Salt of the Earth, Light of the World – Pastor Greg

Please pass the salt. How many times have you heard that said or made that request yourself? Salt is an essential part of our life. We use it to season our food, soften our water, treat slippery sidewalks, and help heal sore throats. Our bodies need salt to survive. In ancient times, salt was used as a currency and wars have been fought over its control. Salt is made up of a one-to-one ratio of Sodium and Chloride. Both are essential to the proper function of our bodies. It is basic as it is essential, and the simplicity of salt seems to belie its value. It’s significant that the Lord used salt as a description of who we are to be in this world we live in.

In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus is teaching what we know as the “sermon on the mount”. Jesus states nine times blessings – nine outcomes of ultimate wellbeing and joy that belong to the believer as they walk with God. Jesus concludes the section stating that there will be times of trouble for the believer. That we will be persecuted and reviled for Christ. This is an expectation that the Lord Himself said would be true of us. Yet in the midst of these hard times we will be blessed. It is in this context that Jesus makes the following statement, “you are the salt of the earth,” “you are the light of the world…” (Matthew 5:13a & 15a.) Why make that statement here?  In the midst of persecution or trial Jesus said we ‘are’ something, salt and light.  He goes on to say something else, “but if the salt has become tasteless how can it be made salty again?” So, what is our responsibility? From what Jesus has shared its not to be concerned with the distribution of the salt – that is His concern. It is not to make sure our voice is heard or our opinions are clearly stated or to ‘push back’. We are simply to be salty. It is our responsibility to make sure that the salt does not lose its flavor, that it does not lose its power. Our testimony as a community of believers depends on our distinctiveness from the rest of the world around us. If we blend in or lose our savor, then we become useless in impacting others. As Jesus said, “it is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” We have seen many in the past who have lost their testimony regarding Christ. They have become those who have been “trampled” on by the world and they are derided for their failure. 

The distinctiveness that Jesus has just shared in the beatitudes is to be our normal. Are we gentle, humble, hungry for righteousness, peacemakers? That is a salty Christian. That is someone whose life shines before men. Paul tells us in Romans 12 not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We are to live out what we are in Christ. We are to be salty. This is so basic, so essential. It is what the world needs and what we are to be. Not flashy, not a world changer in and of ourselves, but rather reflecting the One who has changed the world.

Jesus goes on to say that “we are the light of the world, a city set on a hill cannot be hidden nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket but on the lampstand and it gives light to all who are in the house.” Again, our responsibility is not to worry about whether the light will be extinguished but rather to not hide it. The light should be seen, and attention drawn to it. I must admit I often do not like to be conspicuous but that it exactly what I should be as a believer. My light is to be seen and noticed. I am not to be ashamed or timid of the light I hold. Do not hide it, whether the motive is due to fear or not to create waves. Let it shine and allow the Lord to determine how it is to be received. I must keep in mind that the light is Christ Himself, He is the source. The light should not be my opinion or my view of the world, but is to reflect His character as we see in the beatitudes Jesus stated in Matthew 5. 

So as we start a new year, let’s make it our goal to make an impact on the world around us. It does not need to be the whole world, but simply the world we live in, work in, and move in. Let us be salty and bright.

Bug-Out Bag — Pastor Greg

Ever made an emergency plan? One where you had to have a “bug out bag” or an emergency kit ready to go in the event you had to leave quickly? What was in it? I looked up what others recommended to go into such a bag and there was some variation of opinions, but the basics remained the same. Food, water, clothing, first aid kit, important papers, and the like. These are things that in an emergency you would need to grab and go. No thinking about it at that moment, no making of lists or rummaging through the pantry. Nope, you just grab it and leave. The things that are in that bag are essentials. They are the basic items you “must” have, not what you would “like” to have. There may have been some items that you took out of the bag, like that Michigan State snow globe you got years ago from your Aunt Rita. Or that U of M back scratcher you won at the church raffle… had to leave that behind. It’s not that you didn’t like them, they just weren’t essential. 

Emergencies or crises often make us evaluate what is really important and what can be left behind. These moments in our lives can come on us suddenly or they can unfold over months or years. We live in such a time. Our present situation has forced us to confront what we consider important. This is a good thing. 

