Luis Menjivar continues our Glow series with Salt of the Earth.
We are talking about this idea of leaving a legacy behind. The reality is, we all make an impact on this world. Every single one of us will all leave something of a trail. It’s why any life that leaves this side of eternity is felt. The absence is felt. The only difference is whether or not we will appreciate, enjoy, or be satisfied with the legacy we leave behind because every one of our choices affects one another. Though we might be tempted to think we might go unnoticed or our lives are not really making much of a difference, the reality is all of us impact each other. We each rub shoulders with one another. It doesn’t matter what belief system we carry. We do affect one another.
We see it. We notice it everywhere. We joked a little bit about it last week, but we see it. We see it when we’re at the grocery store at the end of a long day of work. We just want to get home because we’re hungry. We might actually be hangry. Somebody steps in front of us and cuts us in line. We see that abnormal sense of rudeness and lack of kindness. We notice it. We also notice it when we’re in line and only have a couple of items in our hands and somebody in front of us with a shopping cart full of stuff moves aside and allows us to go in front of them. We notice that. It hits us. If we notice such small things like that, we absolutely notice things in the larger areas of life where we think this is the gravity of life. These things matter. They carry weight.
Jesus loved to talk about legacy. He loved to talk about the reality that all of us make an impact. Jesus would always elevate the value of an individual person. Which is what I think attracted so many people to Him. No matter where they came from or where they found themselves on the socioeconomic ladder, they were always valued by Jesus. This is why he attracted, in my opinion, people of high education, people of no education, people on the margins of life, and people in the very center in the seat of power. He appealed to them because He had a way about Him that elevated the value of one life. One of the places He did this most famously was in His sermon that He delivered on the side of a mountain. It came to be known as the Sermon on the Mount. We took a look at it a little bit a week ago. There was this illustration He used, we find it in Matthew five, that speaks to this idea that every single one of our lives is meant to make an impact. Jesus said it in Matthew five and we’ll read it here together.
Verse 14, Jesus says to those who are open to God and drawing near to Him, “You are the light of the world, like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand where it gives light to everyone in the house. You, who are open to God, you who are wanting to be my students and my followers, you! You’re the light of the world. That is your value. You’re the light of the world.” He also says, “Now think about light. You’re like a city on a hilltop. It cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket.” He’s saying no one lights a lamp and then is surprised that it’s illuminating things. We would say no one turns out turns on a light bulb and then seeks to hide it, “Oh no, no! It wasn’t supposed to do that.” He’s having a little bit of fun here. Jesus is saying don’t be surprised when you’re noticed.
If we could put it in a vernacular, it’s difficult to follow me covertly. You will be noticed. This is what He is saying, “You’re like a light and it’s supposed to shine. In the same way that a light shines, let your good deeds shine out for all to see so that everyone will praise your Heavenly Father. Let everyone see your way of life because as you lean into me and as you become open to my teachings in your life, your way of life will be noticed. So let everyone see.” In another place, He says, “Do everything, do things, good things, in secret.” This might seem to contradict what He’s saying here, “Let everyone see your good deeds,” because here’s what He’s not saying, “go ahead and announce it before you do it.” “Attention. Good deed about to happen.” He’s not saying that. What is he saying, then? If as you lean into this, as you lean into my teachings in your life and as you allow God to work in your life, things will come out of you that you cannot help. You cannot hide it. It will be noticed. The way you behave, the way you live, you will end up becoming an arrow pointing in God’s direction. People will notice it. They will praise your Heavenly Father. They won’t know how to put words to it, but they will know this is supernatural. This is kindness that is heavenly in nature. He says that’s the impact we are supposed to make. That’s the value. You feel how He elevates every single person listening to Him, anyone open to Him.
These words ended up being words that greatly affected those in the first century of the Roman Empire. The people who listened to Jesus and leaned into Him ended up becoming a part of a movement that erupted. One of the champions of this movement was a man named the apostle Paul. He was one who proclaimed Jesus, His message, and His goodness in this life. It’s hard to argue the fact that He impacted more people with one life than anyone else in His generation. He traveled more extensively. He endured more extensively, all in the name of seeking to lean into this idea of what it might be like to be a light of the world.
