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Salt and Light: An Acrostic essay

Some time ago I heard an excellent teaching on Jesus preaching about Salt and Light- it sparked an idea on my my mind and that was to write an acrostic essay based on the words Salt and Light. 

This blog is going to be growing!

Here is the first instalment


Salt and Light


Matthew 5:13-16

Right after Jesus’ opening words from the Sermon on the Mount known as the Beatitudes, Jesus makes two statements about who we, His disciples are…

He says we are salt of the earth and light of the world.
I am sure there is some deeper significant of why he uses the words earth  in relation to salt and world in relation to light, but for the moment, I would like to just talk about the salt and the light.

What I want to do with this exercise is make an acrostic essay using the words Salt and Light as the basis, but before I get into the acrostic, I would like to make a little observation in relation to both salt and light that I find very interesting.

Sitting here, in a pub as I write this piece, having just enjoyed a very pleasant traditional English breakfast, and a mug of filter coffee, I realised something about light. You could say the light came on!

I am able to see what I am writing because the pub is well lit. Lights are not the first thing that strike the eye as you enter the pub, indeed you may arrive and leave the pub without noticing them at all, but if for whatever reason the lights went out, everybody would be aware and wonder what had happened. We take lights for granted.

Likewise, how often do we eat a meal without necessarily even knowing how much salt is in the food we are eating? Nine times out of ten, we are completely unaware that the salt is even in the food. Now too much salt is not good for a person, and so people do tend to be more aware of salt content, but it is not something that we actually notice. However, I think that if salt was missing from foods, in which we might expect it to be present, I think we would notice that the food tastes different, and we may not enjoy the salt-less food quite as much.

So what do we make of this in the light of the biblical passage? We may feel at times that the part we play, as Christians is not important and nobody may notice us, or what we are doing, behind the scenes. We may not be one of those who strike the eye when people enter the room. We may feel a bit frustrated by this “invisibility” – and feel under- or even unappreciated. However, as the purpose of the light is for people to see what is around them, and not for them to see the light, we may not be noticed, but by our presence, we might help people to see Jesus. Likewise, people may not necessarily notice us in a ministry role, but we bring a flavour that were we not present, would not be there. It is a flavour of love, and acceptance.

Salt


Strong

Have you ever had someone say to you “Be strong”? How do you respond to that? What do they mean by saying, “Be strong?” Well perhaps you have had some really devastating news, or sad news? Maybe a loved one has passed away, or something drastic has happened which is going to impact your life in a very bad way. People meaning to be kind and offer some kind of comfort might come up to you and say, “Be strong”. I think what some people mean is that you should not be overcome by your emotions. You should not cry, and you certainly should put a brave face on it. I would be tempted to say to such a person, “That is easy for you to say!” I really don’t think it is the best thing to say to a person in those circumstances. Perhaps, if you are about to say that to someone, you should ask yourself why that person should be strong? If you cannot think of a good reason, then perhaps, think again about what you are about to say.

Another context where people are encouraged to be strong is where they are being treated unfairly, or even bullied, and people are always very keen to offer advice about what they should do when they are being badly treated. They will say to the person, “Be strong. Don’t let this person get away with it.” They might even encourage the person to retaliate, especially if it is a child who’s being bullied. They will be told, “Don’t back down – hit the bully back. Retaliation and revenge are viewed as being strong.  Again, I think that this is not good advice, especially in the context of bullying. My personal view is that a child (and adults in certain cases) needs to be shielded from bullies and the bullying behaviour should be confronted and addressed by the relevant authorities in any given scenario.

Strength is a quality people have. This pertains to physical strength as well as mental and emotional strength, and like in other areas, people are not equally strong or weak. People are as strong as they are at any given moment and they cannot muster up strength that they do not have. It is true, that some people do not know their own strength, and sometimes, given particular situations, people display strength that they were not aware that they had. For instance, when you see a loved one, particularly a child is in immediate danger you may run faster, or lift something much heavier than you thought you could. In an emergency situation, you can concentrate your thoughts and cope in a situation, and just KNOW what to do, and when it is over, you think, where did that come from? I would suggest that that strength was within you, you just never needed to call on it before. However, ordinarily, we have a certain amount of strength, and we can push ourselves to that limit, but we exceed that limit at our peril.

