Learning a Christian Response to Ferguson Should Be Leery of the Crowd

A crowd followed Jesus wherever he went.

The Gospel books of the Bible (Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John) mentions the crowd in 40 different stories.  In twitter language, it is worthy of trending.  #jesuscrowd

We don’t know much about the crowd, other than their shared interest in following Jesus.  Most of them are Jewish.  The dominant status seems to be lower socio-economic.  They are far from monolithic, though.  Some are rich.  Some hold positions of privilege. Some are even religious.  Others are foreigners.

Jesus’ teaching piqued their interest.  From a distance, they like what he is saying.  It sounds like the beginning of the revolution they’ve been waiting for.  More than his words, many more are interested in his miracles.  Stories of healing spread quickly throughout their social networks.  Jesus was a magnet for the desperate and hopeless.

Jesus is conscious of the crowd.  He had no choice.  He fed them in the desert.  Twice.  He positioned himself at a high point so they could hear his teaching.  When one from the crowd touched his cloak, he stopped to heal her.  When they followed him around the sea, he taught them from the boat.  If you ask me, Jesus is more than generous to the crowd.

The Bible’s never really clear about the crowd’s opinion of Jesus.  It’s obvious they uphold some form of belief in him, or they wouldn’t follow him everywhere.  You have to wonder if the majority aren’t selfishly seeking a miracle.  At the gospels’ story end, the crowd is pressed for an opinion.

The verdict.  Crucify him.  Crucify him.  Crucify him, they chanted.

Crowds are forming in response to the Ferguson decision.  The media chooses to focus on the violent crowd.  It’s not the only crowd.  The largest crowd is the dominant group in our nation:  white-privileged Americans.  They are gathering on blog posts, on twitter, on Facebook, in comment sections of all forms of social media, at the cooler in your office, on televised news, at your dinner table, and even in our churches.

I believe the Gospel story warns us to be leery of the crowd.  Like Jesus and his disciples, separate yourself from the crowd.  Find a place of solitude where God’s voice can be heard.  Ask for God’s will,  not your own or public opinion.

The crowd most white Christians will be tempted to follow is one that leads you away from Jesus.  This crowd isn’t compassionate or humble or penitent or reconciling or self-sacrificing or justice-seeking.  It is a crowd whose shouts crucify again the way of Jesus.

As Christians who must respond to the Ferguson decision, you should be leery of the crowd.  When pressed, they will turn their back on Jesus.

Here are a couple blog posts that might keep you from the crowd:  Why Ferguson Must Lead Change, Dear White Christians,

Learning Why You Should Give Thanks according to Psalm 9

Most Christian families will sit around the table this Thursday and offer thanks.

My family’s tradition includes a pen, a small piece of paper, and a Longaberger basket.  Each family member takes a private moment to write down what they are thankful for this year.  You fold the paper and place it in the basket.  Anonymity is preserved.

We follow the last hot dish to the table and take a seat.   Staring at the food and each other, we pass the basket.  Each person takes a folded piece of paper.  One by one, we read someone else’s reason for giving thanks.  One of us always cries.

I need to confess.  After a few years, it’s difficult to come up with a unique reason for being thankful.  I’ve already mentioned my wife, my kids, my parents, my siblings, my job, my church, my friends, and God.  I am truly thankful for each one of these every year.  I kind of feel bad, though, that I don’t have bigger reasons.  I live a life of great privilege.

Juxtapose my reasons for giving thanks with someone like Abebech.  At thirteen years old, she experienced one of her country’s worst droughts.  Water and food were scarce.  Hope didn’t seem possible.  Escape seemed like the only plan.  So, she did.

She found someone who would help her escape to her dream destination:  South Africa.  Arrangements were made without her family’s knowledge.  Before she blinked, she was on her way.  Little did she know, she was on her way to an even worse nightmare.

Abebech was duped.  She hadn’t paid her way to freedom.  She bought her own ticket to sexual slavery.  She was sold a false promise.  Nightmarish circumstances ensued.

