There is a great bakery down the street from our house called “The Great Harvest Bread Company”. We frequently go there for their free samples and their homemade sandwiches. A few month ago, I met Len, a good friend of mine, there for lunch. It was a beautiful day so we decided to sit outside. As our lunch arrived, a man, who was clearly homeless, approached our table on his bike and asked us directions to either Reno or San Diego. Now we were just outside Sacramento and he was on a bicycle…so though we thought his question was odd, we tried to help him with directions. All the while I was deeply aware that he was looking for more than, “How do I get to San Diego from here on my bike?” The sandwich and chips sitting in front of me was making me feel very uncomfortable… as was the cash in my wallet. The thought of buying him a sandwich and asking him to join us for lunch and conversation kept bobbing to the surface, but I froze. I knew the good I should do and didn’t do it. We simply appeased his strange request for directions to San Diego by bike.Looking back, I can’t help but wonder if he was too ashamed to ask directly for food and so asked a safer question where he didn’t really need the answer; but inside, he was starving for what he really needed. After a few minutes, he turned and left––He left no better because he met us; God’s Spirit in us made no mark. I feel shame as I look back at this incident, yet deep inside I feel as if it has changed me. I would like to believe that if I find myself in a similar encounter, I would have the courage to do good…but I don’t know.
It is hard, at times terrifying, for me to truly befriend, love, and serve people, especially those not following Jesus and who don’t like the church. What if they ask a question I don’t have the answer too? What if they pose a problem too big for me to help with? What if I disappoint them? On and on my internal struggle goes of why I don’t give my time, talents, resources and money to those outside the church and in the community who really need it. And slowly, I miss the point.
Perhaps I am not the only one. Maybe as you look back over our life you have memories of not doing good to those outside the church. Perhaps your mind asks: What will they think? What if they laugh? What of they reject me? What if my family or I get hurt? What if…what if…what if? And like me, your fear paralyzes you and we do nothing. Our walk with Jesus slowly degrades to simply going to church, Bible studies, and serving those who come to church. And we slowly begin to miss the point, that God blessed us to be a blessing! That God did not bless us so we would simply enjoy our position of blessing, but that we would be a blessing to others.
You see, God made this idea of “Blessed to be a Blessing” known from the beginning with Abraham. Gen. 12:2-3 says, “I will bless you…and you will be a blessing…and all the peoples on earth will be blessed by you.” This is not just a promise that Jesus will be the ultimate blessing through the line of Abraham, but also speaks of an actual community of people who fully realize God’s blessing on them and are a blessing to those in and around them. Throughout the OT we see sprinkles of this happening, but let’s jump ahead to when Jesus entered the Jewish religious scene.
Here we see a community who had, for the most part, forgotten the point. They knew their scriptures in-and-out, they knew about the Messiah, how he was going to appear, what he’d be and do, they knew the law and the rules, they knew who was “in” (those who were circumcised and followed the rules) and who was out (those sinners)…they had following God down to a science, or so they thought.Then Jesus comes along to remind them of the point of why they were chosen and blessed: to be a blessing to those around them. He did this through teaching, correcting, and rebuking them, but mainly he did it by living out and modeling the mission of being a blessing. He blessed, healed, ate and drank with, touched, fed, restored, forgave, received anointing from, embraced, talked too, called to be followers, washed the feet of and shared communion with those sinners who were literally being cursed by the religious leaders. Jesus was blessing and accepting those that they were cursing and rejecting. Now I really do not think Jewish leaders were bad people…they just forgot the point. They got too comfortable simply enjoying their position of blessing and forgot why they existed as God’s people…to be a blessing to all people, to all nations. Jesus was trying desperately to remind them but they didn’t like the reminder…they liked life in the saltshaker.
You see, Jesus, in a brief parable in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, likened his people to salt and said if the salt looses it saltiness it is no longer good. I always get hung up with how could salt loose its saltiness, but I think his point was this: if salt doesn’t accomplish its purpose, it is useless and might as well be thrown away. What purpose? For the sake of time and staying on the theme of blessing, let’s focus on the purpose of salt adding flavor and life to food that is bland and “dead”.
