Triple Witness

water and blood
Image credit: <a href="">Leonardo Agiuar</a>

1 John 5:6-12

Jesus came through water and blood. Not just water, mind you, water and blood both. The spirit is our witness. The spirit is truth. The spirit, the water, and the blood all agree. If we have a witness from people, the witness of God is still more reliable. God’s witness is to God’s child. Once you accept that, the witness is internal. If you don’t accept it, it’s your word against God’s: you’re as much as calling God a liar. The witness is this: We’ve been given life forever in Jesus. If you have Jesus, you’re living. If you don’t, you’re dead.

First, there is the water. This is the part, symbolized by baptism, where you discover and accept who you really are. Call it a spiritual experience. Lots of people will tell you about their moment of calling. Lot’s of people talk a good line about their spiritual life. All well and good. It’s essential to know who you are.

Second, there is the blood. This is the part about the cross. It’s what you do as a consequence of why you are. Are you willing to lay down your life for who you really are? Are you willing to live the life you know you’ve been called to live or no life at all? Are you willing to put your life on the line for someone else? This is also a spiritual experience. Witness Franklin McCain, one of the four black protestors who started the lunch-counter sit in movement at a Woolworth’s in 1960 Greensboro, NC (courtesy of NPR):

“Fifteen seconds after [I sat down] … I had the most wonderful feeling. I had a feeling of liberation, restored manhood. I had a natural high. And I truly felt almost invincible. Mind you, [I was] just sitting on a dumb stool and not having asked for service yet…

“It’s a feeling that I don’t think that I’ll ever be able to have again. It’s the kind of thing that people pray for … and wish for all their lives and never experience it. And I felt as though I wouldn’t have been cheated out of life had that been the end of my life at that second or that moment.”

Third, there is the spirit. That’s, as John explains, when you internalize what you know about yourself and your mission to the point that you no longer depend on someone else, anyone else, having to tell you who you are or what that means you should do. Accept that spirit, and you will live, no matter what happens after those first 15 seconds at the lunch counter. Reject it, and no matter what you do, you’ll never really experience the fullness of life.

Getting By (With a Little Help)

Walking together
Photo credit: <a href="">Ed Yourdon</a>

1 John 4:1-6

Friends, don’t believe just anyone. Check to see if they follow God. There are lots of imposters. You’ll know the ones who follow God because those who follow God know that Jesus was human. Anyone who denies Jesus was human isn’t from God. In fact, that’s the indication that they’re totally against God. You’ve heard about these people. Now here they are.

Kids, you are God’s, so you’ve already won. They’ve lost. Jesus in you is greater than their worldly machinations. While what they say appeals to unenlightened folk, and they get lots of people listening to them, people who know God will listen to us. We’re God’s. We can’t expect people with no interest in God to care what we say. It’s the difference between being bent toward truth or falsehood.

It can be immensely frustrating to be working hard at something you really believe in, only to have it seem to go nowhere. That frustration is even more intense, when you see someone else, a competitor, enjoying what looks like tremendous success.

  • An “Old First” church struggles along downtown barely keeping its doors open week by week looks enviously at the booming success of the newly built suburban church with hundreds of people.
  • A little human service agency with two people sitting in secondhand office chairs in their closet-sized office on the third floor looks enviously on the international non-profit conglomerate with it’s own 3-acre retreat center, complete with a duck pond.
  • A start-up businesswoman on a mission who finds herself suddenly in a head-to-head competition with WalMart.
  • A divorced woman with three kids wondering where the next rent payment is going to come from while her ex-husband is on a cruise to the Bahamas with his new girlfriend.

In each of these cases – and in your case, too – the stakes are high. The frustration and pain is real. John says that, contrary to appearances, the underdogs win.

In the meanwhile, though, until the real results of your life’s work are announced, two things:

  1. “People who know God will listen to us.” Find those people. Get with those people. They are your lifelines. And,
  2. Remember that your mission is your mission. What “they” are following (if they’re following anything) doesn’t add or take away anything from what you’re called to do. You’re “from God.” They’re doing something else. You’re not competing with that other church, that other organization, that other company, or even that other person. Your primary competitor is you. If you can do better today than you did yesterday, you win. Every day you can hang on is a day that you win.

Don’t believe just anyone. Believe in you.

Row Your Boat

storm clouds off shore
Photo credit: <a href="">joiseushowaa</a>

Mark 6:45-52

Right away, he made his students get back onto the boat and across to Fishermans Wharf, on the other side, while he remained there to send the crowds back home. After saying good-bye to the people, he went up to pray on the mountain.