It is true, that with guidance, we can build up our strength, through wise training and sensible living. Nobody who intends to run a marathon, would simply get up on the day of the marathon and start running. They would start many moths before with a daily training programme. So, if you want to be strong, are you putting in the effort to build up your strength? Are you eating the healthy food and cutting out or at least cutting down on the less healthy stuff? This is true on a spiritual level too.

Joshua 1:8 says “Be strong and courageous because you will inherit the land  I (the Lord) swore to their forefathers to give them”

I think the key to the “Be strong” lies in the “be courageous.” Why would someone say, “be courageous” or “be brave” – because there is something that may represent a threat – and the natural response threat is fear.  Sometimes something LOOKS LIKE a threat, and will provoke fear in us, but isn’t. If you see something scary, your instinct may be to run away, and sometimes, running away is the right thing to do. But not always. One really scary thing is failure – a lot of people, most in fact are afraid of failure. And that fear can be paralysing.

Maybe Joshua was afraid he might fail. What are you finding scary right now? When running away is not the right answer, we have to face our fear. For that we need to be brave.

But why did God not just say to Joshua “Be brave because you will lead these people,,,?” I think the point is that having been brave and decided that this thing is worth doing, we need to muster all our strength, and put in our maximum effort. If I need to push a car, I cannot push it with one finger. I would not manage to budge the car at all with one finger, but if I use both hands and really give it a good shove, I can push the car. So, being brave is a good first step, but we must also, put in a maximum effort – because the task that God has for us is not, a walk in the park.

Physical strength is not only about how much we can lift up or how fast we can run, but for how long we can keep going. That is a call for endurance. It takes stamina – the ability to sustain prolonged physical and mental effort.

Another thing to remember about “being strong” is no-one is strong all the time, but we can take heart, because the Bible tells us that when we are weak, then God is strong in us.

Access


John 14:6 says: Jesus answered him (Thomas) “I am the way the truth, and the life. No-one comes to the Father, except through me.”

The word Access – simply means “a way in” or “a way to” – why did I choose this word Access, for the A of Salt? Because, I believe that the fact that we have access to God through Jesus Christ is a unique feature of our Christian lives.  

Hebrews 10:19-23
Therefore brothers since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, opened for us through the curtain, that is His body, and since we have a great priest over the House of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

A number of the versions use the word “boldness” where the NIV uses “confidence”. Confidence or boldness is a form of courage. WE have this courage, not based on our own abilities or merit. We don’t have an entitlement mindset that says, God accepts me because I am a good person, because that would not be true – we have this confidence or courage to enter the throne room of God based entirely on what Jesus did for us by being crucified and rising again.

The text in Hebrews refers to the Temple and the Most Holy Place was where the Ark of the Covenant was to be found, and that was where the presence of God was said to be – not that God literally stayed in the temple, because He didn’t – we cannot contain God in any way, but symbolically, the Ark of the Covenant represented the presence of God. However in the Jewish religion, it was only on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur that the High Priest would enter the Most Holy Place and offer a sacrifice for the nation. When Jesus was crucified the curtain that separated the most holy place from the other parts of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Jesus’ death, it says, in this text, opened up a way for us, to have that Access to the Father. We became priests of God, with the ability to enter and worship God.

We talk about the priesthood of all believers, meaning that we all enjoy this access to that most Holy Place that was once the exclusive domain of the High Priest. Jesus is our High Priest, and we can minister in the Courts of God, because Jesus opened up the WAY for us. We are encouraged to draw near, and approach God’s throne of Grace regularly and often, not just once a year. We enter for ourselves, and like the priests of old, we enter for one another.

I found a hymn that speaks to this access so well, it is a John S B Monsell hymn, “O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” And verses 3 & 4 are just so meaningful:

Fear not to enter His courts in the slenderness
Of the poor wealth thou wouldst reckon as thine
Truth in its beauty and love in its tenderness:
These are the offerings to lay on His shrine

These, though we bring them in trembling and fearfulness
He will accept for the name that is dear;
Mornings of joy give for evenings of tearfulness
Trust for our trembling, and hope for our fear.

The hymn says, that even if you feel poor and unworthy, you should not let that get in the way of your entering His courts – that you have access, not just to the outer courts, but the very throne room of God – you can enter and you do not need to be fearful.

