Sunday, October 13, 2013
Pastor Joe Wittwer
ILL: Sometimes, Laina goes to bed before me, and I have to find my way in the bedroom in the dark. I’ve tripped over the dog. Then I discovered this: my phone has a flashlight. (Turn out the house lights and I’ll shine my phone.) This little beauty is a life-saver! It is small, but it sure stands out in the darkness. If you’ve got your phone handy, turn on your light—we’ll wait a moment. Look around. You are the light of the world! (Lights back up.)
You are the light of the world. You may feel pretty ordinary and small, but Jesus says that you are the light of the world. Individually, you make a difference. Together, we can change the world! Today, we’re going to see how that works.
Introduction and offering:
Don’t you love that? I love seeing our students following Jesus and making a difference. Kudos to Jeremy, Brighton and Courtney—and to our whole student ministries team! You’re making a difference!
What difference has Jesus made in your life? And how are you making a difference in the world? Those are the questions we are considering in this five-week series, “Difference.” My premise is that Jesus changes us. And in turn, we become change agents in a broken world.
ILL: Friday night, we hosted Life Services annual fundraiser here at Life Center. Bestselling author Eric Metaxas was the speaker, and Susan Meyer was the MC. Susan is a very successful businesswoman in our community. She told her story—a teenage pregnancy ended by abortion; another pregnancy soon after that she carried to term and had a daughter; doing pro-choice work for Planned Parenthood; meeting Jesus and being changed. Now she makes a difference in the lives of young women facing a crisis pregnancy like she did; through Life Services, she gives them the option of life—life for their unborn child, and a new life for them.
Jesus changes us and then we become agents of change in a broken world. Here is how Jesus said it:
Matthew 5:13–16 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.”
14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
Jesus says this to his band of followers—a group of people who were for the most part young, uneducated, poor and powerless. He tells them, “You are the salt of the earth, and the light of the world.” They had none of the characteristics usually associated with world-changers! They weren’t rich or famous or powerful. But Jesus called them the salt of the earth and the light of the world, and that’s what He calls you too! What does He mean?
In this amazing text, Jesus states a fact, gives a warning, and issues a challenge. You’ll see those on your outline. Here’s…
The Big Idea: Jesus calls you the salt of the earth and the light of the world—change agents! You are more influential than you know.
1. Fact: You are ordinary change agents.
“You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.”
Jesus uses the metaphors of salt and light to say that His followers are change agents. He states it as a fact. If you are a Christian, you are a change agent; you make a difference just like salt and light. He doesn’t say, “Try to become the salt of the earth or the light of the world,” or “you ought to be.” He says, “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.” You are a change agent; you make a difference.
But we don’t see ourselves as change-agents. In fact, we see ourselves as “ordinary”. How many of you feel pretty ordinary? I do! And that’s why I think Jesus chose salt and light—two very ordinary things that are very powerful change-agents. You may feel as ordinary as table salt. You may feel as unspectacular as a table lamp. But try living without salt and light for a while and you’ll see what an extraordinary difference these ordinary things make. The Romans had a proverb: “Nothing is more useful than sun and salt (Nil utilius sole et sale).” Very ordinary, but very useful.
Jesus could have said, “You are the nuclear bombs of the world.” Nuclear bombs are big and loud and when they go off, they change everything. But most of us don’t see ourselves that way. “I’m no nuclear bomb—I’m more like a fire-cracker…or a sparkler.”
Or Jesus could have said, “You are the stars of the world—you are the kings and queens, the presidents and prime ministers, the movers and shakers of the world.” We think of the Einsteins and Churchills and Lady Gaga—people of enormous intellect or power or…whatever—and we think, “I’m no star. I’m no Einstein, or Churchill, and I’m sure no Lady Gaga.”
So Jesus didn’t pick those kinds of extraordinary change-agents. He knew that we’d disqualify ourselves. He picked ordinary change-agents—salt and light—things that we use so often that we take them for granted, but you wouldn’t want to live without them. You are ordinary change-agents. You make a difference!
You are the salt of the earth! What does salt do? Salt seasons and preserves. In Jesus’ day, before the advent of refrigeration, salt was placed on meat to prevent decay, to preserve the meat. And of course, it was sprinkled on food to season, to enhance the flavor. Imagine popcorn without salt…boring! Or eggs without salt—repulsive! Eggs are repulsive anyway! Salt was used for other purposes, but its two primary uses were to season and preserve.
You are the salt of the earth. God wants you to be a seasoning influence on the world around you. You are to spice up life and make people thirsty for God. Jesus said that His followers are to the earth what salt is to food! You are the spice of life, baby! You bring God’s joyous presence with you wherever you go! You make life better!
And God wants you to be a preserving influence on the world around you. You and I are to live in such a way that we arrest the tide of moral decay in our culture. We are to have a preserving influence on people. God sprinkles you around the neighborhood to save others. You are the salt of the earth!
And you are the light of the world! What does light do? Light illuminates. Light makes it possible to see; light makes invisible things visible.
You are the light of the world. As the light of the world, you make the invisible God visible to those around you. You live in such a way that others can see God’s love and life through you, and are drawn to Him. Light illuminates. You are the light of the world!
