The Salt and Light of Flight

Series: Preacher: Date: July 16, 2017 Scripture Reference: Matthew 5:13-16

Twenty years ago, the king of the video rental industry was a company called Blockbuster. Back then, if your family craved a movie night, someone would get in the car and drive to one of Blockbuster’s 9,000 stores, stroll through rows of VHS-tape-lined shelves—and hand a membership card to a blue-clad employee. You had to drive back to that same location to return the video within 24 hours or face a late fee.

Well, not to long after Blockbuster reluctantly made the change to DVD’s, a company called NETFLIX was founded. The genius behind Netflix was their marketing strategy. You see, it was customer-oriented instead of store-oriented. The product came to you instead of the other way around. Do you remember how Netflix was at the beginning? You paid a small monthly fee and, depending on the plan you signed up for, NETFLIX would mail you as many DVD’s as you wanted to watch. The movies came right to your mailbox and there were no late fees! No driving involved! When you finished with a movie, you just put it in the handy mailer and sent it back.

Well, Netflix’s strategy worked—people liked the convenience—and it began to show—as Netflix began to eat into BLOCKBUSTER’S profits. About this time, the founder of NETFLIX, Reed Hastings went to meet with Blockbuster CEO John Antioco to propose a partnership. But Antioco wasn’t interested and Hastings was laughed out of the office. I mean, in spite of Netflix’s success with the customer-first model, Blockbuster stubbornly doubled down on its store-first model by offering popcorn, books, and toys in addition to DVD’s. And we all know who had the last laugh. In just ten years Netflix had grown to be number one. Today Blockbuster is busted. They declared bankruptcy long ago. And—Netflix has continued to thrive by becoming even more oriented toward the needs of its clients. Today, you don’t even have to go to the mailbox. Netflix movies and shows are streamed right to your wi-fi. In fact, Netflix is now the largest source of streaming Internet traffic in North America during peak hours, with over 20 million subscribers. Their customer-first instead of store-first marketing strategy has worked.

And—today more and more businesses are following suit. Roger Price and I were talking about this last Sunday and he pointed out that it won’t be long until there will be no physical stores for anything. With the help of AMAZON and other similar cyber-stores—everything will come to you.

I was attracted to the story of Netflix’s success because as Christians—we too are a business of sorts, in that we have a “product”—an eternity-changing message to convey to our “customers,” —and in our text for today Jesus gives us THE only “marketing strategy” that will work—the strategy we need to fulfill the Great Commission He has given us. In fact, I think the guys at “Netflix” must have been influenced by what Jesus says here. Take your Bibles and turn to Matthew 5 and you’ll see why I say this. Follow along as I read verses 13-16.

Matthew 5:13 – 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.

Now—if you have been keeping track of our study you might think that I have messed up in that we’ve skipped a few verses in the Beatitudes. Well, whereas my messing up is very possible—I didn’t do it today. No—this was intentional because Peggy and I agree this is a great text to look at on the day of her ordination service. I mean, the marketing strategy Jesus gives us here is something all Christians are to embrace—and as someone called or ordained for the ministry of equipping Christians for the full-time ministry we are all called to—well this text fits on a day like today. Next week we’ll go back and cover the verses we skipped.

Okay—before we go any further—let me underscore a foundational truth our Lord was conveying in this particular flight lesson.

I mean, Jesus was saying is that Christians who live out their faith—Christians who SOAR toward Christlikeness—are PRECIOUS.

And to fully comprehend this we need to remember the historical context in which Jesus said these words. This is important because in our day and age, salt and light are both taken for granted. In our minds, these things aren’t precious. They aren’t all that valuable. Our cupboards always have at least a couple canisters of salt.  Often, we have different varieties of salt to use in cooking and our tables and cupboards have several kinds of salt shakers handy. We have the standard ones that we use at daily meals, but we also collect various kinds and use them as decorations or for special occasions. Have you ever eaten at a place where each person had their own little salt and pepper shakers? Most of us probably even have a few of those little salt packets that we get at fast food restaurants in our purses or in the glove compartments of our cars. I mean, for us salt is everywhere. It’s no big deal. It’s probably the cheapest thing you can buy in the grocery store.