From 1938 to 1945, Martin Niemöller, a Lutheran pastor, was held prisoner by the Nazis during WWII. His crime was speaking out against the evil that was enveloping his nation. The last four years of his captivity were spent in the Dachau concentration camp along with a few other political prisoners. It was at this time, from Christmas of 1944 to Easter of 1945, that he wrote 6 sermons that he shared with his fellow inmates. In each of these messages, the central theme that came through was the all sufficiency of Christ.  When all else had been taken away and each day gave way to an uncertain future, Jesus remained. The apostle Paul, who also had been imprisoned, wrote in Philippians 3:7-8 “But whatever things were gain to me those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” Paul had his spiritual “bug out bag”. The essential thing – the one thing – that mattered to him was Christ. 

Just like with an emergency grab bag, preparation is key. We do not just throw things into it randomly, but much time and thought have preceded each decision. Notice how many times Paul uses the word “count” in these verses. Three times he counted something or considered something or regarded something and compared it to something else. Suddenly the things that were at one time valuable to Paul changed to the status of garbage. When Paul understood who Christ was and is, suddenly those things that at one time were dear to him lost their value and were cast aside. Paul was a redeemed man but his past reliance on the legalistic system of Judaism was a hindrance and had to be discharged. Then and only then was he free to pursue Christ and grow in his relationship with Him. 

Today we are forced to make those same comparisons. What in life really matters? What are those things that I once thought were so important that can be left behind? What are those things that we hold onto that give us a sense of importance, security, or value? For each of us that question may be answered differently. We only need one thing, and that is Jesus. He is our wisdom, our righteousness, and our peace. We also need each other. Relationships are not disposable and our mandate includes preferring one another. So, let us do the work of counting or considering those things that do not belong in the bag. Allow God to do the evaluating by His word and His Spirit in our lives, and let us focus on what is really the most important. 

God Is Not A Republican – Pastor Greg

God is not a republican. Actually, He is not a democrat, or a socialist, or a capitalist either. God is a sovereign monarch. 

A monarch is a sovereign head of state, sovereign in that He possesses supreme or ultimate power and authority. This is who God is. He has all the rights. Yet God is also gracious and has delegated responsibility to govern to human beings. We see in the account of Noah, after the flood (Gen. 9:5-6), God establishing the foundation for governance. Government is meant to restrain evil and reward good (Rom. 13:1-7).  Historically most of humanity has, and many presently live, under governments that are authoritarian, i.e. the citizens have no real role in the governing process. We as Americans live in a representative republic. We get to participate in our own governing – what a gracious gift this is! While we are blessed to live in a system such as we do, our hope and security does not rest on our government. I can often tell when my trust is misplaced by how I react when the “other” candidate gets elected. It is similar to when our favorite sports team wins or loses. If “we” (I’m not even on the team!) win, I’m elated, but if “they” lose I am down in the dumps. 

So the question can be asked: who has my heart? God, or a particular party, candidate, or political system? My heart belongs to God, it is to Him that I give my ultimate allegiance. This is also true for us as the church. I like this quote from David Platt: “As the church, we are not for Trump, we are not for Biden, and we are not for anyone else… The church is not for any political party or candidate, no, we are for Jesus.” As such our goal should be to magnify the name of Christ in all that we do. I am not saying something that we do not already know or believe, but I often need to be reminded and especially in a climate such as we have today. 

So, while our allegiance belongs to the Lord, we do have a stewardship entrusted to us. A steward is someone who looks after something that belongs to another. Voting is a wonderful right we have in this country. It is one of the ways in which we participate in our own governance. Our government is of the people, by the people, and for the people as described by Abraham Lincoln. As such we are stewards of that right and responsibility. God owns that authority, He has delegated it to us, so we are to use it accordingly. This reality should matter as we exercise our right to vote. When we vote let us do it with intentionality and care. 

So again, God is not a republican. Though we have the right in this nation to participate in our own government, our heart belongs to Him. Regardless of the outcome of this election we are called to peace. The apostle Paul encourages us to “be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made know to God and the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” In a few days we will have an election. Some will be happy with the results and others will not. Whatever the outcome, whether “our guy” or “our party” won or not, our hearts belong to someone else who is still seated on the throne, high and lifted up. We really are simply sojourners and pilgrims on this journey and will one day arrive at home. This should give us great comfort and hope as we navigate this life.