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Sunday, November 05, 2006

lighthouse church

God wants us to be a "lighthouse church." Today I'm going to share with you what that means and why God wants us to be one!

You just heard several verses from Luke. The first was what the old priest, Simeon, said when Jesus was brought as a baby to the Temple. Simeon had prayed to God to be able to see God's promised Messiah before he died. Quoting the Hebrew scriptures, Simeon declared:

For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel. (Luke 2:30-32)

The disciple, John, also presents this truth about Jesus: he is the light of truth and life that God sent into the darkness of our world. Jesus was God revealing Himself - showing His face - to the world. Later, John quotes Jesus own claim about himself:

I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life. (John 8:12).

In Luke 8:16-18, Jesus makes the point that is our focus today:

Now no one after lighting a lamp covers it over with a container, or puts it under a bed; but he puts it on a lampstand, so that those who come in may see the light.

The purpose of the Church is to gather together to worship, proclaim, and hold up to the world Jesus Christ, the light of the world. We are not to keep him a secret or huddle together like we would around a warm campfire. With this light of Christ we are to be like a lampstand or a LIGHTHOUSE, shining brightly to everyone around us.

Philip - a "lighthouse Christian"

I'm just going to hit the highlights of our main scripture text today. I use it as an illustration of what it means to be a lampstand or lighthouse church. The church is you, Christians gathered together. So, in order to be a lighthouse church, we must be "lighthouse Christians." Philip was that kind of Christian!

Look in Acts 8, verse 26. The Lord prompted Philip to "get up and go." Philip could have stalled and procrastinated, whined and made excuses, but in verse 27 we read, "So he got up and went." Philip was obedient to the Lord!

There was an eunuch, a high official in the court of Queen Candace of Ethiopia, who had come to Jerusalem to worship. He was probably what was called a "God-fearer" - a Gentile who was interested in the God of Israel and who had come to the holy city. Not only had he come to Jerusalem to worship, he was reading the Hebrew Scriptures on his way back home. He was reading Isaiah the prophet. He was interested in God and the things of God, what today we might call a "seeker". When Philip caught up to him, he saw what he was doing and asked if he understood the Scripture. Philip got involved!

The man responded, "Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?" He invited Philip to come up into the chariot and sit with him. And Philip did just what the man asked - he explained the words of Isaiah and how they pointed to Jesus Christ - see verse 35? Philip "opened his mouth and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him." In the right place at the right time, through obedience to God and involvement with the man's search, Philip guided the man toward the truth of Jesus Christ.

Through his obedience, involvement, and active guidance, Philip showed himself to be a "lighthouse Christian" - one who shines with the light of Jesus and draws others towards that light and life.

What is a "Lighthouse Church"

What does it mean to be a lighthouse church? Well let's think for a moment about what a literal lighthouse does. It is a point of reference for ships in the water. By it's light it signals where land is; sometimes where danger is, and sometimes where safe harbor is. It is not just a passive point of reference, either, it can actively guide ships into their destination, bringing them in even during darkness or a storm. One of my favorite lighthouses is in Harbor Town on Hilton Head Island. Like many lighthouses, it is at the edge of the opening to the harbor, which serves as a refuge, one might even say a "sanctuary" for boats and ships. Even for those on the land, it is a known and recognizable landmark, and one that carries specific meaning and purpose.

So should the Church be! By being the gathering of Jesus-followers and those who live out and proclaim the truth of God's Word and Son, we are like the lamp on a lampstand and a lighthouse. We should not be hidden, but prominent and noticeable. We should be a landmark and a point of reference, even for those who are not members of our church. We serve not only as a point of reference in our neighborhood and community, but as a guide, ready to bring any who will come into the safe harbor of our sanctuary, to the arms of Christ.

Well, that all sounds like a handy and useful metaphor - an analogy to inspire us. But what does it mean? What should we be doing to be a lighthouse? How do we serve as a point of reference and guide to our neighbors and to one another?

