Disciples and customers

The critical decision that the modern church must make is whether or not to raise up disciples or customers.  The results will be very different.

You can have a very big church filled with customers.  Appeal to the expectations, calm every complaint, give the old guard what they want, and appease the donors.  This can generate a gathering of satisfied church-attenders who bring their friends, promising them a similar customer-satisfaction experience.

On the other hand, a church can create disciples.  This necessarily requires telling peoplehqdefault.jpg that they can’t have what they want, that Jesus’ call is to take up your cross and to die to yourself.  A church in a frenzy of attracting customers can never deliver a message like this.  A church that delivers a message like this will never attract customers.  But it is fundamentally the road to discipleship.  Churches that create disciples define their purpose by their mission, not by the whims of their shareholders.

The result of a disciple-making church is a most likely initially smaller but impassioned group of people who are truly committed to the mission of Jesus in the world.  But when a gathering of people takes Jesus’ mission to heart, they become an unstoppable force for the kingdom.

The leadership of the church just has to decide at the beginning, when the groundwork for the church is being laid: customers or disciples?

Resolving to Read the Bible


It’s January 2nd, and I really don’t want to go to the gym this morning, because there will be lines of well-intended people who I’ve never seen before.  New Year’s resolutions do that.  I figure I’ve got until Valentine’s Day before I can use the place undisturbed again.

Many people set out every January with the resolution that they are going to read the whole Bible this year, which is a great goal.  I have a few thoughts that may get you past February.

  1.  Don’t read it left to right.  That’s not how it was written – the books don’t appear in chronological order – and that’s not the best way to understand it.  We’re used to reading books from left to right, because that’s the way English texts are written.  Hebrew goes right to left.  Chinese sometimes reads top down.  But the Bible is a book that reads from the middle outwards.  The best place to start reading the Bible is with the story of Jesus’ life, the gospel, in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.  Everything before that is pointing towards Jesus’ life; everything afterwards is reflecting back on Jesus’ life.  Read the gospel first.
  2. Save the file cabinet material for the end.  I meet so many well intentioned people who tell me, “I’m going to read the whole Bible this year!” And I say, “Good job!”, because I’m a pastor, and I guess I’m supposed to encourage this sort of thing.  They read Genesis, and then they come back to me saying, “It’s great!  There’s so much adventure!  I love it!”  I say hesitantly, “Uh-huh.  They come back a couple of weeks later and they say, “I’ve read Exodus!  It’s amazing!  I love this book.” I say, “Yup.” And then I never hear from them again.  Because then they come to Leviticus, and they aren’t all that enthralled with the specificities of how to sacrifice your goat.  They come to something which, even for the original authors, was file cabinet material, and they get bored.  You know, it’s a really important document, so you need to keep it, so you put it in your file cabinet.  It’s not pleasure reading.  And all those resolutions die in Leviticus like so many sacrificial lambs.  We’re going to read that stuff too – just not yet.
  3. Ask someone who has read the Bible what you should read next.  After reading a gospel, ask someone who knows it, and even better, who also knows you, what you should read next.  Generally I recommend a shorter book that gives you a taste of a bigger genre of literature.  Read the book of James next.  It’s quick, easy, and practical.  It contains a lot of moral advice that’s sometime pithy and the kind of thing a lot of people go to the Bible for.  Then read Ephesians.  It will give you a little taste of Paul’s 13 letters in the New Testament, a sense for his theology, and a sense for those letters trying to teach the church to get along.  Read Micah so you know who the prophets are.
  4. Read each book by itself.  Some guides to reading the Bible recommend a section of biblethis book and a section of that book at the same time.  That can be an ok way to go at it.  To have a true grasp of the context, you want to read any one of the 66 books by itself.  In other words, when you sit down to read Romans, read the whole book from beginning to end, even if it takes a few days.  Don’t read a little of Romans and then come back to it six months later.
  5. Use study aids.  There are commentaries that are a great help to understanding parts of the Bible.  You can read a single-volume commentary, which has notes on every single book of the Bible.  I like the ones with pictures.  When you get further along, you might want to read an entire commentary on one book of the Bible, like Romans.  N.T. Wright has a readable series of commentaries called “The Bible for Everyone.” And of course, you can always listen to sermon series by preachers who like to go through books of the Bible.  Some people find that it helps to take notes, keep a journal, or illustrate the pages of their Bibles as they go.