Notice the scope: you are the salt of the earth, the light of the world. This is huge! You are going to help change the world! Some of you are checking out, just like those first followers of Jesus did. You’re thinking, “Oh this is just one of those pep talks—‘you can change the world’—but we’re all know the truth. We’re not world-changers.” But you are. How do you change the world? One person at a time. You influence one person who influences another who influences another who influences another. And one person at a time, we are changing the world.
ILL: How many of you know who Edward Kimball is?
In 1855, Edward Kimball was a Sunday school teacher in Chicago. He led a 19-year old shoe-clerk to Christ. The shoe-clerk eventually became a world-famous evangelist who led thousands of people to Christ. His name was Dwight L. Moody. Moody Bible Institute just down the street is named for him.
In 1879 Moody influenced the well-educated and cultured British theologian Frederick B. Meyer to change his preaching style and emphasis.
Later on a preaching trip to America, Meyer influenced a discouraged young preacher named Wilbur Chapman to become an effective evangelist.
As his work grew, he needed an assistant and hired a former baseball player with a high school education to help him. His name was Billy Sunday, and he eventually led more than a million people to Christ.
In 1924, while Sunday was preaching in Charlotte, North Carolina, a prayer group was formed, that later invited another evangelist by the name of Mordecai Hamm to preach.
It was while Hamm was preaching that a teenager named Billy Graham gave his life to Jesus. And Billy Graham has told more people about Jesus than anyone in history!
It all started with Edward Kimball, a Sunday school teacher who led a young man to Christ. (Of course, it really started before Edward Kimball—some unknown person led him to Christ.)
We can all be Edward Kimballs! You can influence one person who influences another and somewhere down the line it might be the next Billy Graham or Mother Teresa.
Fact: You are the salt of the earth, the light of the world—ordinary change agents. You make a difference—far more than you know!
2. Warning: You can lose your influence.
“If the salt loses it saltiness…don’t light a lamp and put it under a bowl.”
You can lose your influence. Salt can lose its saltiness. A light can be put under a bowl and hidden. You are influential, Jesus says, but don’t lose your influence.
ILL: A few years ago, a poll reported that 40% of Americans consider themselves to be born again Christians. They claim to have a transforming relationship with Jesus. This means that at least 40% of Americans would be salt and light. What would happen if you put 2/3 of a pound of salt on a one-pound steak? The salt would overwhelm the steak! It would be inedible! Salt is so powerful that a little goes a long way. So why aren’t the 40% of born-again Christians having that same kind of overwhelming influence on the other 60% of Americans?
Maybe it’s because influence can be lost. Jesus suggests two ways that influence can be lost…
Influence can be lost by compromise.
Salt is sodium chloride (a very stable chemical compound), and pure salt can’t lose its saltiness. It’s either salt or it’s not. But people in Jesus’ day got their salt from the Dead Sea and it wasn’t pure. The salt could leech out, leaving behind a white substance that still looked like salt but wasn’t salty. It was possible for this impure salt to lose its saltiness, and it became worthless and was thrown out. It was good for nothing.
The surest way to lose your influence is by compromise. When you compromise the core values that make you different, that make you who you are as a Christian, you lose your saltiness and sacrifice your influence. You all know stories of Christians who sacrificed their influence by compromise: pastors who had affairs, Christians who cheated for financial gain. When that happens, not only is their influence sacrificed, but God’s reputation takes a hit. If our good deeds can prompt people to praise God, our bad deeds can prompt them to mock Him! Our compromise can give others an excuse to dismiss God. Perhaps that is why Jesus said:
Luke 14:34–35 Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.
Notice that in Luke’s version of this saying, Jesus adds one interesting phrase: unsalty salt is “fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile.” You know you’re worthless when you’re not even fit for a manure pile. Jesus is saying, “You ruin manure!” That’s bad!
There are some of you today who have lost your saltiness—you’re sacrificing your influence through compromise. You’re compromising, making wrong choices, and you know they’re wrong. Please, don’t throw away your influence. Don’t lose your saltiness and become good for nothing! If 40% of Americans are born again, why aren’t we having an overwhelming influence on the other 60%? It could be because of compromise. Because we’re not that different. Because we’re more concerned about fitting in and being accepted than standing up and being counted.
Influence can be lost by isolation.
A second way influence can be lost is by isolation. Jesus said that a light can be hidden under a bowl and no one benefits. Salt can be kept in a salt shaker. Some Christians lose their influence because they compromise and aren’t different any more—they’ve become just like the world they are trying to change. But some Christians go the other way. They maintain the difference but they hide in the church. They keep their salt in the shaker, their light under a bowl. They have no influence because they have no contact with a needy world.
Did you know that many Christians have no significant relationships with non-Christians? All of their friends are other Christians. They know people who are aren’t Christians, but their contact is very limited or shallow. There’s really no chance for the salt to make anyone thirsty, or for the light to shine. It is possible to have a fortress mentality—to hide in the church, to see the world as a dangerous place, and the church as safe. But Jesus didn’t mean for the church to be a rest home for saints; it’s a rescue mission for sinners! Jesus didn’t mean for the church to be a fortress to keep the world out; He meant for the church to be a force that invades the world and changes it! Don’t lose your influence by isolation!
