Matthew 5:13-16 13 “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. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 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.
Salt and light both make a difference. Salt enhances food and brings out the best in its flavor. Light dispels darkness and illuminates the way for people. Both make a difference. Jesus has called us salt and light. That means we are supposed to make a difference.
In his book, The Americanization of Edward Bok, Edward Bok, one-time editor of the Ladies’ Home Journal, tells a story about his grandfather, who lived in Denmark. It seems the grandfather had been commissioned by the King of Denmark to lead a band of soldiers against pirates who were playing havoc with shipping along a certain coastal area. The elder Bok set up his headquarters on a lonely, rocky, desolate island just off the coast, and after a few years was able to clear the pirates out of the area.
Upon returning to the mainland Bok reported to the King. The King was very pleased and offered Bok anything he wanted. All he wanted, he told the King, was a plot of land on the island where he had just lived and fought for so many months. They told him the island was barren. Why would he want to live there? “I want to plant trees,” was Bok’s reply. “I want to make the island beautiful.” The King’s aides thought he was crazy. The island was constantly swept by storms and high winds. He would never be able to get a tree to grow there.
Bok, however, insisted, and the King granted him his wish. He went to live on the island, built a home, and finally was able to bring his wife to it. For years, they worked industriously, persistently, planting trees, shrubs, and grass. Gradually the vegetation took hold, the island began to flourish. One morning they arose to hear birds singing. There had never been any birds on the island before.
Eventually the island became a showplace and now is visited by thousands of tourists each year. When he died the grandfather requested that the following words be inscribed on his tombstone: “Make the world a bit more beautiful and better because you have been on it.”
But the story doesn’t end there. Edward Bok, the grandson, who had become an American citizen, believed that anyone who was able to do so should retire at 50 and spend the rest of his life making the world a more beautiful and better place to live. And he was as good as his word. At 50 he retired as editor of the Ladies’ Home Journal.
One day, while traveling around central Florida, he came upon Iron Mountain, elevation 324 ft. above sea level, the highest point in Florida. Immediately the thought hit him — why not repeat in America what his grandfather had done in the old country? He bought the site and set to work. Eventually he was more than successful. The place is called Mountain Lake Sanctuary, Lake Wales, Florida. Thom and I visited the gardens on our honeymoon. Upon his death, Edward Bok willed it to the State of Florida, and it is now a major tourist attraction. Upon the younger Bok’s tombstone were the words: “Make you the world a bit more beautiful and better place because you have been in it.”
Bits & Pieces, March 31, 1994, pp. 17-20.
In an overpopulated world, it’s easy to underestimate the significance of one. You may think, “What can I as one individual contribute to the overwhelming needs of our world, our church, etc.?” You are the only you in the world. Nobody can do the things that God has called and gifted you to do. Edward Everett Hale puts it this way:
I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything;
but still I can do something;
and because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
As Pastor Dean Morgan points out:
“There is only one you. You’re the only person with your exact heritage, your precise series of events in the pilgrimage and sufferings of life that have brought you to this hour. You’re the only one with your personal convictions, your makeup, your skills, your appearance, your touch, your voice, your style, your surroundings, your sphere of influence—you’re the only one.”
History is full of accounts of single individuals who have made a difference. Think of the military battles that have turned on the axis of one heroic person. Think of the artists and the contribution of their individual lives, from Michelangelo and da Vinci to Brahms and Beethoven. Think of the scientists, the inventors, the explorers, and the technological experts who have literally changed the course of history. Think of the courageous preachers down through time who have stood alone in the gap and made a difference. The face of the church was changed by significant individuals—men like Augustine, Tyndale, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Spurgeon, Moody, and Graham, to name only a few.
Or look at it from another angle, think of the difference one vote can make. Come voting time many neglect to exercise one of the greatest privileges of democracy, thinking that their vote makes no difference.