Hope this helps!  May God bless the reading of His Word!


The Grammar of the Gospel

prepositions.pngI have been doing some teaching at a local university, primarily to international students, and in that process, have found myself spending a lot of time explaining English prepositions. A friend of mine says, “If you’ve mastered prepositions, you’ve mastered English.” That’s because the rules governing which preposition we use and when are virtually nonsensical.

If you’re inside you stand in the corner; if you’re outside you stand on the corner. The bus is around the corner.

“I’m sitting on the bus.” Are you? Get down. That’s dangerous.

Martin Luther, in trying to describe the presence of God in the eucharist in a way that was sufficiently un-Catholic called it “in, with, and under” the bread and wine. I’ve parsed the German of that sentence, and I still have no idea what he means.

But it occurs to be that a life lived well is all about the prepositions. If you get the prepositions wrong, you’re going to get life wrong. Most church-goers say they believe “in” Jesus. By this, they mean a consent to the doctrine of his existence. That creed is, according to the Bible, meaningless and irrelevant (James 2:19).

“In” is not the critical preposition. A life lived well is a life lived from Jesus and for Jesus. Belief in, as it is usually used, is just an acknowledgement of present realities. What matters is that we understand the origin of our present reality and then our destination. If we come from Jesus, we do not just know he is real; we make him the foundation, the cause, and the source of who we are. If we live for Jesus, it means our life’s ultimate goal, its telos and destination, are to honor him. We have an initial design and an ultimate purpose – from and for.

The existence of a bus does not tell you who you are greeting at the station or where you might headed yourself. You can believe in the bus, ineffectually. But to know where the bus came from and where it is going are the only matters of consequence.


An Observation
There is a place to which the kingdom of God has not extended in the American church, unnamedand that is Facebook.  Christians seem to think that though God can probe our deepest thoughts, he can’t read our online accounts.  Facebook is to Christians what a long stretch of empty highway is to a compulsive speed-demon, that is, the one place where the authorities can’t see you get away with it.

Except on Facebook, everyone sees it.  I once talked to a man who wouldn’t even consider church because, he said, he looked at what Christians had written on Facebook.

When Jesus says things like “love your enemy,” “turn the other cheek,” and “bless and do not curse,” those commands actually extend not only finally but firstly to our casual daily interactions that seem virtually insignificant.  Those teachings extend primarily into the mundane.  I look at Christians’ Facebook pages that are a long string of insults of political figures, divergent ideologies, and other religions, and I wonder what they’re trying to accomplish.  No one is converted by hatred.

Facebook is a center for childish gossip among those who claim to believe that action without love is just noise (1 Cor. 13).  I once confronted someone about gossip and he told me I just had a different definition of gossip than him.  Going around and talking about what you don’t like about an individual is gossip, no matter why you feel justified in doing it.  We may think a political figure is a viable target, but an intelligent and kind-hearted follower of Jesus should know how to critique a political position without spewing venom. When we talk about our enemies, we are still required to speak in love.  If you don’t love, you don’t know God (1 John 4:8).

fbA Challenge

Scroll back through your Facebook page and ask yourself a question about each recent post.  “Does this show that Jesus loves a lost world?” (Do this on your own social media accounts, not on someone else’s.)  And maybe as an act of holy worship today, you need to delete some of the junk you shouldn’t have posted in the first place.

A Disclaimer

You get a pass for pictures of food, cats, Star Wars memes, and so forth. ; )

The Good News Can’t Wait

Last night I was walking through the hallways of a hospital, and since it was after hours, I had a personal guide leading me.  He worked the security desk.  We started talking about hospitals, and work, and then church.  He’s planning on coming to church with me on Sunday.

