How to be salty light-filled people
How to be salty light-filled people
By Pastor Kevin Dotts
“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on a lamp-stand, and it shines on all who are in the house.”
Over the past six weeks I have been preaching a sermon series based upon Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as found in Matthew five and six. Several weeks ago I was teaching on Matthew 5:13-15 where Jesus stated that we “are the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” He indicated in the text that we are useless if we lose our saltiness or hide our light. I began to contemplate the practical uses of salt and light.
For many centuries salt was one of the most valuable commodities on earth. In fact, the Roman Empire built roads which were constructed entirely for the purpose of transporting salt into the city of Rome and to other important cities in the empire (Time, “A Brief History of Salt”). The word Salary is derived from a Latin word meaning the exchange of salt (HowSuffWorks.com, “How Salt Works,” Shanna Freeman). In the ancient world salt was not simply a spice that was used to add flavor, but also as a preservative. In a world without electricity or a readily available way to keep food for long periods of time the ancient world could pack meats and other foods in salt and the food would be preserved. My grandmother, who grew up in rural NW Ohio in the early part of the twentieth century told me that they preserved some of their meat by salting it and hanging it from the rafters or placing it in barrels. Of course, salt, as the text indicates, is used to add flavor or to bring out the flavor in food. A dish that does not have salt or enough salt in it can taste very bland, but when you add a bit of salt to a seemingly tasteless meal, the richness of the food is revealed and the true flavor of the dish is experienced. Salt preserves and enhances the meal.
One does not have to have a degree in science to know the value of light. Light is one of the fundament elements for life on earth. Without light we would have no plants and we would not exist. Light allows us to see the world around us and color is produced by the way light is reflected and then perceived by our eyes. Light gives us life and beauty. Light also reveals the hazards around us. Anyone who has ever stumbled through a pitch-dark room and stubbed their toe on an unperceived object while trying to reach the light switch can tell you how valuable light truly is.
So then Jesus says that we “are the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” Perhaps you sang the Sunday school song, “This Little Light of Mine,” which states, “I’m going to let it shine.” I cannot think of a comparable song about being salt, but that is not to say it does not exist. None the less, the point of the song is that we are to shine bright so that the world might be changed by our presence. I do not know about you, but sometimes when I think about being the salt of the world or the light of Jesus I am at a loss. Does that mean that I have to stannd
on a street corner and declare “the end is near, turn to Jesus,” or knock on doors asking people if “they know Jesus as their personal savior?” I’ll be honest, both of those scenarios make me cringe. I’ve experienced people doing those things and I am certainly not one to judge as to whether or not they are effective, but I cannot imagine doing them. So where does that leave me and how do I live out the call to be salt and light?
As I was thinking and praying on Jesus’ words from Matthew, my dad came to mind. My dad was not a preacher, at least not in the traditional sense. He was a contractor who owned a business. He loved nature and was an amateur geologist and was, in his heart, a farmer. Above all else he was a Spirit filled follower of Jesus. My earliest memories of my dad were of him sitting in the living room just before bedtime reading from the Bible. He was always a lover of people and was prone to striking up conversations that usually began by discussing the weather or crop prices, but always in some unfathomable way led to Jesus. His witness for Jesus seemed to come naturally to him, but it was in the last season of his life that I came to see what it means to be salt and light in the world.
When my dad was sixty-nine, after much prodding from my mother, he went to a doctor. For many months and probably longer than he let on he had been severely tired. He had always been a hard worker and had no plans to retire, but he was increasingly finding it difficult to perform the tasks associated with his job. After a lot of testing and a mis diagnosis a specialist finally discovered that my dad had a rare disease that caused the bone marrow to become hard which led to his bodies inability to produce red blood cells. Without red blood cells the oxygen brought into his lungs could not then be carried to the rest of his body. His body was being suffocated. The prognosis was not good and he began to have blood transfusions every few months. As the disease progressed the transfusions had to occur every month then every few weeks until the doctor called to tell us that the transfusions were no longer effective. He eventually went on hospice and died early in the morning after Palm Sunday in 2008.
