Salt and Light

Jesus gave a colorful and apt instruction to his disciples, and to all of us by extension, that we are to be “salt and light” of the world. This expression has touched the hearts of many, and has deep meaning and implication for all of life. Personally, I have always loved this instruction, and it has essentially driven most of my life, wherever I go in the world. Salt, meaning to give flavor and interest to life, and to others; light, meaning to explain and help brighten the lives of those around us. The beauty of salt and light in action is also that we are blessed even more, as we bless others.

When we started our medical mission in China, MSI, 25 years ago, I thought that it was perfect that we could indeed have the potential to be salt and light, in a land that previously had been closed to the outside world. It was a relatively sensitive time, and salt and light seemed the perfect approach to help people in need, especially among minority tribes and in deprived areas. By our actions and our love, we were able to be helpful, and to learn many things by working with poor tribal people in the mountains of Southwest China. 

Photo: Salt, light and Chinese food, at a favorite place.

I used to tell our team members, just be yourself, be salt and light naturally, don’t worry about preaching, just let our actions be the message of love. Indeed, wherever we went on our mission, I could imagine easily what Jesus might have been doing, 2,000 years earlier, among similar villagers and poor people, as a supreme role model.

For several years before we began MSI, one of my best teachers was Rev Lam of Macau who had been one of the first people from outside China, in the 1980s, to go into southern China, to set up schools and do charitable work. Wherever he went, he was respected and welcomed. He brought in our first medical team, in 1989, to go into villages in southern China, probably one of the first medical teams to do so during that opening era. 

Rev Lam reminded us that most people in the villages had never even met a follower of Jesus, and did not know anything about Him. He thought that, doctors and nurses would be especially great as “salt and light.” We were just to do the things that came naturally to us, medical and nursing care, without doing anything artificial, with lots of love, and making lots of friends! I thought this was just perfect, salt and light as it should be, nothing contrived or forced!

I think that, in America and in many affluent parts of the world, we have often forgotten the simple salt and light instruction of Jesus. Sometimes it seems we have even forgotten why we are here on earth. We just try to enjoy ourselves, with more money, more entertainment, more food, more cruises. There seems to be no end to all our “vanity of vanities” that King Solomon lamented in his later life. In many instances we have more vanities than even the great king experienced. Seeing all of our lives, thousands of years later, I can imagine him shaking his head sadly. We could say we have often lost our salt and our light.

Photo: Just chatting over coffee in lobby of large church. I like the role of “lobbyist,” taking selfies with those I chat with, especially if I can give away my coffee book. Salt, light and coffee.

However, instead of losing our salt and light, I can imagine many ways to restore it, even in affluent America. For example, one way is, let’s go out and invite someone we don’t know that well, for coffee, for lunch, for ice cream, just so that we can chat and have good relationships. A younger person; an old person; a person away from home. Practically anyone we meet can be an opportunity for this kind of salt and light. We can just listen, we can literally just chat merrily away, and ways to be helpful will naturally emerge. 

Nearly always, by chatting face to face, we will experience a good feeling, a feeling of relationship, a feeling of better understanding, a feeling of common humanity. We will see, and realize that this is another individual that God loves, no matter what the background, culture, or even language. Yes of course it might cost a bit of money, but what are we keeping all that money for, anyway? We might even make a few new friends, and that would be priceless. 

We had the greatest fun in Cincinnati to chat with hundreds of scholars from China, in so-called “English corners” that were spread out at the main cafeteria of the Children’s Hospital. We just used the booths and tables to meet one on one, or one with 2-3 scholars, mostly just to help improve their verbal English skills. We learned so much, and made so many friends, simply by chatting in our primary language, which was English! How difficult can that be? And yet we were able to be helpful, encouraging, and stimulating to our friends, and we learned to appreciate many new cultural perspectives from these wonderful interactions. Salt and light to them, and some sort of salt and light to us, a secondary blessing.

Many people know my enthusiasm for bringing young people on short-term missions. A major reason is simply that this is one of the greatest impetuses for salt and light training. When we go out to another country (and the farther you go the better it is, I think), you are out of your comfort box, but suddenly you realize that you are indeed now the salt and light, a key part of the mission. So practically instantaneously, you begin to be more friendly, more communicative, more lively. 

Because of the strange situation that you are in, on a mission field, surprisingly, you feel less constrained by normal rules, and thus freer about sharing your life and faith. And so you do that, just naturally and without any fanfare; ergo, you have naturally become salt and light. This is a subtle great training that makes you realize, you could do this even back in the home country! And indeed, you can!

