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A Spiritual Autobiography
How God fulfilled the faith-based hopes
of an ordinary guy from Jersey City
—————————————————————————————————————————– Stand Out From the Crowd
When I first moved to the area in which I now live (Southern New Jersey) to serve as a pastor, sometimes I would be talking with people who I met for the first time, they would say to me, “you’re not from around here, are you?”. I would reply “No, I’m originally from Jersey City”. Then the inevitable response was, “I knew it. I could tell by your North Jersey accent.” I was well aware that Jersey City didn’t have a good reputation in the eyes of many people (graft, corrupt politics, mayors doing prison time, etc.). I wondered if that might negatively color the views that people might have of me.
One day, after going through that conversation a good number of times, I began to think that maybe this was something I had in common with Jesus. In the Bible I read about how people in and around Jerusalem said about Jesus,”Can anything good come from Nazareth”? (Jesus’ hometown). The implied answer being “Not really, so don’t listen to him”
The Bible doesn’t say that Jesus had an accent, but I think he did. The Bible does say that on the night when Jesus was arrested, interrogated and tortured, before he was executed the next day, someone said to his disciple Peter, “Certainly you are one of them (disciples of Jesus), for your accent betrays you” (Matthew 26:73). Jesus came from the same general area as Peter so he must have had the same accent, and therefore, the same problem. The problem being that his accent made him stand out from the crowd. I thought that maybe, if Jesus talked like the rest of the people in and around Jerusalem, he wouldn’t have gotten into so much trouble.
Of course, I knew that it really wasn’t Jesus’ accent that got him into trouble. It wasn’t how he said it, but what he said and did that got him into trouble. Remember how he was always calling the religious authorities “hypocrites” and how he caused a great commotion in the temple? (an act of civil disobedience?) So maybe I, like many people who today think of themselves as faithful Christians, actually have more in common with Peter, who tried to blend into the crowd.
Like Peter, many of us today don’t like to stand out from the crowd. However, whether we like it or not, God created us to stand out from from the crowd in the same way that Jesus did. Not according to our place of origin, or how we sound or look, but according to how we use our faith to intentionally stand out from the crowd with our words and deeds. With our life-style. God wants to use us to show the crowd how to live the life-style of Jesus. To show other individuals and the crowd how God created us all to live.
The bad news is that much of the time there seems to be little hope that we will be able to live and reflect the life-style of Jesus. A life-style which has love at its heart. So all too often we don’t even try. On the other hand, there is always good news. No matter what things look like, there is always hope for all of us, individually and collectively. On that night when Peter denied that he even knew Jesus, things looked hopeless. But there was hope. A little over a month later, God used Peter as the instrument who would lead thousands of people to open their hearts and minds to invite Jesus into their lives through the Holy Spirit (Acts 2).
On that day there was good news in the midst if bad news. Hope was fulfilled when there seemed to be no hope. That is what always happens, in God’s time and God’s ways, when that which is hoped for is in accordance with God’s plans and purposes. It doesn’t matter where you come from, or where you are now. It doesn’t matter what you look or sound like. What matters is that you discern God’s will for you, say “yes” to whatever that is, and use the grace God gives you to proceed as God directs. Then leave the results to God. In so doing, you will be following in the footsteps of Peter, who God created to stand out from, not blend in with, the crowd.
Grace and peace, Ray