About six months before dad died, he got a severe infection in his lower leg which was eventually diagnosed as staph. A surgeon was brought in and they had to cut the infected flesh out down to the bone. The incision was about three inches long and a few inches wide. He had to stay in the hospital for several weeks. On the day that I went to pick my dad up and take him home, I was standing outside of his hospital room waiting for the aid to get him dressed. I was leaning against a wall which divided the hall from the nurse’s station; the wall was about eight feet tall and did not go all the way to the ceiling. Two nurses were talking on the other side of the wall and I heard one nurse say, “I hear that our friend Bob is going home today.” The other nurse said, “yes, I am going to miss him so much. He always asks how I am and he has prayed for me several times.” It took a moment, but then I realized that the Bob they were talking about was my dad. After I went back into the room and was waiting with my dad for the discharge papers, a nurse came into the room and my dad greeted her by name and introduced me to her. He then asked her how her son, who had been in some sort of trouble, was doing and she told him that he was better and she thanked my dad for his prayers. Before we left the hospital that day, one staff person after another came into my dad’s room to say goodbye. I was utterly amazed. My dad had been in the hospital where he was being cared for after a serious operation and who was for all intense and purpose dying, and yet I watched as one person after another came into his room to tell him how much good he had done in their lives.
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My observations did not end that day. I took my dad to various oncologist visits and visits with his general practitioner. We would be sitting in the waiting room with other sick people, some of whom were not as sick as my dad and he would take every opportunity to cheer people up. He was not shy to ask people if he could pray with them and he openly and unashamedly talked about his faith in Jesus. What amazed me the most is how natural this was for him. I began to realize that my dad had an intimate and abiding relationship with Jesus Christ that was nurtured through his prayer life and his Bible study. I saw in my dad the working of the Holy Spirit. He did not sit and think about how he could be salt and light, but rather he was salt and light. His relationship with Jesus, to whom he had long before surrendered his life, shown through him. You see, the salt is not of our making and the light does not shine because we are so brilliant, but the salt and the light are Jesus in us. We become salt and light when we place our faith in Jesus and surrender to His will. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). I saw my dad adding flavor to the world around him. He let Christ shine in such a way that other peoples lives were changed; I believe that many were changed for eternity.
You might ask, how do I stay salty and shine brightly in this seemingly bland and dark world? I can answer based upon what I saw happening in my dad and what I have experienced in my own life at least partially due to my dad’s witness to me. Be in love with Jesus! Relationships take effort and our relationship with Jesus is no different. Cultivate a life of prayer. What I mean by this is be in constant conversation with God through Jesus. When life is good praise him and when life is not so good, praise him. Take your joys, sorrows, and every other emotion to the cross. Take your cares and your sins to the cross often. My dad used to say, “keep a short list.” In other words, don’t let your small sins build up until they have snowballed into an almost uncontrollable giant, but rather daily and, if need be, hourly take them to Jesus. Read the Word every day praying for the Holy Spirit to shape you and change you into what Jesus would have you be. Listen for the still small voice of God. Most importantly surrender. In the old black and white cops and robber movies the police would tell the assailant “put your hands up!” The simple act by the assailant of putting their hands up and removing them from a position that could easily grasp a weapon allowed the police to have full control of him or her. In a similar way, we surrender to God when we put our spiritual hands up and stop fighting God and allow Him to have full access to our hearts and minds. Surrender ends up being a daily process, at least in my life. In doing so we give the Holy Spirit free reign to work in and through us. We become salt and light that flavors, preserves, enlightens the dangers of sin, and brings brilliant color into our lives and the lives of others around us.
My dad died ten years ago this past March and he is still teaching me by his example how to be salt and light. He allowed the Spirit to love on people through him and he never let his seemingly bleak situation persuade him from reaching out to the people he encountered. His life could have been flavorless and he could have chosen to curl up in a room and hide any light he had, but he chose to shine! I can only imagine how many people have come up to him or will go up to him in heaven and have said, “thank you, you changed my life.”