#16 Stop putting people on pedestals.
The reason i prefer to call myself a Jesus follower than a christian is because it reminds me that i need to be following Jesus. [the title really doesn’t matter, but how we live our lives completely does!]
i have been inspired by many other Christ followers [with Keith Green and his story in the book ‘No Compromise’ one of the most influential, but more recently people like Austin Channing Brown, Jorge Atiencia, N.T Wright and then friends like Rob Lloyd, Mahlatse and Lusanda Mashua, Keegan and Lindsay Davids, Ashley and Helene Visagie, and of course Valerie Anderson and so many more] but i follow Jesus. That’s it. And anytime any person gets too much of my attention or praise, there is a problem.
i see this in so many people who treat their pastor, or their particular author or podcaster as if they were the fourth member of the Trinity.
There is a double problem here. Firstly, from anyone who puts another person on a pedestal and treats them as if they are any more important or holy than anyone else. Commandment number one of the big ten was God calling us to have no other god before God.
When you insist on prefacing your leader with their title to acknowledge some kind of hierarchical authority, when you speak about them as if they can do no wrong, when you take their word as Truth instead of testing it against Scripture, there is a problem.
The second part of the problem is when christian leaders allow themselves to be treated with the kind of reverence that should only be given to God. When we see arrogance or pride in a leader, or a lack of accountability, or a distance that is kept between themselves and people around them, or a lack of willingness to serve [if Jesus could wash feet, what is it you can’t do again?] then you need to be concerned.
Paul says to the Corinthian church, ‘Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ’ [1 Corinthians 11] and the ‘as I follow the example of Christ’ bit here is key. If you see me acting in a way that suggests i am superior to others, stop following me. If you see me think I am too important to pack away chairs or clean toilets or pour a cup of coffee for a homeless woman, then stop following me. If I start to look like I am enjoying the praise and worship of people a little too much, stop following me.
So much damage has been done [and continues to be done] by people [typically men, let’s be honest] who get into leadership positions and act in a very worldly kind of way that looks nothing like Jesus.
If the leader of your church congregation doesn’t resemble Jesus, doesn’t sound like Jesus, doesn’t carry the fresh beautiful fragrance of Jesus, and particularly if they don’t love or serve like Jesus, then i would highly encourage you to find someone else to follow.
Let Jesus be on your pedestal. Let Him be the Lord of your life and the one you deny yourself, carry your cross for and seek to follow. No one else deserves it.
Be inspired and encouraged by others, learn from those who follow Jesus well, and seek to be mentored by people who walk a good walk and are genuine in their following of Jesus, but always let Jesus be the one who dominates your attention.
Let’s stop putting people on pedestals. Let’s fix our eyes upon Jesus.
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#17 Love the sinner, be against the sin
This one for me feels quite easy although in recent years there has been some controversy around it.
But let’s break it into two parts. First up is ‘Love the sinner’ which is an easy one.
So when a ‘church’ slash cult sends members to hang out at a gay pride march with signs that read ‘God hates fags!’ it’s incredibly obvious that this is not the Truth [unless they are meaning fags in the old english way of referring to cigarettes because then yes, i can see that].
Jesus clearly told us to love our neighbours as ourselves [Matthew 22] and that our neighbours include our enemies [Matthew 5] and the marginalised and needy among us [Matthew 25]. ‘For God so loved the world…’
When it comes to the second part, one of the stories that illustrates this best is the one where the woman is brought before Jesus to test Him by trying to use the law against Him. Jesus does what Jesus does best by turning the whole thing on its head and leaves the crowd stunned when He proclaims, “Sure kill her, but let the person who is without sin cast the first stone” and the crowd slowly slinks away.
Jesus then says two things which are key to understanding this concept: “Does anyone condemn you? No, then neither do I condemn you” followed by “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Jesus loves the woman but condemns the sin. Which sounds a lot like love the sinner, hate the sin.
i can’t imagine a good parent looking at their child throwing a tantrum and coming to the conclusion, ‘I hate my child!’ ‘I hate this tantrum and I wish it would stop’ absolutely. But there is a separation between the person and the thing they have done.
God loves all of us, but God’s call is for us to be living lives that bring glory to God and peace and life and growth to the people and the world around us. Anything that gets in the way of that is something to be removed or worked on or healed or fixed.
As much as a lot of people have moved away from the phrase ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin’ i would imagine it would be easy to find evidence of the principle of it at work in their lives. It’s become a fashionable thing to be against, but i’m not sure it has merit.
It’s a complicated mess when you’re in relationship with someone and the idea can be viewed as ‘I love the good bits of you but you need to change the bad bits so I can love the whole of you’ but i don’t think it’s that [although i can see how it could feel like that]. Rather there is a sense, especially with God, that my love for you is so great that i refuse to simply allow you to remain in a less-than-perfect state. And while we are unlikely to achieve perfection on this side of eternity, it means there is a constant work needing to be done in us.
