Let Your Light Shine

I live in an area not too far from Lake Michigan. All along the shores of this Great Lake are lighthouses. Some are small; some are tall; some are old and some use the latest technology Some are red; some are white; some are striped. Most are designed to warn ships of rocks, but others warn of shoals and hidden sand bars, as well.

Big Sable Point Lighthouse, Ludington

We think of lighthouses shining their light in the darkness, but lighthouses also shine in the daytime, through cloudy days, foggy mornings, and stormy afternoons. Most lighthouses also have fog horns, to warn ships when even the light won’t penetrate a thick fog.

This past week, a faithful lady at our church reminded us of a favorite song from childhood– “This Little Light of Mine.” We are called to be like Jesus, the “light of the world.” But what does it mean to “let our light shine”? And what does it mean to “hide it under a bushel?” (See Matthew 5:14-16)

Fresnel lens at Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, Daytona Beach, FL. Invented by French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel, the lens is much thinner than a conventional lens, which allows for a large aperture and short focal length at a lower weight.

Lighthouses use special lenses, called Fresnel lenses, to magnify the effect of refracted and reflected light. The resulting beam of light is stronger and can be seen for miles. Our own “little light”– our weak and imperfect faith; our limited talents and resources; our clumsy attempts– would not be enough to “save” anyone. But God magnifies our efforts as we reflect HIS radiance; His Love and Mercy. And many will be saved as we allow God to shine through us.

St. Joseph Lighthouse at sunset

Lighthouses are consistent– they don’t “turn the light off” when the weather is perfect, waiting only until someone spots a ship in danger. They don’t “dim” the light, or add extra strobe lights for the holidays or special occasions. Each lighthouse sends a consistent signal–steady and sure. But each lighthouse is unique– both in its outward appearance, and in it’s light pattern. This helps sailors tell them apart, and provides further help in navigation. As Christians, our light should also be consistent and unique. God created us with unique talents and opportunities–and we can “shine” the light of Christ in such a consistent and unique way as to help others “navigate” the trials of life. I am so thankful for the many faithful and uniquely gifted Christians who have inspired and guided me throughout my journey–and I want to be that kind of light for others!

Lighthouses are solid. They are normally built close to the shore, but not on the sandy beaches– rather on a rocky outcropping or a solid concrete and steel-reinforced foundation. As Christians, we have a solid foundation in Christ. We need to “shine our light” from that foundation– living out the Gospel of Christ– His life, death, resurrection, and imminent return. Building a bonfire on the beach may produce light, but it won’t stand out in a storm. Building our lives on any other foundation or religious “fad” may produce outward “success,” but it will not withstand storms.

Finally, and this may sound ridiculously obvious, but Lighthouses shine with purpose. They don’t twinkle or glitter; they don’t scream from the shore– “Look at ME! Look at ME!” They don’t shoot off fireworks to captivate onlookers from the shore. But they shine. They send a consistent warning, and provide consistent security to those who need it– and those who are seeking it! “This little light” may not be a blazing comet on the horizon, but without its steady pattern, there is darkness, confusion, and danger for those at sea (on lake in our case!) “No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light.” (Luke 11:33 NIV) We are commanded to shine– to Love others, to reach out with light, and hope, and yes, even a warning. To hide that light is to deny our purpose. To shine only for our own glory is to miss our purpose.

Holland (Michigan) Lighthouse

Father, help me to be a light in the darkness today. Help me to shine with Your Love, Your Mercy, and Your Goodness. Help me to be consistent, and to shine in the strength of Your Righteousness and Grace. Help me to use the unique gifts and opportunities You provide to show Your Character and Love to others.

Prayer on a Dreary Day

Father,,
Today is a dreary day.
It is not warm or sunny; it is not filled with joy or peace.
The house is a mess.
I’m not even dressed.
I feel emptied and drained.

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And yet…

Even though I can’t see
Your glory in my surroundings,
I know You can see
The glory of eternity.
You see the brighter days ahead.
You are already there,
Celebrating.

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You have not journeyed here to
Listen to my prayer…
Because You have always been here
Right beside me.
You are not put off by my
Dirt or disheveled appearance;
You are not unaware of my sadness–
You know my thoughts before I think them!
You know my emotions better than I know myself!

Today is a dreary day,
But it is just a speck in the fullness of
Your Eternal Light.
Shine into my darkness
Dispel the dreariness around me.
Help me to reflect, not the clouds,
But the Son!

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Thank you, Lord.
Even on a dreary day,
In Your presence, there is fullness of Joy–
Not the giddiness of a sunny springtime,
But the glow of a hearth-fire,
Sustaining me.

