Saturday, March 5, 2016

How to change the world in 5 easy steps

Last weekend I was preparing to give the children's sermon at church. I was tasked with tying together Luke 13:6-9 about the barren fig tree and Change the World Sunday. The parable of the fig tree explains that Christians must bear fruit, otherwise we're just taking up space. But sometimes we need a bit of a push to get going: pruning, fertilizer, more water. less sun. Change the World Sunday is a concrete way for Christians to work on producing fruit by serving others in their community.

The Change the World Sunday event was born out of a frustration many pastors feel about a misguided directive to "save" people rather than serve people, to fill pews instead of create and empower disciples. So this event attempts to get folks out into their community and get to know their neighbors and needs. Our church collects money in March to help fund several small service projects in our community on the weekend of May 19-20 like painting rooms at the after school program, planting flowers for our shut-ins, or helping stock the local food pantry.

As the week progressed and I reflected on changing the world, I must admit the political scene developing around me tempered my enthusiasm. The candidacy of Donald Trump, while depressing, is most frightening when you consider the vigor with which his followers support him. Their lack of compassion, empathy, and critical thinking skills do not embody the values they want from the Christian nation they so desire.

What's a Christian to do? How do we fight hate, intolerance, and downright stupidity? Can we even hope to make a difference?

When I feel myself slipping into despair, I remember these 5 easy ways to stop taking up space and start bearing fruit. This is how we change the world:

1. Serve. Does your church have a particular mission focus? Find out. Don't have a church? Start volunteering at your local food pantry, nursing home, homeless shelter, or animal rescue. In my neighborhood, I'd put serving folks with Trump yard signs at the top of my list, which brings me to #2...

2. Listen. Everyone has a reason for why they feel or act a certain way. Some of my most meaningful moments as a parent and spouse have come while asking my loved one to explain his/her thinking in a genuinely loving way. Don't understand someone's political stance? Ask them why they think as they do. Get to know them. HEAR THEM OUT. You have an issue that's important to you, but others do, too, and for good reasons. Listen. Find common ground.

3. Be prepared to change yourself.  Feel like everyone is going mad? Well, is it possible that it's you? One of my favorite sayings from Jen Hatmaker is, "Perhaps the call is coming from inside the house."  Sometimes we notice behaviors of those around us because we're needing to change that same behavior within ourselves. Some folks call it "being convicted". I call it "paying attention".

4. Read. A Lot. Hear something outrageous on TV? Look it up on a different news source. Start with Snopes.com or Politifact. Educate yourself. Think critically. Candidates will often say inflammatory things to stay in the news cycle. Understand how this works. When confused, ask yourself: is this in conflict with what I know about the nature of God? With Jesus' teachings in the gospels? The word of God trumps Trump any day.

5. Guard your gates (This one comes from Sarah Bessey.) You get to decide what comes into your heart and mind. Can't handle debates? Don't watch them. Trust me, you'll be able to find a recap somewhere on TV or social media if you wish. Do not let what's going on in the world make you feel afraid or helpless. But also know your limits. This principle is why I can't watch zombie television shows or romantic comedies--they get in my head and make me feel afraid or make me compare my relationships to fictional ones.  

Above all, do not stay silent. Do not do nothing. Change starts in our own hearts, in our own homes, and ripples out from there. Be empowered by God's love instead of fearful of God's wrath. We can be quiet and gentle and still change the world. Start in your heart, your home, and your community.

What would you add to this list? How are you changing the world?

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