A few hours before I was sitting at Starbucks.  A student asked me a question about his homework.  We talked about literature, then sports, and then church.  I plan on seeing him Sunday as well.

I’m reminded of one of the more obscure teachings of Jesus, where a man comes to him and says, “I’d like to follow you, but I have to bury my father.” Jesus says, “Let the dead bury the dead, you just stick with me” (Luke 9:59-60).  That one always sounded a little insensitive to me.  He wants to have a funeral, and Jesus tells him not to bother?

Many scholars take the possible but not-necessary tact that the man’s father was still alive and he wanted to wait through the end, or that he meant he would go once his inheritance was secure, or that he was following the (sometimes) Jewish practice of waiting a year to bury the remains of the dead.  All of this mutes the actual words of Jesus to make them more palatable.  Jesus’ message is actually very simple.

The good news can’t wait!

Any kind of delay, serving as a disciple-at-large while someone else shoulders the work, batonpass-300x230.jpgisn’t part of the plan.  Jesus tells us to go reach the world now.  Talk about Jesus when we lie down at night and when we get up in the morning, when we sit at home and when we walk along the road.  Talk about Jesus when we’re going to the funeral, when we’re at the funeral, and when we’re standing around eating egg salad sandwiches afterwards.  Talk about Jesus instead of the business of normal life.  The Apostle Paul will even say it’s better not to get married if it gives you more time to talk to people about Jesus.

You know who stops talking about Jesus?  Dead people.  Spiritually dead people lateral that ball to a teammate so that they can go about normal life.  The act of following Jesus is like rising out of the baptismal waters to new life.  Nothing is better than that, and nothing is more important than that.  Do it today, not tomorrow.

The good news can’t wait!

The Church to Come

Chinese churchToday was the first time I worshipped in a church plant at its opening service.  The service was in Mandarin.  An enthusiastic translator sat next to me hurriedly turning every word into something I could understand.  When we stood to sing, I watched the beautiful Chinese calligraphy play across a video screen in front.  I couldn’t read a word of it, but I could feel the passion of the room.  The translator told me what they were singing.  Every song called out “Send me!” Every song talked about loving a lost world.  It was worship of a God who cared for people who were far away.  This is a church plant which is nesting at my home church and worshipping on Sunday afternoons.  It felt remarkably like the future of the church.

An animated preacher, with whom I have had coffee, stood up to speak.  His texts were from Mathew 28 and Acts 1 – Jesus commission to go to a lost world and the charge to love people in Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  At one point he spoke eloquently in Chinese, and then I heard the words, “Jim Miller.” Then he said something else, and everyone burst out laughing.  He went on, and the laughing continued.  I turned to the translator.

“What did he say?”

“He said your wife is Chinese, so you like Chinese people.  He said your mother-in-law is here for worship, so we are going to consider you half-Chinese.”  I laughed, admittedly late.

This is the future of the church.  The language which is spoken should be for the people who are doing the best job reaching a lost world.  The rest of us should stand on the sidelines in support.  The songs they will be singing will be refined by the church’s mission.  That room resonated with one thought – we have a purpose.  And that purpose will give that community a future.

Next they commissioned a kneeling pastor to lead the church.

Then something amazing happened.  They only announced one tangible ministry.  They didn’t say anything about programs.  There were no classes or groups.  In fact, they even said that the church wasn’t really there for that.  The ministry they announced was that they were already planning their next church plant in a city 20 minutes further east down the freeway.  This brand new church named only one clear ministry goal – start another church.  I have no doubt that they will.

Well, I have to admit there is one program that comes with any healthy, God-fearing, missional Chinese church, and that is a big meal, which followed immediately.  Thank you, Jesus.

For the new family of faith sharing our roof, I am most grateful.  May God bless you in abundance, so that you will have everything you need all the time, so that you may abound in good works (2 Cor. 9:8).

