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Archive for April 15th, 2012

Followers of this site may recall that about this time last year, I posted my talk from my participation in the Southern New England “Walk to Emmaus“, which is a four-day Christian revitalization retreat where attendees are surrounded by an incredible outpouring of the love and grace of God.

Readers may also recall that a year prior to that, I was one of the Walk’s attendees, and those four days turned out to be one of the most incredible experiences I’d ever experienced as I posted on the initial blog site in April 2010.  My experience led to a deep desire to be a part of future Walks, so that I could help provide similar experiences to others.

The “Walk” isn’t actually a physical walk … rather it’s a virtual journey through 14 biblical based themes, where presenters weave their own life experiences into one of the assigned topics.

This coming week, I’ll again have the humble privilege of participating and presenting to the attendees … this time, on the topic of “Changing Our World”.

And as I did last year, after some thought and prayer, I’ve decided to post my talk in the hope that it can help just one person who stumbles across these pages.

And while I may have “written” the words that you’re about to read, they’re really not “mine” as I’m simply a vessel.  Those know know me through this site will likely recognize several family and personal themes which I’ve referenced in the past.

May God bless our upcoming event.

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It’s 1960.

A Christian couple has just experienced a life-altering stillbirth and loss of a son.

They’re devastated in ways that words can never describe.

They want to try to have another child, but are unsure if it’s worth the risk and yet another gut-wrenching disappointment if things don’t turn out.

In the end, they turn their hopes and fears over to God and try again.

Less than a year later, despite yet another birthing challenge … this time delivering while having a full-fledged course of the chicken pox that called for a special C-section to isolate the child from the virus, a son is born.

It’s 1973.

A young 12 year-old boy overhears his visiting grandfather talking to Jesus in the room adjacent to his bedroom.

The conversation has a profound impact on the rest of this young man’s life as he soon accepts Jesus as his Lord and Savior, who helps guide him through a lifelong maze of trials, temptations, detours, and imperfections.

It’s 1983.

The boy is now 22 and graduating from college.  He visits his ailing grandfather in the hospital, yet “Pop” as he was known, no longer recognizes him.  A short time later, Pop passes away, but not before telling his daughter – the young man’s mother – that the “place is beautiful” and that “the baby is OK.”

It’s 2002.

The man – now 41 – and his wife learn that their frail ten-year old daughter is fighting a losing a battle with her health.  Her body is wasting away to less than 50 pounds, and is so thin that you can see three sides of every rib.  Upon receiving the diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes and learning the news that she that would forever be dependent on doctors, tubes, needles, and insulin, they break down in tears and turn to God for strength and with the hope that something good can come out of this.

It’s 2007.

A family with a Type 1 diabetic infant is desperately looking for someone to care for their child so they can have just a few evenings to themselves to regain their energy.  They need someone who can handle the delicate task of testing blood from a tiny finger and determining and administering just the right amount of insulin to a tiny soul.  Through a series of overheard conversations, they learn that there is a responsible teenager in the area who is also diabetic.  Within days, a family’s prayer is answered and a life-long bond is formed.

It’s 2010.

That teenage girl – who by this time has been prodded with needles over 15,000 times – has blossomed into a beautiful young woman and accomplished musician, graduating from high school as valedictorian with the highest GPA ever recorded at her school, just weeks after bringing a mesmerized concert house to their feet with an emotionally-charged violin solo of the theme from Schindler’s List.

The diabetic infant – now five – joins her in her celebration.

She is accepted into one of the top colleges in the world.

Her chosen field of study?  Serving others through science & medicine … with a minor in music.

One leap of faith after heartbreak.  A few overheard conversations.  By themselves, they seem rather meaningless … and in some cases, insignificant.  Yet when strung together, they grow exponentially to form a God-powered chain of events which continues to affect and touch lives to this day, and whose ultimate full-ranging impact can only be known and measured by God.

My name is Don Miller, and the title of this talk is “Changing Our World”.

As you may have guessed, the heartbroken parents in the story were my parents, “Pop” was my grandfather, and the young woman is my daughter Chelsea.

Each limited by their imperfections & humanity in our minds, yet perfect and with infinite potential in God’s.  And all doing their small part to change the world.

I say small, but to God … small can be huge.

So far this weekend, you’ve heard about piety, study, and action … and about the world’s desperate need for Christ and Christian leadership.  But how can we respond to this challenge?

In “What’s Wrong with the World”, G.K. Chesterton wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting.  It has been found difficult, and left untried.”  So for the next few minutes, I’d like to talk with you about not only trying Christianity, but also about making a plan to successfully live it and help Christ make a difference in the world.

Making a difference involves four fields of ministry: yourself, others, your community, and the world.

Micah 6:8 provides a helpful framework for understanding what God requires of us, and how we will bring about change in these fields of ministry: For that verse states, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice [which addresses the community and world], and to love kindness [others], and to walk humbly with your God [self]?”

So let’s address each of these fields of ministry in reverse order.

