Changing Britain

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Introduction

During 40 Days of Purpose we were looking at God's purposes for our lives. I wonder if we can remember them two weeks later? Have a look at the screen again.

First – 'You were – say it together - planned for God's pleasure' (worship).
Second – 'You were - formed for God's family' (fellowship).
Third – 'You were - created to become like Christ' (discipleship).
Fourth – 'You were - shaped for serving God (ministry).
And fifth – 'You were - made for a mission' (evangelism).

Now those purposes are all part of our first two aims as a church: Godly Living and Church Growth. And as Jesus said in John 13:17:

"Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them."

The blessing doesn't come in knowing the purposes but in doing them, says Jesus.

Putting them into practice will mean inviting people to Carols by Candlelight this evening and through the week. Putting them into practice should also involve us in our theme and our text for this morning and what is our third aim as a church – 'Changing Britain' – being salt and light, being an influence, making a difference for Christ in this nation, in what the Bible calls 'this crooked and depraved generation' (Phil 2:15) and so bringing glory to God the Father. Yes 'You were chosen to change Britain' (or wherever you live or wherever you are going back to live).

The characteristics of Christian saltiness and light are displayed in the beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12). So being salt and light is part of our ministry and mission to the world. "Blessed are the merciful, the peacemakers and the persecuted", says Jesus. It is part of our discipleship to be different and to make a difference as we deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Christ. "Blessed are the meek and the pure in heart", says Jesus. It is part of our worship as we aim to bring glory to God in every part of our lives. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness", says Jesus. And it is something we are to do together as a fellowship as well as individually. The 'You' in v13&14 of Matthew 5 is plural. And Jesus tells us in those verses that this is part of our role in this world. Have a look at your Bibles. He said to his disciples, v13&14:

"You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world."

So he continues - don't lose your saltiness and don't hide your light. You were chosen to change Britain (or wherever you live or wherever you are going back to live).

As Rick Warren writes in 'The Purpose Driven Life' book:

'You were put on earth to make a contribution. You weren't created just to consume resources – to eat, breathe and take up space. God designed you to make a difference with your life.'

If you have repented and put your faith in Jesus as your Saviour and Lord, if you are one of those whom Jesus calls blessed in v1-12 then 'you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.' Notice that Jesus doesn't say you will be or you might be but rather that you are – so be what you are. The world needs you to be what you are. The world might not always want you to be what you are (look at v10-12 of Matthew 5 – "blessed are the persecuted") but it needs you to be. For salt prevents decay and light illumines the darkness. Britain without salty Christians will rot morally and spiritually, says Jesus by implication, just as meat rots without salt. How Britain needs Christians to be salt and light at the moment as the nation drifts further away from biblical Christianity.

Look up at the screen again and have a look at some of the headlines from this weeks press. We need to change Britain because Britain is changing. According to the latest British Social Attitudes survey over 50% of the population are now at least willing to tolerate homosexuality. The analysts say that that change has come with an increased number of people going to university. Lying has also been in the news with the case of Cherie Blair. And there are problems in education too with failing primary schools in Newcastle. Yesterday it was announced that gay couples should have the same rights as married couples. And of course it's not just Britain that needs changing – look at what is happening in Zimbabwe – 300 people dying every day from AIDS.

Sadly some church leaders have lost their saltiness. In this country the Bishop of Oxford recently helped to spread evil by speaking strongly in favour the bill to allow children to be adopted by unmarried couples whether heterosexual or homosexual. And we need to be clear what that means – the law of Britain now allows vulnerable children to be placed into an immoral situation encouraged by some in the church. On Monday Rowan Williams was confirmed as the next Archbishop of Canterbury. Members of Reform (of which the clergy here are members) have distanced themselves from the appointment and called him a false teacher because of many aspects of his theology including his pro gay views. Jesus calls us to stop the spread of evil and promote the spread of the gospel, of truth and of goodness.

As I've said this is part of our vision at JPC. Look up at what our vision statement says: 'We believe at JPC that we should stand up for Christian values where we live and work, pray for leaders of Britain (and the world) and for a widespread acceptance of the gospel; and support individuals who are seeking to bring a Christian influence to bear in our culture by political means. The well being of British society depends on the presence of a healthy Christian influence. Specifically this will mean for the church: Addressing moral and social issues from a Christian perspective; Equipping Christians for service in the secular world; Encouraging church growth nationwide and worldwide (and not least in Tyneside where vast swathes of the population have never heard the gospel and at a time when the diocese is contracting); Upholding and promoting Christian values in education; Establishing a Christian voice in the media (there are new national digital radio licences up for grabs); Working for biblical renewal in the Church of England.'