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So my praise today may not explode
In bright colors and exclamations.
But it will be a steady and steadying
Ember–warm enough to survive
Ready for You to
Ignite tomorrow’s fresh flame!

Of Lighthouses, Watchtowers, and “Friendly” Reminders…

I live just about an hour away from one of the Great Lakes. Within a comfortable driving distance, there are at least three beautiful lighthouses along the lake. Driving to or from the lighthouses, we pass through an area known as the “Fruit Belt.” Orchards, vineyards, and croplands are bursting this time of year–the very air is redolent with the smell of ripening apples, grapes, corn, beans, berries, wheat, and more. Some of the orchards and vineyards still have old watchtowers, though many have been removed or replaced with digital cameras.

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Lighthouses and watchtowers serve a purpose– one that is still important today. Lighthouses help ships and other lake traffic avoid dangerous reefs and rocks along the shore, as well as sandbars. They guide travelers in the dark, and through storms. Watchmen in towers protect crops from dangers such as fire and predators. They watch for storms, and signs of draught and frost. Both lighthouses and watchtowers are fixed, steady, visible, and convey safety and security.

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I’ve been reading through the prophets lately– Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel…the prophets were sending out a warning to the rebellious people of Israel and Judah. Even though the imagery is often graphic and stark, the message was one of steady love and warning from God. God loves us enough to guide us through the rocks and perils of life. He sends warnings– not to harm us but to keep us from harm. He sends faithful friends and other messengers to stand firm with us through the storm and drought and danger around us.

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Just like the light from the lighthouse, or the sound of a foghorn, the message may be glaring and unpleasant, sometimes. We may be sailing along with no notion of the rocks ahead. Or we may be strolling through the vineyard, unaware of a prowling animal or a fire just over the next rise. We may even resent the warnings we read in the Bible or hear from friends. We may be afraid to BE the one giving out the warning– afraid of being misunderstood or resented or even rejected.

God asks us to be watchmen– to be lighthouses– ready to shout out a warning to those who may be in danger. He also asks us to be vigilant and ready to heed the warnings He sends through others.

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How do we know when “friendly” reminders and warnings are true? How can we be sure that they are not just petty criticism or overreactions?

Check them against Scripture. And check them in the context of Scripture. A single verse, taken out of context, that seems to contradict other passages should always be suspect. But a general principle, found throughout the Old and New Testaments should be heeded.

Look for consistency. Lighthouses and watchtowers don’t bend and sway with the winds of change. “Warnings” that change with circumstances, or seem relative to certain situations should be suspect.

Listen for (and speak with) Love. Friends may speak words of warning, but they will also speak of mercy and hope.

Listen for (and speak) truth–warnings should contain specifics, rather than vague fears or blanket accusations.

Listen (and speak) with humility. That doesn’t mean that we cannot speak in our defense, but we should not be defensive or resentful– even if the warnings are spurious. Remember, Jesus was accused of being “from Satan” during His own ministry, yet He answered firmly and gently, not with anger or hatred.

Give Thanks! Give thanks that God sends us warnings, and gives us opportunities to recognize danger and error, and opportunities to repent and change course, and encourage others to do the same!

Shadows…

Today is a day of shadows.

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In the U.S. and Canada, it is “Groundhog” Day: on this day, tradition says that if a groundhog (a rodent also known as a woodchuck) comes out of its burrow and sees its shadow, we will have six more weeks of winter. (If it doesn’t see its shadow, we’re supposed to have an earlier spring, but I have never known this to be the case.) Supposedly, the groundhog is frightened of its shadow and returns to hibernate for six weeks. It seems sort of counter-intuitive: a sunny day should indicate that spring is just around the corner. Seeing its shadow should be a “good” sign for the groundhog.

Today is also a special day in the global Church calendar. Known as “Candlemas” or Presentation Day, it represents the day that Jesus was presented in the Temple and Mary went through the purification rites required for Jewish women after the birth of a son. (see Leviticus 12:1-8; Luke 2:22-40) The gospel writer includes two other encounters that took place in the Temple courts. A man named Simeon, and a woman named Anna both offer praises for this child– the fulfillment of hundreds of years of prophecy, dating back to the Mosaic Laws. And Simeon also offers a warning to Mary– a “shadow” of things to come and prophecies yet to be fulfilled (v. 35).

