Michael Brown, Ferguson, and the Police

Michael Brown and Ferguson: Perception and the Police

When I was a child I was taught to respect the police. I often went on field trips in school to visit law enforcement stations. I always had positive interactions with the police in those settings, in my communities at large, and in general. My perception of the police as a young white man was that they were there to do their stated mission: to protect and to serve.

However, I’m becoming aware that this is not the prevailing perception of the police with everyone, especially among people of color. For various reasons that are difficult to encapsulate in any quick way, people of color, especially black Americans, often view the police as a threat and with suspicion. Some view the police as out to get them by actively profiling them. And both anecdotal stories from my black friends as well as research about the rates of arrest validate some of these concerns.

It’s in this context, the context of the perception of the police, that the story in Ferguson, Missouri of the fatal shooting of an unarmed young man named Michael Brown takes place. In other words, this story is not happening in a vacuum. This story is not happening outside the context of race and ethnicity. This story is not happening outside the realities of American history. And this story is not happening outside the decades and decades of racial tension in American cities like Ferguson.

The Church’s Response

The question that I want to wrestle with a little bit is this: what is the church’s response to situations like the one in Ferguson? What should we do?

First, we should not be silent. Churches all over America will probably not mention this story this weekend at all. Many of these silent churches will be primarily white (though it should be noted that historically black churches are sometimes silent on social issues also).

There is another piece of evidence, albeit anecdotal: my social media feeds. Despite the fact that I have numerous Christian friends online, almost none of them who are white have mentioned the story in Ferguson at all. This may be due to fear, or confusion, or whatever else. On the flip side many of my black friends, my Asian friends, and my Latino friends have been mentioning this story often. I’m sure it’s not just my social media feed that looks this way.

And, in my humble opinion, this is a disgrace. White Christians should also be involved in issues of race and ethnicity. We should stand on the side of justice. This should not be something that we ignore because it’s difficult or complicated. We should not shy away from these sorts of topics because we are scared that our white brothers and sisters may not understand where we’re coming from. And we can’t let our fears of being called “liberal” or something of that sort prevent is from standing up for what’s right.

And if the media reports are correct that Michael Brown was unarmed and that he had his hands raised whenever he was gunned down, then what happened was not right. This is true regardless of his past, his affiliations, or any other things about him. He was unarmed and his hands were raised according to reports. If those things are true then the way he died is unjust. And we Christians, all of us Christians, need to stand on the side of what’s right and just.

And second, we need to be reminded that the Jesus of the Gospels stood on the side of those who were marginalized. Specifically Jesus often went out of his way to include people who were different than him, especially the Samaritans. And we see this continuing in the book of Acts as the good news expanded outside of the bonds of Jewish ethnicity and extended into Gentile world. We read this in Paul’s letters, in the other epistles, and all throughout the Old Testament. This notion of including all people is a common theme in all of the Bible. And yet at some point we have limited the Bible to be only about me and people like me. Now that “me and people like me” in my previous sentence could be people literally like me, middle-class white people, or maybe people like you, whatever your social location.

The truth is that the gospel is not just for people like me or people like you. It is for all people. And as such those of us who claim to follow Jesus should begin to live like Jesus lived. And one of the chief ways that Jesus lived was for the other, especially the marginalized other.

Friends, in America there are marginalized people. One of the ways that people are marginalized most often is through race and ethnicity. And it is high time that we in the church took a hard stand for those who are marginalized. For whatever reason. Especially if we are white.

I would love to hear your thoughts on what I’ve written here in the comments below. But the comments need to remain civil and respectful. Any comments that I deem otherwise will be removed. Thank you for your understanding.

Robin Williams and Depression

The news of Robin Williams’ passing is incredibly sad. He’s always been one of my favorite comedians.

It may not be surprising to anyone who knows me but I love stand up comedy.

Number one: it’s funny. I love the way that comedians look at life. They see the absurdity and irony of things and they find humor in life that many of us never could. Number two: it’s taught me so much about communication. I’ve often thought that doing stand-up comedy at an open mic night would be a great way to improve my communication skills. The way that comedians are able to get their ideas across to the audience is simply amazing. And I’m not sure there was anyone who was better at it than Robin Williams. He packed more jokes into a smaller space than just about anyone else.

