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How to Change the World

HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD.

Hebrews 10:23-25 23Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

I planned on changing the world. After spending three long years researching and writing my dissertation on the use of critical literacy to develop college level skills in  middle school students, I was ready. Once my work was published and I began to teach a new generation of teachers, the world of education was never going to be the same again!

I’d love to tell you it happened exactly that way. But seven years and many instructional hours later, the paradigm of American education hasn’t shifted much and only a small and very select circle of educational specialists has ever heard of me or my research.

I should be discouraged. But I’m not. I’m one person. Yet I’ve taught hundreds. And if each of the future teachers I’ve worked with impact only a few students, the change we need to make sure all students are prepared with higher order thinking skills will not just be my dream, but a reality.

It takes a community dedicated to the cause.

Let’s take another community that lived long ago, in the Kingdom of Persia in 486-465 BC. At that time, King Xerxes decided to replace his Queen, Vashti, who had publicly refused to obey him. He eventually chose Esther, a young Jewess who had been raised by her cousin Mordecai, an official in the king’s court. Mordecai warned Esther to keep her Jewish heritage a secret so as to not displease the King. Eventually, though, Prince Haman persuaded Xerxes to rid Persia of the Jewish people, saying they were rebels. At this point, Mordecai took to the public square to mourn the coming slaughter and encouraged all the Jewish people to join him (Esther 4:1-3).

Word of Mordecai’s very vocal and public mourning reached Esther, who sent a servant to essentially tell him to hush up, lest her secret be revealed. Mordecai persuaded Esther to go before the King without being summoned—a possible death sentence—and ask for delivery of her people (Esther 4:13).

But Esther knew that although she was Queen, her power was limited. She was only one person. She needed the support and fellowship of others and something beyond mere human courage.

Esther wasn’t in a hurry to bring her petition before the King. She needed both courage and community to accomplish her deed. So after hosting a couple of extravagant banquets for the King—and wicked Prince Haman—Esther asked the King to spare her life and the  life of all her people. And Xerxes agreed, leading to the death on the gallows of Haman.

Don’t you wonder what might have happened if Esther had not had a community to pray with her? If she had just boldly taken it on her own fair shoulders and marched forward? The result could have altered history.

In Sunday’s message, Pastor Aaron told us three reasons why all of us should consider joining a small group.

  1. Relationships matter to God. As we can see in Esther’s plight, it was through Mordecai that Esther was put into a position to save the Jewish people. God’s relationship to us is vitally important.
  2. Growth happens best in a loving community. Alone, Esther might not have had the courage to undertake such a mighty task, but she was undergirded by the support of her community.
  3. A gospel-centered community can change the world. We don’t really know the personal relationship Esther or Mordecai may have had to God, but we do know that fasting, in the Old Testament, was closely associated with prayer. And it changed the world.

Will I consider joining a small group? Well, I’m thinking about it. My life is pretty hectic and the decision to take time out of my busy schedule to commit to something else isn’t an easy one. And most people I know have schedules that are just as packed as mine.

But today I recalled something from a favorite childhood book, Karen (1952), written by Marie Killilea. The book chronicles the life of Marie’s daughter, Karen, whose struggles with cerebral palsy involved the entire family in her therapy to learn to walk. Despite a schedule that would rival my own, Marie went to church each morning to take time to pray with a few others, some parents of kids with CP.

When asked in an interview why she involved herself in the practice of daily attendance at church instead of saving the time for one of her many tasks, she said, “It’s true I really cannot afford to take the time to go to church and pray with others. I also cannot afford not to.”

And what about you?

Judgement Free Zone

Romans 12:4-5

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

I am visiting Ron at the hospital when my cell phone rings. “I’m quitting Planet Fitness,” Allen says. His voice through my phone sounds upset. “Things are just not right at that place.”

“What’s wrong?” I ask. Allen has been a member of Planet Fitness for exactly three days. They were supposedly a “No judgement” zone, a fact I emphasized when I signed Allen up.  What had happened to disturb the work-out of my autistic son?

“I’m locked out of the machines,” he says. “I guess they don’t want me in their club.”

“Okay,” I tell Allen. “I’ll be home soon and we’ll talk about it then.” My mother’s heart hurts for my son, whose learning differences and challenges locked him out of many groups during his school years. Allen is, in a word, “quirky”, but he is also sweet and moral and kind. It takes some work to get through the quirkiness and the lack of social cues that characterizes young adults like Allen who are on the autism spectrum, but I was hopeful that the physical activity and interaction with others at the gym would be good for Allen, whose own social outlets are limited.

I turn towards home when I leave the hospital, but change my mind part-way and head to Planet Fitness. A mother protects her children, no matter how old they are. If the gym has in anyway made my son feel that he is not welcome in their club, they will have me to deal with.

I think Jesus Himself knew a thing or two about being ousted from the popular lunch table. We need only to look at those He chose as his close companions—several common fishermen, a Zealot, a tax collector, and a thief—to know that Jesus was not hanging out with the Beautiful People. As He left Earth for Heaven, He desired for there to be unity among the believers.

Unity is never an easy feat. While Romans 12:4-5 acknowledges that the members of the Church have many functions yet belong to one unit, the concept can be difficult to grasp. The Book of Acts is full of challenges that faced the early church: changes in leadership (Acts 1:19), immorality (Acts 5:1-10), complaints (Act 6:1), false teaching (Acts 15:1), and diversity (I Thessalonians 19:11). Jesus’ command to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace” (Ephesians 4:3) was a tough act!

We’d like to think we’ve all evolved past the point of looking down on someone because of their job or the color of their skin, or where they live or how they comb their hair. Or in the case of my son, how adept he is at social cues. Despite our differences, I Corinthians 12:18 clearly tells us that each member has a specific value. All are important to God.

I am mumbling under my breath the part in Ephesians 4:16 about building each other up in love when I arrive at the parking lot of Planet Fitness. I compose myself, say a quick prayer, and calmly walk into the gym and ask to speak with the manager. She is kind in every way, mentions she saw Allen in earlier in the day and wondered why he had left so quickly without saying anything if there had been a problem.

“He wouldn’t have complained,” I tell her. “He would have just walked quietly away.” With the help of another employee, we figure out that Allen had been working on a machine that was glitching. The trainer offers to help Allen with the machines if he would come back. I promise to try and convince him to give it another try. I am glad, I tell the manager, that they are what they advertise: Judgement Free.

As I drive home, though, I remember my years as a middle school teacher, where cliques ran wild and those who, like Allen, were a bit different often found themselves hanging out with the teachers at recess. To be examples of Christ and to uphold the unity of the Church and our own common humanity, we should always strive to live in the Judgement Free Zone.

 Let's all just sit at the same lunch table.

Author's note: I was visiting my father this past Sunday so this blog is based on the sermon from Epworth Methodist Church in Rehoboth Beach. The event with Allen took place in August of 2017.

 

 

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