We are to be salt and light. So let's now go back to those words of Jesus in Matthew 5. First…


First, YOU ARE THE SALT OF THE EARTH

Look at v13. Jesus says:

"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men."

One of the main uses of salt in Jesus' day was as a preservative. Meat and fish were caked in it to prevent them rotting and perishing. We who are Christians are to do the same in our society – we are to stop the rot and spread the good news to those who are perishing. The good news that, 'God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that whoever believes in him might not perish but have eternal life' (John 3:16). Who needs to hear that message this morning and receive the ultimate antidote to perishing – eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ? Whatever you've done in the past you can find forgiveness through believing and trusting in Jesus as Saviour and Lord. Stopping the rot and spreading the good news will irritate some as only salt can but we must get involved, be proactive and not just reactive, and be a preservative. You see Jesus did not say, 'You are the honey of the world' – but 'the salt of the earth' and salt can bite. Therefore our saltiness will not be liked by everyone.

Now we are not promised here that we will always be able to Christianize legislation and the values of the world, but we are challenged to be an irritant, marching to a different drum and calling on society to heed God's standards. It is vital to the moral and spiritual health of this nation that we do. Yet so often the church in Britain is insipid or even against God's truth. Listen to these words of John Stott:

"In Britain today there is growing dishonesty, corruption, immorality, violence, pornography, a diminishing respect for human life, and an increase in abortion. Whose fault is it? Let me put it like this: if the house is dark at night, there is no sense in blaming the house. That's what happens when the sun goes down. The question to ask is, "Where is the light?" If meat goes bad, there is no sense in blaming the meat. That is what happens when the bacteria are allowed to breed unchecked. The question to ask is, "Where is the salt?" If society becomes corrupt like a dark night or stinking fish, there's no sense in blaming society. That's what happens when fallen human society is left to itself and human evil is unrestrained and unchecked. The question to ask is "Where is the church?"

So what does it mean in practice to be salt in this sense? Well let's take education. We've already seen that there is a need for more salty Christians in our universities – both staff and students. We need to pray for the influence of staff and students who come to this church. For the witness of Christian students both in the workings of the university, such as the Union, and among their peers. One of my friends in America is involved in a ministry called 'Christian Leadership' which encourages university lecturers to be salt and light in curriculum matters and in being upfront about their faith with colleagues and students. Details of their latest project is on the internet at www.conversationsproject.org - do have a look. If we include the FE colleges there must be something like 50,000 students in this city – we need to pray and be salt and light among those who will be among the leaders and decision makers of this nation in the future. At present only a minute percentage have contact with a church. So let's be praying for all the Christians here working and studying in universities to make a difference.

Salty Christians are also needed in our schools. I thank God for the numbers of Christian teachers here at JPC – 70 (enough for own school!) and their daily witness in schools in Tyne and Wear and for all other Christians being salt and light in schools. But there is still much to be done. Sex education is just one area that needs tackling. There are still many opportunities for Christians to be involved in our schools but it is becoming harder in some secondary schools to run Christian groups. We need more Christians going in to teaching, on governing bodies and in positions of responsibility such as SMT where policies are made. Often difficulties in getting Christian assemblies or CU groups comes from having no Christian influence at the top of a school or from the fact that the Christians there have lost their saltiness or hidden their light. The result of that says Jesus is that we are thrown out and trampled by men. We are useless. But without salt there will be decay in our schools and there will be decay among our young people in how they think and act. We also need to set up new models such as a Christian City academy in the West (and East) End of Newcastle.

In August of this year in the United States, Darrell Scott, the father of Rachel Scott, a victim of the Columbine High School shootings in 1999 was invited to address the Congress sub-committee on the issues behind the shootings. They were not prepared for what he had to say, nor was it received well. There is no doubt that God sent this man as a voice crying in the wilderness – to be salt. He said:

"I am here today to declare that Columbine was not just a tragedy-it was a spiritual event that should be forcing us to look at where the real blame lies! Much of the blame lies here in this room. This is what I want to say: Your laws ignore our deepest needs, Your words are empty air. You've stripped away our heritage, You've outlawed simple prayer. Now gunshots fill our classrooms, And precious children die. You seek for answers everywhere, And ask the question "Why?" You regulate restrictive laws through legislative creed. And yet you fail to understand that God is who we need!

"Many of our major colleges began as theological seminaries. So what has happened to us as a nation? We have refused to honour God, and in so doing, we open the doors to hatred and violence. The real villain lies within our own hearts. Political posturing and restrictive legislation are not the answers. We do need a change of heart and a humble acknowledgment that this nation was founded on the principle of simple trust in God!"