•In 1654, one vote gave Oliver Cromwell control of England;
•In 1649, one vote caused Charles I of England to be executed;
•In 1776, one vote gave America the English language instead of German;
•In 1839, one vote elected Marcus Morton governor of Massachusetts;
•In 1845, one vote brought Texas into the union;
•In 1868, one vote saved President Andrew Johnson from impeachment.
•In 1875, one vote changed France form a monarchy to a republic;
•In 1876, one vote gave Rutherford B. Hayes the united States presidency;
•In 1923, one vote gave Adolph Hitler control of the Nazi party;
The power of one vote, one voice, one person, one life. When you review Scripture, you see time after time how one person’s prayers, one person’s effort, one person’s submission, one person’s sacrifice, one person’s decision, etc. changed the course of history. They made a difference.
In the book of Esther, one person stood up for what was right and at great risk to herself and her people and as a result, a whole nation was spared.
When you read the first couple of chapters of Esther, you learn that a person with an extreme ego, Haman, had risen to a high position under King Xerxes. As part of his perks, along with a special parking spot next to the palace and a secretary to help him carry out his assignments (okay, I made that part up J) . . . With his position, came the command from the King for people to kneel down and pay Haman honor.
There was, however, a God-fearing Jew named Mordecai who refused to do so. Mordecai held some official position under the King’s command. When he refused to bow to Haman, Haman was outraged. I think he was really threatened by Mordecai because in chapter three, Mordecai played a huge role in saving the King’s life when there had been an assassination plan against him. Perhaps Haman thought Mordecai was after his job or worse-that someday Mordecai, a Jew people Haman hated, would be in a position of authority over him.
Haman is an example of one person who abused his position, power and influence. He used it to try to abolish a nation. He used it to perpetuate hate. He used it to try to promote himself. The high position wasn’t enough for his ego. He also wanted everyone else to emphasize and reinforce his status by bowing to him. You could say he was “a small man in a big office.”
Esther 3:7 says Haman selected a day in which to put his plan into motion. He chose the time he would seek to annihilate not only Mordecai, but the whole Jewish nation. Very interesting it is that the date he picked by casting lots with some of the court’s astrologers was in the same month the Jews celebrated Passover. Once again, God was about to deliver them.
Haman had an audience with the King and explained to him that there was a certain group of people living in the Persian Empire that refused to obey the King’s laws and decrees. He went on to assert that it wasn’t in the King’s best interest to tolerate this group of people and asked that they be put to death. Haman offered to put two thousand talents of silver into the King’s treasury on behalf of whoever put these people to death. Without investigating who these people were, without understanding what the real charge or threat was and without knowing that his Queen Esther, would be one of those put to death, the King decreed it so.
Somehow, Mordecai had gotten wind of Haman’s plan and decided to covertly send a signal to his cousin, Esther that something was wrong. Through a series of God-ordained events, Esther had become a Queen. Esther received the report that Mordecai was dressed in sackcloth and ashes, and was mourning at the King’s gate, something that was never done. Since she wasn’t told the reason for her cousin’s strange conduct, she did the logical thing and sent him fine clothes to put on lest his sackcloth arouse the concern of the King’s officers and guards. Mordecai refused the clothes which sent another signal to Esther that something was seriously wrong! She was able to send someone to find out what was going on with Mordecai and he got word to her about the plan. He also sent word that she should go to the King and beg for mercy for all of the Jewish people.
Esther now had a decision to make. The King didn’t know that Esther was a Jew. No one but Mordecai knew. Would she keep silent about her nationality and hope for the best while the nation of Israel was annihilated or would she tell the King about Haman’s plot to wipe out the Jews which included her execution as well?
People who make a difference decide to do so. Making a difference doesn’t happen by accident. If you are going to make a difference for the Kingdom of God, you have to purpose to be a part of God’s divine purposes in the world. If you don’t decide ahead of time that your life will be lived for God’s divine purpose, you won’t choose to be inconvenienced to see God’s will accomplished and when push comes to shove, you’ll choose self preservation or run when the going gets tough.