We all know that the best way to learn is to see something happening before our eyes, to see it in real life, to see it in action, and that’s what usually happens on the short-term mission. You see the missionaries in action, you see your leaders in action, you see your team members in action, and suddenly you realize that you can do it also. Role modeling is much more powerful than lecturing. Being inspired, being touched, can give you motivation for life!

Photo: Salt, light, English conversations, and kids in Yunnan village.

And suddenly, we realize that all the gifts that God has given to us, can be used as part of the salt and light mission that we are involved in. No matter whether it is music (even invite them to a musical event), art (draw them a picture), writing (send them a nice note), or just chatting, we can use all of that as salt and light to those around us. We realize quickly that, by giving of ourselves to others, basically what is meant by salt and light, we reduce our emphasis on ourselves, and the need to expect things from other people. Instead, we see how blessed it is to give of ourselves, in all kinds of situations!

During my busiest days in Cincinnati in my last decade there, I could literally be meeting someone for lunch every day. Lunchtime is such a great time for chatting, since people might be able to take off for an hour from work, and they are nearly always more relaxed during a meal. But certainly, afternoon coffee or ice cream times, depending on the age of the individual, are just as fun. It is the opportunity for one-on-one chats in a quiet relaxed place that is the key, where the magic of relationships, of salt and light, just happens!

In my later recent life, I think that the fact that an older more mature person would sit down and listen to someone younger for an hour, can likely itself be inspirational, and a very subtle form of salt and light. At least I think that’s why younger people seem to be receptive. It’s the role model effect, before their eyes, even a subtle “body language” effect, demonstrating love and concern. 

We are clearly affected by everything that happens around us. If the one third of the world which is Christian, would live a life that is salt and light, the world would be vastly different, and changed for the better. And those who show the salt and light will be hugely impacted themselves, their lives clearly becoming more meaningful and “abundant,” just like the John 10:10 declaration.

And, there are indeed thousands of ways you could be salt and light. Practically anything, any personal gift or talent you have, can become salt and light. Just give it some thought and prayer, and let your creative juices help inspire you. And go!

Photo: Salt, light and video chats when they don’t freeze.

盐和光 (Dan and Aiden Zhao 翻译)

耶稣给他的门徒,包括我们所有人,一个多彩多姿的教导,要我们去做世上的“盐和光”。这个比喻打动了许多人的心灵,也有着深刻的意义和生命中的实用价值。就个人而言,我一直很喜欢这个教导;不管我在世上任何地方,在我的大半生中它一直激励我 。盐,代表着给生活和他人添加滋味和乐趣;光,代表着解释和帮助我们身边人的生活添加亮光。“盐和光”的美在于我们祝福他人的时候我们被更多地祝福。

当我们25年前开始在中国进行国际医疗服务时,我认为那时是在一个对外封闭的土地上我们做盐和光最佳的机会。那时是相对敏感的时代,做盐和光看起来是帮助有需要的人的最好的方式,特别是对少数民族和落后地区而言。用我们的行动和爱,我们通过和中国西南山区贫穷少数民族时能够帮助他们并且从中学习很多。

插图1:盐,光和中国菜,我们常去的餐馆.

我曾经总告诉我的同伴们,只要做你自己,自然地做盐和光,不用担心讲道,只需要让我们的行动成为爱的语言。确实,不管我们服务到哪里,我可以很容易地想象耶稣在2000年前会怎样做,在同样的村民和穷人中做一个高尚的楷模。

在我们开始国际医疗服务之前的几年前,我最好的老师来自澳门的蓝牧师是80年代来自国外,走进中国南部建立学校和做慈善事业的第一人。不管他走到哪里,他都受到尊敬和欢迎。他在1989年带领我们的第一个医疗团队来到南方的乡村,可能是改革开放以来这样做的第一个医疗队伍。

蓝牧师提醒我们,在村庄里大多数人从来没有遇见过任何耶稣的跟随者,也一点都不知道关于耶稣的事。他想,医生和护士刚刚好做“盐和光”。我们就自然而然地充满爱心地做我们该做的医疗和护理,没有任何做作,结交朋友!我想这也最好,盐和光就像它们本身一样,不需要任何添饰和故意。

插图 2:在一个大的教会咖啡时间聊天。我喜欢做“游说者”,和我一起聊天的人照自拍,特别是我能把我的书送人。盐,光和咖啡。

我觉得,在美国和世界许多富有的地方,我们经常忘记来自耶稣的这个简单的盐和光的教导。有些时候看起来我们甚至忘记了我们为什么来到世上。我们只想自己享受,赚更多的钱,更多娱乐,更多食物,更多豪华游轮。看起来所罗门国王在晚年所感叹的“一切都是虚空”在今世也没有尽头。很多时候我们甚至比伟大的国王所经历的虚空还多。我可以想象他看着我们在他身后几千年的生活会很伤心的摇头。我们可以说我们会经常失去自己的的盐和光。