After previous failed attempts, she escaped.  Literally, she ran away.  She found herself standing in the presence of Pastor Gutowa.  A long way from home, she ran into the first person who could speak her language.  She gasps a breadth of fresh air. Then, they realized their families were friends in the same village.  Abebech found rescue.  (To read the whole story, go to NCM Magazine Winter 2014.)

Abebech’s story reminds us why we have reason to give thanks.  It’s the same reason voiced by the artist in Psalm 9:

The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.  And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsake those who seek you.  Psalm 9:9-10  (NRSV)

For the oppressed, downtrodden, marginalized, powerless, hopeless, subjugated, abused, enslaved, God provides rescue and refuge.  With love deeper than a mother’s for her child, God searches for such as these.  God’s a safe house for the battered, a sanctuary during bad times.  The moment you arrive, you relax; you’re never sorry you knocked” (The Message translation).

The writer of Psalm 9 knows this.  It’s what compelled him to start by saying, “I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart.”  Every bit of his heart is captive to the memory of God’s rescue in his own oppressive past.

So I go back to my Thanksgiving family tradition.  Sometime my whole heart doesn’t feel in it.  I wonder if it would if I had a storied experience of God’s strength in a time of oppression?  Not saying I am asking for an oppressive situation in my life.  Just asking, what would happen if my lived experience included a relationship with others who seek rescue from oppression?  If I truly began to know and care about those in oppressive situations, and it became real to me, would I share in their thanksgiving when rescue came?

I think the answer is, yes.  Yes.  My whole heart will give thanks when it identifies with one of the greatest reason for thanksgiving:  finding freedom from oppression.

Psalm 9 gives a strong reason for giving thanks:  God offers safety to the oppressed.  You will begin to feel it when it becomes a part of your story.  For most of us, this means you will need to find someone to support in their struggle for freedom from oppression.  When freedom rings, you will feel in your whole heart reason to give thanks. 

You can start by exploring what others are already doing:  NCM

Learning Your Message Can Improve by Perfecting 1 Skill

Fourteen years ago, Brooklyn and I had no idea the value of a skill taught to us by Rick Ryding in the course Curriculum Design.  We were juniors at Mount Vernon Nazarene University (then it was College) fulfilling the requirements of our degrees.  It was a core class in Brooklyn’s major, Christian Education.  I just liked taking the same classes as her, so I signed up.  Plus, it counted as one of my electives.

You had to be absent-minded or completely clueless to walk away from the class without knowing the most important lesson.  We practiced and practiced and practiced aaaannnnd practiced writing objective statements.  Easy, yet complicated.

An objective statement is a main idea written in a clear and concise sentence.  Everything you want to communicate must be contained in this one little statement.  In one sentence, your audience should know exactly what you are talking about.  No guessing or speculation.  You state precisely where you are headed.

Brooklyn and I had objective statement nostalgia this week.  Our minds returned to that classroom and those homework assignments.  The memory can’t be described as sentimental, but was definitely felt.

Our messages have room for improvement, we realize.  The answer seems to be that ominous skill we learned a decade ago.  Our messages need to be communicated more clearly.  To do so requires our ability to perfect the objective statement.  Time to refresh.

This is hard,” are the words that come out of our mouth.  Tears of struggle and frustration are shed.  Helplessness and hopeless set in.  “I can’t do it.  I don’t know why, but I just can’t do it. It’s the one thing I struggled with in class.”

It’s the end of the week.  We haven’t given up.  We stand beside our original inclination.  Your message can improve by perfecting the skill of defining your objective in a clear statement.  Your message improves when you can state the Big Idea.

Not sure how?  Ken Davis, in his book Secrets of Dynamic Communication, provides a great tool to help you get started.  Practice filling in the blanks:

You can ___________ by ________________.

Or

You should ____________ because ________________.

Whether you teach, preach, write, or blog, your message can improve by perfecting one skill.  Practice it.  Give yourself time.  Don’t give up too early.  Believe in yourself.  You can do it.

Write objective statements.  Claim your big idea.  Your message will improve.

Learning You Don’t Need to Spend Money to Have Fun with Your Kids

I had no idea how much fun my kids could have with such a simple item.

I didn’t pay for it.  I’m not even sure where it came from.  They might have brought it home from church, possibly.  A giveaway from the children’s ministry??