Let me start with Philip and the characteristics he demonstrated: obedience, involvement, and guidance. If we are going to be the kind of church God wants us to be, we will have to obey His Word. We will have to get involved - not just with church and each other, but also with our neighbors and community. And we have to have something to offer! Philip was prepared to lead the eunuch through the scripture and point to Jesus.

What is the Condition of our Lighthouse?

I led our church staff and officers through this passage and a similar conversation about being a lighthouse church. The key question that we come to is "What is the condition of our lighthouse?" In these categories of obedience (availability), involvement (visibility), and preparation to guide others (utility), are we ready to do it? Are we doing it already?

I want to encourage you and affirm you that YES, we are functioning as a lighthouse church because many of you are lighthouse Christians! That has been one of the historic trademarks of Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church and the Good Shepherd family. Let me take those lighthouse characteristics in reverse and apply them to you.

As a whole, you are well equipped to share the good news of Jesus with others. We cherish God's Word and study it diligently. We gather here each week to hear, respond to, and lift up God's Word. We have Bible-focused Sunday school classes and three different adult Bible studies offered during the week each week. With adults and youth, we regularly train and practice how to "tell our story" (even if you don't realize that's what we're doing!). We all just spent a year going through every book of the Bible to understand God's "big picture" and saving grace. Even those of you who are new to Christianity dig in hard to learn the Bible and understand the riches of God's grace. Yes, each of us needs to continue this diligent study and preparation just as one needs to continue to exercise to stay in shape, but you are a well-trained group! You've got oil in your lamp; you've got the equipment to be lighthouse people and a lighthouse church.

The other two characteristics Philip demonstrated were obedience and involvement. Another way to describe these two traits might be as availability and visibility. Do we make ourselves available to God in obedience? What is our involvement level - our "visibility" to those who might be seeking guidance and the safe harbor of the gospel? I believe you are faithful in these areas - you earnestly desire to obey God's Word and you are off the charts in terms of welcoming visitors and making people feel at home here! At the same time, I believe this is an area where God is stretching us. Yes, we are incredibly warm towards those who find us, but are we willing to get involved with our church neighbors and "run alongside their chariot" in obedience to God?

We are beginning to look for new opportunities to run alongside the neighbors God has given us here. We have invited the Old Providence baseball league to use our field. We let neighborhood groups and piano teachers use our facilities. We are beginning to share some of our wonderful music and drama programs outside the walls of the church. Those same programs are also attracting folks from outside the church to act or so that children can sing with Lynda Shuler.

We've even recently trimmed up all the trees in the front of the church so people could see that there was a church here! Being a lighthouse church has all kinds of implications for how we go about doing church and being the church.

The officers and staff prayed, studied, and brainstormed some in August about how to become an even more effective lighthouse church. We are thinking of reaching out to the local police and fire fighters, to CATS commuters, to the group home, to the elementary school - to make folks aware of us and what is here - a landmark, lighthouse, point of reference and refuge for our community.

For all who wonder what God is doing in this part of Charlotte, I believe God's vision is that they will see Good Shepherd as a bright light shining with the light, life, and hope of Christ on this corner.

Postscript: Get Up/Get Out!

Today I focused on the nature and quality of our lighthouse ministry here at Good Shepherd. We talked about obedience, involvement, and preparedness to shine brightly for Jesus. The one characteristic of a lighthouse that doesn't quite fit in the analogy is that a lighthouse is fixed in one place - but we are mobile. Even Philip demonstrated this - God said, "Get up and go" and Philip "got up and went."

Today we've touched a little on what that means for our ministry. We can't just wait for folks to come to us, but must obediently get up and get involved with those God has put all around us. Some may be searching for sanctuary and safe harbor and you are the one God will use to bring them home. Others may never join our church or any church, but may come to know what God is doing here at Good Shepherd and through Good Shepherd. In each case, God is asking us to shine brightly with Jesus as His people and as His church.

Next week, as we bring our financial and spiritual commitments to the Lord, we will consider a second related vision for Good Shepherd - that we be and become a "searchlight church." Be praying about what that will mean for us in the coming year! Amen.

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