How To Transform the World (Aug. 24, 2008)

Have you ever stopped to think about Paul and his personal drive to fulfill Jesus’ mission?  We are sitting in our living rooms during the evenings watching TV and thinking how tired we are.  We went to work.  We cleaned the house.  We had to do the grocery shopping.  We are tired and so we sit down in our recliners, kick back, put up our feet, and let our remotes take us around the world.
Now let’s look back.  Paul was Saul, a Pharisee.  He was one of the very difficult leaders trying to keep Jesus’ message away from the Jews.  Life in the Mid East was difficult and that was one of the reasons the Jewish faith was filled with laws to follow.  God’s chosen ones did develop into a strong, physically and mentally, people.  They became a dominant force in the region.  Their hard work created a very tight knit community and Jesus was threatening the very basis of their lives.
Then Paul, one of the Pharisees doing everything he could to preserve the Jewish foundations, was struck down.  Walking down the road, he was blinded.  Can you even put yourself into that situation?  But God needed to get Saul’s attention.  He needed to transform Saul.  And He did!  Saul experienced a life-changing moment, a miracle regaining his sight.  Saul was now Paul, a missionary for God telling the world that Jesus’ message was the key to eternal life.
Paul knew how to transform the world.  Do we?  I think we do know, we just don’t think we could possibly make a difference.  What would have happened if Paul had thought like that?
I learned in Kansas, the Greatest Commandment has been edited.  At Annual Conference and at various meetings, including licensing school, leaders begin with the question “What is our purpose?”  And the answer from the attendees is “to make disciples for Jesus Christ.”  But the battle cry does not end there; the leaders then simply say “AND” while everybody joins in “TO TRANSFORM THE WORLD.”  It surprised me when I first witnessed this, but it also caught my attention.  Why can’t we transform the world?
Today’s scripture from Romans really does challenge us to do just that and Paul does give us instructions based on Jesus’ teachings.  Let’s begin by looking at chapter 12, verses 1-2:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you:  Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.  Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.
This is step one.  We accept Jesus into our hearts.  We offer our lives to God and simply live his commandments:  not the Old Testament commandments, the New Testament ones.  The two greatest commandments encompass all the old ones and simplify our lives.  We are to love God and love one another.  Whew!  At least it is only two that I have to remember and really it all wraps around one word:  LOVE.
Paul continues to help us understand how giving ourselves to God works.  He knows that life away from the sanctuary of the church is not easy.  There are so many influences, so many distractions, so many people pushing other ideas at us.  We need more than one simple step…to love one another.
He continues in his letter to the Romans some warnings, along with a challenge:
Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.  Instead, fix your attention on God.  You’ll be changed from the inside out.  Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.  Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity.  God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
Paul listened to what was happening in his world.  He knew that the new Christians in Rome were a minority and were being challenged by all the secular demands of a busy metropolitan world.  Rome was huge.  It was a hub.  It was a different culture.  Paul saw it as the site to transform the entire world into a Christian world.
The early Christians were challenged by so many cultural traditions, entering into Rome was a mammoth challenge because the challenges multiplied.  Today we are in a global community.  Information is transmitted any where at any time in only second, even nanoseconds.  We are bombarded by challenges not to mention the old standard peer pressure right here in our own hometowns.
Transforming the world seems impossible, but Paul knew it could be done.  God knew it could be done.  Step one is to simply love God and to love one another.  Step two is to avoid giving in to the world around you.  We tell our young people do not give in to peer pressure.  They do not have to be bullied.  They do not have to try a beer.  They do not have to have sex if they do not want to.  They do not have to do what the crowd is doing.  We tell the kids that they do not have to “conform to the world” around them.
Step two tells us not to conform to the world; we are to transform the world.  We do not conform to the world by staying focused on God’s love and then move it to the third step—transform the world.
How do we transform the world?  We do it one day at a time.  We do it in everything we do.  We take our lives and live our beliefs right out there in the world each and every day.  Step three is to live our Christian lifestyle.  We love our spouses.  We love our children.  We share our faith with them every morning we wake up and tell them we love them.  We sit down at our tables and give thanks for the food before us and for God’s love.  We look at the world through God’s eyes.  We close out our day with a final prayer.
We really do “Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.”  I guess we do take the ordinary and make it extraordinary in an effort to transform the world.
And where is that the hardest to do?  I suspect it is in that “going-to-work” part of our life.  Sometimes we do not really understand how to stay focused on God in our jobs.  This is one more little secret that was divulged to me through the Purpose Driven Life campaign.  If we dedicate our lives to God, then what we do at work is also dedicated to God.  We are here to serve others.  Serving others is loving others.
Paul told us this when he reminded us to use our talents as God gave them to us in our work world:
If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them…
We each are given special talents, skills, and intelligences.  Do not worry about the job, focus on the gifts God gave us and use them to serve.  I know I may have my job teaching, but I also know I could not do that job without a host of others doing theirs.  It does take a team to do our jobs and not one of the smallest tasks is unimportant.
Step three in transforming the world is using God’s gifts to us at work.  We are to carry out the Greatest Commandments even at work.  We can transform the world simply be loving one another 24 hours seven days a week.  We can transform the world one person at a time.  We must begin with ourselves, true, but remember that each one of us has the ability to touch so many others.  When we do touch others, we do it with God’s love and that is a powerful force.  We can transform the world one by one.
Paul was one man in a very different world than we are today.  But we are one, too, and we have the potential to transform the world.  Just remember, first dedicate yourself to God, then live your Christian faith, and devote yourself to loving one another.  Even you, one person, has the opportunity to transform this world.  Just put God first and love one another in everything you do.
Dear Loving Father,
You ask us to transform this world; and we are so afraid we cannot possibly do that, but we will do our best.  We will not conform to the non-Christian world around us.  We will love one another.  We will join together to transform the world through Your love.            –Amen

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