Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Salt + Light = Counter Cultural

I had the honor of preaching a sermon on being counter-cultural Christians this past Sunday at my church. Since the message goes right along with the blog, I thought I would post some of the sermon. Here are some excerpts on being salt and light:

I have been studying the Sermon on the Mount, which is what I'll be preaching from today. John R.W. Stott says this about it:
- “The Sermon on the Mount is probably the best-known part of the
teaching of Jesus, though arguably it is the least understood, and certainly it is the least obeyed….To my mind no two words sum up its intention better, or indicate more clearly its challenge to the modern world, than the expression ‘Christian counter-culture.’”

Look at what Jesus says the purpose of Christians is in the world in 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. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 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. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."

You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. What do these two statements mean? Jesus picked two items for His illustration that every household used back then and that every house today still uses. Salt and light.

Salt of the earth
Today we typically use salt for light seasoning to our food, and
to melt ice in our driveways. But in ancient times, as well as today, people also used salt to preserve food.
- In South Africa, they make a dried meat called ‘biltong’, which is cut and trimmed to a certain size, then rubbed well with coarse salt. If properly cured, it will keep indefinitely.

If we are the salt of the earth, we are what prevents it from decaying. The world, if left to its own, will decay and rot just like meat. But are we in fact preventing decay? If not, what are the main hinderances to our saltiness?

First, as Jesus says, the salt can lose its saltiness. This happens by combining the salt with other things. Salt is a substance that quickly dissolves in most liquids, and when mixed with food, is quickly spread out and the potency is greatly reduced. - Christians lose their saltiness by intermixing with the things of the world. When we adopt ideas and practices from the world and mix them with Christianity, we have a diluted Christianity. Therefore, our influence in the world is diminished. This relates back to one of my favorite sayings to live by, “As within, so without.” What we put inside ourselves is what will come out later. Whether you like it or not, every single thing that you do in public, in the workplace, within your family – directly influences people in one of two ways. Either towards or away from Christianity.

We need to be the salt IN the world, not amongst it. Salt cannot preserve meat from within it’s container. So Christians cannot preserve the world from within it’s churches.

“When society goes bad, we Christians tend to throw our hands up in pious horror and criticize the non-Christian world. But should we not criticize ourselves instead? One can hardly blame unsalted meat for going bad. It cannot do anything else. The real question should be, where is the salt?” – Dr. Lloyd

Light of the World
By saying that we are the light of the world, Jesus is implying that the world is an inherently dark place. We are the light in a dark world. Our light is our good works. We should let our good deeds, that is, the way we live our life, be seen by all. We should not hide the fact that we are Christians, or hide the way we choose to live our lives. The way we live our life, as viewed by non-Christians, is what gives our faith credibility. If we are not living Biblical lives, we will not look any different from the world, and therefore no one will recognize us as light.
Lighthouses line the shorelines of many coasts worldwide. The lighthouses are not typically needed in bright, clear conditions. They are needed at night, and in the fog, when it is so dark you can’t tell what is safe and what is dangerous in front of you. The lighthouse guides boats into safety amid total darkness. So our lives can guide others into safety from the influence of Satan and the world, as they watch us live out Christianity in front of them.

But so often we are tempted to hide our light. We keep quiet about being Christians. We go along with jokes or say nothing when people are sinning in our midst. We hide our light. But this the wrong thing to do because in darkness, people desire light. We want to be able to see something good among the darkness. The people in the world desperately desire to see something hopeful in this world, so if we hide our light, they are unable to see that hope in the dark.

We learn some fundamental lessons from these passages:
1. Christians are different from the world around them

2. We must accept (as Jesus instructed us) the responsibility that this
distinction puts on us. We need to take responsibility for some of the things being the way they are.

3. Neither salt nor light is a substitute for the other. The world needs both. We all have earthly jobs and responsibilities, but these have been given to us so that we can really do our heavenly jobs of being salt and light IN the world.

Counter-Cultural Christianity
When you are expecting something to be the same as it always is, and then you find that it is quite different, it tends to shock you a bit. Like when you pour a glass of milk and find out by tasting it that it has gone sour. You are used to it tasting one way, so when it all the sudden doesn’t, it shocks you. When we follow Jesus’ commands on how we are to live our lives, as indicated in the Sermon on the Mount, we are going to shock people. People are so used to seeing people live a certain way that when someone all of the sudden does something different, it can be shocking. It stands out.

