The powers that be changed the format of Lunchbox Social this week, and all the people said, “Amen!”
Actually, all the people said a variety of things, some of them less positive than others. Students were assigned to a lunch group and the lists were posted outside of the classroom next to mine, giving me a front row seat to the ensuing drama. Despite the lack of popcorn and a comfy couch, I found the performance entertaining. The drama reminded me that we are all characters in God’s spoken world. There is never a moment when our lives are off-camera or behind the scenes. We like to think we can divide the events of life between trivial backstage matters (like my reaction to Lunch Box Social) and spectacular on-stage moments that elicit a standing-O (like participating in the mission trip to Haiti). But that’s not how this works.
ThroughLines describe the kind of character that God is calling and empowering us to be in the unfolding drama of redemption. Those moments when we think the mic is off and the cameras aren’t rolling are the moments that capture our true character. The way we act in those scenes of life where we face disappointment, challenges, and frustration reveals who we are. Our reactions, comments, sighs, and complaints don’t come from a vacuum, they come from our hearts.
The good news is that this Story has a masterful Author, and as it turns out, he loves to weave redemption and transformation into the plot.
That’s Your Cue
All of this causes me to think a bit differently about Formational Learning Experiences (FLEx). What if we were to broaden our understanding of FLEx to include not only a project at the end of a unit, but all the other heart-exposing situations that are common in an academic environment? If ThroughLines describe the kind of character God is empowering us to be, then a FLEx is our cue to live as that character. If every minute of the day is an on-stage moment in God’s Story, then that right there was your cue.
You just got assigned to a group project with someone who annoys you? That’s your cue to live as a neighbor lover and a community builder.
Your teacher had the nerve to assign a bunch or reading and a long paper during a week when you have two games and work three shifts till close? That’s your cue to live as a resource steward. Who knows? There might even be some idols to discern and some gifts from the Father to enjoy along the way.
You have to give a persuasive speech in front of real live people? That’s your cue to live as a disciple maker and an idolatry discerner. And that fear and insecurity you feel holding you back? That’s an opportunity to treasure Christ more than you fear the opinion of man.
Lunch Box FLEx
Looking at life through that kind of redemptive/transformational lens causes me to see Lunch Box Social as a cue, an opportunity for discipleship, a FLEx if you will. But if I notice that my character is prone to grumble, complain, gossip, deceive, or slander, then how do I become a different kind of character?
A lot of my thinking on the topic of personal growth or transformation has been influenced by Paul Tripp and Timothy Lane’s book, How People Change. They offer a paradigm for transformation in which they speak of heat, thorns, cross, and fruit.
- HEAT = My situation (whether a blessing or a trial)
- THORNS = My sinful, carnal response to my situation
- CROSS = The person and work of Jesus Christ, and all that God promises to be for me in Jesus
- FRUIT = The God-glorifying response to my situation that God makes possible by changing my heart (not necessarily my situation)
Putting it all together, my situation (heat) exposes my heart by provoking my sinful responses (thorns), but Christ makes transformation possible through his person and work (cross), which leads to new and godly responses (fruit). It could be illustrated like this:
Lunch Box Heat
This redemptive paradigm reframes “heat” as formational learning experiences. Life happens. Situations arise. Decisions are made outside of my control. The page turns. The plot thickens. The relevant question is, What kind of character am I? How will I respond in this new scene?
Let’s reframe the changes to Lunch Box Social as heat: the new format of assigned groups is simply the situation students are in. It is what it is. It guarantees neither universal joy nor consternation. All of the high school students are in the same situation, but not all of them react in the same way. It’s possible that some are really excited about their group and others are dreading this meal. This is just the next scene of the story. Different characters will act differently in this scene because it’s not really about the format of Lunch Box Social, it’s actually about the longings and desires of each heart. The heart is the root from which the fruit–the externally visible reaction–grows.
