It Takes a Village
It takes a village to raise a child. This ancient African proverb teaches eternal truth. A child does not grow up in isolation. A child becomes a healthy adult if the entire community takes an active role in nurturing the child. Parents and immediate family might be the primary source of support, but there are many other people involved in a child’s growth. Every child is nurtured and shaped by a community. Schools, churches – teachers and congregations – all have an important role in nurturing and guiding the next generation. No child is an island. It does take a village.
Do Not Be Conformed
This truth equally applies to people of all ages, to all of us in this room, not just to children. We are consciously and unconsciously shaped by a community and this world. Then, what is the pattern of this world? The world tells us that happiness consists in the size of our cars, the impressiveness of our houses, and the expensiveness of our clothes, but our Lord Jesus reminds us, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). The world tells us that sexual promiscuity is just part of self-expression. But Jesu tells us that “anyone who looks a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:28). Therefore, in today’s passage the Apostle Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world – its ways, values and customs.” The word “conform” means to have the same shape, style, obedient to, or in harmony with. Here Paul is saying, “Don’t let the world shape, mold, influence you, or to pull you in its direction. Don’t get caught in its flow; it will pull you away.” So we Christians actually live under a lot of pressure to fit in.
Max Lucado’s If Only I Had a Green Nose is a wonderful story for teaching children to be themselves. But it is also a great story for teaching adults to nonconform to the pattern of this world. It’s about a little boy named Punchinello, who is struggling with a really hard decision, to be like everyone else in town or to be himself. The towns people decided that by painting their nose green they would feel better about themselves. At first, Punchinello thought a green nose is just silly. It wouldn't make him faster, stronger, or even smarter. It would only make him just like everyone else. But as time goes by, he eventually wants to have a green nose just because all the other Wemmicks have a green nose. Then, he hears the news that a red nose is now the latest thing in town. Then a blue nose, then pink nose, then yellow nose… And eventually, Punchinello was totally exhausted. Just like Punchinello, we all want to fit in. To be accepted by the crowd. Our sinful nature – sexual immorality, lust, hatred, strife, anger, dissensions, factions, addictions – just wants to follow and conform to the behavior, customs, and culture of this world. But, our Lord Jesus commands us to live differently. Then, where can we find strength to swim upstream against the current and all these pressures of this world?
Today’s scripture gives us an answer: “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind!” Here the word “transformed” means to change into something different. It means to have new nature, new character – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – from the inside out. How does this happen? The answer is “by the renewing of our mind.” Then our next question is how can we renew our mind? The answer is by the living and active power of God’s word. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” I don’t know about you, but for me I find very difficult and almost impossible to renew my own mind, let alone others. But only the word of God is able to reshape, renew, retrain our mind, our thoughts, our values. In Psalm 119 David says, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word… I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Be saturated with the word of God! By this, we renew our mind. And help and teach your (biological and spiritual) children to saturate their minds with God’s word.
As I look back on my Sunday school days, I particularly remember three teachers – my 3rd, 7th and 12th grade Sunday school teachers. They all have one thing in common. They did teach me the Bible, God’s word. Interestingly, all of them were kind of shy, quiet, ineloquent. But they were something different. There was power when they taught me. Intuitively, I could sense they were teaching the truth with conviction. Though there were times I was bored, for some reason their teaching did stay in me for a long time, shape my values, reshape my sinful heart and mind. By this experience, I have learned there is power in the word of God to renew, reshape our hearts and minds. In my college years I myself became a Sunday school teacher for the youth group. I taught 10th and 11th students. Some of them were from broken and dysfunctional families. They had no dreams, visions, or purpose of life. I had tried hard to build up a relationship with them, but they did not trust me. So I started “Vision Study Club” to teach them some academic subjects such as English and mathematics. But more importantly, I taught them the Bible. We met twice a week, and during summer break we met Monday through Friday. After about two years I began to see how God’s word renews and transforms their minds. They stopped using filthy language. They stopped wasting time. Instead, they started to discover the goals of their lives and eventually entered college they aimed at. It was the most exciting and honorable experience for me to watch them to be transformed and grow in faith by the power of God’s word.
Before we are transformed, the Bible doesn’t make sense at all. It is just a medley of contradictions. Indeed, on a superficial level different Bible verses seem to be contradictory to one another. And God’s word seems difficult, burdensome, not relevant to our daily life. But once we are transformed, we come to understand that God’s word does make sense. We discover that God’s will is the very best and perfect for our lives. NLT version translates Romans 12:2 in this way: “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.”
It Takes a Village, but…
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed. How? By the renewing of our mind. We must renew our minds. Our children must renew their minds. Our children need godly parents, godly grandparents, godly Sunday school teachers, godly pastors, who are able to teach God’s word and live out God’s word in everyday life. In Nehemiah 8 revival comes. People ask Ezra to bring the Book of Moses’ Law. As he opens the book, all the people stand. As he reads the word, they answer “Amen, Amen” and worship the Lord with their faces to the ground. It was a team effort. Nehemiah united the people all together. The Scribe Ezra read the word. And the Levites helped the people to understand clearly the reading. They explained the meaning. When the people of Israel understood the reading, they wept. They were transformed by the word of God. And it was a team effort. It takes a congregation to raise the children. It takes a congregation to nurture and guide our new believers on the road of discipleship. It takes a congregation to reach out to those who slip away. It takes a congregation to nudge us into spiritual growth, to take another step, when we are more comfortable staying where we are. It takes a congregation to encourage and support one another as we travel our pilgrim journey together that are sometimes smooth and clear, but at other times are filled with potholes and conflict. It takes a congregation…
But it always begins with me. The revival written in Nehemiah 8 did not just happen. This revival begins with one person, Ezra. Ezra 7:10 says, “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (ESV). Ezra did study the word, do the word, and teach the word. And when the time had fully come, revival started. Some of you may have heard D.L. Moody’s famous “T and P” Bible. In the margin of many pages in D. L. Moody’s Bible, he wrote the letters T and P, meaning “Tried and Proved.” He read it, digested it, underlined it, and put it into practice. And he proved that the word of God actually works. Let us try and prove God’s wonder-working Word. Let us set aside time daily to actually read the word, study the word, meditate on the word, memorize the word, and do the word, until God’s word reshapes us, renews us, transforms us from the inside out. Then, like Dr. King said, we will stop marching to the drumbeat of conformity. We will begin listening to the beat of a more distant drum from above and marching to the music of eternity that is good, pleasing, and perfect. More than ever before, we are today challenged by the words of Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”