Christians are abuzz about the fact that Michael Phelps is talking about God and the book Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. Hopefully, Michael truly has found a purpose larger than winning another medal. Celebrities are often heralded for these things, but sadly, it is easy to be skeptical. Many celebrities have made their faith public only to later be entangled in scandal. Yet, maybe they reflect the unfortunate norm in many churches...
The major difference between a celebrity and a regular person in the local church is the press. We don't have the paparazzi following us around everywhere we go. What if we did? How long would it take the paparazzi to catch us doing things that contradict our stated faith? The reality is that many who label themselves as Christians live out this contradiction daily.
We are not the first to face this challenge. Jesus preached a sermon to people who were had to make a decision about what they actually believed and what that looked like on a daily basis. Their decision was no small matter. They were oppressed, in debt, and enslaved. They were losing their land to creditors and foreigners. For these first-century Jews, to lose their land was to lose part of their identity. The Roman oppression was immense. The taxes and burdens made it impossible for these folks to maintain their traditional way of life. Revolts frequently broke out, which was an expected response in that culture, and the Roman response was brutal. Conflict was the backdrop and reason for Jesus' sermon. How did Jesus address challenge them to face their situation?
He started by telling them how blessed they were in the face of conflict and oppression (Matthew 5:2-12). Blessedness in their culture meant having honor, but their position and situation was anything but honorable. Jesus challenged and encouraged them to adjust their perspective and their actions. IF they were Jesus' disciples, their honor was to be measured by God's standards, not by the world's.
Then Jesus reminded them who they were as His disciples and what their purpose truly was. "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become useless, with what will it be salted? It is good for nothing except to be thrown out and trampled by men" (my translation of Matthew 5:13). Many interpretations the "salt of the earth" metaphor talk about salt as a preservative or a flavoring. Some have referenced the salt used in sacrificial system of the Old Testament. However, salt was used in earthen ovens for baking.
There were not a lot of trees in ancient Israel, so there wasn't a lot of firewood. There was, however, a lot of dung from animals. Salt was mixed with dung to help dry it out for burning. Jesus even referenced the practice of throwing salt on the dung pile (Luke 14:35). Salt and salt plates used in ovens helped the dung to burn hotter and more efficient. However, the salt was not purified and refined and had impurities mixed in. Eventually, the salt would dissolve away and leave behind the other minerals that were useless for the process.
The bottom line, is the very nature of disciples means they are to have impact on others. Disciples, like the salt, are a physical catalyst that makes the fire burn hotter and brighter. Disciples are to be a catalyst for impact. We become the light of the world, letting the light of Christ's gospel shine on all of those who are around us.
Disciples have impact. Are you having impact? Ninety percent (90%) of Christians in this country have never shared their faith. How can we have impact if we are not doing the very mission God has called us to do? Here are some basic tests to assess what impact we are having:
Have you ever shared your faith with anyone?
How would those who know you best describe your faith?
Have you ever had to defend your faith?
Are you involved in any regular activity or ministry in the church that helps others?
Disciples have impact. If we are not having impact, then are we really His disciples?