Instead of a nightlight, I turn on the closet light for my children at bedtime.  At first, when our eyes are used to the bright fluorescent bulbs in the rest of the house, this is a tough adjustment.  Even with the closet door wide open, the light appears dim.  But as our eyes adjust, that light which once appeared so dim now seems way too bright.  So every night I go into their rooms and close the closet door.  That light is still shining as brightly as it was before, but now it is contained behind a closed door.  Light seeps out around the cracks and underneath the bottom, so it’s enough to comfort them if they wake up,  but it’s not enough to offend the eyes if they awaken from a deep sleep.

So what does a light in the closet have to do with you?  Quite a bit, actually.  Look with me at Matthew 5:14-16, part of this week’s Gospel.  This comes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and He speaks of His followers as “salt” and “light.”  Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world and that we are to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.'”  Wow.  We are the light of the world?  Really, Jesus?  Because in John 8:12 You claim that You are the light of the world.  So which is it?  Both.  Jesus is of course the light of the world.  He came into this sin-darkened world to shine the light of mercy and forgiveness.  His Gospel message shines in stark contrast to the darkness of sin and condemnation under the Law.  He is the source of this light, and we are merely the reflectors.  Much as the moon reflects the light of the sun, yet has no light of its own, so we of our own accord do not have “light” to shine; we merely reflect the light of Jesus.

But what about you?  Are you reflecting that light?  Are you the city on a hill that cannot be hidden, or do you try to hide that lamp under the basket?  Do your coworkers, friends, neighbors, and fellow soccer moms, know that you are a Christian?  If not, it’s time to change that.  But how? I’m glad you asked.  There’s been a lot of discussion regarding the most effective way to witness: words or actions?  Both, my friend.  You must use both to be an effective witness.  First let’s look at actions.

Read James 2:14-26, and keep in mind that James is not speaking about earning heaven with works.  He’s talking sanctification.  Read with me verses 15-17 and examine your own life.  “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”  (This past week’s Old Testament lesson says the same thing.  Check out Isaiah 58:6-8.)  I don’t  know about you, but I’m convicted.  How many times have I told someone struggling through a tough time, “I’m praying for you,” and left it at that?  Yes, it’s good to pray for someone, but we can’t always leave it at that.  If your neighbor is going through a tough time financially, show up at her door with a few freezer meals.  Spear a fundraiser for someone racking up medical bills.  Volunteer at a soup kitchen or have your kids make cards for children in the hospital.  The point is to do something.  Live that faith.  Others will see you doing those things and wonder why.

But it can’t stop there.  I think a lot of us (myself included) tend to use the “witnessing by actions” as a cop out sometimes.  We figure just living a Christian life is enough of a witness.  If someone wants to ask us why we live the way we do, then great!  Ah, but how often has that happened to you?  No one has ever come up to me to say, “Gosh, wow.  I sense that there’s something different about you the way you live your life.  What’s your secret?”  Yes, actions do speak loudly, but they aren’t specific enough for the kind of witness we need to have.  Actions speak louder than words when you tell your kids not to steal but then they see you cheating on your taxes.  Those are the kind of actions that overrule whatever words you say.  Look with me at Romans 10:14, 17: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching?… So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”  People will not know what you believe only by how you act.  Paul says faith comes from hearing, not through observation.  Dear ones, it’s time to get out of our comfort zone.  Work up the courage to tell someone what you believe, to invite them to church with you, to ask if you can pray with them.  Does that thought scare you?  It scares me!  A lot.  So let me make a few humble suggestions.

Think back to my light analogy.  When does the closet light shine brightest?  When it’s darkest outside and in the house.  In the middle of the night when our eyes are adjusted to the dark and our pupils are dilated, any light at all blazes forth.  But if I turn on a closet light when other lights are on, it’s hardly even noticeable.  Those who most need to hear the Gospel message are those in deepest darkness.  Darkness of sin, despair, and hopelessness.  Those who are living in some sort of artificial light have no need for this Gospel  light.  Look at the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.  They thought they were walking in the light.  They had no need for Jesus’ message because they thought they had it all figured out.  I’m sure you know people like that.  Pray that God humbles them and gives them a reason to need the light.  But the people who most desperately need to hear about Jesus are those broken and in despair.  The friend who just lost a family member, the neighbor whose son is in jail, the coworker who just learned his daughter is on drugs, the mom from story hour who just received a bad medical diagnosis- these are the people who need the light. Invite them for coffee or a meal and let them share what’s on their mind.  Then ask if you may share something personal with them: your faith.  They may tell you no.  That’s okay.  You’ve opened the door a crack and they can glimpse the light.  It’s not up to us to convince anyone.  That’s the Holy Spirit’s work.  We are merely the instruments, always ready to share “the reason for the hope that is in you,” as Peter says in 1 Peter 3:15, and we do so “with gentleness and respect.”  Don’t worry that you may not have all the answers or that you aren’t eloquent enough.  Hey, if God could use stuttering Moses, He can sure use you.

My other suggestion is to practice talking about your faith.  Practice makes perfect, after all.  One of the best ways I’ve found to do this is by talking to kids.  If you don’t have children yourself, consider teaching Sunday School or VBS, or talk about Jesus with nieces and nephews or godchildren.  Kids are so open and understanding.  They won’t mock you or slam the door in your face or laugh if you get your words mixed up.  Practice telling them about our sin and God’s love for us by sending Jesus.  Tell them these basic truths over and over again.  Make sure they know the story backward and forward, because they reflect God’s light too.  Equip them to share their own faith with others even as you practice sharing your faith.  It’s a win/win situation.  Let your kids ask you questions about the Bible.  If you don’t know they won’t judge you, and you get a chance to look up the answers or talk to a pastor, and you grow in your own understanding as well.

So now what, dear Christian?  How will you reflect God’s light to those He puts in your path today?  The devil will tempt you with all his might to be a closet Christian.  He wants the light to stay shut up tightly because he is the prince of darkness.  But take heart.  Jesus has already defeated him.  Jesus will empower you to shine your light, because really, that light is His light.  Don’t be afraid.  Open that closet door and let His light pour out for all to see.

photo is Through the Crack by Andy King
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