In our day, when does salt not accomplish its purpose of blessing food? When it stays in the saltshaker. See, as long as salt remains in the shaker, it is useless…it does nothing. But life in the saltshaker is nice. There’s a lot of salt and all the salt looks the same. It’s safe. There’s no worlds’ being turned upside down. None of the salt falls out or gets eaten. Life is good in the saltshaker. But salt’s life is pointless if it remains in the saltshaker.The salt, or people of God, in Jesus’ day liked life in their saltshakers. Somewhere along the line they forgot that they existed to bless those outside of themselves and thought they existed to remain in, improve and preserve life in the saltshaker. They decorated their saltshakers. They improved them. They cleansed them of anything not salt. They even took it a step further. While in the saltshaker, they condemned, rejected and made fun of all the bland food on the outside. They rejoiced that they were salt and not pepper or some other “unclean” food, like that slab of meat on the counter.
Then along comes Jesus. He tells them they are missing the point of why they are salt. He grabs their saltshaker, turns it upside-down and shakes it wildly over the bland, unclean food all around them–but they refuse to leave the shaker. He then says it is they, the useless salt, not the others, the bland, unclean food, that will be thrown into the garbage and taken to be burned in the trash heap. All the bland food needs is a little salt, not judgment. He said in essence, “If you refuse to be faithful to your God-given purpose of being a blessing to others, then I will dump you out of the saltshaker and pour people who will bless others into it.” And he turned to those all around him and said he is looking for salt who will be willing to “die”, to be poured out and consumed, so that they and others might live life abundantly––with great flavor and blessing. He didn’t care if they were Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free, black or white…he wanted to shake them wildly so that everyone, everywhere, would be blessed through them. Then he taught and showed them how to live such a life. He said in John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” And in Acts 20:35, Paul quotes Jesus when he said, “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Then the Apostle John said these strong words in 1 John 3:10, “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.” (You might ask, who is my brother? They did too and Jesus told them the Parable of the Good Samaritan…they didn’t like his answer).
And what of the salt who enjoyed life in the saltshakers? …They killed him–it’s no wonder.
So here we find ourselves 2000 years after Jesus confronted life in the saltshaker. It breaks my heart, and I would venture God’s, to see groups of God’s people who have also forgotten the point.
• People who feel the point is to cleanse, protect and preserve life, as they know it, in the saltshaker.
• Churches who have forgotten why God has chosen to bless and forgive them…so that they can be a blessing to those who are on the outside, as it were, of the saltshaker.
• Individuals who have forgotten what life is like outside the Christian-Sub-Culture-Bubble we have created.
• People who know and sing all about God and the Bible but have missed the point of living as a blessing.
Based on our track record, I often tremble at the thought of what Jesus’ words and actions might be towards us today. And as soon as I say that, I tremble at what his words and actions towards me might be. Maybe, in part, this is what the phrase, “the fear of the Lord”, is hinting at.
BUT, when we feel that the consequences of life in the church-saltshaker become greater then the risks of being poured out for the sake of those outside it; that is when we begin to get the point.It excites me when we, as God’s people, get it.
• When we see that God has blessed us so that we can be a God-blessing to others.
• When people see us and say, “They may not be perfect, but, oh, how they love.”
• When we will be known as Jesus’ disciples not because of the tenure of our church membership, or which church we belong to, or how often we attend, or our bumper stickers, or music, or t-shirts, or doctrine…but they will know we follow Jesus and his way because of our love; because wherever we go, we leave a trail of blessing behind us.
• When broken lives are restored.
• When a widow’s home is fixed and lawn mowed.
• When a single mom and her family is adopted and cared for by the church.
• When alcoholics, and drug addicts, and prostitutes, and homosexuals, and thieves, and murders, and adulterers, and all others we label the “worst of sinners”––are not judged––but are befriended, welcomed as they are into our lives and fellowship so that they may be healed and restored.
• When people come to see and taste that God and his church is good; surrender their broken life to his healing and leadership so that they can link arms with Him and others who are all about blessing people with the blessing they have received.
• When God’s Kingdom comes to earth as it is in heaven though our partnership with God’s work of deliverance, healing, and restoration in the lives of others this is what should get us excited.
This is what the living the way of Jesus is all about. This is, and was, the point from the very beginning: That God would bless a people who would be a blessing to all people and all nations.
Can we imagine us being such a people? Do we long to be such a fellowship? Can we imagine the flavor and goodness we could bring to our community and world? I can…can you? I hope so.
In the spirit of spurring one another on toward love and good deeds, can I ask you to share a blessing to those reading this blog? I invite you to share your stories of how God is using you, the church you fellowship with, or others you have witnessed being a blessing to those around them…….