Fruitfulness on the frontline 4 - Moulding Culture
Romans 12: 1-2; Matthew 5: 13-16
We’ve got some of the most famous bits of the New Testament today.
They bring out three principles:
We are Salt
We are Light
They will show us how we can gradually mould the culture of our society into what God would like it to be. That is our theme this morning.
First, we are Salt. Jesus says, "You are the salt of the earth”. Salt gives flavour, so we’re here to give flavour to the world around us. Salt also preserves, so we are here to keep society good and strong and healthy.
Second, Light. Jesus says "You are the light of the world”. Look around at each other: we, here in this church, this morning, are the light of the world. Turn to your neighbour and say "You are the light of the world”. Just pause for a moment and let that truth from God sink in.
How can it be that we are the light of the world? Because a lampshade can shine brightly, not with its own light, but with the light of the bulb within it. Jesus comes to live inside us, by his Holy Spirit. Let’s let Jesus’ light shine through us, transforming us and also shining out to the people around us.
We may feel we’re not much good at shining, that God can’t use us. But that’s not true. We are the main people he uses. He can use anyone of course, or work through miracles, and he does. But most of the time his plan is to use us. Look around:we are the light of the world. Amazing, but true. If we don’t believe it, it means we’re not believing him. We need to trust him about this. The Bible says we have this treasure in jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4) – meaning that we’re like cracked pots, but inside us God has put this treasure, which can shine out through the cracks. God has made his light shine in our hearts, to give us the light that goes out to everyone around us. We rely on him to do that.
Third principle: Be transformed. Please look at the Romans passage that was read to us. Verse 2 says "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” It doesn’t mean be transformed instantly, it means we need to go on being transformed, all the way through our lives.
How are we transformed, or gradually changed? If you look at verse 2 it says "by the renewing of your mind”. How does our mind get renewed? Look at verse 1: by offering our bodies (I think that means our whole selves) as living sacrifices to God. We received everything from him, so we dedicate it all to him. We put our bodies, minds and spirits, and our possessions and our time and our hopes and fears – our whole lives – into God’s hands. That’s where are lives are safest, that’s where they can do the most good, that’s where they belong.
If we do that, we find that our minds are gradually renewed. God takes our lives and blesses them. Gradually, we no longer see things from the world’s perspective or our own selfish perspective. We see them from God’s perspective. More and more, we want what he wants. We find ourselves loving what he loves. We learn to rejoice more and more in his presence, and in his family. Our minds, our whole outlook, is gradually renewed. We are gradually transformed by the renewing of our minds.
Putting the principles into practice
How can we put those principles into practice?
Let’s start by being transformed. Are we letting God gradually change us? Some of the ways we can help him do that are:
·Telling him that he comes first, and trying to put him first in everything we do including our plans, our life choices, and our daily life.
·Listening to him by reading the Bible, and by praying.
·Obeying what he says, including the difficult bits. Ask for his help.
·Asking God to fill you with the Holy Spirit, who transforms us from within, gives us strength and power, helps us with our understanding, and encourages us along the way.
·Meeting up with other Christians. That probably includes a regular service of your choosing, and possibly a small group like a home group or an Alpha group or a couple of friends, or a team of people who are serving the community or the church in some way. Our Christian friends and the Christian community here are a major help in getting us growing as Christians.
·Reading Christian books. Some people say the way they’ve grown most as Christians is by reading Christian books.
·Asking him to change our character, so that fear is gradually replaced by love and trust; and self-centredness is gradually replaced by loving God first, and loving our neighbour as ourselves. God is working on this church community to make us a more and more loving family. Without love, the rest is meaningless and empty. With God’s love shining through us more and more strongly, God is glorified by that, and through that love he will use us to change all our families and this whole community into one that glorifies him.
So let’s allow God to transform us. That makes us saltier, more full of flavour. Changing the culture around us begins with change in ourselves.
Second, we can spread the salt around.
If we are the salt of the earth, let’s let the flavour out. Let’s get preserving and influencing. Let’s be out there, mixing with friends and neighbours and other families and work colleagues. If we are salty, in other words if we are following God, we will have an influence for him whether we notice it or not.
Third, we can put our lights on a stand.
If we are the light of the world, let’s shine. "A city on a hill cannot be hidden” – like Goudhurst church, visible for miles around and witnessing to the presence of God.