Meanwhile, as evening came, and Jesus was still on land, the boat was out at sea. Jesus could see his students rowing hard against the wind. In the early morning he came walking across the sea to them, and was intending to go on ahead of them. When they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost, and scared out of their wits, they screamed.

Jesus said to them, “Calm down. It’s me. Don’t worry.” Then, he got into the boat with them, the wind died down. They were incredulous. Their hearts remained unmoved, and they didn’t understand the bread and the fish.

[See also, previous comments on the parallel passage in Matthew 14:22-33, and on the first sea-crossing in Mark 4:35-41.]

This is Mark’s second story of a dangerous sea crossing. This time, though, Jesus is not in the boat. The disciples are on their own. The reason for their failure to make headway against the wind: their hearts remained unmoved, and they didn’t understand about the bread and the fish.

What Jesus had done with the disciples, Jesus now wants the disciples to do on their own. From the beginning of this passage, it’s something they don’t want to do. Jesus has to make them get into the boat and go. Again, the winds against them are symbolic of the disciples own Resistance to going where they know they must go and doing what they know they must do. It’s the same Resistance that Jesus had to deal with as he began his work.

We encounter the same resistance every day. It’s much easier click around on Facebook than to do whatever work you know you really should be doing. Check your email again. Take another break to check on what’s happening at the water cooler. Channel surf. Before you know it, the time is gone, and you’re not any closer to where you know you really want to be. The winds are against you. Moreover, the more important the work, the stronger the winds.

If you understand about the bread and the fish, you know that there are people – lots of people – who are depending on you. The command of Jesus is still ringing through this passage, “You give them something to eat.” If it were just a matter of finding your own self-fulfillment, that would be serious enough. Jesus wants you to open your heart to the reality that it’s not just about you. It’s about them. It’s about us all. We need you to go and do what Jesus is asking you to do. You’re needed on the other side. We need you on the other side of your fear.

Please, get in the boat, and row.

Who Are Your Fans?

NY Jets fans
Photo credit: <a href="">Ed Yourdon</a>

Mark 1: 14-20

Then, when John was arrested, Jesus returned to Galilee where he started working toward the goal. “It starts now,” he said. “The goal is close. Turn your life around! It’s going to be awesome.”

As Jesus went along the Galilean seashore, he saw brothers Simon and Andy, fishermen, casting nets in the sea. He said to them, “Follow me and I’ll show you how to capture people’s hearts. Without hesitating, they followed him. A little further on he saw Jim and John Zebedee in their boat fixing nets. As soon as he saw them, he called them, too. And they left their father and their hired help and followed him.

[See also previous comments pertaining to verses 14-15, The Only Way to Start, and on verses 16-20, Paradox of Opportunity. You may also be interested in previous comments (and a video) on the parallel passage in Matthew 4:18-25, First Followers.]

Not even Jesus can go it alone. World-changing work requires community. Even “building community” requires community. Whether you’re a church, a company, a school, service club, a family, or a not-for-profit whatever agency – the first thing you need (even before you need money!) is community engagement.

Back in 2008, Kevin Kelly (founding editor of Wired Magazine) wrote that a successful enterprise needs 1000 true fans. That’s a much larger endeavor than the vast majority of churches. So really, the number is probably much less than that. Jesus settled on 12.

12 is doable for most people. Start, like Jesus, with just four.  You’ll get there. It’s not really about the number, it’s about the quality of the relationship, and the shared mission in which you’re engaged. 12 people (or just 4) who are highly engaged in capturing people’s hearts can go a long way. So, then again, if you’re really in the business of capturing people’s hearts, whose to say 1000 fans is out of reach? In a conversation last year with Mark Behan about a church looking to “re-brand” itself he said, “Your greatest asset is the people who are already sitting in your pews.” They are your true fans. If they don’t engage, no one will, but if a small company of the committed are willing to leave everything to follow their calling, you can do just about anything.

Every endeavor that sets out to change the world, or even a little rural village in upstate New York, or on the Kansas prairies, or a forgotten neighborhood in East LA, or an affluent suburb of Austin starts with three or four people, maybe 12, who have a vision and are ready to leave everything they have to make it happen.

Is that you?

[Bonus: Think about your community’s “fan base.” It may be larger than you think. What about all those fans who are on the inactive roles, and the non-resident fans? What about the people who come just for special occasions? Weddings and funerals? People who turn up at the chicken and biscuit dinner? Chances are, they’re not going to be your Peters and Jameses. But many of them may be leaving the doors of their hearts open to being (re)captured. Even the ones who are a pain in the butt are still engaged, and in an age when attention is at a premium, you’ve got theirs. I’m not saying you should change your “business model” for them. You shouldn’t. But you’re missing an opportunity if you’re pretending they’re not there.]