With all of that said it’s understandable why his passing is really difficult for many of us. Robin Williams was a man that many of us loved. He brought us joy. He made us laugh. He made us think.

And yet at his core it appears that he did not have joy. It’s been widely reported that Robin Williams was depressed. As a depressive person myself I can understand where he’s coming from. Even though he was receiving adulation from millions of people in the world, he apparently had a hard time believing this for himself.

Depression and the Church

The depression that Robin Williams may have suffered from is not necessarily something that can be willed or prayed away. For some of us depression or being depressive is just a matter of our brains’ chemistries. It’s something that we have to live with and learn how to manage our whole lives.

Unfortunately in the church depression is still a major stigma. People often think that those who suffer with depression just haven’t realized or accepted the joy of the Lord. They just haven’t prayed the right way. Maybe there’s some sin that they just can’t get over. Etc., etc., ad nauseam. Those of us who suffer from depression or who tend to be depressive often hear all this nonsense. In fact we hear it so much that we are hesitant to reveal that we’re depressive or are in the midst of suffering from depression.

So in light of Robin Williams’ untimely death I think it would be wise for us to think again about how we as the church approach mental illness, especially depression. We can’t turn a blind eye anymore. And we can’t just relegate it to the category of those bad Christians who simply don’t pray enough. Depression and mental illness are realities that we need to take seriously!

One of the ways that we can begin taking them seriously is by removing the stigma from depression and other mental illnesses. We need to be people who are open and accepting of all people and all of their baggage. Our churches need to be safe havens for people who suffer all kinds of ailments, whatever they may be. If we did this, then I think we would be more known for our kindness and compassion than for our judgmental attitudes!

Another thing that we need to take away from from this situation is the following: Take helpful action!  If any of us are having suicidal thoughts or if any of us know those who may be having suicidal thoughts, we need to seek help. If we are depressed or know someone who is, it may be time to think about visiting a professional. There’s nothing wrong with seeking counseling or medication if necessary. And as the church we need to do a better job of not judging people with mental illness.

Friends we need to remember the Scripture where Jesus said that he came for the sick and not for the well (Matthew 9.12, Mark 2.17, Luke 5.31). There are many different kinds of sicknesses, one of which is mental illness. And Jesus came for folks who suffer the way that Robin Williams suffered.

Let us do a better job of caring for those in need.

 

How do you think the church should approach depression?  Let me know in the comments below.

Missional Leadership: Listening

“You have two ears and one mouth for a reason.  Sit down and listen Matt!”

Sadly I’ve forgotten who exactly said this to me.  I do know, however, that it was a teacher of mine in seventh grade.  As anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m uber-talkative.  Especially when I’m sleepy.  And when was I not sleepy as a seventh grader!

But this aphorism from my teacher speaks volumes.  While its reliance on anatomy and physiology is cutesy; the truth behind it is solid.  Listening is important, even more important than talking.

listening

By: Travis Isaacs
Listening is a skill that needs to be developed.

Listening Is a Thing of the Past

Think about this — there are four primary types of communication: 1) writing, 2) reading, 3) speaking, and 4) listening.  Formal education in the West centers almost completely on writing and reading, with a tiny bit of speaking thrown in, such as in a public speaking course here or there.  But there is almost no training for an average student with regard to listening.  Almost none.

Isn’t that crazy?  One of the most important human skills is completely left off the educational menu!  One of my favorite leadership thinkers, Michael Hyatt, says that listening is a lost art, and it appears he is right!

The Impact of Our Lack of Listening

What kind of impact has this oversight had on us, our culture, our leadership skills, and our capacity to be missional?

  • Listening is THE major component of oral communication, thus if we aren’t doing it well then we aren’t communicating well.  And if we aren’t communicating well then our friendships, families, jobs, neighborhoods, churches, etc. are all negatively impacted.
  • Listening is a required skill of anyone who wants to learn about and from a new culture.  Taking on the role of a listener helps us stay humble and explicitly reminds us that we are here to learn.  Moreover, there’s no better way to learn about something then to listen to the people who experience it most keenly!
  • Listening is essential in leadership.  How can we hope to lead people well if we aren’t in position to hear their concerns, hopes, wishes, and desires?  How can we be trusted to take the reins if we aren’t willing to bend our ears toward others?
  • And lastly, our lack of listening is extremely detrimental to our missional efforts.

