“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples. If you love one another.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever looked at another person and just known who they were? You didn’t need any information more than a single glance. You just knew. You’re not sure how you knew, but you knew. Now, making those kinds of assumptions about people can be dangerous. It can also be deeply unfair. Too much hatred and strife in our culture has come because people have made snap judgments about strangers that were wrong and hurtful. That being said, sometimes a first impression is the right one. America’s favorite summer reality competition show, still going strong after its 16th season, America’s Got Talent, finished up this week. The winner was magician Dustin Tavella. This morning let’s talk a bit about his story and why I picked him to be the winner from his first audition.
I love America’s Got Talent. I’m pretty sure I’ve said that before. It’s just a lot of fun to see the range of talent the country and world has to offer. Some of them are inspiring, some are downright bizarre. Nearly all of them are entertaining. (Except the dog acts. I hate the dog acts. I love dogs. I hate the dog acts. They always wind up beating out and taking the spots of much more talented acts. Enough ranting.) This season proved to be more of the same great, entertaining, and inspiring talent to showcase for the world. Actually, this season was better than most. The collection of acts to make the final ten were more balanced and more entertaining on the whole than the last few years have managed to be. As a faithful viewer who has not nor will ever register a vote, I say with gratitude: Good work, America. Good work.
One of my favorite acts from this year was a young magician named Dustin Tavella. I’ll be honest enough to say that when he first walked out on stage, my split-second initial impression was he dressed and moved and carried himself like a white guy who had either grown up or become immersed in the black hip hop culture. That didn’t matter to me one way or the other. That’s just the air he gave off. But then he started to speak and introduce himself to the judges. There was a humility and a joyfulness about him that was just contagious. He didn’t take himself too seriously and brought a warmth to the stage that quickly drew the whole room into his world.
His first trick left the room absolutely astounded. His bread and butter throughout the series was a blend of prediction, mentalism, and storytelling. His storytelling focused on inspirational stories from his own life. He spoke of his own wedding and marriage, the adoption of his two sons, and his parents’ marriage and journey from addiction to wholeness. Each trick was utterly astounding in and of itself, but the real heart of his magic again and again was to inspire and encourage people to look for ways they can make a positive difference in the world around them. Rather than trying to describe any of the tricks in detail, I’ll just embed the video of his original audition.
Now, I could keep raving about Dustin and why I’m so glad he was the winner (again, I called it after that first audition), but there’s another reason I’m talking about him this morning. After his first audition as well as his quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals performances, I looked over at Lisa and said, “He’s got to be a Christian.” I didn’t know that with absolute certainty. I didn’t look up any of his story until we were watching the finals results last night. But I knew. He didn’t talk about his faith in any of his tricks, and never actually even mentioned the word “God” or “Jesus” in any of his acts. But I knew. Someone doesn’t have that kind of contagious joyfulness apart from Christ. Someone doesn’t shine with that kind of love without Jesus in his life.
After thinking all of that all summer long, I finally looked him up last night. Yes, Dustin is in fact a follower of Jesus. He and his wife have worked with homeless shelters and crisis pregnancy centers. His folks were both addicts and a wreck until a Christian couple helped get them back on the straight and narrow path. While he certainly plans to enjoy some of the million dollar prize he’s won, his plan is to use most of it to invest in the lives of others. Dustin’s faith clearly shapes his life – the places he’s gone, the things he’s done. He is being used by God to have an impact on others and this will give him an even bigger stage to do that. I pray he sticks with the path that’s taken him this far.
As I thought about all of this, a single verse came to mind. It’s something Jesus said to His disciples after they finished their final Passover meal together. After they had eaten and He had washed their feet (much to their shock and horror), He looked at them and said that He had a new commandment for them to follow. This was something that would replace all the rest of the commands they’d spent their whole lives trying to keep. It could replace them because if they did this one thing, they would be keeping the spirit of all the rest. It was at one and the same time far simpler and far more difficult than any of the others. It was an invitation into a freedom broader and deeper than any they’d ever known before. And it was all rooted in a single idea: Love. They were to love one another and all the other one anothers around them just like He had loved them. They were to love with humility, self-sacrifice, kindness, and compassion. Do this, and you’ll always be on the right track.
Actually, Jesus followed up this command with one more admonition. This new command of love would become their identity. It would become the marker by which the world would recognize them as belonging to Him. More directly: Everyone will know you are my disciples if you love one another. This is the only test for Christian identity we are given in the New Testament. There’s nothing big or pretentious about it. In fact, it’s the opposite of that. Jesus’ love isn’t about attracting a crowd or putting on airs. It’s about putting others first and working intentionally for their good even if that comes at the expense of our own. But when we do it, there will be no denying whose we are.
By all of the accounts I can find so far, Dustin has spent his life doing this very thing and as a result, every time he walked out on stage I looked at Lisa and said, “He’s got to be a Christian.” I just knew. Because he loves. Now, make this personal. Do other people mark you so easily as a follower of Jesus? If you love well, they will.