Imagine how your coworkers would react if they saw your boss
reaming you for something that wasn’t your fault, and then after he was done, you went to coffee shop and bought him a latte and took it to him. They would think you were nuts!

We need to be applying Scripture to what we see and hear around us. This will allow us to view the world differently. When we see the world from Jesus’ point of view, we will be better able to discern what course of action to take. We attract the world by being different from it. The last thing non-Christians want to be a part of is more of the stuff that is ruining the world they live in. They don’t want to be a part of greed, pride, hate, lust, lying, and people who don’t care. Even though it’s the world they live in, they don’t want more of those influences around them. If the church is noticeably different than the world, then it will attract those in the world to it because it is different.

If there is a church that isn’t attracting very many non-Christians, then it is probably a church that is not very different from the world that those people already live in. That’s a tough thing to hear, but it’s true. If your church is not attracting non-Christians (and it certainly ought to be), then it is because what they see in your church is not a better option than what they already have.

If you want to figure out how to be counter-cultural, just take notice of the way the world is handling a situation, apply the Bible to it, and you will begin to see a different way to handle it, and it will be pretty obvious to you that it is an unpopular idea. Example – when something bad happens, the people in the world will hold grudges and blame people, and will build up hatred and a mind for vengeance upon anyone that has wronged them. The counter-cultural teaching from Jesus says, ‘love your enemies’, ‘blessed are the peacemakers’, and ‘judge not lest ye be judged’. These are not popular ideas with the world, in fact, they’re not even popular among Christians. I’ll prove it:
1. The VT shootings. Everyone immediately began to blame someone for this tragedy. It was VT’s fault, it was the court’s fault, it was the gun store’s fault, but it had to be somebody’s fault. The shooter was dead too, so they couldn’t exact their revenge on him, so they blamed everyone else. VT is retiring a jersey number this coming school year - #32. They have taken their revenge upon the shooter now by not retiring #33. I KNOW this is not going to win me any popularity points, but then again, I’m not hoping for any. Popularity points are cultural, and I’m called to live counter-culturally. As I react to this event, I am called to love my enemies, and to be a peacemaker. I have prayed for the shooter’s family, as I have prayed for the families of the victims. My sadness for every single person involved leads me towards sorrow, but not hatred and revenge. There is no understanding of why it happened, and there is honestly no way for us to prevent bad things from happening in the future. Bad things happen, and every time they do we begin blaming everyone around us, meanwhile the true culprit, the prince of darkness sneaks away without ever being mentioned. What we are called to do is be salt and light in a dark and decaying world. We are called to be different, to stand out from the hatred and revenge that the world feels when these things happen. We are to react in love, and in mercy, and in meekness. How easy is this to do though? It is not easy at all.

We simply don’t have what it takes to live out a counter-cultural Christianity on a day to day basis. When we received our salvation, God didn’t make us superhumans. We are tempted, we are tried, we are discouraged, and we are broken by the things of this world, by our own corruptness. And when we are, we need to go to God. That’s the whole point – the relationship. We go to God to get our strength, we go to God to be renewed, we go to God for wisdom to know what to do. And when we do go do Him, we struggle well with life, and our city on a hill is seen by all passersby. But when we don’t go to Him, we struggle horribly with life, and our light is not seen.

Matthew 7:14But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a
few find it.”

I want to end with Romans 12:2 which says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
It’s not any clearer than that. We need to stop being like the world, and thereby losing our saltiness and hiding our light. We need to be transformed, by God’s holy Word. We need to constantly renew our mind with His ideas and His perspective, so that we can see what He wants us to be doing, and thereby preserve this world from decay, and be a lighthouse to the lost and guide them through the darkness to safety.

A.W. Tozer said, “It takes real faith to begin to live the life of heaven while still upon the earth, for this requires that we rise above the law of moral gravitation and bring to our everyday living the high wisdom of God. And since this wisdom is contrary to that of the world, conflict is bound to result. This, however; is a small price to pay for the inestimable privilege of following Christ.”

Always keep this in mind as a rule for making certain you are being counter-cultural, “It’s not about me.” The world says it’s about me. Christianity says, no it’s not. There are more important things to consider than myself.

We are to be Christ-like, and I’ve never heard of anyone more counter-cultural than He was. This world is a dark and decaying place. Will you be the salt and light it so desperately needs? Will you determine to be a counter-cultural Christian?

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