And light is no real big deal for us either. We have lights on our key rings and our children’s shoes and our cell phones. Without thinking about it we flip on switches as we enter a room or just leave them burning. I bet there are lights on at your house right now even though it’s daytime and no one is there!  Well, things were very different for these people sitting on that mountainside listening to our Lord that day. Back then, salt and light were not taken so lightly. No, these two things were very precious. They were greatly valued in that culture.

For example, salt was so highly esteemed that the Greeks thought it was divine. One of my commentaries said they worshiped a “salt god.” I wonder what their temples looked like? Did the columns resemble huge saltshakers?  And the Romans—well their soldiers were often paid in salt. Can you imagine that?  A centurion would march up to the table on the 15th and the 30th day of every month and the payroll officer would say, “Let’s see. Someone of your rank and pay grade gets—-oh yeah, it is right here—two Morton canisters and 1, 2, 3, 4 pinches. There you go don’t spend it all in one place.”  By the way, this is where the phrase, “not worth his salt” comes from.  It’s also the root for our word, “salary.” My point is that salt was precious back then. It was incredibly valuable.

And light was just as treasured because it wasn’t easy to have. It was a lot of trouble and expense to have even the feeble illumination of an oil lamp back then. These Jews that Jesus ministered to had to carry little clay dishes and oil and wicks along with flint to light these fragile “lamps” if they wanted to see at night. There were no light switches to turn on—no street lights to line the roads. After sunset, these people tended to stumble around in the dark—which meant a lot of stubbed toes because they wore sandals not shoes. To these people light was a precious luxury.

So, when Jesus used these two metaphors, the people would have understood Him to say that, in His opinion, genuinely devoted disciples were precious! Jesus was saying they were worth their weight in gold—or salt. And if you encounter someone who is serious about following Jesus, passionate about becoming more and more like him, committed to doing his will—remember that individual is priceless! In fact, take a moment and think about the most Jesus-like believers you know.  Several names pop in my head Marge Reynolds, Barbara Shields, Al Hillier, Dick McClain, Lloyd Linn, Frank Coffman, Cathie Burke, Buddy Young, and Faith Waziri—just to mention a few. I mean, I could go on and on. But—whatever names you are thinking of, wouldn’t you say those people are precious to you? Think of all the things God has taught you through their priceless example! Think of the ways they have made the lives of the people in their realm of influence better. Like our youth did this past week—they have changed their part of the world.

Okay, how do we follow their example? How can we do the same? What is this “strategy” that Jesus gives us here?

(1) The first thing He is saying is that we can’t change PEOPLE unless we KNOW people.

I mean, Jesus’ point here is that the Blockbuster marketing strategy won’t work. We will not be able to fulfill the great commission by focusing solely on getting lost people to come HERE. No—we have to go to them. We have to get to know them. We have to be more like Netflix. We have to be “customer-oriented” or “people-oriented”—not “store-oriented” or “church-oriented.”

Listen—the things that we do on this campus are primarily geared to equip you to go—not to equip you to bring. As I said earlier, that’s the ministry we are ordaining Peggy to this morning—the ministry of EQUIPPING others to go.

This is important because if we are to fulfill the great commission—to “sell” our product—to change the people in this world for the better—we have to go to them. We have to come into direct contact with them through authentic, genuine friendships.

And it would have been easy for the people on the mountainside that day to understand that principle as well. I mean, they knew that for salt to be a preservative it had to be rubbed into the meat. It did the meat no good if it stayed in the barrel.  And they also knew that light was only good when used in the darkness. In short, they would have understood that Jesus expected His followers to be involved in the real world. We need to do the same. Authentic disciples—world-changing disciples—don’t isolate or insulate themselves from society.  I stress this basic fact because sadly, that’s what many of us do. In fact, some of us separate our faith from life to the extent that we have absolutely no contact with non-Christians.  We have no impact on the lost people around us—because we don’t spend any time with them. We don’t know them. We don’t relate to them.