Perhaps this is something we need to hold in tension… i do love you completely as a person and friend/spouse/family member/colleague but at the same time i do acknowledge that as there is work in me needing to be done, so there is also work needing to be done in you and both of us need to feel the absolutely non-condemnatory Love of God while inviting God through God’s Spirit in us to continue to work perfection in us.
At the extreme of this is the death penalty for crimes such as murder or rape, such violent and messed up responses to a broken world. If i truly see everyone created in the image of God, then i need to view this person as a beloved creation of God who has committed a violent and evil act and not identify them as the violent and evil act. So a person who has committed murder, not a murderer. A person who has committed rape, not a rapist. It may be that the image of God has been so dirtied and hidden and distorted in these people that it is so much easier to just label them as the crimes they have committed but i know for a fact that it would devastate me to have as my identity the crimes/sins and mistakes i have committed and not to have the possibility of a chance of redemption, for me the person behind the crime/sin/mistake.
i believe it’s an absolute diminishing of the lavishness and extent of God’s Love to believe otherwise. If God’s Love is big and wide and deep and determined enough to reach and forgive and save and restore me, and i believe that it is, then i have to hold that hope for others.
Love the sinner, but don’t be okay with the sin.
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#18 Believe that God is bigGER!
i have spelled it like that for as long as i can remember. Everytime i write ‘God is bigGER’ the last three letters are caps so the word starts small and gets bigger as an in-built reminder to me.
If you were ever on a camp where i was speaking, there is a huge chance that i made you collectively sing this song together [Join with me if you can remember the tune and the timing of the claps]
God is bigGER than my box
He’s bigGER than my theology
He’s bigGER than my understanding
[clap clap clap]
He’s bigGER than me.
[Bonus Tip: This will be the first time this series you see me refer to God as He because that’s how i did it back in the day so have to remain true to that, but for the last year or so i’ve been trying to refer to God as God and not default to the male gender which does make sentences sound a little clunky sometimes but ‘It’ feels very impersonal – we know God is not a boy, yet the language we use tends to reinforce that we actually really think God is, sometimes]
But back to my song:
One of the things Christ followers can tend to forget or not take seriously – which can be kinda easy sometimes given how completely messed up and chaotic the world feels – is how big and capable and powerful the God we serve actually is.
All of us tend to put God in some kind of box. Maybe it was influenced by your parents or the church you grew up in [if you did] or the demonisation, sorry denomination, you are part of, or your particular Sunday gathering or pastor or favourite theologian, but we all tend to have ideas of ‘God can do this and God can’t do this’ or ‘God works this way and God doesn’t work that way’ or ‘Baptism is as a baby or baptism is as an adult and requires drips or drops or full body emersion’ and so on.
That ties to theology and understanding as well. And it’s good that we try to understand God to some extent so we can know how we are meant to live to do it best and how to worship God in meaningful ways and so on. But it tends to add limitations to our view of God.
So however small your picture of God is, whatever limitations you have placed on God and whatever things you believe God is unable to do, know that God is bigGER.
And however big your picture of God is – if you have a large and expansive and seemingly infinite idea of the power and glory and reach of God, know that God is bigGER:
This God who created the Universe in a couple of sentences.
This God who was able to come down in human form and demonstrate how possible it is to live well and with Love.
This God who is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
God is bigGER than your box, than your theology, than your understanding, and most importantly, God is bigger than me. And you. Even though if we looked at your life it might not seem like that sometimes.
For some reason – and i suspect it links somehow to free will and how only Love that is freely offered is Love at all – God allows broken, messed-up, chaotic stuff to happen and it won’t always be like that – but for now it is and so we hold the tension of an image of a God that can do anything but often chooses not to do the very things we think God should, or really really want him to do [looking at you, death!]
If we say we believe in God, then we truly need to grab hold of this understanding that God is big, really BIG. We can wrestle with the implications of what that means when tragedy strikes, but anything less than a belief in that, is not actually God, but some form of idolatrous religion.
Believe that God is bigGER!
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#19 Combine the Spirit and the Word
When i was part of a Vineyard church i read a book called ‘The Quest for the Radical Middle’ by Bill Jackson. i really loved the heart of the concept of what the Vineyard denomination was seeking to be.
Some churches tend to focus almost completely on the Bible at the expense of the Holy Spirit [there are some churches that believe the Holy Spirit shut up shop after Jesus and the disciples time although i don’t believe that is consistent with anything scripture says – the Holy Spirit] is still around and active and living in us].
Some churches tend to put most of their emphasis on the Holy Spirit with a lack of focus on the Bible as the basis and foundation of their Truth.