There’s this incident in which Paul sits down with a group of elders that he had spent about three years. In this group of churches from the city Ephesus in modern-day Turkey. He knew he wasn’t going to see them again and ended up asking them to draw near so that he could remind them of the life he lived in their midst. What was he doing? Paul was speaking to them of the legacy he sought to leave behind. That’s what we’re going to hear now. As we consider legacy for a minute, I wonder if we had the opportunity to gather those we loved the most. If we knew we would not see them again and had the opportunity to remind them of the way we sought to live our lives and wanted to impress on them the most important things in our lives that we want to leave behind as a legacy, what would we say? What would we highlight? This is the very opportunity the apostle Paul took advantage of and is the account we’re going to read. We find it in the book of Acts.
We find it in Acts 20. We’ll go ahead and walk through this. Paul summoned the elders or the leaders of these different churches together and we’re told in verse 18 that “when the elders arrived, he declared, ‘You know that from the day I set foot in the province of Asia,’ or we say, Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey, ‘until now I have done the Lord’s work humbly and with many tears. I have endured the trials that came to me from the plots of the Jews,’ or the Jewish leadership, ‘who resisted my message.’” So from the very beginning, what do we see? We see that Paul reminds them, “When I came to you, I came to you, not with amazing strength. I came in weakness.” I came invulnerably. I came crying and endured a lot of pain. Do you remember?
Paul is saying. “Do you remember? How I was persecuted for what I was saying? How I was punished in a way.” Any of us that ever feel any kind of resistance, the human nature inside of us would shy away. It would step back and say, “Ah, maybe this isn’t the best idea.” You get the sense that’s exactly what Paul was wrestling with as well. Look at these words Paul chooses to use in verse 20. “I never shrank back.” Do you know what that tells us? “I wanted to. I had a hard time. It wasn’t easy, but I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear either publicly or in your homes. I had one message for both Jewish people and Greeks alike. The necessity of repenting, that is turning away from sin or a life devoid of God, and turning to God and having faith in our Lord Jesus. I have one message and it’s been consistent. I haven’t changed my tone. I haven’t changed what I have said. I have told it to you in the privacy of your home where I could whisper it and no one else would hear. I have proclaimed it in public where everyone could hear. I have said the very same thing. You know it, you remember it.” This is what he’s saying to them.
Paul says, “Now I am bound by the spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. I don’t know what’s ahead, but I know this. I know some people are warning me, ‘Don’t go there, there’s going to be suffering, there’s going to be pain. Don’t do it, Paul.'” But Paul says, “There’s a conviction inside of me that I must do it.” Look at this statement. This is a statement that elevates what it looks like to be light in the world to the highest of watermarks. He continues, “My life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus.” The work of telling others the good news about the wonderful grace of God. He says, “I know danger awaits me, but I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter what else I accomplish, no matter what other accolades I receive, no matter what other points of success I may have, if my life does not point others towards the grace of God, it’s lost something of its purpose. It lost something of its worth. That’s my conclusion.” This is what Paul is telling them. It is an extraordinary model that he leaves us and them.
He says in verse 31, “Watch out. Remember the three years I was with you, my constant watch and care over you night and day,” and there it is again, “my many tears for you.” If this is the only picture we have of Paul, we would understand Paul to be a very sentimental man, a soft man. A tender man who cried, it seems, at the drop of the hat. The reality is that a fuller picture of Paul presents us with a man that is radically different than that. Paul was a man who had rough edges. He was a man of passion and zeal. He would speak boldly. He would lean into things. There were incidents in his life that are nothing short of remarkable. In one incident, the town turned against him, pelted him with stones, and left him for dead. He gets back up and goes right back into the town that just left him there. That’s amazing. Most of us would say, “I’m out. Okay, thank you but I’m going somewhere else now.” Paul got back up and moved into it. He had been beaten and incarcerated. He suffered a shipwreck in the middle of the open sea. I don’t think it’s hard for us to imagine what that must have been like. Not see land and to be clobbered by the waves against the rocks in the pitch-black night, the ship is destroyed. I’ve gone surfing and that’s terrifying. This is a man’s man. This is a pro-typical man who is strong in every way. He’s tenacious, doesn’t quit, and isn’t driven by his emotions. At the same time, we see this complex human being who says, “I was unafraid to show you affection. I was not afraid to cry with you. You saw the real me. You know how I cared for you.”