Verse 2 says:
Low at His feet lay thy burdens of carefulness
High on His heart He will bear it for thee
Comfort thy sorrows and Answer thy prayerfulness
Guiding thy steps as may best for thee be.

So we can enter and we should enter. And we can approach the thrown of grace, because Jesus our advocate has already spoken for us. So we bring all our burdens to God and He will bear them “High on His heart.”

Life


John 14:6 says: Jesus answered him (Thomas) “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No-one comes to the Father, except through me.”

John 10: 10 Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have LIFE , and have it to the full.

John 11:25-26 Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the LIFE. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?
“Yes Lord,” she (Martha) told him. “I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God who has come into the world.”

John 3:16 (Jesus said) “God so loved the World that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him, shall not Perish but have eternal LIFE.”

John 4:13-14 Jesus answered “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him as spring of water welling up to eternal LIFE”

John 5:24 (Jesus said) “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my words and believes in Him who sent me has eternal LIFE and will not be condemned; he has cross over from death to LIFE”

John 6:35-40 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of LIFE. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of Him who sent me. And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that He has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal; LIFE and I will raise him up at the last day.

I wonder what you get from that selection of speeches – they are all from John’s Gospel, and they all refer to LIFE – that is us possessing real life, if we BELIEVE in God.

I wonder what you understand by the phrase “believe in God – what does that mean in practical terms. Does it merely acknowledge that God exists? I do not think that is enough – James wrote that even the demons believe in God, and tremble – yes, lots of people believe that God exists, but what is implied here is something more profound – it is about having faith in God.  

Truth

John 14:6 says: Jesus answered him (Thomas) “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No-one comes to the Father, except through me.”

The purpose of this acrostic of Salt and light - was to present important aspects of our Christian lives in a memorable way. Excuse me for stating the obvious, but it is only worth following something if you believe it to be TRUE. Truth is an essential to living. While 100% certainty is not easy to obtain, and Faith implies belief, even when we have not got cast-iron evidence, nevertheless, we always hope that we know the truth.