This week I came across a shocking study that was done by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity. Their study shows that one out of five non-Christians in North America do not personally know: a single follower of Christ.  That’s 13,447,000 people who don’t have a Christian friend or even acquaintance. The percentages get higher for certain religious groups. For example, 65 percent of Buddhists, 75 percent of Chinese people, 78 percent of Hindus, and 43 percent of Muslims in America—do not personally know a follower of Christ. This is astounding because statistics tell us that 71% of the people in this country are Christians. The only explanation for all these lost people not knowing a Christian is that Christians are either keeping their faith secret—or are avoiding non-believers like the plague. Listen—we can’t change this world until we go into it. They aren’t going to come to us. The Blockbuster mentality does not work.

In fact, simply inviting non-Christians into your home for a meal—can have a bigger impact than huge mission campaigns. To help people come to know Jesus—we have to come to know people who DON’T know Jesus. We should have friends who are Muslim, Buddhist, Mormon or just plain lost. We have to GO—we have to KNOW—non-Christians. We can’t hide in our Christian cliques. Deitrich Bonhoeffer put it this way, “A Christian who seeks to hide himself has ceased to follow Jesus.”

The other night Sue and I went down into Northwest DC to go to dinner with Becca. As we walked through the neighborhoods en route to the restaurant, I kept seeing these signs in lawns. Here’s what they looked like. As you can see they are in three languages and they say, “No matter where you’re from. We’re glad you’re our neighbor.” I like that sign!  We should embrace that mentality. We need to befriend lost people—whatever their story—wherever they are from.

Speaking of revealing, CONVICTING studies, there was one published in Scientific American magazine that says we each speak an average of 16,000 words per day. But this study showed we share those 16,000 words with a very small group of the same people over and over again. Although most of us converse with people every day, about 80 percent of our words are shared with a small group of about five trusted confidants, allies, and buddies. We only talk to—relate to—people in our inner circle—people who think like us, care about us, and believe in us. We can’t share Jesus with people unless we TALK to them. Do you remember Paul’s words from Romans 10?  Here’s my paraphrase: “How can lost people believe in the One of Whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone telling them?” Listen—we won’t meet this 30 30 30 challenge—much less the Great Commission—unless more of us start using more of our 16,000 words to talk to lost people.

We have to be more like our Lord, Who spent His days with non-religious people—we have to be like Him—a FRIEND of sinners. Remember, salt that stays on the shelf does no good at all. And light that is hidden is a waste. We need to be constantly thinking—how can I get to know more lost people? Global missions expert Paul Borthwick shared the following story: “A young man named Peter reminded me of a modern-day Philip. I stopped in to a McDonald’s in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I noticed Peter working the counter. I recognized him from our young adult ministry at church, and I knew he had just graduated from Harvard University with a master’s degree.  I greeted him and managed to get him to break free for coffee together. ‘What are you doing here?’ I asked, knowing that Harvard master’s degree students don’t usually aspire to work the counter at McDonald’s. ‘Well,’ he explained, ‘I graduated in May but I went four months without finding a job, so I said to myself, “I need some income to pay bills.” So, this is where I’ve ended up—at least for now.’ ‘Sorry to hear that. It must be hard,’ I replied—but Peter cut me off. He said, ‘No. Don’t be sorry. God has me here. This place is giving me awesome opportunities to share my faith.  I’m on a shift that includes a Buddhist guy from Sri Lanka, a Muslim fellow from Lebanon, a Hindu lady from India, and a fellow Christian from El Salvador. It’s awesome. I get to be a global missionary to my coworkers while asking “would you like fries with that?” He laughed and so did I.  Like Philip, Peter found himself in a setting he never would have chosen as part of his long-term plan—but his mindset of living as a sent person shaped the way he looked at his circumstances and at the people around him.”