In another letter to the Thessalonians, Paul said, “I cared for you like a mother nurses her child.” I care for you like a mother nurses her child, think about that. He continues and says, “Listen, now I entrust you to God and the message of His grace that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with all those He has set apart for Himself. I have never coveted anyone’s silver, gold, or fine clothes. You know this, I’ve never done this. I’ve never used our relationship like a business transaction. I didn’t use it to increase my wealth. You know these hands of mine have worked to supply my own needs and the needs of those who are here with me. I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard.” Think about that. What kind of life must be lived to be able to use these words about themselves? Paul wasn’t being arrogant. He does say, “I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard.” If anyone were to dare to say these things without having lived the life that warrants them saying it, we would say, “All right, time out, time out, hold on. Who are you talking about? Are you talking about yourself or somebody else?” We would have a hard time allowing that to continue, but Paul was able to say it because he had lived it.
He continued saying, “Listen, you should remember the words of the Lord Jesus, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” After saying these words, Paul ends up reminding them that he is not going to see them again and the impact of his life is seen. You could read it yourself in the account in Acts 20. It’s a beautiful picture. What happens is these grown men, elders, and leaders of different church communities end up recognizing the man that is standing before them and sharing with him. They hug him, cry over him, and pray for him because of the impact he left with them over three years’ time. It’s an amazing example worth pondering. This is what a light in the world looks like. How can we unpack this? How can we sit with this in our own lives? Firstly, what is this saying to us? It’s telling us a couple of things. That the way we speak of Jesus matters. I’m definitely communicating with those of us who are in a place where we have embraced Jesus in our lives. We have gone beyond exploring and are now seeking to be His students.
Just as an aside, any of us who would claim such a thing that in itself, the way we speak matters. Speech is supposed to be seasoned with words that encourage, lift up, and speak life into others. They are supposed to be different. Beyond that, what is Paul saying? What did Jesus say? The way we live our lives and the way we speak about Jesus matters. It matters. I remember when I was younger, I was a teenager when I started coming here and started learning what it looked like to be a Christian, a Christ-follower. I remember playing sports with a group of believers. I don’t remember what sport I was playing, I just remember that we were losing, so I wasn’t doing good. I remember getting frustrated and saying His name in frustration. A lot of people use His name and they don’t really know what they’re saying. I remember it just came out of me and somebody around there said, “Where, where, where?” It took me back. He looked at me and caught my attention. I looked at him and he says, “Don’t say it unless you mean it. Don’t do that. Don’t say it unless you mean it.”
There’s something of a reverence that’s supposed to develop within us towards Him. Peter was telling the ones he was writing to,, “But in your hearts, revere Christ as Lord.” First Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have, but do this with gentleness and respect.” Peter was saying what Jesus was saying, don’t be surprised when people notice. So Paul modeled, “I spoke to you of Him day and night. In private and in public, I spoke to you of Him.” Peter said, “Listen, expect for people to ask you why. Why is it that you’re this way? You’re different.” Expect it. The way we speak of Jesus matters. There’s something about this life that is meant to be noticed and others will ask us.