Let us take a closer look at the dialogue between Jesus and Thomas in John 14


14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know[b] my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Jesus says, "If it were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? " I other words, Jesus is emphasising that what he is saying is true. 
Jesus also said, in a different context - "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” - He was talking about those of us who are His disciples - when we follow Jesus, we will know the Truth. 
What is truth? Truth is venerated in most religions, and even humanism, would say that TRUTH is an important, or even an essential element of their beliefs - and they sincerely believe there is no God and so speak out against those of us who preach that God does exist. Well Either God exists, or He doesn't, Jesus was either God, or a mere person, that is for each of us to decide on for ourselves. 
While, as Christians, we believe that Jesus is the ultimate truth, but to a certain extent, we as his followers need to be truth too - and we do that by being true to ourselves - living authentically. 
This may sound like a self-evident statement, but sadly, i think that unfortunately not every person professing Christian beliefs is living authentically. I think many put on an appearance of being a Christian, they are good at "playing the role" of a Christian, but there is a blockage and they are not consistent in their Christian faith. 
Jesus said "Let your Yes be yes, and your no be no - anything else is evil.
What he meant is that we should mean what we say, and say what we mean. We should not need to makke oaths of truth, because we should be characterised by truth telling. 
It is important that we LIVE the truth, that is not try and represent ourselves as better than we are.
We live in a culture that requires us to conform to societal expectations, rather than be our unique selves. This sulture of conforming is not God's way. It is possible that in a very religious society, they squash individuality for the sake of "holy living" and so they force people to conform to a certain dress-code, a certain way of speaking. They require us to read certain books and not look at other books - they have strict regulations that govern every aspect of life. This, I believe is as harmful as the irreligious society which pressures young people into certain ways of dressing and behaving, forcing young people to experiment with illegal substances, and certain sexual behaviours, in order to be accepted by the "cool crowd" - But we read in Romans 12:2
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world. Do not try and blend into your surroundings, but be ready to stand out and actually be different. This will not win you friends - if anything it will probably make you very unpopular indeed. It is interesting, that despite what people say, being truthful can also make you very unpopular. If you do not fit in - if you rock the boat and challenge the societal norms - you may find that people will do anything they can to shut you up. They may mock your individuality - and call you "weird". They may actually believe you to be insane.  When you do not "toe the party line" - and challenge the wrongdoers. When you insist on doing justice, people might mock you. But if you know what is right and do not do it - for whatever reason, then you are sinning, the Bible tells us. 
Now, I am not saying that you will never make mistakes - and occasionally the crowd does get it right, and so everything we do we should evaluate, but don't just do it because others are doing it - and likewise, don't do it, because it is a way of rebelling, but do it because you know it is the right thing to do. 
In Church history we read about the "Non-conformists" - Churches that did not go by the Church of England's book of Common prayer - a requirement of law in 1662. Whether the society is religious or secular, we as individuals need to resist the pressure to be squeezed into its mold, and be ready to stand out and be different, if being different means being right. 
We talk about a "moral compass" - that internal understanding of whether a thing is right or wrong. I believe most people have a moral compass, a conscience that tells them what is right or wrong. Many people choose to defy that moral compass - but it is there all the same. There are some people whose moral compass is defective and these people may be regarded as psychopathic. They have no problem hurting or killing another person, and might even enjoy it. They cannot really understand why it is that people disapprove of their actions. They are very self-centred. But fortunately there are relatively few of these people, and most people would rather do the right thing. 
One aspect of being authentic is being honest about who you are as a person - including in regard to your sexuality and gender identity. If you are anything other than the "usual" heterosexual, you will be expected to conform by playing the role of the heterosexual or at least not being gay, lesbian or bisexual. And certainly you would be expected to conform to the stereotypes of your gender, or the assumed gender. Notwithstanding certain verses in the Bible, that I believe are misunderstood and often quoted inappropriately and out of context, I believe that we should live honestly in accordance with our natural sexual orientation and gender identity - knowing that NO-ONE absolutely fits into the packaging labeled "man/boy" or woman/girl" just as we do not fit into any other cultural straight-jacket that would expect us to act in a certain way, or dress in a certain way because we are male or female, because we come from a certain area, because we are a certain race, because we are of a certain socio-economic stratum. 
Being true to yourself may not be the easiest thing - still, people are persecuted when they do not choose to conform. Being a Non-conformist can certainly land you in jail, or make you vulnerable to attack by people who are threatened by your non-conforming - with God's help, we may need to endure the flack, and continue to be true. 
Most societies are getting better at coping with diversity, and in many countries, homosexuality is no longer regarded as criminal, though it still is in too many countries. 
Being willing to stand out from the crowd, takes courage. We need God's help. We need to refuse to conform. 
I am reminded of the Children's song "Dare to be a Daniel"
  1. Standing by a purpose true,
    Heeding God’s command,
    Honor them, the faithful few!
    All hail to Daniel’s band!
    • Refrain:
      Dare to be a Daniel,
      Dare to stand alone!
      Dare to have a purpose firm!
      Dare to make it known.
  2. Many mighty men are lost,
    Daring not to stand,
    Who for God had been a host
    By joining Daniel’s band.
  3. Many giants, great and tall,
    Stalking through the land,
    Headlong to the earth would fall,
    If met by Daniel’s band.
  4. Hold the Gospel banner high!
    On to vict’ry grand!
    Satan and his hosts defy,
    And shout for Daniel’s band.

Daniel remained faithful to His God, and maintained His daily practice of prayer three times a day, even though this greatly irritated the other Royal advisers who deliberately set Daniel up -by getting the emperor, Nebuchadnezzar to pass a law making it illegal to pray to any god, only himself. Daniel did not stop his praying, and he didn't even pray secretly - he would not be cowered by this new law. He continued in His regular practice of prayer. Yes he took a risk, and he was thrown to the lions, but God sent the the Angel of the Lord into that Den to be with Daniel and to protect him, and the lions did not touch a hair on his head. When after one night, the king saw that the lions had not eaten Daniel, e allowed him to come out, and the evil advisers were thrown to the lions who now hastily ate them. 
Dare to be a Daniel - dare to stand alone. 
Being a follower of Christ may be a lonely experience at times. Certainly does not make you top of the pops, and you can be expect to be mocked - but with courage and trust, you can stay true to yourself, and more importantly, to your God.
I am going to end this blog entry here and start a new one for the second part. Once I am finished, I will place a link to part two here.


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