Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. – Romans 12:2 NLT
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:2 NRSV
It’s been a long time since I taught a roomful of middle school students in the Florida school system. Officially, including two years as a teacher’s aid in Atlanta, I worked two full decades as an educator specializing in behavioral issues.
It was an amazing experience that constantly kept me engaged and challenged. I am very happy that the high pressure of running a self-contained classroom is behind me, and I have no interest in ever going back, but I remain 100% committed to and enthusiastic about teaching.
It may be a cliché, but when I am the teacher I am the one who ends up learning so much more. I think learning is a product of intention, of preparation, of participation, and of invitation. And it is the fourth part of this equation that becomes so powerful in the small group – or seminar – setting I facilitate when I am leading at church.
- Because it’s not only my intention, it’s the intention (usually expressed through covenant) of everyone taking the class.
- It’s not only my preparation but the cumulative advanced preparation of reading, prayer, research, and thought of a roomful of people.
- It’s not just my participation, it’s the fact that pretty much everyone is willing to share from their hearts, their knowledge, and their experience; not just active listening but active exploring together.
- It’s not just my invitation to dig deeper and to share more, it’s their invitation to one another and to me, it’s our collective invitation to God to be present and to lead us, it’s God’s invitation to each one of us that we “become transformed by the renewing of our minds.”
So with all this as a backdrop, my Wednesday evening men’s group started a new study for Lent (it will doubtless last a lot longer). We’re taking a look at what it is we believe as Christians and – in particular – what it means to be a Presbyterian Christian in the Reformed tradition.
I – we – are not interested in talking about why we have it right and other denominations have it wrong, but understanding how the particular framework of reformed Christianity is distinct, and uniquely helpful to our ongoing journey as believers.
Fact is we’re all wrong to some extent. All of our knowledge is partial, or incomplete. Many of our conclusions are faulty, or biased, or predicated on error. Our lens into history is cloudy. Our mastery of language is questionable. Our understanding of ancient cultures is constantly being updated. All translations fall short. The practice of faith over two millennia has been clouded by nationalism and politics and conquest and greed and avarice and control and manipulation and so much more.
At the same time, men and women have been (and are today) consistently and beautifully transformed by the Spirit of the Living God; our beliefs and faith statements have coalesced around many universally recognized creeds, confessions, catechisms, and declarations; the church – The Church – has marched on and proven to be the single most effective agent of positive, often revolutionary, social change; and local churches, of all denominations, demonstrate time and again how following Jesus brings love and light and peace to the entire community.
There are elements we disagree on, practices that separate, and sharp divides when it comes to everything from social policy to forms of worship to roles in the home. But – and this is a marvelous truth, 100% of Christian witness proclaims the simple and central truth of our faith, that because of Jesus we can now be reconciled with God, and that through the power of the Spirit we can partner with God and work for the reconciliation of the World.
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself,[d] not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. – 2 Corinthians 5:18-19
Our conversation started with me asking a few questions around, “Why are you here in the first place? Why would you even come to a church?”
The answers were – of course – illuminating. But I have run out of room in this post. Stay tuned and I’ll try to fill us in. Like I said, I always learn far more than I ever teach.