Here’s the beautiful thing. We don’t have to be scholars. We don’t have to be well-versed. We don’t have to be theologically trained. We don’t have to be public communicators. What’s required of us is Authenticity. To authentically be able to speak of the one we love and we’ve been loved by. In our culture and society, authenticity is a powerful currency that speaks volumes because it is in high demand and it is very rare. When others notice, it may not be a lot of times, they won’t set the ball on the tee and ask us to swing at it. They won’t ask us, “Hey, listen, I’ve noticed your way of life is so amazing. Can you tell me what it is that you do once a week that causes you…” They’re not going to set it up for us so perfectly. It’s going to come up at inopportune times like when we’re under pressure, people are blowing up, but we’re not. They’re going to ask, “Whoa, what’s up with that?” Or when other people’s speech is seasoned with other types of spices and ours isn’t, and yet we’re normal. What’s up with that? It means we’re not going to get a chance to think about it in advance. We’re not going to be told, “Tomorrow I’m going to ask you, so tonight you might want to prepare.” It means we should think of it now. As a suggestion, take a couple of minutes and write out, “What would I say if I had the chance to speak of Jesus?” Just write up.
If I had the opportunity with those who see me day in and day out, rub shoulders with day in and day out, and ask me, “What’s going on? Something’s different.” How would I respond? That positions us to be able to do it. Peter says, Do it without disrespect, do it respectfully, do it gently. It requires us to be secure enough not to be afraid to speak of the one we love. Insecurity is what makes us defensive or condescending. It’s security that allows us to speak of the one we love. “I’m comfortable. It’s okay. This is my story. This is my experience.” Do we do that? We start to lean into what it looks like to be a light to the world.If that’s the case, then it also shows us that the way we care for others increases the impact of our words. It’s the way we care that increases the impact of our words.
It was a week ago that we had our forum for our twenties and thirties. We sat at round tables, had food, and were talking to different people. I had ideas, sharing our stories, so we got to hear different people’s stories and I got to share mine. Somebody that I had already talked to and I understood to be highly educated, was very cerebral in their way of viewing life. Which is very admirable. They asked me after I shared my story, “Weren’t you ever dubious? Weren’t you ever suspicious of this whole faith thing?” I sat down. I was already sitting down, but I had to think about it. It slowed me down because people don’t ask that a lot. I just sat there and realized, “Huh, let me see. Why was I?” I realized I was in a place in life where I was open to the words of Jesus. There are very few things He says that I think, “Man, that’s terrible.” Everything that Jesus says is so life-giving. All throughout history, He’s been revered as one of the great teachers for His words. It’s amazing what He says. So there I had a tough time being suspicious.
Do you know when I was suspicious? With people. With people, I suspected, “Is this real to you?” I know I’m partial because this is my community. I can tell you sincerely that as I started to observe people in this community, I started to notice how people cared for one another. I started to soften my suspicion. Then as I started to get involved in this community, I started to be one who received authentic love. As I started to reveal my brokenness to others and reveal what is wrong with me, what I know is it’s only a matter of time before you see it so I might as well tell you in advance. I started to receive through people the words Jesus said. I’ll tell you what. It is a hard thing to resist real love. It’s why Paul told the Romans, “Don’t pretend to love others. Really love them.” Don’t pretend to love others. Don’t do that. Really love them. Someone was saying, “Yeah, it’s so easy. All we’ve got to do is hit the Like button.” It’s as easy as that. In an age where it is easy, I could say it this way, to run an exchange in the commodity of phony love, it is authentic, real care that will show up. Those are the things no one will applaud. No one will have a standing ovation for real love. They’re the things that go unnoticed. They’re the things that no one really sees day in and day out, but they are there. They are there in the small moments.
What else does he say? He says, “Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good, love each other with genuine affection.” There it is again. If we have a hard time being affectionate, it’s okay. Maybe we are in a season where we are to receive affection, receive the love of Christ in our lives, and take delight in honoring each other. That is, highlight what is good about the person next to you. Speak well of them. In an age that is so lacking to do that, it’s to step into a place that very few people experience. Truly experience where the motives aren’t. I’m looking at this as a networking opportunity. I have been loved and therefore I want to love. It’s free. You owe me nothing. That astounds. If that’s the case, then it reminds us that our lives at the end of the day are meant to illuminate just how good the Lord is. At the end of the day, no matter what accomplishments we have, no matter whatever station in life we’ve been given, the education level we might have, our past, our present, where we might think our hope and future is going, our lives are meant to illuminate just how good God is, as Jesus said it. It does that. It’s fulfilled its purpose.