"As my son Craig lay under that table in the school library and saw his two friends murdered before his very eyes - he did not hesitate to pray in school. I defy any law or politician to deny him that right! I challenge every young person in America, and around the world, to realize that on April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School prayer was brought back to our schools. Do not let the many prayers offered by those students be in vain. Dare to move into the new millennium with a sacred disregard for legislation that violates your God-given right to communicate with Him. My daughter's death will not be in vain!"

Like Darrell Christians are to be salt and sometimes our leaders need challenging, while also remembering Paul's words in Ephesians 6, that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers and powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." Yes we are in a spiritual battle A small number of Christians can under God bring change just as a relatively small amount of salt can make a disproportionate difference to the lifespan and flavour of food.

Robert Bellah, a sociologist who teaches at the University of California, is very interested in the influence of religion on the community. In an interview in Psychology Today he said, "We should not underestimate the significance of the small group of people who have a new vision of a just and gentle world. The quality of a culture may be changed when 2 percent of its people have a new vision." There are probably still more than 2 percent Christians in Britain. I pray that God will call you to permeate non-Christian society for Christ, to take your stand there uncompromisingly with the value system and moral standards of Jesus.

Salt also adds flavour and creates thirst. Salt draws out the distinctive flavour of food, and without it some foods seem insipid and unattractive. My wife's bread, for example, is inedible…when she forgets to add the salt! It is the salty Christian that should bring flavour to life and society. Our fullness of life, joy, appreciation of beauty should characterise us as Christians and set us apart in what can be a drab, dysfunctional world. The attractiveness of the living Christ living in us will draw some people. Salt also creates thirst. It is not only what we say about the gospel that points people to Christ, it's the quality of life we have found and enjoy in him which creates a thirst in others for God.

We might be tempted to think that being salt in today's society will drive everybody away from the gospel. No. Some will persecute us and hate us. But others will be drawn as we display God's righteousness in this world. In that way salt is also associated with purity. It is self -righteousness that condemns the unrighteous and keeps them away. So don't lose your saltiness! If you have then admit it to God and repent. How the church in Britain needs to repent. Look at 2 Chronicles 7:14 on the screen.

"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and will heal their land."

Isaiah 58, which we read earlier, is also a call to God's people to recognise their sin and rebellion and to instead fast truly by feeding the hungry, by tackling injustice, by keeping Sunday Special and by sharing the gospel which looses chains. We need to pray and act for a biblical revival for then the impact on society is considerable as hearts and minds are changed. In the Welsh revival of the early 20th century the crime rate vanished and the police became redundant so they set up singing groups to go round local churches!


Secondly, YOU ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD

Look at v14-16. Jesus says:

"You are the light of the world, A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."

Now this is not just referring to JPC's Carols by Candlelight services! Though I hear that the light of those who were singing at the Monument yesterday was shining brightly as 3000 invitations were handed out.

Jesus says Christians who display the beatitudes are also the light of the world. Together as the body of Christ our light can shine strongly and brightly just as a city cannot be hidden when it stands on a hill. But what does this mean for each one of us during the week? Well let's go back to the example of education. We are to let our light shine inside and outside the school gates. Outside as we mix with other parents and take opportunities to help them in some way. If we let our light shine then the darkness of this world and of our schools can be illuminated and pushed back and others will see our good deeds and praise our Father in heaven. What is this light by which we as Jesus' disciples lighten a dark world and a dark school? Jesus says here that it is the good deeds that we perform. These include evangelism but often our good deeds will be pre-evangelism – acts of compassion and mercy motivated by love which earn us the right to speak about the gospel. Through those some will recognise that we are followers of Christ and praise [not us] but our Father in heaven.

So shine in our schools. Be prepared to get appropriately involved. To do good deeds whether that's by helping on school outings or by being involved at a policy level. And let's also shine in our universities, our hospitals, our offices, our neighbourhoods, our families etc. Don't hide your light under a two gallon bowl, says Jesus in v15, so that no-one can see it rather put it on its stand so that Christ can stand out through you. And as with salt a small amount of light can make a huge impact. So please don't think you can't do anything to change Britain – in Christ you can. Often we don't realise the impact our changed lives have on others.

So please don't hide your light – don't be like some believers who are what might be called "rabbit hole" Christians. As someone has said: "In the morning they pop out of their safe Christian homes, hold their breath at work, scurry home to their families and then off to their Bible studies, and finally end the day praying for the unbelievers they safely avoided all day."

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