Let me ask you a question: if you think the world is a mess, whose fault is that? Here’s what John Stott says:
And when society does go bad, we Christians tend to throw up our hands in pious horror and reproach the non-Christian world; but should we not rather reproach ourselves? One can hardly blame unsalted meat for going bad. It cannot do anything else. The real question to ask is: where is the salt?
Where is the salt?
So Jesus says that you are influential, but influence can be lost: lost by compromise or isolation. Don’t lose your saltiness or keep it in the shaker; don’t hide your light under a bowl.
3. Challenge: Make the most of your influence.
“Let your light shine.”
Here’s the challenge: make the most of your influence. Let your light shine. Here are three ways that happens.
You make a difference by being different. The saltier you are, the more influence you have. The brighter your light, the more influence you have. So don’t be afraid to be different. Don’t be afraid to be stand out or swim against the current.
ILL: I mentioned that Eric Metaxas spoke here on Friday night. His book, Amazing Grace is about William Wilberforce, a Christian who led the fight against the slave trade in England. Wilberforce went against the current of his time, and he suffered for it. For decades, he spoke out against the slave trade and fought to abolish it. For this he was vilified and persecuted. But in the end, he won…and changed the world.
Eric Metaxas also wrote Bonhoeffer, a biography of the great German theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. When Germany was capitulating to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime, Bonhoeffer spoke out while most everyone else was cowering in fearful silence. He not only spoke out, but he acted—he was part of a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler—an action that he believed was both sinful and unavoidable. For this, he was imprisoned, and eventually executed. In the end, it cost him his life—but his influence goes on; in fact, he speaks more powerfully now than ever.
Those are two great examples of being different, standing out and making a difference. But many of you do it in quiet ways. I’m thinking of my neighbor, who goes here. A mutual friend of ours became a Christian because of my neighbor’s quiet but consistent example. “He’s different. He does life better than me. I want what he has.”
You may be the next Wilberforce or Bonhoeffer. Or not—most of us won’t be famous. But all of us can be like my neighbor—making a difference because you are different.
Want to make a difference? Be different. Let God change you and the change will ripple out.
To make the most of your influence you not only have to be different, but you have to be there. You have to be in contact with the people you hope to influence. When God changed the world, He became a man, Jesus, and lived among us. God came near. He was called “Immanuel” which means “God with us.” This is how God changes us: He comes near, He is with us. This is “the Immanuel principle”.
The Immanuel principle is very different from the fortress mentality. God didn’t stay safely ensconced in heaven, and we can’t stay in the church if we’re going to change the world. Jesus said in John 17 that we were to be in the world but not of the world. Different but there.
ILL: Eric Greitens, tells this story in his book, The Heart and the Fist.
When Eric was in Rwanda and Zaire working in the refugee camps from the genocide, he noticed that most of the volunteers (working for free) were Christians, like Karen. Sometimes they were culturally insensitive. For example, he listened to Karen preaching to the refugees. She told them that if they didn’t accept Jesus, they would go to hell. It was a law, like the law of gravity. She held up her Bible and dropped it to illustrate. Afterwards, Eric asked one of the refugees what he thought of Karen’s message. He liked it very much. Eric was shocked. What did she say that he liked? She said that when our burdens are too much for us and we drop them, God is there to help us. Eric suspects the translators might have cheated a little!
Even though these Christians were sometimes culturally insensitive, Eric had growing respect for them for one reason: they were there. They were saving lives and helping others on their own dime and time. They showed up.
I could tell stories all day about Christians who are there.
Charlie Greer who does church in a bar downtown—he’s there.
Marty and Julie McKinney of Truth Ministries on Sprague Avenue; they provides shelter for homeless men—they are there.
But there are hundreds of you here today who are there in other ways. You show up to:
Coaching youth sports.
Volunteering in our community.
Open your homes to someone in need.
Use your businesses to help those in need.
You’re there. You’re showing up. And you’re making a difference.
Get that salt out of the saltshaker! Get that light out in the open! Be there.
Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men so they will see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” You let your shine by doing good.
So here’s a question: what kind of good deeds would make people praise our Father in heaven? There are two words for “good” in Greek; one means good in quality; the other adds the idea of beauty. That is the word used here: doing something good and beautiful for God. What would those good or beautiful deeds be? It will probably be different for different people, but here are some pretty common ones: (give them a minute to list some)
Feeding the hungry;
helping the poor, the sick, the orphan and widow, the oppressed;
investing in children;
sharing your resources with the needy;
standing up for the weak and vulnerable;
doing small acts of kindness.
Let your light shine—do good!
It is interesting that when Peter was telling the story of Jesus to Cornelius, he summarized Jesus life in one verse.
Acts 10:38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
Jesus went around doing good and healing people…because God was with Him.
When you do good, people will see that God is with you. Let your light shine! Make a difference! Do good!
My Next Step: Do good for someone each day this week.