The Glass House

This is architect Philip Johnson’s famous Glass House. He built it for himself in 1949. The house’s transparency challenges every conventional idea we have about private homes. Who would want to live in a house like that? It might work in the woods, but can you imagine living in this house if it’s on a normal street with houses all around? For someone like myself, who only picks up the house when I know company is coming over, life in this house would be a nightmare. That house requires almost constant perfection. Any little spot of dirt, any pile of disorganized papers is visible to the whole world. I can’t think of anyone I know who would want to live in a house like that.

And yet when Jesus says, “let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven,” a life in that glass house is what many people imagine. They live in fear; looking over their shoulders like their every move is being watched and judged. They live as if their shining the light is dependent on what they do. And so they try to lead the best life they can in fear of not living up to the standard of perfection they believe is required.

A minister was out in his yard making repairs to his wooden fence. As he was pounding away, he noticed that a neighborhood kid was standing there watching him work. The kid didn’t say a word. He just stood there watching. The preacher wondered when he would lose interest and leave, but he didn’t. He just stood there. Finally, a little annoyed, the pastor paused and said, “Well, son, you trying to pick up some pointers on carpentry?” “No,” the boy replied, “I’m just waiting to hear what the preacher says when he hits his thumb with a hammer!”

Its true there are plenty of people out there, who once they find out you are a Christian, they will watch you like that little kid. Just waiting for you to step out of line. Ready to say with relief, “See, you’re no better than me.” That’s because some people think that Christians see themselves as better than others. And maybe, unfortunately, there is some truth to that. But the reality is, according to our sinful nature, we aren’t any better. We have the same struggles with sin that everyone else has. So what happens when you mess up; especially if you make your mistake in front of others where you have no hope of hiding or covering it up? Does that mean the walls of your glass house are shattered beyond repair? Does that mean that Jesus’ light no longer shines through you?

I don’t believe that. I believe that sometimes his light shines just as bright through our missteps. Because its there that people see the grace and forgiveness of God at work most clearly. When you’ve got everything put together and your house looks as beautiful as Philip Johnson’s Glass House, some people will think you are just putting on a show. That things couldn’t possibly be as good and spotless as they seem. But when your life isn’t going so great. When people see your mistakes and then they see you being forgiven or they watch you forgive someone else, then the most incredible thing happens. A change occurs. They don’t see a glass house anymore. They see a lighthouse.


Lighthouses, like that city on a hill Jesus spoke of, can’t be missed. They shine in the darkness. They signal both warning and welcome. They warn ships that rocks are near, and they give welcome to ships signaling that land is near and their voyage is almost over. When Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.” That is what he means. His light shines out in everything you do offering both warning and welcome. Warning of the dangers of not heeding the light, and welcoming those who have been lost in the night.

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your lights shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
– Jesus in Matthew 5:14-16


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