Ephesians 5:15 encourages us to make the most of every opportunity. People who make a difference are people who look for ways to do so. They move about their day being open to being used by God.
What would happen if every Christian lived their life with this kind of intentionality? What if we each decided that our lives would be lived for the purpose of making a positive difference in the lives of others? How many people are in attendance today? What if just 200 of us decided that we would try to make a difference in the lives of three people every day? It could be as simple as opening the door for someone, paying for the person’s coffee in the drive through in front of you or sending a note of encouragement to someone.
Remember, you are salt and light. People are supposed to notice when you are around. You can’t keep to yourself and be a disciple of Jesus. Esther had been incognito up until this critical time. No one knew she was a Jew. Her identity had been a secret, but in order to make a difference she was going to have to identify herself and risk it all. People who make a difference are willing to step out of the shadows and get involved.
When you walk with the Lord, He’ll prompt and direct your heart if you have become open for Him to use. Last December I felt like our family was falling into a rut. I felt like we needed some excitement, some adventure, something new. I started praying about what God might direct us to in order to sort of spice things up. When Patty Wade came to me and asked if I knew anyone who might be open to having a foreign exchange student, I knew we were supposed to take Taejin Song, a student from South Korea, into our home. Thom felt the same way. We had an extra bedroom and had already told God we were open to whatever. Our open heart met God’s opportunity and we had an opportunity to pour the love of Jesus into the life of someone who is now back in South Korea. The best part of all is that Taejin took Jesus home with him.
It would have been understandable to others if we had decided we were too busy to take him in. It would have been justifiable to say we needed more time to think and pray about it. No one would have blamed us for saying that never having parented a teenager we weren’t equipped for the job. But you know what? Unless you decide to live your life in order to make a difference and unless your heart is open to having your steps directed by the hand of God, you’ll always be too busy, you’ll always think you need more time to get used to the idea, and you’ll always think you aren’t up to the task.
Esther could have said it wasn’t her place to get involved in the King’s business. She could have said she hadn’t taken courses in how to be an ambassador on behalf of a nation. There was no extra time to think things over.
Besides all of that, Esther’s decision to go to the King wasn’t merely a decision between two options. It was a decision with life or death consequences. Either way she went could cause her death. She could remain silent about her nationality and the plot to destroy her people, be found out later and die anyway or she could die simply because she waltzed into the king’s presence uninvited which was forbidden and included the consequence of death.
Esther decided to go for it and then she made a very wise decision.
People who make a difference seek God’s help. Esther sent word to Mordecai that she was in. She would go to the King and ask for mercy for the Jews. She then gave Mordecai this instruction in Esther 4:16 “”Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law.”
Esther knew that she needed to seek God’s will, God’s help and God’s favor if she was going to succeed in her mission. Remember, for every situation we deal with in life, there is a Divine purpose behind it. In order for us to move with that Divine Purpose, we need to seek out what it is. It’s great to want to be involved. It’s awesome to want to make a difference, but in order for us to know how we are supposed to make a difference, we need to seek the Lord. Before you get involved in any situation, put the matter into the Lord’s hands before you put the outcome in a man or woman’s hands.
People who make a difference are willing to make a total commitment. Esther asked Mordecai to spread the word about the fast. She said she was going to the King and she ended with this courageous statement in 4:16, “And if I perish, I perish.” She was willing to risk it all, do whatever it took, to try to save God’s people. She was in it 100%.
People who make a difference start right where they are. Esther had found her way to the palace in a round-about way. She never woke up one day and thought, “I hope someday I can be Queen.” Probably it was just the opposite. Concubines were taken to the palace because of the King’s appetite for women. Esther became one of those women, but because God gave her favor and had a plan to use her in the palace, the King became very attached to Esther-so much so that he made her Queen.
When Mordecai was telling Esther about Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews, he said to her in Esther 4:14, “You are here for such a time as this.” “That’s why you’re in the palace. That’s why God has given you favor with the King. God wants to use you and has strategically placed you right where He needs you to be.”