In the first field, we’re called to walk humbly with God.  For before we can change the world, we must first have a plan for anchoring ourselves spiritually.  If we’re going to bring change to the world, we must start with ourselves.

Holocaust survivor and esteemed writer Ellie Wiesel (VeeSELL) tells the story of a Jewish man who set out to change the world.  In making his plan, the man said to himself:

Basing myself on the learning that if all repented, the Messiah would come, I decided to do something about it.  I was convinced I would be successful.  But where was I to start?  The world is so vast.  I shall start with the country I know best, my own.  But my country is so very large.  I had better start with my town.  But my town, too, is large.  I had better start with my street.  No, my home.  No, my family.  Never mind, I shall start with myself.

OK, great.  So we know where to start.

But what about how do we start?

For if we’re to try to change the world without firm roots in a personal relationship with God and Christian community, we can easily fall into traps.

How do I know?

Because I’ve fallen into each and every one … multiple times.

The first trap is called the “Pharisee”.  Because the Pharisee is not motivated by God’s grace, he or she is driven by rigid perfectionism and guided by legalism.  The mission is then perverted into attempts to force everyone into one’s own mold.

At my end, and until very recently, I struggled greatly with the aspect of tolerance.  Tolerance for people who didn’t fit into my mold.  Perhaps they were loud.  Perhaps they had multiple body piercings or body art.  Maybe they weren’t intellectually stimulating.  Perhaps they were Yankee fans or had different political beliefs.  Perhaps they said tomato, and I said tomato? Or maybe they simply sat next to me in church wearing an odd scent of perfume.

Sound odd? Perhaps.  Sound familiar?  I’ll let you answer that one.

Oh, I still struggle at times.  Yet Matthew 7:3 has had a particularly profound effect on me in recent years.  For as Jesus said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”  I guess you could call it God continually hitting me over the head by a 2×4 … or in this case, hitting me in the eye with a few planks.

The second trap is called the “Do-Gooder”.  Do-gooders are often motivated by their own need to be needed or make a notable difference … instead of by true compassion and commitment to meet human needs.

Said another way, for me, too many times, and even with the best of intentions, it’s been a little too much about “me”, when it should have been about “God.”  And I have to remember it’s not about the person pointing the way toward God … it’s about to Whom – with a capital W – the finger is pointing.

We can call the third trap the “savior complex”.  For without a sense of God’s providence, caring people may feel they must save the world by themselves.  The result is far-reaching plans or feverish activity that may be based more on anxiety for the future rather than attention to God and discernment for God’s will for the present.

Remember, to God, small can be huge.  As was stated in the Upper Room devotional guide a few weeks ago, when Jesus turned the water into wine at a wedding reception he was attending, it didn’t bring anyone back from the dead or free anyone from a life-threatening illness.  It DID however show that God cares about us in the average, run-of-the-mill, and mundane moments of our lives.

The final trap is one that we’ve all likely encountered at one point in our lives, and perhaps one reason why some of you are here this weekend … and that’s the “burned-out” Christian.  For without a vital relationship with God and other Christians, our fire for the mission burns out.  And as we’ve all found out the hard way, we can’t clean our own house, never mind change the world … if we’re running on empty.

Again, I’ve been in each one of these phases from time to time … or as I like to say, “been there, done that, and sometimes frequent the same neighborhood”.  Yet by focusing on Jesus’ model life, including his relationship with God and his close friends, we can not only begin to change ourselves, but sustain that change for longer periods of time so we’re adequately prepared for the next mission.

Which brings us to the second field of ministry: Serving others.

In this second field, we’re called to love mercy.  And our most immediate opportunity for changing our world beyond ourselves is to share God’s love in our relationships with others, whether it be family members, colleagues, friends, neighbors, or acquaintances.

Our mission?

To infuse our network of relationships with the grace of Christ, to make mercy and outreaching love a part of our everyday life.

We can begin by making a mental inventory of our relationships and the grace they call for from us.

Who do we know that needs our encouragement?

Who needs what only we can do or give?

Who needs to hear about Christ from us?

Equally important is our attitude toward others, for as stated in Matthew 7:12, our attitudes will either open or close relationships as channels of grace.

Do we affirm people, or do we categorize people with limiting labels?

Do we see persons for what they have been and condemn them to that, or do we see them for who they can become and encourage them to rise to their potential?

And then there’s prayer.  That silent and unseen, yet powerful tool by which God can transform & heal relationships.  For it’s through prayer, that we can demonstrate our love by directly tapping God’s unique strength and power to help others become changed persons.

Finally, there’s friendship with others.  Remember the motto from the Christian Action talk.  Make a friend, be a friend, and introduce a friend to Christ.

And I think there’s a natural order of progression with that motto, which I’ve recently seen in my interactions with Chelsea’s boyfriend, Nate.  Nate is a kind, caring, young man who treats her with grace and dignity, and who by all glances is a model of Christ, despite being raised in a family of Jewish faith.

