An ageing, white-haired saint, stooped and slightly trembling, listened as his accusers challenged him to worship Caesar and deny his God. The old man gave this reply, ‘Eighty-six years have I served him, and he has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my king who saved me?’ He then prepared himself to die for this king he so loved. Thus ended the life of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna in A. D. 155 in a Roman arena. He was one of God’s stars.
Picture a twenty-one- year-old man boarding a boat for a land he had never seen, but only dreamt about. Nothing would stop Hudson Taylor, not even the deep love for a woman who could not share his missionary call. He was going to be a star for God in China.
Imagine the scene, a river beach in the steamy jungles of Ecuador. Five young men having left potentially lucrative careers to bring the gospel to others wait, eager to make contact with a shadowy tribe. They are unaware of what will happen to them. Five stars in the darkness. Finally, each one gives up his life, martyred with a savage spear. The sacrifice was not in vain and eventually led to the conversion of many.
The diminutive figure of Gladys Aylward could be seen leading a ragged band of children across hills of war-torn China. Small in stature but large in faith she stood out, a star shining against the night of China’s sin, poverty and hopelessness.
They never thought they would see him again, their beloved pastor Wurmbrand. He refused to submit his faith to the authorities, even on pain of death, tortured and left to languish in dismal dungeons. Yet he made the prison a parish, and became God’s star even in the dark grip of Communism.
In the fourteenth century the Bible was a closed book to most Englishmen. They looked up like sheep unfed. One scholar longed to give his fellow countrymen the food they needed, a Bible they could read and understand. John Wycliffe laboured under precarious conditions and against great odds, but by God’s grace he achieved his goal. He is often referred to as the ‘Morning Star of the Reformation’.
A star today
Then there is Grace Najingo — who? Well, you don’t have to be dead or famous to be a star in God’s sight. Three years ago I read of Grace, who was then the only nurse in Bulga’s makeshift clinic on Lake Victoria. With just one year’s training she was the island’s medical centre. She is also a Christian and a star today in God’s sky.
The picture is drawn from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Having presented the glorious example of the Lord Jesus Christ as the believer’s role model, he goes on to encourage the Philippians to follow Christ. Among other things he reminds them that they must all shine like stars against the darkness of a ‘crooked and depraved generation’. Further, they are to ‘hold out the word of life’. Paul is echoing Christ’s own teaching from Matthew 5:13-16, to shine as lights, and reminding the believer that this is our great work.
Two things stand out from these words. Firstly, our lives should bear a striking difference to the world, as great a contrast as light and darkness.
This, surely, leaves no room for the prevailing philosophy of many Christians, which is to make themselves as similar as possible to their worldly friends. The argument runs that, if unbelievers see that we are not, after all, ‘so strange and different’, their minds will be set at ease and they will be willing to become Christians.
Apart from straining common sense, it flies in the face of Scriptures such as that cited above. Our essential ‘different-ness’ is the most powerful tool of evangelism that we have!
The jeweller will always present his precious stones against a black velvet background. A white or pale cream backcloth would never do. It is against the blackness that the jewels show their full lustre. We will best stand out in brilliance when our lives are in conformity to Jesus the Son of God — ‘blameless and pure, children of God without fault’. Are you different enough to be noticed?
The word of life
Secondly, we are not only to stand out but to hand out — the ‘word of life’. When Jesus asked his disciples if they were going to depart, along with the disaffected crowd, Peter answered with these words: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’ (John 6:68).
These very words of life are now entrusted to his disciples. All around us, men, women and children are rushing headlong into judgement and eternal death. Our task is to stand, reminding them that there is a God and declaring to them the precious gospel of life. Are we holding out the ‘words of life’?
Called to shine
To really appreciate a beautiful night sky, it should be cloudless and removed from all sources of artificial lighting. It also helps to be equipped with a good pair of binoculars. But even on the most obscure nights you will always see some stars.
So in our Christian experience, even in the most obscure days such as ours, there have always been the stars of the past to look back upon. Now imagine a totally black sky with no stars to shine. What will future generations have to look back on, if we do not do our part now?
We live in very dark days but must not indulge in self-pity, or simply dream of days gone by. We are God’s people at a most crucial turning-point, the turning of a new millennium. God calls us to shine like stars in the darkness — are we doing so?