Driscoll’s Re-emergence

I’m attending the Thrive Conference in Sacramento where evangelical prodigal ex-pastor Mark Driscoll made a surprise appearance and lecture this morning.  It was announced last night, but that was the first any of as had heard about it.  Most of the lecture was about the persecution his family had experienced in the last year.  He also gave several practical reasons why we ought to forgive people.  But there was a gaping hole in what he had to say.

Pastor Ray Johnston of Bayside Church, which hosts Thrive, introduced Driscoll, saying that back stage Driscoll was humble and apologetic.  He said that this is the kind of guy he really wants to be in the foxhole with.  “I really just like this guy,” he said.

Driscoll appeared wearing a recognizable Mumford-style vest and pegged jeans, looking sheepish.  He hugged Johnston and took a seat on a stool.  The following are my rough paraphrase of what he talked about.  He said…

driscollWhat does the Bible say?  It says strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter.  For you who are shepherds, Jesus’ goal is to bring a flock around you.  The enemy has a plan to strike you.  I want to talk to “struck shepherds.”

It’s harder when you have a family.  Jeremiah, Paul, and Jesus were single.  It’s scary what to think what would have happened to their families.  If you are a shepherd that has been struck, you can’t talk about it in detail, because that would be gossip.  I don’t want to talk about me.  i want to sever you.  We had an 8 year conflict that finally went public.  Here he recommended 1st Peter 3:8-12 for such conflicts.

He then began to talk about “Grace and I,” and he said that he used to refer to her as a pastor’s wife, but now he has to refer to her as an ex-pastor’s wife because he is an ex-pastor.  They have 5 kids.  The last year has been difficult on them.  They’ve had to move three times for safety issues.  There were protests outside their home, and a person who sounded mentally ill showed up at their house and was arrested.  People would post his address online after he moved.  Someone went to the bathroom on his front porch, and he received hate mail.  At one point the media blocked the driveway to get an interview and a helicopter one flew over “to flush me out.”  He said they went inside and avoided being in front of a window.  He said his 8 year old came into the room wearing a military jacket and carrying an Airsoft gun and asked if the jacket was bulletproof.  He hadn’t realized the helicopter was the media and had only seen movies where the bad guys came out of helicopters and shot everyone.  The boy had night terrors for months.  At one point they wanted to sleep in a tent in the backyard, but someone started throwing rocks over the fence at his kids at 6:30 in the morning.  They filed a police report.  Another time someone scattered a bucket of nails all over the driveway.  He said his email had been hacked.

He said God spoke to he and his wife “audibly” and released them from ministry.

The Board (of Mars Hill Church, where Driscoll had pastored), who are good and godly people, had authority over him and released a statement before the Driscolls were ready that said that he had resigned.  The kids were in school at the time so they raced down to pick them up, but the kids had found out about the resignation through social media.  (Here Driscoll began choking up as he spoke.)  “We had served that church for twenty years.”  He had baptized around 10,000 people.  The middle son, who Driscoll said was the shepherd of the family, asked, “Who’s going to care for the people?”  We’ve helped start 400 churches and our church had 15 locations.  And now they had nowhere to go for church.  “We were just zombies.” So they had church in the living room.  The one daughter who could sang led them in singing and one son went and got a bucket to collect the offering.  The boy said they were going to give the money to a single mom so that she could buy toys for her kids.  They read Scripture.  “I’ve got to teach this family,” he realized.  It was the first time in 18 years he didn’t have a sermon prepared on a Sunday.  He said, “I just lost it.”