Peter is going to where the people are!  He sees his job as a chance to be salt and light to lost people! He’s what I would call a “NETFLIX Christian!” We need more like him! This leads me to second aspect of this “marketing strategy.”

(2) We can’t CHANGE the world unless we are a PART of it.

You know, we all spend a lot of time complaining about how bad our culture has become. Well, I think Christians share a great deal of the blame. I mean, in the same way that we aren’t going to change people by expecting them to come here—we can’t change the world if we just STAY in here. Jesus is saying, “The world is like rotting meat and you are to be the world’s preserving salt. The world is like a dark night and you are to be the world’s light. Like salt in putrefying beef, as my followers you are to hinder social decay. Like light in the prevailing darkness, you are to illumine society and show it a better way.” Do you understand what Jesus is saying here? When we really make Him Lord He uses us to help halt decay in our society.  He emboldens us and empowers us to stand up and go against the flow and say, “that is wrong. People shouldn’t be allowed to behave like that.”  I’m saying, real Christian disciples get involved in their communities—in their PTAs, in the local government, standing up for Christian principles, encouraging the passage of Godly laws.  They don’t go with the flow so much that they become like the fallen world around them. They don’t let their “salt” lose its saltiness by being diluted by our culture. No—with the help of Jesus they stand up for their faith. They speak out for truth.

In the same way that salt extends the “best if used by” date on meat we are to be involved slowing the decline of our culture. And just as light guides us in the dark, we help people to see why right is always literally better than wrong. Ray Pritchard says, “We who follow Christ are to be a moral disinfectant stopping the spread of evil. We are to be the conscience of the community, speaking out for what is true and right.” And I would “amen” that statement! Christians make the world better. We are the ones who lead the fight against world hunger and disease. We are the ones who build homes for the homeless. We speak out for the dignity and value of all life—from the preborn to the aged. We speak out against hatred and racism. We go against the flow, slowing it down helping retard moral and spiritual spoilage in the world.

A peanuts cartoon once showed Peppermint Patty talking to Charlie Brown in which she said, “Guess what Chuck? The first day of school, and I got sent to the principal’s office. It was your fault, Chuck.” Charlie brown responds, “My fault? How could it be my fault? Why do you say everything is my fault?”  To which she declares, “You’re my friend, aren’t you, Chuck? You should have been a better influence on me.” 

While Peppermint Patty was trying to pass the buck, she was also speaking some truth. We should be a good influence on those around us. It’s our calling. It’s our job. In August of 2000, Matt Freidman, a reporter for the Jackson Mississippi Clarion-Ledger—shared the following testimony of his encounter with a Christian who understood this principle of spiritual SOARING.

“Several months ago I was on a TV show to discuss with other panel members recent problems plaguing the Jackson, Mississippi, community. The city council was in disarray because the council president and another councilman were headed off to jail.  The council president had been caught making shady deals with a strip club in relation to a re-zoning ordinance. The panel moderator, a news lady named Katrina Rankin, looked at me and asked, ‘Matt, whose fault is all of this?’ Suddenly, I became agitated. I was prepared to tell her in dramatic on-air fashion that we are a nation of laws and that the council president trampled on those laws. ‘If we were looking for a place to lay the blame, there was only one place to put it-smack dab in this lap as he sat in his well-deserved jail cell.’ That is what I was going to say. But I never got the words out. One of the panelists sitting next to me was a gentleman named John Perkins—author, teacher, community developer, and national evangelical leader. Before I could respond, Perkins answered, ‘It’s my fault.’ All heads turned his way and he elaborated. ‘I have lived in this community for decades as a Bible teacher. I should have been able to create an environment where what our council president did would have been unthinkable because of my efforts. You want someone to blame. I’ll take the blame. All of it.’”