When you have Bible but no Spirit then you have knowledge but no power.
When you have Spirit but no Bible then you have power but no knowledge or direction.
So what ‘The Quest for the Radical Middle’ was talking about was seeking a good balance of Bible and Spirit but not in the way of watering either of them down, but rather seeing a space of Radical Middle where both operated strongly.
That is what i long for. Jesus clearly operated by the Spirit [He knew things, He saw things, He was led to places, He healed people] and yet He often operated from the Scriptures that were available to Him [reading them in the temple, referring to them in His teaching, asking questions related to them and even changing the audience understanding about them: “You have heard it said… but I say…”].
The Bible is a mysterious and complicated book at times and has been used [or blamed] for a variety of horrific activities or events although for most of those if you simply hold up what was done [apartheid, crusades, Nazi Germany…] against the light of the greatest commandment [Love God with everything and Love your neighbour as yourself] it quickly becomes clear that the problem wasn’t the Bible. When we use the Bible well, honestly and authentically seeking its Truth rather than finding ways for it to ‘say’ what we want it to, then we are less likely to go astray.
When we realise different parts of the Bible are written in different styles of writing [narrative, metaphor, poetry, song, prophecy] and when we take context into consideration [who was this for? what was its intended message? is there a message for us in this today?] and when we hold the Bible as a complete holistic story then we will see it use being much closer to what was intended by God and the people God chose to write it.
The same with the Holy Spirit – Christ in us, the hope of glory – when we hold up some of the things that have been blamed/attributed to the Holy Spirit against even just the greatest commandment [Love God with everything and Love your neighbour as yourself] then it often becomes quickly obvious that that was not the Holy Spirit and that was.
When the Bible and the Spirit are both invited and included and listened to and operated with, then it is far less likely that error will occur. Which is why we should be questing for a radical middle where both of them are allowed to operate in the way that was intended.
Combine the Spirit and the Word!
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#20 Husbands submit to your wives.
Ooh, ooh, wait for it. How long before an #AllSubmissionsMatter hashtag joins this debate? Now this one might be a bit of a more controversial one and if you hold an opposing view to this [or the church you are a part of does] then i encourage you to open-mindedly read the debate and make your own mind up.
We all know wives have to submit to their husbands, right? That’s been a message the church has declared loud and wide for years, and it’s in the Bible, so it must be true. Seriously, check it out in Ephesians 5:22 ‘Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.’ As to the Lord? Flip, that sounds serious. Do it, wives!
Does anyone remember Tip #5 though? Read the verse before and after your favourite verse. So let’s try that here.
Verse 21: Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Reverence for Christ? That almost sounds as serious as ‘as to the Lord’ right? Maybe we should do this one too. And maybe, just maybe, that’s what Paul was trying to say.
Because that bit comes first [and it’s interesting to note in a lot of Bible translations that verse 21 and 22 fall under different sections with a paragraph heading dividing them which feels important until you realise that the original Bible and letters didn’t have sections and paragraph headings which were added later -so verse 21 and 22 would have run right into each other.
The call is for a mutual submission to each other. So wives submit to your husbands? Absolutely. And also in the same way, to the same extent, husbands submit to your wives. [Realising at the same time that Paul was writing/speaking into a VERY patriarchal society where even this idea would have been seriously counter culture].
So if that’s the verse before, what comes after? Well it’s a verse or two down, but it says this:
‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.’
Oh wow, so somehow we managed to take this writing and turn it into a theology where the emphasis was placed on the women submitting and yet we failed to mention that men have to die? Cos that’s what this is saying, surely? If we [men] are called to love our wives ‘as Christ loved the church’ [and the rest of the verse even spells it out for us just in case we were planning to somehow ‘miss’ it] then we will need to give ourselves up for her. When Jesus did this it meant an actual physical death. Most of us will likely get off a little more lightly, although a matching commitment is being called for.
So wives submit to husbands? Yes.
Husbands, submit to wives? Yes.
Mutual submission and love for each other as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. And probably also helpful to note that this is a giving of yourself to the other person and not a taking away from another person. This isn’t about becoming less than or a doormat or secondary, but rather about both people in the relationship serving the other person in love while being served in love. Both people are lifted up by the attitude and action of the person they have committed themselves to.
Paul reframes this metaphor in this letter as being a depiction of the relationship between Christ and the church. Which reminds us to constantly have an eye on the relationship our church and our church leaders have with Jesus. Are they submitting to Jesus with the kind of depth and intensity that suggests they would die for Him as He dies for them? Or has this somehow, somewhere along the line, become a lot more about Jesus or the church submitting to them and their leadership and lifting them on to some kind of pedestal or throne?
Husbands, submit to your wives as they do likewise. Serve one another in love!
[For the next 5 tips in the series, click here]