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Winter can be dreary, and filled with shadows– both real and figurative, natural and spiritual. But shadows only appear when there is also light. May we be reminded on this day– whether it is a day of shadows, sunshine, or cloud cover– that Jesus came to be the “Light” of the world. And we should never be “afraid of our own shadow.” Indeed, as we cast our own shadows through our words and actions, may they point others toward the true light. And as we face the shadows that fall in our way, may we remember that they are only that– shadows– Light has overcome the darkness!

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Praying in the Dark

The past few days have been a dark place for me. I don’t mean that something horrible has happened, or that my life has been upended. But things seem dim and indistinct. Some things I took for granted turn out to be less than sure. Events have been chaotic and tinged with evil and sadness.

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I was reading a novel the other day, set in the early days of World War II in London. Because of the threat of air raids from Germany, the people were required to “black out” their windows at night, and drive with no headlights. People who had driven or walked around the streets of London with confidence just weeks before were being injured or even killed because they could no longer trust in streetlights, headlights, or lights in windows to guide them safely home. At the same time, during the day, thousands of people, fearing that the Germans would use deadly gas, were carrying around gas masks (just in case!), and leaving them on buses or at pubs or train stations, because they were unused to the extra responsibility. Suddenly, the gas mask they were depending on was lost, and all the extra preparation turned out to be useless, anyway. It reminds me how often I would see people last year, getting ready to enter a store, only to return to their car for their required mask. The recent upsurge in COVID cases means that some public businesses and services are requiring masks again, while others do not. No one knows if they are prepared; no one seems confident that they are “safe”– even with masks, vaccines, furious hand-washing, and social distancing.

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Hard times and difficult situations can cause us to shift our focus and have to learn new routines–even new vocabulary! At certain times, life almost seems “normal.” At others, we seem to be tossed by every new wave that comes along. It can be easy to lose one’s way in the fog and darkness of chaos and changing times.

The Psalmist and King, David, had words of wisdom for times like these: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119: 105 KJV)

Even when things seem dark and it feels like I’ve lost my way, God is right beside me. If I have no other “light” to see by, God’s word will be enough to guide me on. When I pray– even in the dark–God sees me clearly, and knows the way ahead.

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And I needed to be reminded of that this week.

This Little Light of Mine…

Last Friday night, my husband and I watched fireworks in honor of Independence Day. They were spectacular– bright flashes of light, followed by loud, thunderous booms–red, green, blue, purple, orange, gold, and white. Some sizzled and screamed as they threw their light across the darkened backdrop of the night. Others were almost silent; just a “whizz” and a “poof.” Some were so bright, they lit up the whole sky, showing clouds and smoke trails.

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Fireworks are exciting and flashy. But I wouldn’t want to live in a world of continual fireworks. While their light is bright and exciting, it is not steady, and it is quickly swallowed up again by night’s darkness. We don’t even light fireworks during the day, because their light is not brighter or better than the sun.

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Sometimes, I try to be a “Christian” fireworks display–I try to be flashy and impressive, or sizzle, scream, and boom. That’s not entirely a bad thing– after all, we are to let out light shine, so that people can see our good works and glorify our Father in Heaven (see Matthew 5:14-16). But we should be careful. Jesus never called us to be like fireworks; He spoke of our “light” being more like a lamp or a candle.

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Some thoughts to remember:

  • We are to let our light shine for a purpose greater than display. Our lives should be a reflection of the true Light of the World. Jesus was not flashy and bombastic. He was humble, gentle, and kind. People were not amazed and impressed by Jesus’ appearance. And He didn’t draw attention to many of His miracles– He often healed people “on the road” as He traveled between towns; some of His most spectacular miracles, like walking on water, were done in front of only His closest disciples. Jesus didn’t lead others by clever arguments and flashy displays– He led by example and service.
  • Lamps and candles are steady sources of light. Our lives should not be momentary flashes of brightness, followed by clouds of smoke and a return to darkness for those around us. A quiet life of integrity may not be flashy, but it can, over a lifetime, inspire others and leave a lasting legacy that shines far longer and brighter than any fireworks display.
  • Occasionally, God will put us in a place where our light can shine a little brighter or sizzle for a bit– for His Glory. We should not be afraid to sparkle. But we must not let ourselves “burn out.” And when we see others shine in this way, we should not be envious or try to quench the Spirit; however, we must continue to reflect God’s glory, rather than trying to bask in another person’s glow.
  • Far greater than any fireworks display is the promise of God’s glory, revealed in the fullness of time– an eternal display of pure light, with no darkness to follow!
  • Our “little light” is not insignificant– it is God’s purpose. It pleases Him to see us glow, not explode!
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Lord, help me to shine in ways that point others to You. Help me to reflect Your gentle, faithful, and righteous light, Your Love, and Your Grace as I travel through a dark world. Amen.

