I have a friend (not the dude in the picture) who wears a tee shirt with the word Likewise written on the front. He says it’s the name of a coffee shop in Knoxville, Tennessee that does nice things for people who are down on their luck. Beyond doing nice things for folks, they take all the money they earn from selling coffee and support their ministry, Raising a Voice, which fights against human trafficking on a local and global platform. If we had a coffee shop like that in our neighborhood that’s where I would buy my coffee.
The folks at Likewise are thinking red! They took the words of Jesus seriously and created a whimsical expression of Christ like community. After all, Jesus is the one who told the story of the Good Samaritan. At the end of the story Jesus said, if you want to be a good neighbor and inherit eternal life . . . Go and do likewise.
I remember the first time I read the Good Samaritan story. I was a young Christian, still in that naive space of faith development where you take Jesus at his word rather than rationalizing your way out of doing what he said. When I read the words, Go and do likewise, I got up from the couch and went for a drive in my 1972 Ford Courier. I went to look for someone in a ditch who needed help.
I traveled seven short miles from my living room couch and found a person in need. There on the side of the road, walking aimlessly with a cane was a little old lady. I’ll never forget the soft wrinkles in her face and the gray bun of hair tightly wrapped on top of her head. She wore a faded blue dress and black leather shoes that were left untied. Her knee-high stockings were sagging around her ankles. As she climbed into my pickup truck, she peeped over her horn-rimmed glasses and introduced herself.
“My name is Mrs. Tully; I’m walking to Crestwood,” (a twenty-minute drive in my truck or a three day journey walking at Mrs. Tully’s pace.)
As we traveled down the road Mrs. Tully filled me in on her life story. When we arrived at our destination I interrupted her story and asked, “Where do you want to go in Crestwood?”
She responded, “Crestwood? I don’t want to go to Crestwood! I want to go home.”
“Where’s home?” I asked.
“I don’t know! You’re the one who picked me up!”
I wasn’t sure what to do next. I decided to drive back to the place we met and hope for the best. Sure enough, as we drove back into LaGrange she recalled where she lived and invited me in to help her with a “plumbing problem.”
The next thing I knew, we were standing side by side in the bathroom. Her tub was filled to the brim with gray water; brown suds were floating on top. Mrs. Tully had been doing her laundry. Floating beneath the brown bubbles was her dirty socks, stockings, slips and other undergarments I didn’t want to think about.
Mrs. Tully looked at the bathtub with a long sad face and then she looked at me. She didn’t say a word.
I looked at the underwear floating in the corner of the tub and then looked back at Mrs. Tully. I didn’t say a word.
She looked at me again, peeping over the top of her glasses, and then she looked back at the tub.
Silence filled the air. All I could hear in the back of my mind was, “Go and do likewise!”
After a long pause, I rolled up my sleeves and plunged my hands through the suds and unclogged the drain at the bottom of the tub. Mrs. Tully thanked me and offered me a piece of cake for my service. I took a pass on the cake. The plumbing project waned my appetite. However, I made a plan to return in a few weeks to share some cake and a few more stories.
Sometimes I wonder if we Christians make following the way Jesus more complicated than he intended for it to be. He didn’t make up a bunch of news rules. He basically had two: love God and love your neighbor. Nor did Jesus spend a lot of time debating theological and philosophical propositions; instead, he told stories about radical expressions of love like the story of the Good Samaritan and then he told us to go and do likewise.
Maybe following Jesus can be as simple as adding a new bottom line to a business enterprise; taking some of the money you make and using it to serve others in need.
Maybe it looks like drinking coffee at a place that does nice things for people and gives the money they make to help eliminate sex trafficking.
Maybe following Jesus is as simple as getting up off the couch and looking for someone who is lonely.
If you want to follow Jesus today, spend some time reflecting on the things he said and the way he lived and then go and do likewise.
The other day I had a sweet reminder of how good it is to have a friend like Jesus. The reminder came from three humming birds and a woodpecker.
I was sipping on my morning coffee, watching humming birds buzz around the backyard. They would dart in close for a sip of juice from the jar hanging upside down by the fence and then zip over—faster than my eye could follow—to the flowerbed, bouncing back and forth between the red, yellow and purple zinnias. The drone-sounding hum of their wings was interrupted by a metrical tapping sound from overhead.
Tap, Tap, Tap, pause . . .
Tap, Tap, pause . . .
Tap, Tap, Tap, pause . . .
Tap, Tap . . .
I began to reflect on the disparity between the privilege of the hummingbird and the fate of the woodpecker. If I had to live as one or the other I would definitely choose the life of the humming bird—floating through life, sucking sugar out of flowers is far better than banging your face against a tree and eating bugs. Who wouldn’t choose the life of a hummingbird over the life of a woodpecker?
The truth is, my life has been a mixture of the two. On some days everything goes right; with little effort I find myself flourishing in friendships, working side-by-side with my family and friends, using our gifts and talents to accomplish goals and add flavor to life. But on other days, nothing seems to go right. The harder I work, the further I get behind. On days like that bitterness can work its way into my imagination, robbing me of the joy I had when I set out to meet the day.
Stringing one “woodpecker day” after another—banging your face against the wall and getting nothing but bugs for your effort—will eventually lead to fatigue and possibly burnout. If life has been an uphill battle for a while and you find yourself tired and weary this might be a good day to stop and hear the invitation your friend Jesus is speaking over you:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Jesus knows life can be tough. He knows what you are going through today. Here are four things you can do to respond to his invitation.
First: Take a moment and name the fatigue. What is it that is wearing you out?