I’m an admirer of history. I like to study different people and periods of time. A person that’s caught my attention is a man who’s known as Lord Shaftesbury. He was the seventh earl of Shaftesbury. His name was Anthony Ashley Cooper. He lived in the 1800s and was a contemporary of William Wilberforce who was known for fighting for 30 years for the emancipation of slavery. He is commonly revered and known widely. Lord Shaftesbury is not so known. When he passed away in 1885 at the age of 84, England was so impacted by his life they called for a national day to honor him at Westminster Abbey. The cathedral was filled with different types of dignitaries and people well-to-do in pedigree and class. The streets were filled with people that were marginalized, the poor, and of low reputation. You could hear it. One chronicler said, “You could hear them mourning our Lord Shaftesbury. There will never be a man like him.
By the time he had passed away, he had invested or created around 1500 different types of associations. He was the pioneer who started the idea of curbing child labor laws because they had this assignment or this job called the chimney climber. They would send children up into the chimneys to clean them. They did not recognize the danger to their physical being or did not care. Many times, the children fell. It was Lord Shaftesbury who said, “No, that’s not right. Let’s not do that.” In the middle of the industrial revolution, he was the one who said, “Just because they have small hands doesn’t mean they’re the ones who should work in these factories cleaning out the gears. Let’s not do that.”
He was the one who went into what they called insane asylums and humanized them. He ended up investing funds to research why it is that this group of people, this population, is mentally underdeveloped. He started funding them. He created a caring way to supply them with resources. He ended up going into the streets and calling women out of a livelihood of low reputation. He trained them, housed them, and released them to be able to have a legitimate job in their day. He was a man who created schools for poor children who were running around in the streets. The children Charles Dickens often wrote about, he educated them. He created orphanages. He housed the addicted to alcohol, opium, and other types of drugs. He rehabilitated them and created homes for them.
Lord Shaftesbury did amazing things because of his position, prestige, power, and wealth. He was able to affect so many lives. At the end of his years, people wanted to chronicle his life and he resisted. Every single time, he resisted. He said, “No.” Finally, by the end, he recognized people were going to do it whether he authorized it or not. He wanted to authorize it to one person. He allowed this person to have access to his diaries and private documents. You can read the book. It’s out of print and called, The Life and Work of the Lord Shaftesbury. In the beginning, he tells the author, “Listen, I want you to know something. You need to make this known.” The author says, “What?” “That all of this happened because of a woman named Mary Mills.” “Who is Mary Mills?” He says, “I grew up in a home where my father was distant, my mother was cold, preoccupied with the societal endeavors. It was Mary Mills, she was the housekeeper and my caretaker. When I was a child, she was the one who cared for me and showed me affection. She bathed, cleansed, and fed me. At night, she would speak to me about Jesus.
Eventually, I ended up asking Jesus into my life. Mary was the one who taught me how to pray. She gave me my first Bible and taught me how to read it. When she was making her way out and I was leaving home, she knew we weren’t going to see each other, she gave me a watch, and said, “Take advantage of every opportunity.” He wore that watch to his dying day. He said, “All of this happened because Mary Mills introduced me to Jesus.” A housekeeper who would never be known, a servant who decided to shine her light. I just wonder, who are we supposed to shine our light with? We do not know how far-reaching the impact can be. We do not know, but Jesus said, “You, you’re the light of the world.” So we would say, “May we glow, may we shine brightly, and may our lives speak of His goodness.”
Let’s pray. Lord, I thank you that you give us the privilege of being a part of your amazing work, not just in our own lives, but then you extend through us and your light, it cannot be hidden. I pray that you give us the courage to own it. You give us the courage to prepare for the day we are asked to speak of you. I pray that no matter what else we do, what else we accomplish, how else we live, I pray that you would use our lives to illuminate just how good you are. May you glow through us. We ask for this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
What legacy are you leaving behind? Let’s explore the answer together through our new message series, Glow.
Guest Speaker Alex Costanzo shares how she’s been able to rely on God’s nature to keep glowing in spite of personal darkness that has come into her and her family’s lives.