Addressing the crowd he said, “I’m jealous for the well-being of your families.” So he said he was going to be a dad and a pastor.  He taught them about forgiveness.  He said he didn’t want to raise kids who are bitter.  So he wanted them to forgive those involved.  He had seen the church picketed by people that he had baptized.  But we forgive because we’re forgiven.  We need to think about all of the malice brought against the chief shepherd.  We have a broken-hearted God.  Rather than vengeance, God had a plan, that Jesus would come so we could be forgiven and reconciled.  He had Judas and Thomas and Peter.  And he was destroyed in front of his own mother and brothers.  It destroyed a family and that’s what happens when a shepherd is struck.  He had wine vinegar in a sponge forced in his mouth, and his research has told him that this was what Roman soldiers used as an antiseptic after using the bathroom, like a kind of toilet paper.  That’s what Jesus went through.

When sin happens, someone has to pay.  Vengeance makes for great movies (especially starring Liam Neeson), but terrible ministry.  So he wanted to give us some compelling reasons why we need to forgive.

Then he prayed that God would bring to mind someone that we needed to forgive.

Exodus 34, about being slow to anger, is the passage that is most quoted within the Bible.  And the best way to glorify God is to forgive.  We are to forgive as Christ forgave us.  We’re not denying justice, we’re just handing it off to the highest court.

Then he went through (I think he said he had 5 points but only got to 4) a list of reasons why we should forgive.  They included:

1. Forgive because if we don’t forgive we’re saying that their sin against us is worse than our sins against the Lord

2.  Because I love you and forgiveness blesses you.  It releases stress and depression.  Not forgiving “makes your worst day your every day.”  It benefits you physically to forgive in terms of stress and sleep, and emotionally in terms of healing and letting joy return.  He did a brief excursus on the parable of the person who wouldn’t forgive and then had to go to the jailer, who Driscoll said was Satan.  We say that they need to repent to be forgiven (at this point Driscoll made the point by yelling), but, he said quietly, they don’t hold the key to the prison.  We do.  And we open the door when we forgive.

3.  You bless others when you forgive.  Jesus said to love your enemy, which is how we know the Bible was not written by human beings.  To not forgive someone is to take the seat of God.

4.  I believe God gave this message to me.  I’ve done 6 months of study on forgiveness.  I don’t want to say that I’m totally innocent.  Sometimes the shepherd is wounded because he punched himself in the head.  But forgiveness is always tied to the demonic.  Forgiveness is how we were delivered from the demonic.  In your anger do not sin an give the enemy a foothold.  Satan and the demons have never been forgiven for anything and they will never forgive anything.  So when you refuse to forgive, you are trafficking in the demonic.  Bitterness grows and can take hold and defile many.  But I want joy and grace to flow in your life.  So forgive them.  Then he closed in prayer.

Johnston came in and prayed for Driscoll and alluded to God doing something new in and for Driscoll.  It sounded like the forecast of a professional return.

As I say, that’s a rough paraphrase, but I think I’ve got the gist of the content.

Now here’s the one lingering issue I have.  Driscoll just gave a long lecture on forgiveness without asking for it.  Aside from the allusion to “not being totally innocent,” he really didn’t point out his own failings.  In fact, it seemed like the entire lecture was aimed at his need to forgive those people who had wronged him.  What has happened to his family is horrible, as he describes it, and should never happen.  But what lingers after Driscoll’s resignation is that he evaded his Board’s plan for a disciplinary procedure.  He never really reconciled with those whom he had harmed, and after all of his talk of forgiveness, it would have been so simple and so graceful for him to ask for it.  Perhaps that was to be the implication that was to be drawn from the whole talk – that Driscoll now needs forgiveness too.  But the weight of the graphic imagery of the abuse of his family left us with the undoubted impression that Driscoll was a victim who now needed to forgive those who had wronged him.  He was a “struck shepherd” that heaven had taken out.  I think his idea that Jesus’ goal is to gather people around the pastor is symptomatic of Driscoll’s issues.  And if this is indeed a step in the direction of a professional re-emergence, I think most of us still want him to address the many charges and challenges that have been brought against him.  He has certainly apologized for much of it, but I think any professional return on his part will require that those issues go addressed through a supervised process.  There are still many people who have been reportedly hurt, bullied, and fired from their jobs by Driscoll, and I think his read on forgiveness may have to more thoroughly include himself among the guilty if he wants to regain any kind of credibility.

