A “rustler’s moon.” That’s what cowboys used to call a quarter moon. It was bright enough that a rustler could see to carry out his cattle filching, but it was not so bright as to spotlight his thievery.
But here’s a fact likely lost on all but your most astronomically-gifted cattle rustlers: be it quarter moon, half moon, 13/16 moon, or blue moon, not a single photon of the “light of the silvery moon” is its own; every ray is actually the light of the blazing sun.
I think a valuable lesson lurks in the moonlight. Christ has called his disciples to be light in a dark world, but not a spark of it is ours; it is all reflected from the Son. If it is his, what business do we have being haughty about shining?
Some of the prevalent ideas about holiness are not all that shiny. The biggest mistake is humanity’s favorite folly: we focus on us and not on God. We like to “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps,” light our own sparklers. We stand before his much-more-than-nuclear “consuming fire” proud as Punch of the firefly “holiness” we’ve caught in our own little paper bag.
Focusing on ourselves, we tend to be more sanctimonious than sanctified, sewing scarlet letters on sinners while harboring far worse sins in our own souls.
Focusing on ourselves, we focus on externals. Remember Jesus making fun of scrupulous Pharisees washing the outside of their dishes but leaving last week’s dinner to mold inside?
Real holiness is not focused on self at all. It is not sterile, not colorless, not short on blood and long on hypocrisy. It is most certainly not joyless. It overflows with the very life and joy of God.
Genuine holiness is not all about being knotted up by the “nots”: “touch not, taste not, handle not” (Colossians 2). When I make holiness something about my light rather than God’s, one more tribute to my hard work, willpower, and fine character, just one more sticky note stuck on the mirror—“Be holy” right alongside “Don’t forget to floss”—I create a sad caricature of the real thing.
Instead of becoming more like God, I become a pretentiously pious, persnickety, pain in the tail section, “evaluating” everyone else’s holiness by the twisted knots in my own self-focused tale rather than living joyfully into the wonderful story of the God whose light I was created to reflect.
I’ve long quoted the Apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians 2, reminding us that salvation is the gift of God, by grace through faith, “so that no one can boast.” I’m to live as a person who is both saved and being saved. Why? Because I’m God’s, and God is at work in me.
What I’d not so much noticed were the same apostle’s words at the end of First Corinthians 1, reminding us that God’s gifts to us through Christ are righteousness, redemption, and . . . holiness. And then he admonishes, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” I’m to live as a person who is both holy and being made holy. Why? Because I’m God’s, and God is at work in me.
Real holiness is not centered on me; it is centered on Whose I am. Any light in my life is God’s, not mine.
Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at