Because school resumes this week, I want to ask you a simple, but controversial question: Should a Christian teacher try to influence students for Christ? Is it appropriate for a public teacher to speak up and say, "I believe the Bible's account of creation." Or, "As a Christian I believe marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman." Should the teacher ever put a Bible on the desk or invite a student to church? Or should Christian teachers just keep their beliefs to themselves?
All of you should be asking that question about your sphere of influence. Is your faith in Christ a private matter, for church only, or does it impact your relationships at work and in the community? If you try to share your faith, what is the most effective way to do it?
Most non-Christians would say you should keep your faith to yourself. "Don't try to impose your values on me." "Keep religion out of the public arena", they say.
But listen to what Jesus said about the Christian's relationship to the world in the Sermon on the Mount. "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" (Matthew 5:13).
Salt has a number of uses. It adds taste to food, melts ice, creates thirst. But in the first century salt was used primarily as a preservative. Jesus' audience didn't have refrigeration — when they butchered or caught fish they packed the meat in salt to preserve it. You can still buy country hams that are salt-cured.
When Jesus said that you are the salt of the earth, He acknowledged that decay is inevitable in a fallen world. Left alone, culture will always deteriorate, without Christ the world will putrefy. "Evil men will go from bad to worse," the Bible says. Jesus was saying that your job is to preserve truth and conserve Godly values in society. You permeate the world and help maintain a wholesomeness in the culture.
Jesus said that if salt loses its saltiness it's no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and tromped on like sand in a path. Technically, Sodium Chloride cannot lose its saltiness, but the salt mined from the Dead Sea was so polluted with other minerals that it lost its preserving abilities. If a Christian becomes polluted by the sin and philosophy of the world we lose our preserving ability. Jesus was saying, "If there is nothing distinctive about you and you don't preserve God's truth, you've lost your value to me.
Becky Manley Pippert wrote a book that became a best-seller, Out of the Saltshaker. Her premise is that Christians aren't to remain comfortably in church and associate only with each other. Then we're of no value to the world. Salt permeates the meat to preserve it. Salt works quietly, often unnoticed. But it serves its primary purpose when it's out of the container. The church is most needed in the world, not in the church building.
A grade school teacher from this church refuses to be intimidated by the threats not to say anything about Jesus in the classroom, so every Christmas she asks her students what Christmas means to them. She encourages the answers and the students tell the entire Christmas story for her. She does the same at Easter. That's being salt in the world of education.
I went to my doctor the other day for an annual check up. The nurse took me to a private room and said, "Wait here; the doctor will be right with you." There I sat with nothing to do. There were several books on the table. I leafed through one about health and exercise that contained an unashamed Christian testimony. That doctor is being salt in the medical community.
There's a Christian man who is a leading official at the Louisville Zoo. When the gorilla exhibit was expanded not too long ago, some board members suggested the written explanation for the public should say that the apes are man's closest ancestors. But this Christian man spoke up and said, "Why don't we just emphasize the distinctive features of the gorilla. They are fascinating creatures with intriguing characteristics. Let's emphasize their uniqueness." If you go to the zoo today you'll not read about the evolution of the ape; you'll read about their distinctiveness. That's being the salt of the earth at the zoo!
If you're in public service, medicine, education, sales, media, you're to be the salt of that world. Most of the time you don't have to be argumentative. Do it in an attractive way that adds flavor and creates a thirst for God.
Jesus used another example to illustrate how we're to influence society. "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden" (Matthew 5:14). Light illuminates a potentially dangerous path and makes it safe. Christians are to be luminaries along the path to God. We are to be spotlights showing the way to salvation. Isaiah 49:6 says, "I will . . . make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth." That passage prophesied the work of the Messiah which has been passed along to us.
If I were to ask you, "How did you become a Christian," very few of you would say, "I sat down one day and read the Bible and concluded that it was true." Most of you would point to a person who showed you the way. "I had a teacher I really respected," or, "My mother was a good Christian example." Christian examples light the way to salvation.
Jesus said, "Your testimony should not be hidden." You don't light a lamp and put it under a huge popcorn bowl. You put that lamp on an elevated place so it gives as much light as possible." "In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).
