Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Salt and Light

I wonder if my blog feels like Lucille Bluth today. Why, you ask?

Because yesterday, July 2nd, was my blog's 5th Blogiversary! And unlike the previous four such occasions, I failed to write a new post to celebrate. I could say that I was distracted by Homer Bailey throwing his second no-hitter for the Reds in less than a year, but that didn't happen until after 10 p.m., so that excuse might not hold up under scrutiny.

In any case, Happy Blogiversary.

Now with all that self-glorification out of the way...

This morning I read Matthew 5:13-16, which is a passage that I have read a hundred times before, but that especially struck me today. Here's what it says:
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all int he house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
The word "relevant" has become somewhat of a catchword among modern-day Christians. Churches want to be "relevant." Individual believers want to be "relevant." Blogs want to be "relevant."

Relevance is not a bad goal, of course. It may me necessary, in fact, if the church is to fulfill its mission to the world. But as I hear conversations on the topic, I wonder if many have an incomplete picture of what such relevance actually means. It seems that to many, relevance merely means swallowing down whatever pop-cultural phenomena might be in vogue at the time, and then patting themselves on the back for being so culturally sophisticated.

"Yeah, I watch HBO and listen to Imagine Dragons and only shop at the all-natural food store. I'm so relevant."


What I believe can happen, though, is that this incomplete understanding of relevance only results in a Christian who looks just like anyone else, but who also happens to believe in Jesus. I want to be relevant, so I'll listen to the same music as everyone else, dress the same as everyone else, speak the same as everyone else, and essentially blend in with everyone else. There is really nothing to distinguish a follower of Christ from any other Joe on the street.

The intentions are good. After all, we are to be the salt of the earth. We are the light of the world. This signifies some level of cultural engagement. As salt and light, we are to be present in the world--even the unbelieving world--the surrounds us.

But from Jesus' words in Matthew 5, his followers are also to be distinct. They should stand out. They are described as salt, and salt is a distinct flavor. Case in point: a while back there were some snacks out at school for everyone to enjoy, and I stuffed a handful of potato chips in my mouth, believing they were original flavored. I soon realized they were actually salt n' vinegar, and I thought I may keel over and die on the spot.

Jesus' followers are also described as light, and light is certainly distinct. It doesn't blend in with the darkness at all. It shines out. When I was in high school, I was driving from Arizona to Kansas with my sister. We were going through New Mexico after the sun had gone down, and as I looked out the passenger-side window, I could see none of the desert in the darkness. But then we came over a rise in the road, and there, miles ahead of us, was the city of Albuquerque--it's thousands of lights shooting into the blackness with intensity.

To be salt and light, then, certainly cannot mean to be "relevant" in the sense described above. Such an idea is a shallow understanding of what relevance truly is.

On the other hand, many Christians, in an effort to truly be salt and light, assume that Jesus' words mean to have nothing to do with "unchristian culture." Such a person might only listen to Christian radio stations, watch Christian movies, where Christian t-shirts, and use Christian language like "Blessed" and "Lift up." At the end of the day, they go to bed satisfied with having been such a countercultural force in the world.

I have nothing against Christian music or t-shirts. But if this is the extent of our "saltiness," I think we're still missing the point. You can look a lot different from unbelievers on the outside but still be a lot like them on the inside. And I don't know that the number of Max Lucado books on our shelves or the number of fish on our back bumpers--as good as these things are--are going to be what changes the world.

So what does it mean to be salt and light? Maybe it means what Jesus had just been talking about in his sermon in Matthew 5. Maybe it means being merciful, peace-making, pure, and meek. Maybe it even means suffering for the sake of belonging to Christ.

And maybe living like that is the most relevant thing we can do.

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