The Intimate, Unknowable, God

Prayer is an exercise in juxtaposition–we seek to have intimate conversation with a mysterious and unknowable God. He INVITES us into this mystery. He pursues us, seeks us out, surrounds us with His Presence, yet He hides His face from us and shrouds Himself in light and cloud.

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God is Spirit– He is Eternal, Omnipresent, and Invisible. Yet He chooses to reveal Himself– in the beauty of Nature, in the smile of a stranger, in His revealed Word, and through His Son. Everything we need, we can find in and through Him, yet we cannot say that we comprehend Him, because He is so far above and beyond anything we can imagine.

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Prayer is a humbling experience– to approach the Throne of the One who holds the Universe in the palm of His hand; but it is also an intimate and very personal experience– to run into the arms of the One who knit us together and knows the very hairs on our head (or lack thereof!).

After a lifetime of praying and pursuing prayer, I still marvel at the complexity, majesty, mystery, and fragility of prayer. That God should desire to listen to me–whimpering, questioning, confessing, and even offering my best and inadequate praise– it astounds me. And yet it also sustains me, strengthens me, and stimulates me. This same God who holds the stars and planets inhabits the tiniest of atoms in the air I breathe. The same God who ordered the first sunrise, and has watched empires rise and fall, cares when I shed a tear and rejoices when I laugh. God who is perfect, has mercy on me when I confess my pettiness and offers forgiveness when I throw tantrums. The same God who bore the pain and agony of betrayal and crucifixion promises eternal life to those who have rejected Him– if only they will listen, turn, and follow Him.

Today, let the awe of Who God IS– both sovereign, unknowable, and mysterious, AND intimate, loving, and gracious–wash over you as you enter into prayer.

A Flash in the Pan

During the era of flintlock muskets, gunpowder was ignited by a spark from a flint striking a plate. The gunpowder was held steady in a small “pan”, and the resulting explosion was supposed to propel the lead shot “ball” or bullet to its intended target. But often, the gunpowder would not explode; it would simply burn out in a brief flash of light, failing to result in a shot, and wasting the powder. This was known as a “flash in the pan.” It came to symbolize an impressive display that accomplished little or nothing of use.

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Years later, prospectors in the California Gold Rush would see a “flash in the pan” as they looked for gold. They would take a shallow pan, dip it in a river, bring up water and silt, dirt, and rocks, and swirl it around. Sometimes, they would see the “flash” of a gold nugget or gold dust. More often, they would see a glint of something else– pyrite, or “fool’s gold” was more likely than a flash of real gold. And, as the water swirled, the tiny flash of gold could disappear amid the eddy of dirt and other dull rocks– remaining just a “flash in the pan.”

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Early photographers, struggling to bring enough light into their studios, experimented with explosive powders, hoping to get a “flash” of light bright enough to create a better negative exposure, so that their subjects would not have to sit so long in the same position in order to get a clear image. They would mix powders, spread some of them on a shallow “pan,” and ignite them to create a brief, but brilliant, flash of light.

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Our lives may sometimes seem like “a flash in the pan.” Our days are numbered, and our abilities limited. Even our brightest ideas and most explosive actions seem to be swallowed up in the larger scheme of things; our good deeds and noble intentions disappear in the swirling waters of time and the tides of injustice, disease, and evil around us.

But our lives, while brief, can be more than a “flash in the pan.” We are called to be the follow Jesus, the “Light of the World.” Jesus’s life on earth was brief, even by human life expectancy. But unlike a spark that burned itself out and ended in death and darkness, Jesus brought light and life that continues today. And He calls us to use our lives in ways that light the way for others.

Sometimes, our prayers can also seem like brief flashes, producing little of significance. But God hears each one, and it is in His power that our prayers become part of the larger “picture” of His plan.

The Sound of Silence

The events of Good Friday are well recorded in all four of the gospels, (see Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, and John 19 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=JOhn%2019&version=NIV ) but it is still difficult to imagine exactly what it must have been like that day. The first crow of the rooster came as Jesus was still on trial before the Sanhedrin, hours of questioning and betrayal that would continue as the sun rose and Jesus as passed on up the chain of power to Pontius Pilate for more questioning. The sun was still climbing as Jesus was beaten and paraded before the crowds. The swell of voices shouting for His execution would have echoed through the public square–“Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” “We have no king but Caesar!” The same taunting would continue as Jesus walked the long Via Dolorosa and came to Golgotha.