A couple of weeks ago Louisville hosted the annual Hot Rod show. Ten thousand mostly brightly colored, distinctive hot rods permeated our city. No matter where you went in Jefferson County, those unusual cars reminded you that there were ten thousand guests in town. It was most noticeable not when they were gathered at the fairgrounds, but when they were dispersed in the community. Think of it this way: there are twice that many people who are members of this church. Southeast people are everywhere. If we would just set a Christ-like example we could illuminate the entire city spiritually.
Ephesians 5:8 says, "For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light." Some Christian people misinterpret this and conclude, "This means I don't ever have to say anything about Christ; I'll let my light shine by my good example." The example does come first. You have to win respect before you have the right to be heard.
But there are two essentials to letting your light shine. One is the positive example, the other is the verbal witness. Both are needed or God doesn't get the glory — you do. For example, here's a Christian schoolteacher who goes out of her way to be kind and patient with her students. She stays after school to help. She drives a student home. She writes notes of encouragement. She is beloved. But if, during the course of a year, she never says anything about her faith in Christ, at the end of the year when the students say, "Thank you, for a wonderful class," they go away giving glory to her rather than to God. They praise her as a wonderful person. That's the very thing we're not to do.
Jesus said, "If you give a cup of cold water, you will receive your reward." No, He said, "If you give a cup of cold water in my name, you'll receive your reward." The name of Christ is to be brought in.
So somewhere along the line when the student says, "Thank you, Teacher, for being so helpful to me," the teacher needs to say, "I did that because the Lord is patient with me." Or, "I did that because I'm a Christian." Or "I did that because you're going straight to hell if you don't change!" — something real tactful like that!
How can we be salt and light most effectively? Last week we began our study of the Sermon on the Mount by looking at the first four beatitudes that deal with our relationship with God. The next four beatitudes focus on our relationship with people. They suggest practical ways that we can help preserve the truth. Here's how you can most tactfully "declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." One of the best ways to influence the world for Christ is to show mercy to the hurting. Many unbelievers reject our message as being irrelevant and they accuse Christians as being hypocrites. But there's one virtue that impresses everyone in the world: deeds of mercy to those who are hurting.
Jesus told a parable about a man who was mugged and left for dead along the Jericho highway. Two seminary professors came by, saw his condition, and passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, a man of despised race, came by and had mercy on him. He bandaged his wounds, took him to a nearby hotel and paid for all his medical expenses. Jesus asked the crowd, "Who did the right thing?" Everyone in the audience agreed — the one who showed compassion on him.
Even the most cynical skeptic instinctively knows mercy is good. Even the most liberal, postmodern mind appreciates the rightness of helping someone in need.
Marques Maybin, a former University of Louisville basketball player, was injured in a motorcycle accident and left paralyzed from the waist down. Even sadder is the fact that he was between jobs and had no insurance. A fund was set up to assist him and money has started pouring in, even from people who didn't know him. One hospital volunteered to treat him for free. It's instinctive within man's heart to help those who hurt.
One way to influence the world is just by consistently treating people with the love and compassion of Jesus Christ. Rick Atchley preached for us several weeks ago about "Getting Out of the Boat." He's the minister of the Richland Hills Church of Christ in Ft. Worth, Texas. That church has a food pantry that serves a thousand people a month. At Christmas they give away free toys to hundreds. People line up the night before and sleep outside the church building. Rick takes strong stands on Biblical and social issues. But if you ask anyone in a six mile radius about that church they'll say, "Oh, that's the church that helps people."
Jesus said, "By this shall they know that you are my disciples that you have love one for another." It ought to be second nature for individual Christians to be merciful because we have received so much mercy. Ephesians 4:32 reads, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."
You've seen those Gatorade commercials where everything is in black and white except the beverage? An exhausted athlete drinks Gatorade and then sweats purple or green sweat. (It sure makes me want to drink it!) We ought to drink so deeply of God's grace and mercy that mercy and compassion just flow out of our pores.
First John 3:17 says: "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?" Do you know someone who is struggling financially? Be merciful; use your money to help those who are in need.
Do you know someone who has a special needs child? Volunteer to baby sit once in a while. Give those parents a certificate at a restaurant so they can get away from their responsibility and enjoy a night out.