Missional Listening

So, what are some ways that listening will help us as we seek more and more to be on mission with God, accomplishing his will where we work, live, and play?

  1. Contextualize: We will be able to contextualize the good news of Jesus better if we listen.  One of the first steps that any good missionary should take is listening.  We should intentionally become a learner of culture so that we can see how best we can communicate Jesus and his kingdom wherever we find ourselves.
  2. Empathize: Being in the regular habit of listening will also show others that we care, that we empathize.  I love the word “empathize.”  It means, at its core, to understand, feel, and respond appropriately to the feelings of others.  It necessitates that we learn through listening.  And by listening to others we actively demonstrate that we care.
  3. Humble-ize: Despite how hard it is, being humble is the only way truly to listen.  And if we humbly listen well, then folks will trust us more.  And as people trust us more, the good news of Jesus and his kingdom will become more and more attractive to them.  And as Jesus and his kingdom become more attractive, communities will change for the good.

 

Therefore, friends, we need to become more effective listeners!  What are some ways that you think you can become a better listener?  Let me know in the comments below.

Small Talk with a Purpose

Are you like me; do you hate small talk?  When chatting with a complete stranger (which is another thing I tend to avoid!), is the idea of idly chewing the fat about the weather just about the worst thing you can imagine?  Or, while at a party, do you cringe at the thought of having to word vomit about nothing with people you barely know for two or three hours?

If you answered affirmatively to any of these question, then one of two things may be true about you: 1) you’re an introvert  (yay!); or 2) you really hate small talk.  It should be noted that both of these things do not have to be true at the same time, though they certainly can be (and maybe they usually are?).  The hatred of small talk can by shared by introverts and extroverts alike!

Small talk

Does the thought of small talk make you want to poke your own eyeballs out?

 

But is there any place for small talk, idle chatter, barely-scratching-the-surface speech?

 Small Talk on Mission

A friend of mine recently said that she didn’t like small talk at all.  However, at a gathering we had, she engaged in some small talk and felt quite a bit differently about it.  What changed?

Her words were that the small talk at the party was meaningful — it was small talk with a purpose.

The gathering we were at was a party that consisted of some folks who knew Jesus and some who did not yet.  It wasn’t pushy, religious, weird, or anything like that.  Instead it was literally just hanging out.  It was us creating some proximity space for some of our friends to get to know what Christians are really like.

So when my friend engaged in small talk, she knew it had a larger purpose.  Each “What do you do?” and “What do you think about the weather?” was centered around the gospel.  Each awkward second had the possibility of representing a tiny step closer to someone she cared about meeting Jesus.

That’s small talk I can get behind!

 

What do you think of small talk?  Let me know in the comments below.

How to Make a Friend

Making a friend can be hard.  Well, for some of us it can.

In fact, I recently heard a friend say that at the school he went to there was a required non-credit course about how to have a conversation.  This made me laugh because I thought it was ridiculous.

And then, and then, and then…

And then I realized how poor many of us are at having conversations.  And then I realized how many of us really stink at making friends.  And then I realized how poor many of us who claim to follow Jesus are at creating a real friendship with someone who doesn’t follow Jesus.

Stuff got real, real fast.

How good of a friend are we?

Tonight I was reading Growing Local Missionaries: Equipping Churches to Sow Shalom in Their Own Cultural Backyard and in it Dan Steigerwald makes an amazing point.  Here it is:

I am convinced that a big part of the Church’s missional formation across America must now involve getting back to the most basic level of motivating and equipping Christians to have natural relationships with normal people!  That is a pretty startling reality. (61)

Did you catch that?  He is saying that we followers of Jesus really don’t know how to make friends in this world where we live.

So, what do we do in response to this?

Step-by-Step Guide to Making a New Friend

Welp, here’s some helpful advice from missional thinker Mark van Steenwyk (from his article called “Incarnational Practices” in Next-Wave from October 2005; found in Growing Local Missionaries by Steigerwald [65]).  Oh, and by the way, this framework could probably have been from my friend’s class on how to have a conversation.  It goes like this:

  1. If you see someone at your favorite place a few times, you have permission to give them the “nod” of recognition (or subtle waive).
  2. If you’ve recognized their presence a couple times, it is socially ok to say “hello.”
  3. Once you’ve said hello to someone once or twice, it is ok to make comments like “hey, it sure is nice today” or “is that book you’re reading interesting?”
  4. After you’ve broken the ice, you can introduce yourself.
  5. Once you’re on a first-name basis, you have social permission to have normal conversations with them, and things develop from there.