All I know is that it led to an eruption of laughter in the front room of our house.  Their play gave meaning to the title “living room.”  The space came alive with their quick movements, bursts of laughter, and shouts of encouragement.  “Don’t let it hit the ground, sissy!”  “Hurry, get it Mya!”

Our vaulted ceilings seemed designed for this very purpose.  The extra couple feet of clearance provided the appropriate space above.  The perfect scenario for a game of “keep-the-blue-balloon-off-the-floor.”

My kids were having the most fun I’ve seen them experience in a long time, playing with a balloon.  A simple, blue, carbon dioxide-filled, nothing special about it, balloon.  They laughed and giggled and ran and played and laughed some more for several minutes.  A moment I wish to lock away in my memory forever.

It didn’t cost me a dollar.  If I had bought the balloon, it may have cost me just that.  One dollar.  Point is, my kids had a blast without needing me to spend money to make it happen.

Spending money isn’t required to create fun with your kids.  Too often, purchasing fun becomes a substitute for the collaboration of your family’s imagination.  It’s easier to buy, then it is to create.

You can create the most fun your kids will have without needing to get out your wallet.  You only need to open your mind and imagine.  Kind of like the Tuma family who came up with the idea of  Dinovember.  Check out their STORY.

As parents, we don’t need to feel the pressure of buying the latest fad to gift our kids with fun.  Dollars are not required.  You are.  Your time.  Your imagination.  Your laughter.  Your presence.  You already have everything you need to create the most fun.

I’m learning.  I have much more to learn with this one.  Any ideas?

 

Learning What Made Jesus a Rockstar

What made Jesus a rockstar is what most rockstars avoid.

Rockstars become rockstars by desiring a crowd.  They do whatever it takes to attract the masses.  Individuals carry little significance for a rockstar.  You only mean something when standing in a sea of hundreds or thousands of other individuals.

Jesus didn’t desire a crowd.  But, he got one.  Everywhere he went, the crowd followed.  By default, he became a rockstar.

What makes Jesus a rockstar is the significance he gives to the individual.  He doesn’t look past an individual’s need in search of the crowd’s approval.  He’s not so concerned with the masses that he doesn’t have time for the one.  It’s quite the opposite.  Jesus doesn’t give a blanket look at the faces everywhere.  Jesus peers directly into the eyes of the individual.

Ironically, it’s his care for the individual that attracts the crowds.

For example…

A man possessed by demons (a demoniac) was brought to Jesus.  The man was unable to speak.  Obviously, he is seeking to be healed.

A massive crowd surrounds Jesus.  Maybe a perfect moment for him to unleash a manifesto.  Thousands are on the  tip of their toes in anticipation.  They stand in awe of him.  Star-struck.  They just want to be near him, close enough to hear his words or touch his cloak.  The masses are at his fingertips.  The individual should be of no use to him anymore.  He has the power to mobilize the masses toward a revolution.

Why bother with a problematic demoniac that no one will even remember?  If you asked the crowd, they would probably prefer Jesus banish the man.  Get the demons away as far as possible.  Too risky.  Too dangerous. A threat to everyone else.

Jesus could have focused on the crowd, but he looks at the individual.  He sees his need.   He cast the demon out, and restores his ability to speak.  Then Matthew 9:33 says, “the crowds were amazed and said, “Never has anything like this been seen in Israel.

Jesus didn’t become a rockstar by focusing on the crowd.  Jesus attracted a crowd by focusing on the individual.  He didn’t need to see the masses.  The masses needed to see him, caring for the individual.

Most of us will never reach rockstar status.  Still, you might spend your whole life focused on the crowd.

See the individual and care for their need.  When you do, Jesus remains the rockstar.  Let him draw the crowd.

 

 

Learning I was 16 When Dumber & Dumber Originally Released

I am not one who remembers exact dates and times.  I recall watching Dumb and Dumber from the front row in high school.  That’s about it.  Couldn’t tell you what year or how old I was.

The release of Dumb and Dumber To taught me a lesson in history.  It probably wouldn’t except that it opens this weekend, which happens to be my birthday.  It opened November 13, and my big day is the 15th.  Catching my attention, I wondered, “How old was I the first time I watched the original?”