Perkins knew that as someone who knew Jesus Christ personally—as a student of the Bible—this handbook for life that God has given us—as someone who knew the difference between right and wrong—he knew it was his job to speak up, his job to be a positive influence and so he honestly felt he had failed here failed to be a positive influence. We shouldn’t expect the UNGODLY to do GODLY things. That’s our job. Well, let me ask you: Is there something in your little world that needs a positive influence? Do you hate your work environment because it is so cut throat? Is your neighborhood a bad place to live for some reason? Are there hard feelings between your friends? Does your next-door neighbor seem to be unable to mow his lawn? Is there any “annoying needs” in your little world? You know what I’m getting at! Is there any “rotting flesh” around you?  Well stop complaining and do something about it, disciple! This is part of what it means to follow Jesus. This is what salt and light people do! We don’t avoid bad—we get involved because that is what it takes to make things better. I’ll point to one final principle of this marketing strategy and I’m done.

(3) We can’t DRAW people to Jesus unless they see us FOLLOWING Him.

I mean, we have to show by the way that we live—that our faith works, because when we do—it makes people want it as well. Just as salt makes people thirsty, just as light illuminates something else, maturing, genuine disciples who live out their faith point away from themselves and to Christ. I’m reminded of the story of the little boy who was sitting in church with his mother—and as he looked around at the beauty of the stained-glass curiosity finally got the best of him. He pointed at it and asked, “Who are all those people?”  His mother responded, “They are saints.” And then sensing this teaching moment, she asked her little son, “Do you know what saints are?”  He pondered for a moment and then responded, “They are people the light shines through.” Well, that’s a good answer because what saints—that’s what real disciples are like—-they are Christ-like-in that they let Jesus shine through them. They follow Jesus so closely that they literally let Him use their flesh in such a way that they kind of “disappear” and the people around them see Jesus instead.

When Jesus said, “let your light shine.” He didn’t tell us to hold it up and cry out. “Look at me. I’m a Christian. I am a good and wonderful person.  Don’t you wish you were more like me?”  No, He didn’t tell us to do that. A light does not call attention to itself. Rather it points the way through the darkness.

And, salt is another great illustration of this principle of discipleship, because one of its functions is to make something ELSE taste good.  I don’t know about you, but when I have eaten a piece of corn on the cob that I really like, I don’t put it down and say? “That was great salt!” No, I say, “That was great corn on the cob.” Whenever I eat steak fry that is perfectly spiced, I don’t say, “That was great salt.” No, I say, “That was a great French fry!” Because the job of the salt is not to make you think how great salt is, but how great the thing is with which its involved.

Well, do you do this? Does the way you live your life show others how GOOD Jesus is? Can they look at your discipleship and say, “That guy must know God. He must be a believer. I need to talk to him because I want what he has! I want to know God, too.” Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” when they ask you this question.

The city of Cairo has its own unique version of poverty called Garbage City. Each morning at dawn some seven thousand garbage collectors on horse-carts leave for Cairo, where they collect the garbage left behind by the city’s seven million citizens. After their day’s work, they return to Garbage City, bringing the trash back to their homes, sorting out what’s useful. In Muslim countries, there are certain religious restrictions on sifting through refuse, so the inhabitants of Garbage City are either nonreligious or from some Christian heritage. These are the poorest of the poor—outcasts among outcasts. In 1972, a young Egyptian businessman lost his wristwatch, valued at roughly $11,000. As you can imagine, it would have been unthinkable to have a valuable timepiece returned by a member of Garbage City. Yet an old garbage man dressed in rags, [found the man’s name on the watch] and returned it, saying, “My Christ told me to be honest until death.” Because of the garbage man’s act of obedience, the Egyptian businessman later told a reporter, “I didn’t know Christ at the time, but I told [the garbage man] that I saw Christ in him. I told [him], ‘Because of what you have done and your great example, I will worship the Christ you are worshiping.’ The [businessman], true to his word, studied the Bible, became a Christian, and grew in his faith. Soon he and his wife began ministering to Egypt’s physically and spiritually poor.  In 1978, he was ordained by the Coptic Orthodox Church and now leads [a church that meets] outside Garbage City


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