NIV).

Can you picture yourself that way? To do so, I’m thinking you have to take account of the darkness. It’s all around you. I don’t have to tell you that. You see it every day. It hangs heavy like a fog over everything.

That’s why there are lighthouses along the coast—or, there used to be. Because there was a need for them. I’m sure now that radar and other forms technology guide ships through the dangers of the night. But what do we do about the spiritual fog that makes it hard for people to see the hazards unwary souls have to navigate? We need churches—we need our church—to be like “a city set on a hill,” so that wanderers can be guided to safety. We need people like you to “light a lamp” and not—not, you understand—“put it under a basket, but on a stand,” so that “it gives light to all in the house.”

Our current preaching series, as you know, is called Missio Dei, which means, of course, “the mission of God.” God is at work in the world to push back the boundaries of evil, and he has called us to join him. We have seen the why and the what of the mission. And next week we are going to look at the how of it. And so, I thought today we might look at the where of it. Where is it that God’s mission takes us? And it’s clear what the Bible says about that. God’s mission always takes us into the dark, into places where people need the light. If you will permit me to say it this way, God has placed in your hand a torch, lit by the flame of truth, and he has sent you—me, too; all of us—he has sent us into the dark places of life. At its core, that’s what the word mission means. It means sent, like a missile is sent, but, instead of delivering destruction, it brings restoration and reconciliation.

And when I say sent, I don’t mean just being sent on a mission trip, whether across the country or around the world. That’s mission, to be sure, but so is showing up at work or at school or going to the golf course or talking to your neighbor over the back fence. Mission isn’t just a program in which we participate if we have the time or inclination—you know, volunteer a few hours a week at this or that agency, sign up for this or that project—that sort of thing. Those are good things to do, and I urge you to participate in as many of them as you can. But, really, the mission dei is more comprehensive than that. In God’s plan, you are on mission 24/7, 365 days a year. As we used to say, you are an agent of the kingdom cleverly disguised as a homemaker or a clerk or a teacher or merchant or whatever. Every place you go, every person you meet, every conversation you have—you’re there to dispel the fog, to illumine the darkness, to bear the light.

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John Payton

commented on May 13, 2018

Right on target and well said.

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