Do you know a person who has severe health problems? Send them a card and say, "I'm praying for you today."
Do you know someone who is having marriage trouble or difficulty with a teenager? Give them a phone call and tell them you're praying for them.
Is there someone who has wronged you? Don't demand justice-you be merciful, forgive them and be kind to them.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy." One of the tangible ways you will receive mercy is that the unbeliever will be more receptive to your message.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." To be pure in heart means to have pure thoughts and genuine motives. There is a consistency between your beliefs and behavior. A person who is pure in heart is sincere and authentic.
When Jesus met Nathaniel He said there was nothing false about him. It's a great compliment for someone to say, "There's not a phony bone in his body." People can't say that about most Christians.
Popular speaker and teen analyst, Josh McDowell, recently (2004) released disturbing statistics that indicate accepting Christ makes little to no difference in young people's attitude and behavior. Seventy four percent of our Christian kids say they cheat on school tests; 83% say they lie to their teachers; 93% lie to their parents; and 63% say they become physically violent toward others when angered. These actions represent no more than a 4% difference from the behaviors of those who profess no Christianity at all."
Teenagers, it doesn't matter how much you talk about your faith, how often you invite others to church, or if you wear a Christian logo on your clothes, when others see that kind of inconsistency and impurity, your salt has lost its saltiness; your light is out.
I've heard that some who wait tables in local restaurants hate to work Sundays. You know why? They don't want to wait on the church crowd. They say church people are rude, demanding, occupy tables for a long time, and leave miserly tips. Don't bother to invite them to church, your actions speak more loudly than words. Your light is snuffed out. The world sees you as a hypocrite because your example is insensitive and tightfisted.
On the other hand the world respects people who are genuine and pure in heart. They'll say, "She's for real." "He has a good heart." People can usually tell. They know if you really believe or you're playing a role.
There was an article in the paper recently about Kenny Perry, the professional golfer. It spoke of his recent success on tour and then read, "But don't think it changed Perry. There might not be a more genuine good guy on the tour.
This is a man who has lived in the same house for the past 15 years in Franklin, Kentucky (population 8000). This is a man who, because there wasn't a decent public golf course in Franklin, took out a 2.5 million dollar loan and built Country Creek, a 6500 yard layout that Perry hopes always will remain modestly priced. This is a man who borrowed $5000 from an elder in his church to give Qualifying School one last go in 1985, with the understanding that if he made the tour, he'd pay back the money with interest. The result was a scholarship fund at David Lipscomb University, a Church of Christ school in Nashville. Perry has donated more than $550,000, helping 13 students go to college thanks to his generosity and ability to hit a golf ball.
The name of that scholarship isn't the Kenny Perry Fund. It's the Simpson County Scholarship fund. "I didn't want my name on it," he said. "It's for the kids."
Do you want to be the salt of the earth? Just be for real. Be pure in heart. Be consistent in what you say, and be humble in how you live. Maybe your impact won't be as significant as Kenny Perry, but you'll make a contribution, and you'll help to illuminate the way to Jesus Christ. "Blessed are the pure in heart, they shall see God," and others will see God through them.
"Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called the children of God." A peacemaker brings reconciliation between two parties at odds with one another. Jesus is the Prince of Peace so the ultimate peacemaker is one who helps make peace between others and God by bringing them to Christ.
Sometimes you make peace by stepping in where there is conflict between two people and enabling reconciliation. Do you recall when David and his angry warriors were galloping toward the home of the rancher, Nabal, armed for battle? Nabal had arrogantly refused to pay David's men what was due them. Nabal's wife, Abigail, sized up the coming bloodshed and took action. She prepared a catered meal for David and his men, rode out to meet them, fed them, apologized for her husband's insolence, and pleaded for forgiveness. She defused the hostility and war was averted. David said, "May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day" (1 Samuel 25:33). Abigail was a peacemaker. She was perceptive to the problem. She sacrificed her pride and energy to avoid conflict and she facilitated reconciliation. David was so impressed that when Nabal died several days later, he asked Abigail to marry him.