It was an easy answer to find.  The original released in 1994.  This year marks the 20th anniversary of Harry and Lloyd’s adventure to find Mary Samsonite.  I was 16 years old.

Not sure if I feel smarter or dumber since then.  One thing I know for sure, I am grateful for all the great memories, amazing friends, beautiful family (Brooklyn, Kirra, and Mya), and opportunities to love and be loved.  Looking forward to the next 20.

Learning to Remove the Blocks That Stand in the Way of Other’s Creativity

Have you seen Big Hero 6, yet?

Awesome, movie!  What else should we expect from the same people who started Pixar?  John Lasseter and Ed Catmull are two of my heroes.  Again, they’ve created another box office hit.  Big Hero is the current #1 movie in America.

Pixar and Disney Animation Studios are a mega-force of creativity.  They have discovered time and again a way to produce and reproduce creative masterpieces.  It’s an amazing list:  Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up, Brave, Toy Story 2 & 3, Monsters University, Tangled, Wreck-it-Ralph, Planes, Frozen, and Big Hero 6.

In his book, Creativity, Inc.:  Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand In The Way of True Inspiration, Ed Catmull makes an enlightening statement:

“I believe, to my core, that everybody has the potential to be creative–whatever form that creativity takes–and that to encourage such development is a noble thing.  More interesting to me, though, are the blocks that get in the way, often without us noticing, and hinder the creativity that resides within any thriving company.”

Three quick thoughts.

  1. It’s a noble act to unlock another person’s creativity.
  2. The path to creativity will have blocks.
  3. A great leader will do whatever it takes to move the blocks out of the way.

Too many times I’ve expected others to discover their own creativity.  I leave it up to the individual to figure it out own their.  If they can’t, oh well, I guess that proves they aren’t creative.

Wrong.  God created every person with the capacity for creativity.  Maybe you could say it was lost at the Fall (when Adam and Eve sinned), but God’s grace redistributes it evenly.  God wills that every person be transformed back into the image of God.  An image that reflects the most creative Being of all.

God wants you(me) to be a leader who removes the blocks that stand in the way of the creativity of others.  It is part of our created purpose.  Pixar and Disney Animation Studios does it for the sake of good story-telling and box office success.  You get to do it for the sake of the redemption of our world.

 

Learning It Takes a Church to Host 30,000 People for Christmas

LOL-2014-Content-HeaderThe day after Halloween, a friend posted on Facebook:  “Goodbye Halloween.  Hello  Christmas commercials and ads.”  Ready or not, the Christmas preparations begin.

At Highland Park Church (the church where I serve as a staff pastor), Christmas was on our minds even sooner.  The reason:  we will host 30,000 people on six weekend nights for a free community event that celebrates the season.  Not just the season, but more importantly, the reason.  The birth of Christ.

To pull this off, it takes a church.  A whole lot of church.  About 200 volunteers each night, to be exact.  The people in our church serve as greeters, technical support, security, actors, characters, setup crew, teardown crew, shuttle drivers, costuming/makeup, general store managers, and parking attendants.  Over six nights, it equals about 4,800 hours of human-power.

This is a huge undertaking.  Our city’s population is close to 100,000.  A third will visit our church campus in December.  It can’t be done without the support of our entire church.

My assignment is parking.  Not the most glamorous position to recruit for, but definitely necessary.  It requires close to 40 people on the team each night.  Our goal:  to get as many people in the parking lot and out with as little conflict as possible.  We are the first face every person sees, and the last.  As I tell my team, “this is the only time in your life it’s okay to tell someone where to go.”

I can’t stand in the parking lot and get the job alone. Neither can any of the other staff pastors who recruit for their area of responsibility.  We need your help.  The help of the church.  The whole church.         

You know the saying, “It takes a village…”  Well, in this case, it takes a church.

Thank you in advance to everyone who will serve with this year’s Lights of Lakeland!  