Got it?

 

Is it just me, or is it sad that we have to have a guide like this in order to know how to make a friend with someone different than us?  What do you think?

A Simple Missional Prayer Habit

As I’ve been studying various missional practitioners and their ideas, one thing seems to be overlooked from time to time — prayer.  It’s not that folks don’t talk about it; they do.  However, it is often not a focus.  Other things tend to take center stage, such as strategies, stories, and studies of Scripture.  All of these things are good, great even!, but prayer can’t be overlooked.

A Prayer Habit

Full disclosure: my wife and I aren’t perfect.  Far from it!  But from time to time we get a few things right; and I think the particular prayer habit I’m about to describe is one of them.

We recently moved to a new neighborhood and we want to be a witness of the gospel of Jesus and his kingdom in it.  In order to do so we quickly realized that we need to get to know our neighbors — both those in our immediate vicinity and those a little further away.  To accomplish this my wife had the brilliant idea of taking a walk in our neighborhood each night that we eat dinner at home.

Here’s how it works.  We eat dinner, then pray for God to bring whomever he would like across our paths, and then we go out for a walk.  Sometimes we bring something with us, like cookies, to give to people.  Other times we simply walk around and strike up conversations when it’s appropriate.

God has been faithful to bring someone along our path each time, someone that we have the opportunity to meet and to bless.

Here are a few examples:

On one of our first walks we met a man named Louis who looked rather dejected.  When we said that we had cookies for him, he flashed us the biggest smile and gobbled them up happily!  A week or two later we were out walking and saw Louis once again.  We called him by name, which seemed to make his day, and gave him some more cookies.

Another time we approached a group of eight or so young people.  We had been nervous about talking to such a large group, but after praying we both felt compelled by the Spirit to go for it.  In so doing we got to meet some really cool people, including one man who has lived in our neighborhood for more than three decades.  We’re hoping to get to know him better so that he can help us learn about where we live!

Last night we went on a pretty eventful walk and were almost back home.  That’s when one our neighbors in our closest vicinity stopped to chat with us.  We made some small talk and then she revealed that she was facing some real drama and pain in her life.  This opened a great door for us to engage in some missional listening and to pray for her when we returned home.

And what led to each of these encounters?  A simple habit of praying for God to bring whomever he wanted us to bless across our paths.

What sort of missional prayer habits do you find helpful?  Let me know in the comments below!

Proximity Spaces

The Reality

One of the chief challenges facing Western Christians today is a general lack of meaningful relationships with people who do not follow Jesus.  Christians are simply not in proximity with those who don’t know Jesus yet.  There are a number of reasons for this:

  1. Perhaps there is a view that mingling with those who don’t follow Jesus will have a corrupting influence.
  2. Perhaps the follower of Jesus simply spends most of his/her time among other followers of Jesus naturally, due to an honest and authentic attempt to worship, learn about, and grow in relationship with God.
  3. Perhaps there is fear regarding those who don’t follow Jesus, since they are sometimes vilified by some Christians.
  4. Perhaps followers of Jesus really are judgmental toward those who aren’t on their team (like much of the evidence seems to indicate).
  5. Or perhaps there are other reasons that I have overlooked.

Whatever the case, many folks who claim to follow Jesus have almost no real contact with people who don’t know Jesus yet.

So What?  Why Is Proximity a Big Deal?

Why does this reality matter?  What difference does it make that followers of Jesus don’t have many non-Christian friends and acquaintances?  Why is proximity important?