Listen, church. Wherever you are is right where God wants to use you. Don’t wait for the bigger gig. Don’t wait for some day and time out in the future. Be faithful to serve God where you are and like a pawn in a chess game, allow God to keep advancing you where it serves His purposes the best.
I never in one million years dreamed I’d be the senior pastor of a church. I wanted to be a Christian recording artist all of my life. However, I committed my life to full-time ministry as a senior in high school and told the Lord wherever He wanted me, that’s where I wanted to be. He led me one step at a time. I got a Music Education degree and headed to the Middle East to the island of Cyprus where I lived for two years and taught fifth grade. God led me from there to seminary where I earned a masters degree in church music. From there I began working at Dayspring Church of God in Cincinnati as the Pastor of Music and Worship Arts. Nine years into my tenure there, my title changed to Assistant Pastor. God had been grooming me all along through a series of events that we don’t have time for this morning, to be at this place in this moment right now, and I fully believe that if I hadn’t been open to God moving me around and putting me in new situations to grow me, I wouldn’t be standing here today.
Mordecai told Esther straight up, “You can step up and do this deal, or God will get someone else.” If Esther rejected the idea of making a difference God could still save His people; but Esther would be the loser.
From the human point of view, everything was against Esther and the success of her mission. The law was against her, because nobody was allowed to interrupt the King. The government was against her, for the decree said that she was to be slain. Her sex was against her, because the King’s attitude toward women was worse than chauvinistic. The officers were against her, because they did only those things that kept Haman on their good side. But “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31 God is for you and He’s calling you to engage with others and make a difference in His name.
In his One Minute Uplift newsletter, Pastor Rick Ezell shares this story: I lived in Chicago for eighteen years. I watched the Chicago Bulls win six NBA championships over an eight-year period. Why didn’t they win those two years between their two sets of three championships? One major reason was that for most of those two seasons one of their players decided to try a different sport. The sport was baseball. The player was Michael Jordan. Those two years he sat out from basketball the Bulls did not make it to the finals, much less win them. Excluding Jordan, the personnel on the team was virtually the same. Michael Jordan made the difference.
Yet for several seasons before the Bulls went on their historic run of six NBA championships Michael Jordan was playing and the Bulls did not win either. But then the Bulls drafted a virtually unknown player from a small college in Arkansas. Scottie Pippen brought a dimension to the Bulls that even Michael Jordan did not possess. Pippen was, for lack of a better term, a forward-guard. He would often bring the ball up the court. He could single-handedly break opposing team’s full-court presses. Opposing teams found him difficult to match up with. He was too tall to be guarded by a guard. He was too quick to be guarded by a forward. He was an unselfish playmaker. He could play inside, but also was deadly from behind the three-point line. He was one of the best defensive players to ever play the game.
Scottie Pippen made Michael Jordan a better player. And Michael Jordan made the Bulls a better team. Together, they won championships. Together, they made a difference. What is true for basketball is also true for a business or a club or a church. One person can make a difference. Will you be that one person?
God is preparing heroes right now. He’s calling some of you to step up. He’s calling some of you to step out. This Saturday evening at 6:30 there will be a film shown here in this sanctuary that details what one person can do who sells completely out to Jesus.
Don’t just be a Sunday morning sitter. Get in the game. Let God use you. Today in our lobby are several displays of ministries in the life of our church. If you aren’t serving or plugged in somewhere, you are here at this church with your gifts and skills and talents and passions and life experience “For such a time as this.”
Nursery workers, you make a difference. Lawn care workers, you make a difference. Sunday School teachers, trustees, choir members, and youth counselors, you make a difference. Whether you are driving kids to Bible Quizzing, baking cookies for Wednesday night dinner or shaking the hand of a newcomer to welcome them, you make a difference.
Decide today to be a difference maker. Seek God as to how you can go about making a difference. Make a total commitment and start right where you are. You’ll never know what God can do through your life unless you give Him your all.