By nine that morning, Jesus, bloodied, whipped, exhausted, humiliated, betrayed, and struggling for every breath, was nailed to the cross. He was fully exposed to the bright morning sun, the heat, and all the stares of the angry mob who came to revel in His anguish. He was unable to wipe the blood or salty sweat that trickled from His brow and ran into His eyes; unable to swat away flies who buzzed around His face, elbows, or cheeks. He was unable to block out the noise–curses, curious questions, His Mother’s agonized cries, and, in the lull, the ordinary noises of a crowded city preparing for a celebration.

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As noon approached, there would be the aromas of roasted lamb, market fish, baking bread. The crowds were quieter now, some may have left to seek out lunch or relief from the heat. But the heat and the sun disappeared as darkness rolled in. The angry energy gave way to fear and dread. The earlier shouting was now a an ominous rumbling among the remaining spectators. It was quiet enough to hear Jesus address His Mother and His disciple, John, and answer the thief on the neighboring cross, promising to see him in Paradise. It was possible to hear Jesus cry out later, His voice raspy and broken, but clearly in anguish, “Eloi, Elioi, lama sabachthani!?”

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Perhaps it even got so quiet, as it sometimes does in darkness, that you could hear the three men on the crosses struggling to take each breath–their tortured muscled straining to lift their weight enough to get air past their parched lips and tongues–in and out, as distended muscles demanded more oxygen than their bodies could provide. Did the members of the crowd listen to their own heartbeats in those moments?

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The unnatural darkness would have magnified the moment when Jesus, the Light of the World, breathed His last breath. And I imagine in the moment after that a silence so deafening, so complete, as the Word of God, the Creator of Life and Giver of Breath departed the Earth– as though all light and sound imploded at the loss. A split second only, but one so intensely silent that it must have taken the breath of every onlooker.

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And then, the sound returned full-force– the Earth quaking, the skies crashing, Creation gasping, the Temple Veil ripping, and terrified people rediscovering their ability to cry out. Noise–piercing, and violent and sudden, bringing with it a return of the angry energy of before. But the energy is different now. Subdued. Nervous. Desperate. Empty…

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Whiter Than Snow

Winter has arrived full force in my part of the world– snow, falling temperatures, ice, and freezing winds make travel difficult and even dangerous. But snow brings about some good things–and one of those things is its color. The white of the snow helps reflect every small bit of light during the short, gray days of winter. When there is no snow cover, some of us can suffer from a condition called “seasonal affective disorder” (SAD). We don’t get enough exposure to sunlight, which can lead to depression, diminished immunity, and other health-related issues. And, while snow doesn’t contain vitamin D or create sunlight, it does reflect it and sometimes that is enough.

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I am enjoying the whiteness of the new-fallen snow as I write this. Even though it is late afternoon, and normally, it would seem dark by now, the snow makes it lighter; I can actually see better because of the snow! (Of course I couldn’t say this if I were driving and the snow was blowing about or covering my windshield…)
Many people in my community are rejoicing in the snow and cold– it means they can go skiing, snowmobiling, sledding, and build snowmen and snow forts. Some of the children (and their teachers) are hoping to have a “snow day” today. And some people are hoping to make some money from shoveling or plowing driveways and parking lots!

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There will be many people praying for snow; and others praying for the snow to end! And in a few days, the pure white snow may end up dingy and gray from being exposed to unclean air particulates, vehicle exhausts, smoke from chimneys, animal tracks, tire tracks, boot tracks, and trash. But for now, it has a purity and beauty that brightens the spirit.

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God uses the imagery of snow to speak of His Salvation. In Isaiah 1:18, He says, “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” The psalmist David says to the Lord, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:7) And the Apostle John writes, “And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure.” (1 John 3:3)

I don’t feel particularly pure most of the time– I know my past; I know my own failings, and the times I have NOT sparkled, or reflected God’s perfection. And God’s salvation doesn’t ignore any of that. God doesn’t declare that I have never sinned–instead, He takes the dirt, shame, and guilt that I deserve, and swallows it up in His grace. In its place, He gives me a renewed mind, a clean heart, and the power to make choices that reflect His heart and mind.

In a “SAD” world that is cold and gray, depressed and weak, God offers redemption that can make us purer, lighter, and fresher than new-fallen snow. We can reflect His light to a darkened world. And, even though the world is filled with contamination and filth, God has the power (and the desire!) to purify us, protect us, preserve us, and give us a sparkling purpose.

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