It matters for many, many reasons.  Here are just a few:

  1. In Matthew 5.13-14 Jesus says that his disciples were the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.”  And they were!  They were out there in the world being salty and light-y!  But if we aren’t walking about on the earth, in among people of the world, then we can’t really be salt and light!
  2. In Matthew 28.19-20 Jesus gives his followers one last command, namely to make disciples.  Well, how can we make disciples if we are always and only surrounded by folks who claim to be disciples?
  3. In Matthew 22.36-40 we learn that Jesus boils down all of the commandments in the Old Testament to one: Love God and love your neighbors.  Welp, how can we love our neighbors (especially those who do not yet know Jesus) if we don’t actually get to know them?
  4. If we are to have an impact in the cultures where we find ourselves, whether in Altadena or Azerbaijan, then we must know the culture!  And while we can read books, watch movies, and hear testimonies about various cultures, the only real way to learn a culture is to meet, interact with, and befriend people within that culture.
  5. Lastly, while it is important that followers of Jesus maintain certain ethical standards and live out certain priorities, we don’t have to be awkwardly weird!  If we cloister ourselves off from the cultures in which we live, we will drift further and further away from what a typical person is like.  And if this happens, then the “us and them” phenomenon will much more easily rear its ugly head.

So, suffice it to say, it’s not biblical, advisable, or obedient to live a life completely separated off from people in this world — people created in the image of God and people for whom Jesus died!

How to Move Forward…

If it’s true that many followers of Jesus have almost no real relationships with people who don’t know Jesus and if it’s true that this is a bad thing…then what should we do?  How should we respond?

Alan Hirsch and Mike Frost have a phrase that is helpful — “proximity spaces.”  They define this phrase as “places or events where Christians and not-yet-Christians can interact meaningfully with each other” (24) in their book entitled The Shaping of Things to Come.  What might these proximity spaces look like? 

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Challenge your small group to begin to make friendships with people who don’t know Jesus and then have a party in which you all hang out together.  Nothing “religious” has to happen at this party.  This is simply a proximity space in which people can see that those who love Jesus aren’t necessarily judgmental, arrogant buzzkills.
  2. Another option is to plan a service event a month or so in the future.  Invite some of your friends, both those who follow Jesus and those who don’t.  In my experience people are much more likely to say “yes” to this invitation than they would be to an invitation to go to church.
  3. You could also begin to play a sport with someone who doesn’t know Jesus yet.  This one is especially beneficial for two reasons: 1–They will get to observe you dealing with failure and frustration, along with victory and success; 2–There is often down time between games, holes, innings, etc. during which you can chat.
  4. Use your imagination.  Think about where you work, live, and play.  Is there some way that you could intentionally invite someone who doesn’t know Jesus yet into that space?  Think about your hobbies and habits.  Can you co-mingle with someone who doesn’t follow Jesus in that capacity?

 

Friends, if we don’t find ways to interact with people who don’t know Jesus yet, how can we be obedient to the call of Jesus?  How can we truly face our growing mission field in the United States if we don’t interact with people who haven’t begun to follow Jesus?

 

What are some other examples of proximity spaces?  Let me know in the comments below!

Getting in Position!

Have you ever had an experience in which you felt like you were in the right place at the right time to make an impact?

I like to call times like that being in position.  There are times in which your specific skills, talents, gifts, availability, passions, etc. line up perfectly for a task or need at hand.  You’re in position!

Let me tell you of one of those times in my life…

In Position 1: William

I’m part of a group that prepares hot dogs for folks who live and hang out in a local park.  The purpose of this activity is missional: we want to build relationships with people – love them, feed them, and begin to point them to Jesus.

On one such occasion a friend and me were walking around the park inviting people to come have hot dogs with us.  We invited a man named William and he accepted.  Usually in these situations people have stuff to gather up before they can come over to our location.  William, however, had all of his stuff in a backpack he was wearing, so he fell in behind us as we made our way back to the grill.

On the way I learned that William had a deep interest in early Christian history.  This was perfect for me since I’ve spent much of my adult life learning about early Christian history and the cultural milieu out of which the Church emerged.  William and I ended up chatting for almost an hour.  He asked about other “Gospels” other than the four in the Bible.  He had questions about the Gnostics and their role (or lack thereof) in influencing Paul.  We chatted for quite a while about the formation of the canon of the New Testament as well.

Our conversation was deep and wide-ranging.  William told me that he had read every book on religion that the local library had…and it showed!  He was knowledgeable!  He and I were not able to agree on every point but we left the conversation with newly-found respect for one another!

I felt especially “in position” to have this conversation with William!

In Position 2: Alan

William went in for another hot dog and as he did so I heard how loud and distracting my friend Alan was being.  Alan was quite intoxicated and was saying things like: “I am death,” “I am darkness,” and “I want to die and take the world with me.”  Needless to say, Alan was freaking everyone out, me included!  However, I had just been reading Sentness: Six Postures of Missional Christians by Kim Hammond and Darren Cronshaw and in it the authors urge missional Christians to be shock-proof.  There’s nothing quite as off-putting (and judgmental!) as showing visible signs of shock at the decisions of people who do not yet know Jesus.