How does that help? Well, it allows us to address the problem behavior by applying the Gospel to the root. When I was a kid, my mom used to think plucking weeds from the garden on a Saturday morning counted as a fun family activity. In my haste to return to activities I actually enjoyed, I would pluck the visible green weeds growing above the soil as fast as I could. But as soon as my mom spotted my novice technique, she would patiently remind me, “Make sure you get the root, otherwise the weed will grow right back.”
Chiding students for having bad attitudes about the new Lunch Box Social format, or telling them all to smile and act like they like it would be to merely pluck the leaves and miss the root. But if we leave the root embedded in the soil, the same bad fruit will crop up the next time heat comes along. So how do we get to the root?
Consider what it is that a grumbling Lunch Boxer most deeply desires. As a student checks the posted list and searches anxiously for his name, he is essentially wondering one thing: “Am I going to be okay?” Is there anyone in my group whom I know, like, or feel comfortable with? Is there anyone I dislike, despise, or dread?
Let’s be honest. Stepping out of our comfort zone to interact with other humans requires a considerable amount of energy. It’s also a dying art in a smartphone world. These desires and concerns begin to produce discernible attitudes of unbelief in a student’s heart. And that is precisely what makes Lunch Box Social a Formational Learning Experience.
Here are some possible (hypothetical) attitudes of unbelief that provide fertile soil for bad fruit to grow:
- Anxiety (I’m worried about how this will go…)
- Bitterness (I’m angry at whoever came up with this change…)
- Envy/jealousy (I resent my friend who was assigned to a cool group…)
- Pride (I have something to prove to these people…)
As these me-centered thoughts swirl below the surface, the thorns begin to bud above the surface. How can we tell? Well, thorns are particular and discernible. Thorns sound like that joke about what’s-his-face or that sarcastic comment about so-and-so. Thorns look like those sagging shoulders and that eye-roll as I realize I’m not with my best friend. A thorn is that disrespectful conversation as we walk back down the hall, scoffing at those in authority who clearly don’t know what they’re doing.
The redemptive solution is not to capitulate and return Lunch Box Social to the way it used to be. A Gospel-saturated academic environment won’t coddle students so that they never experience change or hard things. Rather, we must graciously, patiently, lovingly, and intentionally bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to bear on the concerns and desires of the heart that are producing the visible thorns.
First, we do this by affirming that change is only possible in and through and by Jesus Christ. In repentance, we must look away from whatever else we are desiring, and in faith, we must look toward Christ.
“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25).
To my anxiety, the Gospel asserts that God, who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for me, will also graciously give me all that I need (Romans 8:32). Jesus has secured my future, therefore, I need not be anxious about anything (Philippians 4:6).
To my bitterness, the Gospel declares that God has not dealt with me as my sins deserve (Psalm 103:10). It reminds me that Christ did not revile or threaten when he suffered, but that he entrusted his soul to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23). Therefore, I need not feel malice or resentment for being treated in a way that I consider unfair.
To my envy, the Gospel says that Jesus died and rose to make a way for me to enjoy the goodness of God forever. Therefore, if I have God, I lack no good thing (Psalm 34:9-10).
To my pride, the Gospel speaks the humbling truth that I am simultaneously more sinful than I ever feared and more loved than I could have ever dreamed.
What harvest of righteousness will God produce through this? What fruit of the Spirit will I bear as I abide in Christ?
- Instead of anxiety, I will experience peace and confidence and courage as I meet new people.
- Instead of bitterness and resentment, I will exhibit benevolence, kindness, and love that seeks to build up those around me.
- Instead of envy and jealousy, I will experience contentment and gratitude and generosity.
- Instead of pride, I will act with humility that considers others better than myself.
Imagine a disciple of Jesus Christ who is experiencing this kind of heart-transformation. He might check the posted list of groups for Lunch Box Social and begin to pray for those assigned to his table by name, something like, “Father, empower me with your Spirit and make me a blessing to those in my group. Shape my attitude and my demeanor so that my interactions with these people will build them up and cause them to see more of your goodness.”
After all, this is just the next scene in our story, our cue to cook something delicious, build community, love our neighbors, root out the idols in our hearts, and treasure our glorious Savior together.