Sometimes you make peace by avoiding a potential conflict with someone else. Someone insults you, cheats you, or mistreats your child and your first instinct is to get even. But a peacemaker absorbs the hurt and sacrifices self to maintain a positive relationship.
Some of you are peacemakers and it seems no one knows it but you and God. Your marriage is lasting or your relationship with your grown children is harmonious because you've swallowed slights and insults for years. You wisely decide it's not worth the hassle. Your mate doesn't perceive it and your kids don't have a clue. But you're in a permanent, loving relationship today because you've been a peacemaker. You're not a wimp; you're a smart peacemaker. Congratulations! God knows all about what you have done.
Actually, in time, other people see it too. They'll say, "She's a saint living with him all those years." Or, "He's got a straight shot to heaven, putting up with her for 50 years."
I overheard a preacher complain about getting cheated out of a few dollars at a restaurant. He said, "I gave the clerk a piece of my mind. I wasn't about to let her get by with that. I demanded to see the manager. The manager came and returned my money, chewed her out." He said it like he was proud of himself. He has his $10.00. But I'll guarantee you he's lost his right to invite her to church to hear him preach.
Peacemaking doesn't mean you always let people run over you. You have to stand up for what's right for others. Jesus said sometimes He came to bring a sword, not peace. But I think it would have been so much better if the preacher would have gently called attention to the mistake and if the clerk didn't acknowledge it, he could have absorbed the loss and said "That's okay. Your friendship is more important to me than $10. Don't worry about it." Sometimes you can be a peacemaker by just absorbing the loss. In the course of time the world senses that spirit and is impressed.
"Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called the children of God." It's not just God who says, "That's one of my children." The world takes note of the peacemaker and says, "That's my idea of what a Christian should be. That person bears resemblance to God."
"Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." To be honest, sometimes we suffer — not because we're righteous — but because we're obnoxious or dishonest ourselves. I remember a television evangelist claiming he was being persecuted because the Security and Exchange commission was investigating his practice of selling bonds that were not legal. He wasn't being persecuted; he was receiving justice.
Jesus said, "Blessed are you when you are persecuted because of righteousness. Blessed are you when you are accused falsely, when people say all kinds of evil against you because of me."
Sometimes when you're merciful, pure, and peaceful, your standards tend to incriminate others and they will attack you. Jesus was perfect yet the world crucified Him. If we seek to follow Him we must anticipate some opposition.
Pat Robertson was called insane last week by a late night talk show host because Robertson said homosexuality was a sin. When Franklin Graham labeled Islam a false religion he was called a hatemonger and bigot in the press. Alabama Supreme Court justice Roy Moore was labeled unfit for the bench, sued by the ACLU, and threatened with fines because he posted the Ten Commandments in the state judicial building. Sometimes when you try to be salt and light, you can be the victim of intense opposition.
But Jesus said, "If you are persecuted, don't whine, holler "foul," and threaten to sue for every dime. Rejoice and be glad for three reasons:
First, you're in good company — that's the way God's prophets were treated. Secondly, your reward in heaven will be greater. Thirdly, when the world sees us respond with joy instead of anger, they will be attracted to Jesus Christ."
Paul and Silas were arrested in Philippi, beaten by the jailer, and placed in stocks in a damp, inner dungeon. Instead of complaining to the jailer about their abuse, the Bible says, "Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises to God." And the prisoners heard them. They'd heard all kinds of profanity from the inner dungeon, but never singing and praising.
Then an earthquake shook the entire prison and everyone was freed. The jailer prepared to commit suicide because he was responsible for them. But Paul called out, "Don't harm yourself, we're all here! The jailer called out, "What must I do to be saved?"
Why was he so receptive to the gospel? Why did he listen to Paul's instruction and be baptized the same night? Because when Paul and Silas were persecuted, they rejoiced and praised God.
Almost a year ago a Christian man called me and said, "Did you go to the U of L vs. Cincinnati football game?" "Yes I did." A friend of mine met you there and sat near you and he said he was really disappointed in you because you used the 'F' word all night long. I was stunned. (I did remember saying, "Fumble!" once.) I said, "Well, I'm a very imperfect Christian. I've said things I shouldn't say. But I've never used that word. Would you have that person call me?" He never did.