But just to provoke the seething hoards who still hate Driscoll, let me say something that I’ve said before – he’s a brilliant orator.  There are few communicators like him, and in the right place, with humility and supervision, he could live a life of effective ministry for Jesus.  Those Christians who still want to disagree might want to think about who the Apostle Paul really was.  And honestly, we might want to think about whether or not we really do believe in forgiveness.  Because no one is beyond it’s reach, and Jesus did give us a heads up that we will be judged in the same way we judge.  To hate Driscoll is to reject grace.

This was my initial dream for Driscoll when he resigned.

The Easter Myth

We should reasonably asked whether or not the Easter story really happened or is merely a fable filled with accretions.  Years ago I made an intentional exploration of the question of whether or not God was real.  I made a point of studying everything I could about it.  I read the holy books of many different religions with only one question in mind – could any of this be true?

One of the tests scholars may use to evaluate the validity of a historical claim is called “the criterion of embarrassment.” They say that if a story from history is embarrassing to the author or to the hero of the story, it is probably true.  We usually don’t like to tell embarrassing stories about ourselves, and history is usually written by people in power.  Most stories are edited to make the author of the story look better.

When I use the criterion of embarrassment on the story of Jesus, I see something interesting.  The story is terribly embarrassing to Jesus.  It would have been embarrassing to any 1st century Jewish person waiting for a Messiah.  If a 1st century Jewish person wanted to make up a story about a Messiah, they would have changed a lot of the details about it.  For instance:

* They would not make up a story about the Messiah being born in a barn to unwed parents

* They would not make up a story about wise men from the east finding Jesus, because it makes it look like someone else’s religion steered them correctly

* They would not make up stories about the Messiah getting in arguments with the religious leaders, who were generally respected and represented the kind of endorsement a hero would need

* They would not make up a story in which he was not only tortured but humiliated by the Romans

* They would not make up a story about him dying on a cross, because the Jewish Scriptures say that being hung on a tree is a sign of God cursing someone

* They would not say that women were the first ones to discover the empty tomb, because women’s testimony was not respected in that culture

* They would not make up a story about him appearing after rising from the dead in which some people were not sure if it was him or not

And yet, all of these are parts of the story of Jesus.  They are all embarrassing to Jesus and to his followers.  If they were making the story up, they wouldn’t have written it this way.  And if they wanted to edit things out, they would have edited out some if not all of this.

From a historian’s perspective, there is no way this story if made up.  This is a true historical event.  And the truth is that there was a moment in history where God walked among us.

Religion is stupid and evil

BillMaher_directI don’t know if you heard Jimmy Kimmel’s interview of Bill Maher the other day (I didn’t), but Bill was apparently sweating out the threat that Islamic jihadists now pose to people who mock them (aka Bill Maher).  And he said, “There are no great religions.  They’re all stupid and evil.”

I don’t normally take offense at comedians who are paid to offend.  You know what you’re getting into when you listen to them.  And I generally don’t listen to Maher, because I generally don’t find him funny.  But that comment stuck with me, because he’s actually rallying the hordes against the innocent.

I went to church the other night.  There were 200 homeless people sleeping at my church.  We fix them three meals a day, run a clothing boutique, offer free showers and haircuts.  They’re here for three weeks in January when it’s coldest outside, and then on to another church, such that they can be under a roof from December through March.  We’re not short on volunteers, so I usually just sit and talk with people who are having dinner.  One woman needed help finding a Narcotics Anonymous program, which we host at our church, so I helped her find it.  One woman was looking for a Bible, so I pulled one out of our pews for her.  Generally I just listen to their stories.  And as the 200 or so shuffled off to bed, I heard someone saying to me, of me, “You’re stupid and evil.”