Second: Take the burden to Jesus in prayer. Remember, Jesus promised to be with you always, to never leave you or forsake you. Jesus is present with you in the chaos of life.
Third: Make an exchange. Jesus is inviting you to give him your burden and to receive his yoke in its place. When you are yoked with Jesus he will help you carry the load. It will be a great exchange because, his yoke is easy and his burden is light.
Fourth: Ask Jesus to help you hum a little today. Humming your way through the madness will help you taste and see the sweet parts of life in spite of the bug filled, rotten tree standing in front of you.
Can you imagine how different the world might look if we began to see ourselves and other people through the eyes of Jesus? Viewing the world through a “Jesus lens” is what it means to Think Red.
When we take the words of Jesus seriously and align our values with his, everything changes. We begin to see the Bible and the Church differently. We long to love God and love people in ways that reflect the true heart of Jesus. We are challenged to live out the counter-cultural teaching of Jesus in every aspect of our lives. The words of Jesus (the ones printed in red in some Bibles) have the potential to transform your life, your community, and your hope for the future.
What would change in your world if you let the words and ways of Jesus become the lens through which you viewed people, places and things?
My new book, Think Red: Imagine Your Community Living and Loving Like Jesus, will be available for purchase later this fall. The book begins with an in depth look at six values of Jesus. You can get a sneak preview of those values in the about link.
A few years ago I went on a spiritual retreat to the Abbey of Gethsemane. The Trappist monastery where Thomas Merton lived is about an hour drive from my home in Louisville, Kentucky. I spent the weekend in silence, roaming the countryside reading Wendell Berry’s Sabbath Poems, (another contemplative writer, who like Merton found inspiration from breathing Kentucky air.)
The highlight of each day was to join the monks during their hours of liturgy. After compline, the final hour of the day, retreatants were invited into a small chapel to hear a personal reflection from one of the monks. We huddled in a small circle and listened as this humble man, clad in a white habit, shuffled through the scraps of paper he had doodled on during the day. He shared quotes he had read, poems he had written and a few choice scriptures that tied his thoughts for the day into a beautiful homily. On the final night of my retreat his reflection focused on a question he pondered during the day while walking through the flower garden: What color was Jesus?
I’ll never forget the image this Trappist Monk painted for me. With far more eloquence than I can write the Monk simply reminded us that Jesus lived in the Middle East. He was not white or European. Europe was to the north of Palestine. Nor was Jesus black; Africa was to the south. He continued painting the word picture in my mind. Jesus’s skin tone was not yellow; Asia was to the east. Nor was the color of his skin red; the Americas were to the west. “Jesus was not red, yellow, black or white, instead he was a mix of all humanity. When you mix these four colors together." said the monk, “you get olive, the color of our brothers and sister’s living in the middle east. Jesus was a mixed race savior with olive colored skin.”
Whenever I look at the painting I’m reminded of the words Jesus prayed shortly before he was executed, “Father, my prayer is not for my disciples alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity.”
Jesus went to the cross with a hope and prayer that all of humanity—men and women from every race—would be reconciled to God and to one another. May our hope and prayer be the same. Let us meet at the foot of the cross and be reconciled by the blood of our “mixed race savior.”
My son Ryan has always had an industrious spirit. He loves to build and create things. His favorite toy as a toddler was a set of Lincoln Logs. Rainy days were spent building tiny log cabins for the beanie babies who shared his bedroom. When Ryan was old enough to use a hammer he spent hours on end hammering nails through blocks of wood. On more than one occasion he nailed a scrap piece of plywood to the stack of blocks, creating a ramp for his mini bike.
Kathie and I would listen from the kitchen to the constant banging of hammer and nails, followed by the sound of his mini bike roaring down the sidewalk. From the kitchen window we would watch as Ryan sped toward his newly constructed ramp. Kathie would flinch as Ryan became airborne; I was never sure if she was concerned that our son might break an arm or if she was afraid he might land his mini bike in the middle of her flowerbed.
Today Ryan still has an industrious flare in his soul. He and a handful of friends started a non-profit ministry called, Promise Housing Plus. They buy houses from the city that are slated for demolition and renovate the abandoned houses, restoring them into beautiful homes. They also created a non-conventional pathway to home ownership for a few of our neighbors who could not purchase a home through conventional means. Most any day of the week you can drive through our neighborhood and find Ryan and his co-worker Ben banging on nails, rebuilding houses, and loving our neighbors.
Jesus told a story once about a king who went on a trip. Before he left he gave three of his servants talents to invest in the work of the kingdom. The story ends with the king’s return and the servants giving an account of how they used their talents. Those who used their talents to bring an increase in the kingdom where honored by the king, “Well done good and faithful servant . . . come and share your master’s inheritance!”
One way we can “Think Red Together” is to take an inventory of our talents and evaluate how we’re using those talents to bring an increase in the kingdom of God.
If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few questions to consider: What charges your batteries and gives you energy? What did you love doing when you were a child? What did you dream about when you were younger? What do you dream about now? What resources, skills and talents has God given to you? After you’ve completed your inventory ask yourself one final question: How can I use my gifts in creative ways to express God’s love for the world?
Larry Stoess is an author, public speaker, and urban church planter. He loves telling stories about how dreaming with God will empower people to make old and broken things new again. Larry and a band of friends founded the Church of the Promise in Louisville's Portland neighborhood; The Table, a pay-what-you-can community café; and Promise Housing Plus, a non-profit construction company. He has written about their experience of dreaming with God in his new book: Think Red.