This is not arrogant. If a traffic police officer hid at the side of the road, instead of stepping out and directing the traffic, they wouldn’t be doing their job. It is obedient and right for the police officer to be bold. It helps everyone. In the same way, it’s not self-publicising, it’s obedient and right for us to be visible, and known to everyone around us, humbly but also boldly playing our own special part in God’s kingdom. Verse 2 says that people will see our good deeds and praise our Father in heaven. Not praise us, but praise him.
What is God calling you to be bold about? In what way does he want you to put your light on a stand? Have a think about that for a moment. Say a quick prayer right now, if you like, asking him to show you. Dear Lord, please show us how you want each of us to put our light on a stand.
Have a chat with the person next to you. Ask them what they think the answer is for them.
Here are some other ideas, in case they’re helpful.
·Let’s listen to the culture around us. Think about the culture. What is it saying, and what does it value? What’s good about it, and what isn’t right? How can we enjoy what’s good, and challenge what isn’t? We need to love our society and be involved in all the good bits of its culture, while swimming against the tide of bad stuff that’s also there.
·A friend of mine used to go and see a film every fortnight with some Christian friends. After the film they’d chat together about what the film was saying and what they thought about it. They were listening to today’s culture, and thinking Christianly about it. We’ll be better able to influence the culture if we understand it and help each other think about it.
·We can ask ourselves if we’ve been swept along by the culture in some way that we now regret. Are we working too many hours, or minding too much what we look like, or watching too much rubbish, or buying things we don’t need? Are we perhaps not looking after our parents as much as we should? Do we never quite get round to serious action to help the poor and hungry? If so, we can ask God’s help, and put these things right – as verse 2 says, "Do not conform to the pattern of this world”, or as another paraphrase says, "Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its mould”.
·Speak up, if there’s something that needs to be championed or challenged. Stand up against mistreatment of anyone. Make the atmosphere around you honest and happy and kind.
·Show integrity. We all have our particular temptations: it might be lying (including so-called white lies), or not being accurate about expenses, or not declaring everything for tax, or breaking the speed limit, or not owning up or apologising when we’ve done something wrong. We need to obey the commandments, including the ones we find extra hard – for example honouring our parents, keeping the Sabbath as a day of rest, or any of the others. Whatever it is, let’s ask God’s help and be bold.
·Be overwhelmingly generous, like God. God has been so generous with us. This doesn’t just mean give generously, though it includes that. Perhaps it also means helping someone with housing, or helping someone train for a job, or campaigning for new houses to be built so that there’s enough housing for everyone.
·Put on your facebook page or website that you’re a Christian. That’s putting your light on a stand.
·Forgive, and forgive completely, with God’s help. That is a powerful way of letting our light shine.
·Consider everyone else as better than ourselves, and build that into our daily thinking. We need to think of everyone else as higher than us – even if we don’t like them. They are loved by God, made in his image. Let’s show them deep respect and gentleness, and pray for them and be a blessing to them.
So in summary:
·We look to God to transform us day by day, as we dedicate our whole lives to him and become more full of love for him and love for each other. That leads to our whole outlook gradually changing.
·We mix ourselves up with our communities, at home and at work, so that our God-given flavour, our saltiness, influences the whole of society.
·And we put our light on a stand, speaking up, standing up for what’s right, being humble and obedient and loving and bold, at the same time. God knows all our faults, and wants to encourage us along, like a parent encourages a child along.
That is the way that we as Christians will gradually mould the culture around us into what God would like it to be.
Let us pray.
Dear God, we thank you for Jesus’ example of being salt influencing society, and light shining out for you. We put our lives into your hands. Please go on transforming us every day, by the renewing of our minds. Please help us to be saltier and shine more brightly, putting our lights on a stand. In Jesus’ name.
Mark Greene suggests that culture is 'what things are like round here'. What is the culture like on your frontline? What do you notice about how things are done, how people speak to each other and what is valued?
Where is the culture on your frontline in line with God’s own values, and where is it off track? Where does the culture on your frontline promote fruitfulness and flourishing, and where does it demean, limit or divide?
As God’s salty people, how could you bring out a godly flavour in that culture? How can you challenge values that are unkind or demeaning to people, or which suggest to people that they don’t matter, or which promote gossip, or an attitude that says ‘you can only join if you look or act like us’? What could you do, to mould the culture on your frontline.
How is God asking you to be bold at the moment?