I went to a congregational meeting on Sunday.  We just approved a new budget.  This year we raised our giving overseas by $30,000.  There’s a program in India that uses English literacy training to give people marketable job skills.  They’re helping people climb out of poverty by starting with reading.  And in the midst of that, they introduce whoever will listen to the guy who taught us to love people on the other side of the ocean.  Religious people in America usually give more to charity than their non-religious peers; we again have raised our giving.  And as we pour tens of thousand dollars of our charity into people we’ll never meet, someone tells me that I’m stupid and evil.

Last year we made a donation of about the same amount to an orphanage in Haiti that had lost a building to the earthquake.  We paid for the whole thing.  And the guy living in Haiti at the orphanage leading the build – he’s one of our church members who has moved there to live among and help the poor.  I gather that he’s stupid and evil as well.

But I can read the history of Christianity and so-called Christians as well as everyone else, and I see in my predecessors what is functionally just the same behaviors you see outside the church. And part of me has to agree – yes, religion, and religious people, are stupid and evil.  We always have been.  Just like everyone else.  Atheistic regimes killed 100,000,000 people in the 20th century.  Religious people haven’t done any better with power, just not worse.

But here’s the deal – Jesus wasn’t stupid, and he wasn’t evil.  If I have to come to grips with my own stupidity and the darkness within my own heart, I start groping around for someone to bail me out.  The only person I have ever known who without question has earned the right is Jesus.  He isn’t stupid or evil, and only blind stupidity or fiery hatred would make anyone say otherwise.  I’ll admit it – I’m stupid and evil.  I need a savior.  But he’s actually worthy of the title.

So the bottom line is that the common thread between stupid and evil religious people and stupid and evil secular people is not religion, it’s humanity.  And rather than casting stones at we who have called out to a savior for help, in a century where persecution of Christians is at a historical high, you might just as well have the humility to admit that you need a savior too.

The God of Protests

Today's headlines
Today’s headlines

The God of the Bible is a God of protest.  He sent protestors into the world known as prophets, who decried the brokenness of the world and the damage wrought by sin.  And he calls you and I to be protestors.

The prophets were performance artists.  They put on public displays to call attention to their protests, often in ways that made them impossible to ignore.  Jeremiah walked around with an ox’s yoke on his shoulders, warning that God’s people would bear the yoke of Babylon because they had not been faithful.  Isaiah walked around naked for three years, warning that the people would be stripped of all they had if they did not repent.  God told Ezekiel to lay down in the street for a year to show that Israel was weighed down by their sins.  (And Ezekiel replied, “A year?!  Can’t I just graffiti a building or something?”) John the Baptist was a performance artist, whose symbolic artwork was to tell people to dunk themselves under water as a way of pointing out that they were living unclean lives.  And then he said that a performance artist was coming whose sandals he was not worthy to untie.

Jesus was a protestor.  And Christmas was the best protest of all.  Because in the midst of humanity’s overt rebellion against our maker, God lay down in the intersection of human life to stop traffic when he lay in the manger.  In that act, God protested our sinfulness not by condemning us, but by joining us.  In so doing, he modeled the kind of protest his followers are called to – one in which we join the most needy, and do so in a way that can’t be ignored.

So in a chaotic world broken by sin, join the God who is the God of protest.

  • If we want to protest racism, tutor a child of another ethnicity.
  • If we want to protest injustice, pay the court fees of the defenseless.

    An artist’s rendering of Jesus
  • If we want young men to take violence seriously, stop teaching boys to celebrate violent sports, media, and entertainment and instead teach them dignity and manners.
  • Do for your next door neighbor what you wish you could do for the entire world.
  • Have lunch at the house of the guy that everyone resents.
  • Pay the hospital bills of the injured person on the side of the road.
  • Stand as close as you can to people who are likely to have stones thrown at them.

Taking to social media with inflammatory rhetoric will not create a world of decency and respect.  Instead we have to act in such a way that we would be confident that it would be a better world if everyone else did the same thing we’re doing.  Or as Jesus put it, we are to do unto others as we would have them do to us.  That kind of protest will stop traffic.