Are We Paying Attention?

What follows is an article I wrote for our church newsletter.  The video embedded fits really well.  I believe you'll see the connection after reading the article.  The question is, "Are we paying attention?"

Mark Labberton, Associate Professor of Preaching at Fuller Seminary, asked, “Are you paying attention?”  His message got my attention!  Labberton suggested that the Bible tells a story where:
1)   God pays attention to people, whom he created
2)   God then calls people to pay attention to Him
3)   Finally, God sends people to pay attention to others
In the final January Sunday school class on Evangelism, I shared from Luke 7:36-50.  Jesus is eating at the house of Simon, a Pharisee, when a woman enters who is, we are told, a notorious sinner.  This woman has the audacity to cry on Jesus’ feet, wipe the tears away with her hair, and finally to pour perfume on his feet.  This was too much for Simon.  “If Jesus were a prophet,” Simon thinks, “He would know who is touching him – that she is a sinner.”

After telling a parable about debts being forgiven, Jesus asks Simon, “Do you see this woman?”  It seems like a silly question.  Of course, physically speaking, he has the ability to see the woman.  She is impossible to miss.  Is it possible, then, that Jesus is asking, “Are you paying attention?” 

In our world, we too encounter people everyday at work, school, the grocery store, and even in our own family that we have trouble seeing.  Are we paying attention? 

On my way to Midwinter I read a book by Carl Medearis entitled, Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism.  In the book, Medearis says that sharing faith isn’t about doctrine, dogma, or apologizing for church history; it’s about pointing people to Jesus.  He writes, “Relax. Enjoy your friends. Enjoy their company along with the company of Jesus. Point Him out, freely, without fear or intimidation. You’re not responsible to sell Him to them. You’re simply saying what you’ve seen. You’re not the judge. You’re the witness.”

There is great freedom in this approach.  We are invited to share our stories with others in a way that takes them seriously, takes Jesus seriously, and that shows the world that we are paying attention.  What an enormous privilege! 

In my Midwinter travels, I had an opportunity to do just as Medearis described.  I was waiting for the bus at LAX.  A young woman stood beside me, also waiting.  The bus seemed to be late, so I asked, “Is there any chance you are also waiting for the bus to Santa Barbara?”  She was.  She introduced herself.  She was in Southern California on a business trip from China.  I asked about her work.  She asked what I do for work.  I explained that I am a Pastor in a church.  The bus came.  We got on and she sat in the row across from me.

 About 30 minutes into the ride I heard my name, “Chad,” she said, “Would you mind telling me more about your work?  I am very fascinated by this.”

I realized I had been presented an opportunity to be a witness; to tell what I have seen; it was also my opportunity to pay attention.  As I told her about my role in pointing students to faith in Christ, she asked, “So you are like a life coach?  This is a good thing!”  I was able to use her understanding of life coaching, and my own experience, to say, “Yes, but, in my work I am always pointing kids to Jesus.  I am always asking, “How are your dreams, goals, and hopes for the future influenced by your faith in Jesus Christ?” 

I found that because I was thinking about paying attention, was aware of the presence of another, and was intentional about pointing to Jesus, I was more relaxed and confident that Jesus would do the work of making himself known to this young woman.

I wonder if we paid attention and knew that we aren’t called to be the judge, or the sales rep, but are called to be the witness, how many of us would have more conversations like this?  How have you been paying attention to God?  How have you noticed God paying attention to you?  And, how are you doing at paying attention to others?  Are you willing to share what you’ve seen; to point people to the God revealed in Jesus Christ, who pays attention to humanity?  May it be so with us!

Now check out this little video that shows just how hard it is to truly pay attention.  How'd you do?


Lent - Wondrous Encounters

Reading through Richard Rohr's, Wondrous Encounters, during Lent again this year.  As my wife and I have been reflecting on these short devotionals, I'm always left saying something like, "Wow, that's deep."  Usually, something as simple as the 'starter prayer' he uses at the end grabs me.  I blogged about one of these last year where Rohr invites us to pray, "God give me the desire to desire what you want me to desire."  Yeah, that's the kind of stuff I'm talking about.

Another of these starter prayers caught my attention the other day; it reads,
“God, what is it that you want me to let go of this Lent? Is it other than what I think?”
I have decided to "let go" or "give up" something this Lent.  I'll confess, I haven't always been disciplined about this.  I sort of grew up thinking Lent and all of the giving up of stuff was a Catholic thing.  Seriously.  I remember seeing folks with ashes on their heads and thinking, "Must be Catholic."  It never crossed my mind that this season was an opportunity for all Christians to focus on Jesus' journey to the cross and consider the cross we are to carry as we follow Jesus.

Anyway, I mentioned I've decided to give something up this Lent.  It's something that I thought would be tough to let go of, but I'm finding maybe it's just slightly annoying and not a major sacrifice.  I've given up COFFEE.  I wouldn't say I drink a ton of coffee everyday, but enough to feel the difference when I'm much less caffeinated.  And if I'm being honest, which I like to be, I'm a little more than cynical about the notion that somehow me giving up coffee - this sacrifice I'll make - is on par with Jesus' agonizing, torturous death on the cross.

Back to Rohr's prayer, “God, what is it that you want me to let go of this Lent? Is it other than what I think?”

Here's what I feel happening - why this starter prayer hooked me.  I'm seeing that I like the "idea" of drinking coffee more than I like the coffee itself.  I like the experience and the way it makes me feel.  I like the "idea" of going to Starbucks, knowing that the baristas know my drink before I order, and many even know me by name.  I like the "idea" of grabbing coffee with a student, a volunteer, a friend.  It feels somehow more intimate and genuine than grabbing a soda ever did.  Coffee, I guess I could say, has become some strange identity forming thing for me.  It's not just about the coffee and the impact of the caffeine in said coffee; it's about something bigger!

I've been hoodwinked!  I've been snagged by the idea that grabbing a cup of coffee with a specific label makes me sophisticated, smart, an aficionado of finely brewed caffeinated beverages.  I'm a coffee snob.  I complain when all they have on tap is Pike roast.  Yuck!  The allure of Starbucks.  Driving to church without going to Starbucks.  These are the "ideas" I have to let go of.  I am battling the possibility that I have fallen prey to really good marketing; after all, I am the proud owner of a Starbucks "Gold Card" since 2010!  Can I let go of my image as a coffee snob?  Can I let go of the ideas I have surrounding coffee, and the potentially negative identity forming habits I've developed?  I guess we'll see.  It's day 6 of Lent.  I've a long way to go.  I continue to pray the prayer, "God, what is it that you want me to let go of this Lent?  Is it other than what I think?"  Show me, Lord Jesus, and lead me to the cross.

What about you?  What is it that God is asking you to let go of this Lent, as you journey to the cross?  Is it other that what you think?

(BTW - there are several "Infographs" on the interwebs depicting the "Starbucks Experience."  I'm not making this stuff up, and I'm not crazy!  Yeah!)