At the funeral service of John Carter Allen* the pastor read a testimony from a father in our church. I remember what she read. This father’s son had spent some time with John Allen at Micah Mission Center and the experience changed the son. He began to realize there were poor, homeless people in this world, yes right in the midst of his hometown. Most importantly, he spent time with a Christian man who had the heart to help the poor and that attitude made an impression, a very positive impression.
Pastor Mark Labberton has a section of his work called “On Reading This Book.” In that section, he states the purpose of his book: he wants us to perceive, name and act.
Maybe I am neurotic but I often question “Why me?” “Why now?” I feel God has a plan for all of us, we are not just here on earth for no reason. Maybe Labberton explains the reason for every Christian’s life: we are made to worship. By worship he means that we are supposed to live the life God intended us to live. God sent his son Jesus to instruct us. “[Worship] refers to the life-encompassing act of waking up to God in Christ by the Spirit with our whole being, living in communion with others who are doing likewise, and letting it show in the midst of the world for which such wakeful worship is to be a daily taste of the kingdom of love and justice.”
Labberton describes Christ as “self-emptying” and to be that way is a slow process, an effort to transform our hearts. But it is worth the effort because our presence in the world can change the world “if we had hearts that were more like God’s”[Labberton, 28].
But of course this is hard because so many of us are the reverse of self-emptying; we are self-centered. Too often the clarion call is “what’s in it for me?” When we could offer help, the caustic response is “What have you done for me lately?” Too many of us “keep book”; if we act to help others it is because others have helped us and we are doing payback.
That is just not the life God intended for us to live but so many people operate with those “rules.”
That is the way they live, not exactly self-emptying.
Recall the title of Labberton’s book, The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor; what is endangered by living a life inspired by Jesus Christ? What is endangered is our selfish absorption. The more we gain the heart of Jesus, the less we think about ourselves. The less we think about ourselves, the more we can begin to see those in need right around us. Rather than distance ourselves from those in need, we begin to act to fulfill their needs. “This is the worship God seeks. It reflects the God whose heart sends you and me to be the personal evidence of God’s love in a world of suffering” [Labberton, 28].
It was my pleasure to spend many years with John Carter Allen as my friend and I will be honest, I never quite understood why he did some of the things he did. He did not worry about his appearance. He was a “slow-moving dude”. Eating across from him during many meals I warned him of food that lingered in his bushy gray beard. When he was at Micah, John was a soft touch when it came to cigarettes. The homeless people there were always bumming his smokes. He did not care, saying “he always got them back” [he didn’t]. The thing that always amazed me about John was his effortless connection with people who had less than he had. He could talk one-to-one with the needy people who were at Micah. He was comfortable in their presence. He never put “distance” between himself and them. When they conversed, he cared about what they were saying; at times they seemed to speak the same language.
While John was alive, maybe I took his life for granted. Now he is gone and maybe I am beginning to see why he dedicated so much time to help those who were struggling; maybe he had a transformed heart, maybe he was emptying himself, following the example of Jesus. Maybe John’s example not only made an impression of that young man in our church; maybe it made an impression on me.
Labberton writes of the believer and skeptic who are reading his book. “So your point is that if we were more like God and less like ourselves, the world would be a better place?”
Yes, that is the purpose of his book, to perceive the needs of others, name the needs of others and act to fulfill the needs of others.
To live more like Jesus Christ.
*John Carter Allen was the founding director at Micah Mission Center and even though other directors were appointed after John’s tenue, he continued to volunteer at the center. John passed away on December 2nd, 2017.