I wondered, "How in the world did that guy come to that conclusion? Did he overhear someone else and think it was me? That was highly unlikely because a strange thing happens anymore when I go to a game, the language around me gets real clean. Since this church is pretty high profile, I hear very little profanity at ball games anymore. It's remarkable. So I don't think he overheard anyone in our section use that word repeatedly. Either he had a bad case of mistaken identity or he maliciously made it up to demean my character.
When I was falsely accused, I didn't rejoice over that; I was really offended. My first reaction is to defend myself — retaliate. You see, I'm not as strong as Paul and Silas. I have even further to go to be like Jesus, who, when falsely accused, didn't retaliate, and who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame. No wonder when the centurion saw the demeanor of Jesus when persecuted said, "This man is the Son of God!"
I would challenge you to make an effort not to get defensive or sarcastic when ridiculed or mistreated. If you're not invited to the get-together because you don't party hard enough, don't mope because you're unpopular — rejoice and be glad.
If you're criticized as intolerant and ignorant because you stand for biblical truth, don't be wounded in ego, don't seek to retaliate with sarcasm — rejoice and be glad.
If you lose a bid in business because your estimates are honest and you don't play deceptive games, don't bemoan the fact that others are richer — rejoice and be glad.
If you're single partly because you have kept high moral standards and others who have played loose are married, don't be resentful. God knows your heart — rejoice and be glad.
The Message paraphrases this section: "Count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens — give a cheer even! — for though they don't like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble."
There is one arena more important than school and business and church where we are to guard our example, and that is our home. Parents, you are the salt of the earth to your children. Older siblings, you are the light of the world to your brothers and sisters who look up to you. It's so important that you be salt and light to your family and influence future generations by your consistent example at home — the toughest arena of all.
I want to show you a picture of a Sunday School class from 1940. This is a class of about 30 people in Meadville, Pennsylvania, a small County Seat town in a remote part of the state. What difference in people's lives could these unimpressive, ordinary people make? In this picture there is only one college graduate, that's the preacher standing in the last row on the right: D.P. Schaffer. But let me tell you about some of these people.
The lady third from the left on the front row is Sue Anderson. She and her husband, Homer, on the far right on the front row, had a daughter, Donna, who is now active in Team Expansion and assists in sending missionaries all over the world. Her son, Tim Cole, is in charge of new church planting in the state of Virginia. Her daughter, Amy, and her husband are preparing to leave soon to serve as missionaries in Southeast Asia.
The man at the far right is Stanley Buttray. He and his wife, Mable, my cousin, decided shortly after this picture was taken to go to Bible College and study for the mission field. They spent three decades as missionaries to Japan.
In the second row are Edgar and Eva Pressey, very unimpressive, very unglamorous people. Their son, Arnold, became a preacher and ministers in North Carolina. Eva had a sister who had a baby out of wedlock. Eva raised the child at much inconvenience. That grand-niece had a son who now is a deacon and influential leader in his community — largely because Eva showed mercy.
In the back row is Mr. Ward. He had a granddaughter who became a missionary to Alaska for many years. His grandson became a preacher in Ohio.
In the middle of the front row are my mother and dad, holding my sister, Rosanne, who is an effective Bible teacher today. Someone pointed out that my parents are the only ones smiling in the entire picture. Maybe that's because they hadn't had me yet! They went on to have two sons who entered ministry, my brother, John, and me, and three other daughters, two of whom married ministers, the other married a banker who is an elder in his church and a trustee of Cincinnati Bible College. There are numerous grandchildren in ministry and active in churches.
The minister, D.P. Schaffer, had a son, Raymond, who became a two-term governor of the state of Pennsylvania and ran for President of the United States.
I've shown people this picture and they've said, "Wow, that's a church that was on fire." No, it really wasn't. It grew very little. It had its problems, but there were some individuals in that church who were really serious about their faith. They consistently set the example of mercy, purity, peace, and joy in their homes. Because they were the salt of the earth, young people caught on and have made a positive difference in the world for Jesus Christ.
When someone looks at your picture 60 years from now, I wonder what they'll be saying about you. Be distinctive in word and deed and be the salt of the earth, the light of the world. For, " . . . you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:9).