可是与其失去我们的盐和光,我可以想象,甚至在富裕的美国,有很多办法去把它找回来。举个例子,一个方法是走出家门和我们不太熟悉的人去喝咖啡,吃中饭,吃冰淇淋,一起聊天和建立友谊。和年轻人,老年人,家人不在身边的人。现实中我们几乎和所有遇见的人用这样的机会去做光和盐。我们只需要聆听,我们可以愉快地聊天,自然而然地有帮助的想法就会冒出来。

几乎每一次面对面的交谈,我们就会经历一种很好的感觉,友情,更多的理解,共同的人性。我们会看到,意识到另外一个人也是神所喜爱的,不论背景,文化,甚至语言。当然会花一些钱,可是我们存钱要干什么呢?我们甚至可能交几个新朋友,这才是无价的。

我们在辛辛那提最大的乐趣就是和来自中国的几百个访问学者在所谓的“英语角”,也就是儿童医院的餐厅,里面聊天。我们每桌一对一或一对二三个帮助他们提高英语水平。我们通过用我们的母语,就是英语聊天,让我们学到了很多,也交了很多的朋友!这有什么难的呢?可是我们能够帮助,鼓舞,和激励我们的朋友,我们也从这些交谈中学到很多中国文化上的新东西。对于他们我们是盐和光,我们也得到了来自盐和光的另外一层祝福。

许多人知道我有带年轻人去短宣的热忱。一个主要的原因就是来自盐和光训练的激励。当我们去别的国家(我觉得越远越好),你就需要离开你的安逸区,可是突然你会意识到你真的变成了盐和光,成为了队伍里不可或缺的一员。所以实际上你立刻开始更友善,更爱交流,更活泼。

在外宣的工厂,因为所处的陌生环境,你会令人讶异地不会被常规束缚,因此更容易与人分享你的生命历程和信仰。就在你做这些事情的时候,自然地你就做了盐和光。这是一个微小的却很好的训练,可以让你认识到你甚至在自己本土上也能做到。真的,你可以。

我们都知道最好的学习方法是亲眼目睹地去学,在生活中,在行动中,就像经常发生在短宣的过程中。你看到宣道 在行动,你看到你的带头人在行动,你看到你的团员在行动,突然间你会发现你也能做到。榜样的力量远远胜过说教。被激励,被感动,能带给你生活的动力 。

插图 3:盐,光,英语课,和云南村庄的孩子们。

突然间我们发现所有上帝赐给我们的恩典,都能被用来在我们参与盐和光的使命 。不管是音乐(甚至邀请别人去音乐会),艺术(给别人画画),写作(给别人写一封温暖的便条),或者只是聊天,我们能用所有这些作为给我们身边的人的盐和光。我们很快会意识到,当我们把自己给别人的时候,就是所谓的做盐和光,我们减少了对自己的关注,需求和从别人那里的期待。相反,我们看到了我们在所有时候把自己摆上是多大的福份

在我住在辛辛那提的最后十年最忙的时候,我能每天和人吃中饭。午餐时间是聊天的很好的时间,因为人们可以从工作中挤出一个小时,而且总是在吃饭的时候更放松。但是下午的咖啡或是冰淇淋,举个人的年龄而定,也一样有趣。在一个安静放松的地方有一对一聊天的机会是关键,交通的神奇,盐和光,就来了。

在我最近的生活,我想一个年长更成熟的人愿意坐下来行一个年轻的人讲一个小时,本身就很振奋人,也是盐和光的一种微小的形式。至少我觉得这是为什么年轻人看起来容易接受。这是榜样的力量,在他们面前,甚至一个细微的“肢体语言,表达着爱和关心。

我们明显地被我们身边发生的事情影响着。如果世界上三分之一的人,也就是基督徒,都愿意过盐和光的生活,世界会决然的不同,变得更美好。那些展现盐和光的人将极大地被改变,他们的生活清楚地变得更有意义和“丰富”,就像约翰福音10:10宣告的一样。

你可以有千万个方式去做盐和光。现实中任何事,任何个人的才能,都能做盐和光。花一些时间想一想和祷告,让你的创作力帮助你。去做吧!

插图 4:盐,光和电脑没出故障的视频聊天

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