Shortly after we starting attending our current church, New Life Community Church in Danville, Virginia, there were a couple of sermon series that rocked my world. One was called “Collison” and it focused on the notion of heaven colliding with earth and what that might look like. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard in church before. I was especially struck by a sermon called “The Table,” which contrasted the Biblical description of the table in the Kingdom of Heaven, at which people of every race, language, culture and ethnicity sit, with our typical everyday lives, in which we tend to only associate with those like ourselves, while looking with suspicion or enmity on those who are different. The truth of course is that God loves diversity. And those who don’t aren’t going to feel comfortable in God’s kingdom.
But the sermon series that led me to some life-changing decisions was called Change the World. Our pastor, over a few weeks, challenged us to change the world for ourselves, for our community, for children, and for strangers. This basic truth–that one person can change the world–really made an impact on me.
As for changing the world for yourself, there have probably been tens of thousands of self-help books about changing oneself for the better, so that concept isn’t particularly radical, but I felt really moved to act on it. And even though the message was delivered in church, it wasn’t the usual “repent or you’ll go to hell” sermon. Rather, the message was one of love. Jesus taught us to love others as we love ourselves. He didn’t teach us to love others and hate ourselves. Obviously some life change may be necessary to make ourselves more loveable. Our pastor suggested we may need to lose weight, get out of debt, and other practical relevant steps that aren’t usually associated with spiritual well-being. In my case there were plenty of things I needed to do. Exercise more. Eat better. But most importantly, overcome my workaholism. As I look back toward the day I heard that sermon, I see that I still have a long way to go. But along the way I’ve stepped away from the rat race and rearranged my priorities in radical ways. What seemed virtually impossible then, is a reality now. I also eliminated things from my life that weren’t making me a better person and weren’t helping change the world for the better. Gone are fast food and television, for example. Good riddances.
In order to try to help change the world for children and teenagers, I began teaching in our version of Sunday school. And I tried hard to make more time for my own children. I also took very seriously the truth that we have to be mindful of the world we are leaving for our children and grandchildren. I grew more and more passionate about defense of the environment and advocacy of sustainable lifestyles.
But the sermon from that series that probably affected me the most was called Change the World for a Stranger. It challenged us to look beyond the borders of our comfortable world to the injustices in other parts of the world. Our pastor gave specific examples of ordinary people making a difference in places like India, Africa and Haiti. He pointed out that by letting go of just a little of the abundance we have, we can make life-changing differences in the lives of those desperately in need around the world. It was this sermon which prompted the “bottled water challenge” I issued to my law firm, which enabled us to drill wells in a slum in Kenya. And after that came lots of other things that have made real permanent differences in the lives of suffering folks around the world.
By the way, if any of y’all would like to hear these sermons, just email me and I’ll send them to you. They’ve gotten rave reviews from those who I’ve shared them with. More recent sermons are available online here: http://www.newlifedanville.org/316251.ihtml
But the point of this post isn’t really to push our church or these sermons. And it certainly isn’t to brag about being part of these changes–the sad reality is that I’ve fallen way short of where I should be. Rather, I just want to share the truth that it really is possible for one person to change the world.
We can change it for ourselves. Get healthy. Refuse to eat and drink the poisons being pushed on us by corporations whose only concern is profit. Get and stay out of debt. Refuse to participate in the materialism and consumerism that feeds the engine of our greedy and souless economic machine. Clear our minds of the ugliness of popular culture. Turn off the TV and go for a walk, or pick up a good book.
We can change it for children. Teach. Help. Mentor. Advocate for them, even after they’re born. Show them in our own lives the virtues we’d like to see in theirs. We must not leave them a self-indulgent, heartless, warmongering world, bending under the weight of debt.
We can change the world for strangers. Don’t hide from them. See the needs. In the Kingdom of God there are no borders. We are all brothers and sisters. Live simply and modestly. Out of our abundance, share with those in need. Money we waste on pointless things can literally save lives.
When determining how to spend our time and our money, what if we first asked ourselves, “Will this help to change the world?”