And while we’ve only had a few brief conversations, I’ve found myself naturally focusing on the “make a friend” and “be a friend” aspects, while at the same time hinting at my faith and leaving the door very open for a future dialogue on Christ should he want to take that next step.  And based on our chats when he visited us a few weeks ago during Spring Break, I sense he’s very receptive to that discussion … but when the time is right.

In other words, I’m not trying to force anything.  I’m just trying to be a friend.

The third field of ministry is our society.

In this field, we’re called to work for justice amidst a larger backdrop.

For our world doesn’t consist of one-on-one relationships alone.  Rather we’re part of an integrated society and culture, families, organizations, institutions, workplaces, and governments.

 And we influence society by how we do or don’t participate as Christians.  For we’re called to help Christ transform our part of the world into a more Christ-centered, loving, and just society.

Examples?

Just look around you.  Look at your tables.  Look at the names on your table and room gifts.  Look at the names on the prayer wheel. People who you’ve never met, yet who care for you and embrace you in Christian love.

This area has been a particular challenge for me, for I greatly enjoy either being alone in rest or contemplation, or interacting in quiet one-on-one discussions with close friends.  [You should have seen the first time I had dinner with my Italian fiancée’s family where ten simultaneous table conversations was the norm.  That was over 25 years ago and I think my head still hurts.]

But as with most aspects of our Christian journey, I try to simply improve over time and have at least made some small progress in this area … whether it be by being more accepting and receptive to my larger family, or by facilitating our church’s Alpha program, which some of you may know is a 13-week bible-based introduction to Christianity.  Like Emmaus, that effort has had a profound impact on my life, as it’s had on the millions of people who have attended across the globe.

For our mission is to help Christ change our community and influence groups that by their size, scope, and added hands … can compound the positive effects of God in our world.

So what can we do?

Well, we can identify situations of human need.  And we can look to Christ for guidance.

For as it written in Matthew 25: 34-40,

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

After identifying a need, we can then work to correct the situation, even if it means taking an unpopular stand.  We can influence groups, organizations, and businesses of which we are a part with our Christian values.  And we can call them to be partners in the road to a better world, instead of obstacles along the way.

Yet works of both mercy and justice are necessary. 

For example, providing food or shelter to the hungry and needy is an act of mercy, while justice aims to determine why people are hungry or homeless.  Loving simply by mercy without acting justly to address the cause falls short of changing our world … like putting a band-aid on a gaping wound.

And by combining these acts with a joyful witness for Christ by our attitudes  and words that He is the source and strength for our zeal and passion, both change and enlightenment can work together to work miracles.

The fourth and final field of ministry?  Our world.  In Matthew 28:19, Jesus tells us to go into the world and make disciples of all nations.

Some will be called to respond to such a call physically … perhaps in the form of a mission trip or other outreach effort.  Others may be called to support these efforts financially … or through prayer.  And yet others may simply be called to testify to other parts of the world in a virtual manner via the Internet … and isn’t it a tremendous blessing that we can use the wonderful technology of the Internet to reach every corner of the globe, and to do so in a positive, Christian manner.

And while the Internet – like much of life itself – has pockets of evil and landmines which we must avoid, I’ve personally seen dozens of examples where friends or peers have used tools like Facebook, YouTube, and personal blogs to share their Christian witness and story with others.

So what is our plan?  What is your plan?  What can you do now to make a difference?

It may be helpful to remind ourselves that the validity of our witness is not proven in immediate results.  For some Christians will plant, some will water, and some will harvest.

Yet as disciples, we are not called to be successful, but to be faithful … doing what we can, with what we have, where we are, to advance Christ’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven”.

Yet in order to do so, we need a plan for change in ourselves, in our relationships with others, and in our community with the world.

I’ll leave you with one final thought.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Aruba.  It was the first vacation we’d taken together in over 20 years, during which time we had the opportunity to tour the island.

There were two types of tours from which to choose.  We could travel along the main roads by bus … or by landrover that would take us along the rocky coast and over mountainous terrain in roller-coaster fashion that often had 60 degree inclines.

The smooth, air-conditioned, bus option would have been the safe choice … especially for this man who has a fear of heights.  You could say it would have been the comfortable choice.

Yet we opted for the landrover option – even with its accompanying challenges and my personal fears – so we could experience the island and all of God’s glory.

And while my eyes were closed at times, and my hand imprint is likely forever on my wife … and the cast iron rollbar I was gripping during one particularly steep climb, I think in the end it was the right choice.

I guess where I’m going with this is that I think it’s darn tough to see the world … never mind change it … from the inside of a comfortable bus.   You see, the longer I’ve lived, the more I realize that life is not about personal comfort … and we need only look to Jesus’ sacrifice to fully understand that.

And far too often, I’ve chosen the bus.

Yet as we all go forth beyond this week and consider ways to help change the world, I encourage each of us to choose the landrover over the bus.

It’s what my parents, grandfather, and daughter did.

The ride will likely be rocky and at times, and you’ll no doubt occasionally need to hold on for dear life.  But I guarantee that God will be at your side, and the result will be His everlasting imprint on this world.

De Colores.

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