So, I tried my best to be calm and I prayed.  I asked God to give me wisdom and guidance.  Then I began to ask Alan questions about what he was saying.  I was poking and prodding, trying to enter his world.  He asked me at one point if I was making fun of him and I said, “No!  I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on with you.”

After a few minutes of this I realized that getting beyond his intoxicated haze was next to impossible.  So, I asked Alan if I could pray for him.  He said he didn’t want me to because all prayer is fake.  I then said, “Well, let me pray and we’ll see.”

Again I asked God to give me guidance and I put my hand on the back of Alan’s neck.  I began to pray for him.  I prayed for him to have clarity and for him to find peace.  Then I prayed for Satan to leave him alone.  Now you really need to understand that this is really, really, really out of character for me!  I almost never pray this way.  But I felt led by the Spirit to do so…so I did.

Almost immediately Alan’s body relaxed.  He stopped cursing and resisting the prayer.  In fact, he crumpled into my chest and I just hugged him and prayed for him.  When I finished praying, he and I sat on the ground and chatted for a bit.  He told me how alone he felt, how helpless he was, and how frustrated he was.  He asked me for my phone number, so I wrote it down on a piece of paper and put it in his wallet.

Alan hasn’t called yet and he may never call.

But God put me in position to be there for him in the same way that God has put people in position to be there for me.

So What?

What’s the point of telling this story.  Please don’t take this as bragging or boasting.  I was really just the right guy in the right place, thanks to the leading of the Spirit.

Instead I want to leave you with some questions: When’s the last time you felt in position to be used by God?  Is it time to answer the call to be on mission with God?  Is it time to find out what position God can put you in so you can best be used?

Crucifixion: Two Reflections

 

I was asked to lead some folks at our church in two reflections during the Lenten season this year at a local park.  Here they are:

 

Reflection One:

What did it mean to be crucified?  Crucifixion was a form of capital punishment that was normally reserved for enemies of the state or people who had engaged in terrorism or revolts of one kind or another.  It was cruel and painful.  People were attached to crosses via ropes or nails, such as in the case of Jesus, and then hoisted up in the air and placed into a slot in the ground that held the cross up.

 

Crucifixion caused a massive amount of pain.  Normally a prisoner, such as Jesus, would have been beaten and whipped prior to being placed on the cross, which meant that his body, especially his back, would be full of open wounds.  So not only did the nails in the wrists and ankles hurt beyond imagining, every time Jesus tried to relieve the pain in his wrists or ankles he scraped his injured back against the rough wood of the cross.

 

But the way that crucifixion killed people was by making it hard to breathe.  The angle of the arms and upper torso, along with the tiredness of the prisoner, would result in there being great difficulty and pain with each breath.  Eventually the prisoner would have to push up on the nails in his ankles and pull at the nails in his wrists to breathe more easily.  Over time, this became more and more difficult.  Depending on the prisoner, this form of execution could take as little as an hour or as much as a day or more.  In other words, Jesus was in great agony as he hung on the cross for us.

 

But here’s the real kicker for me, Jesus chose this pain.  Jesus chose this agony.  He chose to be executed by the same method as a terrorist.  Why?  Because he loved us and wanted to pave a way for us to have a relationship with the Father.  Since the penalty for sin is death, someone had to pay that penalty.  And since we could not pay that penalty and live with the Father forever, someone special had to take our place – someone who was like us in every way and someone who had the authority and power to defeat death.  There has only been one person like that in the history of the universe.  His name is Jesus.  And he loved us enough to die for our sins!

 

Reflection Two:

Why are we at Central Park?  What is so special about this place?  Well, for me, Central Park represents what it means to live in light of Jesus being crucified.

 

Everyday this park is filled with various people.  There are parents here with their children at the playground.  There are professionals who eat here at the park every day at lunchtime.  There are folks who come here to exercise.  And then each night different areas of this park are occupied by some of Pasadena’s homeless population.  In other words, Central Park represents a really accurate cross-section of the people of Pasadena – the rich and the poor, those in community and those who are alone, those with jobs and some without.

