For the past couple of years, I have shifted in my teaching and preaching on grace. The shift was not to back off of the message of God’s goodness, or to bring balance by introducing the law into people’s lives. The shift was to focus God’s children – who knew they were His children, solid in their identities – onto the world around them. The focus was on being intentional; paying attention to people and how we interact with them in the world, and namely, making a difference in the world. It’s a difficult place to come to spiritually until you dispense of the “get out of here” eschatology and the “God’s going to come and judge someone” mindset. Once we acquiesce to the reality that we aren’t going anywhere and that an incredible price has been paid to bring mankind into the life of God, on this earth, then it becomes paramount to do what we can to make it a better place.
It seems that from the beginning, God sent us a message to take care of what has been given to us. He put Adam in a Garden and gave him a bride. The bride was from beneath his wing, so that he would protect her, care for her and love her. He gave them control over that Garden and mandated that they tend it. In other words, they were responsible for one another and for the world around them.
When God decided to flood the earth, he chose a man who walked with Him as the vessel through which He would provide redemption. Noah and his family built an ark so that they could preserve the animals of the earth. It’s often overlooked that the building was a family affair. Noah was apparently chosen because he had a dedication to family and that dedication indicated that perhaps here is a man who will take care of the world around him. Providing shelter for the family and the animals was a microcosm of taking care of the earth, and it’s a lesson that we should heed.
Paul repeats this theme in Romans, when he tells the church that the earth is groaning in anticipation of the arrival of the sons of God. The groaning may not be literal, but it cannot be missed. The earth responds to the hand of man, whether in the positive or the negative. Where we intervene in the natural, things happen, and often with tragic consequences. But the potential for tragedy also speaks to the potential for good, and that good is not only in the natural world, with the planet, but with those on that planet.
I have repeated a mantra quite a few times over the past couple of years: You may not be able to change the world, but you may be able to make it a little less terrible. Truthfully, I’m not even sure I quite believe that anymore. Sure, making anything less terrible is better than doing nothing at all, and I think that is the point, but maybe we could and should, aim a little higher. Perhaps it is possible, if we change our perspective, to make the world a better place.
I say we should change our perspective because if we view ourselves within the world as agents of change, and the metric by which we measure success or failure is how much the planet changes or the course of human events change, then we will be sorely disappointed. In fact, by that metric, we would change the course of the world faster by doing something malevolent and violent. But that change is not reflective of the manifest sons of God, as much as it is reflective of a narcissistic need for attention.
So start by checking selfishness and narcissism at the door. Let’s determine that whatever change may come about on our part will be to see the world improved and not to see ourselves as that agent. A little humility in the face of a massive obstacle is a good thing for all of us.
Mother Teresa said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples.” Ministry often leaves me feeling that way. I deliver a sermon, one I put my heart and mind and talents and gifts into. It’s released into the world and then seems to vanish. Social media brings it around again from time to time, like a message in a bottle floating up on distant shores. What keeps me tossing that seed into the ground is that ripple idea. One thought can ripple across someone else’s consciousness, somewhere in the future, and that can lead to one small action, which leaves more ripples, and so on and so on. The knowledge that the Word never really dies, never really returns void, never really even shuts off keeps me studying and tossing and mulling and thinking and delivering. While no single action or sermon seems to change the world, they do all create at least a few ripples, and that seems worthwhile.
Even more humbling is the idea that what is a ripple to one person is a tidal wave to another. We toss out an idea, maybe as a question, or a passing statement, but that idea explodes on the stage of someone else’s imagination. They run with it and it transforms them. One ripple here, one tsunami there. Who’s to know?
The world is so big and we are so small that no matter the action, it seems it will go nowhere when viewed from our vantage point. Often when the world changes, no one knows it. Think about that for a moment. The world literally changes in a way in which it will never be the same again, but in the moment it happens, no one really catches it.
In the summer of 1895, a 21-year-old Italian inventor and electrical engineer named Guglielmo Marconi transmitted a signal via radio waves, without the use of wires, to a distance of 2 miles. This distance was four times farther than the brightest minds had predicted would be possible. Wireless transmission was now a reality. The world would never be the same, but almost no one realized it.
Marconi’s invention was a stone thrown in a pond. The ripples worked their way outward. By 1902, he had successfully transmitted a wireless message across the Atlantic, and ten years later, as the RMS Titanic took on water and eventually sank to the bottom of the sea, it was the Marconi employees onboard that used the technology to signal for help, saving hundreds of lives.
In June of 1912, at the Court of Inquiry into the loss of Titanic, Britain’s postmaster-general declared, “Those who have been saved, have been saved through one man, Marconi…and his marvelous invention.”
When the world changed, almost no one caught it, but it happened nonetheless. Over one hundred years later, we are not only wireless, but we are nearly timeless. Time and distance are no obstacles. We transmit and receive information at the speed of light. One man didn’t do it all alone, and in fact, he didn’t do most of it, but he threw the first rock and the waves keep rolling on.
You never know which rock you throw will be the one that changes the world. Maybe it will be insignificant to you, but of epic significance to another. A few years ago, our ministry received a phone call from a man in Germany. He had caught some of my sermons on YouTube and wanted to reach out and let me know the impact they had on him. I’ll never forget his words. He said, “You may not change the whole world, but you changed the whole world for me.”
A man changed the whole world for me, and I wasn’t even born yet. You think I’m going to say Jesus, and how He died on the cross. You wouldn’t be incorrect in the idea that He changed my world, but that’s not the man I’m thinking of. The man that changed my world before I was born was the deacon from a little General Baptist church in Puxico, Missouri that went out knocking on doors one Saturday afternoon sometime in the mid 1960’s. That day he knocked on my grandmother’s door. She was a widow with six kids, and she accepted his invitation to bring them to Sunday School. My dad sat through the Sunday morning sermon and something was birthed in him. He accepted Christ, was baptized and within a few years, preached his first sermon. That young preacher brought a date to church with him one weekend, and not long after that, he and my mom were married. I don’t need to go further to illustrate how much my world changed because one man knocked on one door. One rock thrown, a set of ripples head outward.
Any change I make in the world today only happens because someone else threw a rock. Any change you make will be the same way. You may have just changed the whole world today and no one noticed. More likely, you changed the whole world for someone today, and I promise you, they noticed. So get busy. Start throwing some rocks.
Grace to you.