If you haven’t signed up yet, don’t miss the biggest party of each night by serving on the Parking Team.  LOL-Volunteer-Button #lightsoflakeland

Learning to Cherish the Everyday Moments With My Kids

myaI grew up a boy’s boy.  I spent hours trudging through the wood’s searching for adventure.  Sports was my M.O.  My free time was loaded with baseball, soccer, football, wiffle-ball, kickball, and basketball.  If I wasn’t enjoying one of these, you would have found me riding my bike up and then down the steepest hill possible.

I dressed for comfort, not style, until at least late Middle School.  Sweats, shorts, and t-shirts were my top choice.  No jeans.  Jeans cramped everything.  And dress shoes, no way you would find me wearing those by choice.  Anything that increased my chance of sweating more and inhibited my ability to run fast was not an option.

Haircuts were as simple as possible.  Buzz it, high-and-tight.  No gel or combing required.  The only time I picked up a hairdryer was to move it out of my way.

I never would have imagined I would spend hours blow-drying hair.  No, I am not a hairstylist, nor have I ever been.  Not that men can’t or shouldn’t be.  The thing that changed in my life was having children.  Two daughters.

I am not sure I could count the hours I’ve spent drying Kirra and Mya’s hair.  I started when they had hair long enough.  Not sure why I felt so compelled.  Maybe it was because I fretted over brushing tangled hair, which was more likely to occur when air-dryed.  Possibly I was making up for my inability to style it any other way, i.e. braids, bun, ponytail.  At least I could dry it straight and help them look halfway well-kept.

My youngest is 5 years old, now.  I was blowdrying her hair this morning, when I had a moment.  I sentimental moment.  My mind flashed back to all the times she sat on the counter wrapped in a towel wearing only a diaper.  She preoccupied herself with toys, or singing, or a movie on the iPad.  The Aha! hit me:  these everyday moments are something to cherish.

It’s not just the big events that create meaningful memories with my kids.  It is also the day to day stuff.

  • Blowdrying hair
  • Reading a bedtime story
  • Riding bikes to school
  • French Toast Fridays
  • Playing at the park
  • Jumping on the trampoline
  • Watching movies
  • Doing homework together
  • Dinner at the table.  
  • Playing barbies

In the thick of things, the everyday feels insignificant.  It seems like you’re just doing what needs to get done.  Sometimes, it’s even frustrating.

I’m learning it is more than that.  Over time, the everyday moments combine to create great meaning in our lives.  It is a family’s way of growing up together, showing each other what love is.

I cherish these moments.  Someday I won’t need to blow-dry my daughters’ hair anymore.  But, I will have the memory.  And, so will they.

 

Learning Sermons Can Be Confusing Without Followup Conversations

I’m in to my sermon.  I’m preaching it.  Feeling in the groove.  Until, a face in the audience stands out to me.

Not because this person is bad.  No, this person isn’t sleeping either (can’t say that hasn’t caught my attention before).  The face I see reminds me of the story this person is living.  A story of pain that could be complicated when listening to my message.

Jump to the day after the same sermon.

I receive a message from a friend.  It alludes to a situation that arose the night before, at the church service.  The circumstances he explained were like pages torn out of my notebook.  What they were experiencing was directly related to the main point of the sermon.  The question is, How does the message make sense in this particular context?

Four days removed from the sermon, I receive another message.

It says, “Last weekend’s sermon was very good, but left me feeling conflicted.”  

Each scenario brings to light the limitations of sermons.  Without followup, each person stands at risk of being hurt and confused by the message they hear.  From where they are sitting, greater explanation needs to be given.  Questions need to be asked, and answered.

Sermons can’t provide the whole picture.  That’s impossible.  There’s no way to simplify God’s Word to thirty-five minutes or less. They are snapshots of the truth.  Everything is zoomed in, which means details will remain outside of the scope of the message.  That’s okay.  It’s for actually for your good.  I mean, you don’t want to sit through an eight hour sermon.  Or, do you?

Learning this about my sermons, I am learning the necessity of followup conversations.  Some of my listeners will need to know more.  They need to see the bigger picture.  They need an opportunity to imagine how it applies to their particular situation.  They need to clarify when there’s confusion.  They need courage to embody the truth when afraid.

Sermons can be confusing.  Followup conversations can eliminate such negative potential.

I’m open to the conversation.