 

People.  People like you and like me.  And all of the people who come to this park each day are people created in the image of God, people for whom Jesus died.  In other words, the people that this park represents are valuable beyond belief!  God made them and imbued them with life.  That alone makes each and every one of them special!  But since Jesus died for each of them, the value of their lives goes up exponentially.  The way to know what something is worth is by examining the price that is paid for it.  Well, what is a human life worth then?  Since Jesus paid for each of these lives using the most precious commodity know to humanity – himself – the worth of each person cannot be adequately measured!  It is off the charts!

 

What should that mean for our lives now?  It’s not enough for us simply to reflect on what Jesus did for us on the cross and then go home.  No.  What Jesus did for us on the cross should impact the way we live!  If it’s true that each life is made even more valuable thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice, then the way we treat each and every person should be different.

 

We should treat each person with deep respect and kindness.  We should be less focused on ourselves and more focused on how to serve one another.  We should stop viewing people as extras, as human props, in the story of our lives.  We should strive with all we are to share the good news with the people we encounter, especially those that we see and interact with all the time!

 

But not only that, the fact that Jesus’ death brings value to each person should also move us to care for those in distress, whether emotional, spiritual, physical, financial, etc.  How could we, with a clean conscience, sit back and enjoy the benefits of God’s blessings while we know that there are people suffering in our world?

 

Friends, living in light of the crucifixion means living like Jesus did.  And how did he live?  He lived for the benefit of others.  Brothers and sisters, let us go and do likewise!

 

So, when you think of Jesus’ crucifixion, what do you deem worthy of reflection?

Testify: John 1.29-34

Testify

Statue of John the Baptist in Prague near St. Vitrus Cathedral.
How can we be like John and testify about Jesus?

Testify!

I really love the word “testify.”  I’m not sure when this love developed or why exactly.  Growing up “testify” only seemed to be used in legal dramas on TV and in church.  So, maybe that’s where my love comes from — I’ve always like TV shows about lawyers (Boston Legal anyone?) and I’ve been going to church since nine months before I was born.

Another reason why I like the word is that it’s what John, one of my favorite people in the Bible, is always doing.  A great example of this is found in John 1.29-34:

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”

Before Jesus comes on the scene (in John 1.19-28), what does John do?  Testify!  Then, in the passage quoted above, when John sees Jesus and baptizes him, what does he do?  Testify!  And in virtually every other appearance of John in the Fourth Gospel, what does he do?  Testify!

Pointing to Jesus

You may have noticed that paintings and statutes of John almost always have him pointing.  And he’s not just pointing at nothing or at something different each time.  Instead, he’s always pointing to Jesus.  Painters and sculptors must have read their Bibles because that’s a great visual depiction of what he does with his words in the pages of the Gospels.

We see this very clearly in John 1.29-34.  John sees Jesus and screams out that Jesus is the Lamb of God.  John says that his whole purpose has been to reveal Jesus, to point to him so that others can see.  Then he says that not only does he want to draw attention to Jesus, he wants to testify about him correctly: Jesus is the Chosen One, the Messiah.

So What?

Why does what some guy named John did a long time ago matter?  Well, to me, it matters for lots of reasons, but there’s one that really stands out: John can serve as an example for us today.

John testified about Jesus, so what should we do? Testify too!

But how?

  1. With Our Words: Don’t be lured into the “preach with your life” trap.  We are called to use our words to testify about Jesus.  Does that mean we shouldn’t focus on how our lives testify to Jesus too?  Of course not!  But we must be willing to use our words!
  2. With Our Attitudes: One of the chief characteristics of John was his humility.  He was really popular and his ministry was growing and growing.  People knew who he was.  He was a regional celebrity.  He could have tried to capitalize on this fame.  Instead he used it to point people to Jesus, to testify about Jesus.  That’s humility!
  3. With Our Actions: Yes, we should preach with our lives too!  How we live matters and how we go about our days can strongly testify about Jesus.  But the challenge here is to be intentional about testifying with our actions.  In our natural state we’re tempted to be selfish and point people toward how cool we are.  But when we are intentionally putting effort into testifying about Jesus with our actions, we’re less likely to be less selfish.

 

What do you like about John the Baptist?  How do you think we should testify about Jesus?  Let me know in the comments below!