(Editor’s note: this originally appeared in the
Love Akron Network Ford’s Focus)
By Pastor Mark Ford
The other day I almost fell out of my chair while watching a national newscast because, to my surprise, the name of a pastor friend from California was mentioned. Pastor Rick Cole, Lead Pastor of Capital Christian Center in Sacramento, was being interviewed for a human interest piece. Pastor Cole revealed to his very large congregation that he had made a decision to become homeless for two weeks and live on the streets incognito. With only a backpack, he spent 14 days sleeping in alleyways, eating what and when he could, and listening to people’s stories. He said the experience changed his life forever. For those two weeks, he climbed into the world of the invisible and ignored and personally experienced the loneliness and indignity that homeless people endure every day.
How about the name John Howard Griffin? Does it sound familiar to you? His story first captured my attention as a young man. I lived in a very racist community in a small town with one flashing light where “black folk” were not permitted within the city limits after dark. So, for me, John Howard Griffin’s story of race and identity in the book Black Like Me, was a wake-up call to my young mind. Living as a middle-aged white man in Mansfield, Texas in 1959, John Howard Griffin was deeply committed to the cause of racial justice and frustrated by his inability as a white man to understand the black experience. He decided to take a radical step. He underwent medical treatment to change the color of his skin and temporarily become a black man. He then set out to explore the black community. While he expected to find prejudice, oppression, and hardship, Griffin is still shocked by the reality of it. Everywhere he went, he experienced insults and hatred.
There is an old sixties song sung by Joe South – “Walk a Mile in My Shoes.” It captures the message of what both Pastor Rick Cole and John Howard Griffin did. They climbed into the shoes and skin of someone outside their “tribe” and experienced worlds that were far different than their own.
If I could be you, if you could be me for just one hour If we could find a way to get inside each others mind, If you could see you through my eyes instead of your ego I believe you’d be surprised to see that you’ve been blind,
Walk a mile in my shoes, walk a mile in my shoes Hey, before you abuse, criticize and accuse Walk a mile in my shoes.
So how do these stories tie in to my Christmas message to you? I think this is exactly what Christmas is about. The Christ child was God becoming man, climbing inside our skin, and walking in our shoes. The theological term we use to describe this miracle is incarnation. Those shoes took Jesus down paths of every kind of temptation and suffering so that Christ could identify with our humanity. The writer of Hebrews 3:15 states that Jesus understands our weaknesses, for He faced all of the same testings we do, yet He did not sin. The mystery of Christ facing every possible sort of temptation and not sinning is a difficult one to fully understand. The Apostle Paul tells it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:21 from The New Living Translation.
“For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.”
Paul did not say that Jesus sinned, rather He became sin so through His death we can be made righteous or in right standing with God. That amazing part of the Gospel is called grace. Dr. James Kennedy defines grace as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.
What would our world look like if we chose to follow Christ’s example of selflessness? Let’s stop judging and making generalizations about people and put ourselves in their positions. Let’s love with the type of love that we find in The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, union;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, Grant that we may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.