Here are the next five tips in a series of 40 tips for people wanting to follow Jesus better…
#31 Be different.
Or as Peter Storey put it the other day, ‘Be different. If we aren’t different, we have nothing to offer the world.’
One of the easiest ways to discover that you are failing is if you look just like everyone else who doesn’t share your faith [sadly, with a lukewarm compromising church the same can often be said if you look like those who do]. Jesus was different and through His life, words and teaching He called us to be the same.
‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – God’s good, pleasing and perfect will.’ [Romans 12.2]
i don’t think it’s by accident that this follows a line which reads:
‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.’
# Paul uses the strong language of urging here to demonstrate how important a thing he believes this is.
# There is the ongoing living sacrifice called for, reminiscent of Jesus’ ‘If anyone would follow Me, deny themselves, take up their cross daily and follow Me’ which suggests a commitment that won’t be easy or comfortable.
# We see worship mentioned in a context without music which is different to the go-to connection that we tend to make with worship reminding us that it is far bigger than simply words sung to music, although definitely can include that.
And then, following on from all of that, the call to not conform to the ways of the world but to be transformed by a change of mind. We need to think differently from the way the world thinks.
Which means we need to question what is presented to us as conventional wisdom [when it comes to savings, capitalism, insurance, community, how we treat the elderly, how we treat those who don’t look like us, how we protest, how we raise our children and more] and filter it through the life and words of Jesus and see if there is a different way. Some of the wisdom of the world is indeed wisdom and we can follow it, but as we renew our minds or invite God to, so we will see things differently. Our kingdom does not operate like the one we live in at the moment.
One way to renew our mind regularly is to be in the Bible regularly. If we compare ourselves to those sitting next to us in church on a Sunday we might think we are doing okay, but if we compare ourselves to Scripture, we are more likely to find there is work to be done.
This is a huge part of the greatest commandment which reminds us to love God with all of our minds. The word ‘holy’ that we are called to be, means ‘set apart’, different, not like everything else [or everyone else].
To follow Jesus means to swim against the current, definitely of the world, and too often of the church as well. If we keep our eyes on Jesus and His ways, that will give us the greatest chance of moving in that right direction.
Be different. In the very best of kingdom ways.
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#32 Stop being so defensive
And if your gut-whispered-response to reading that was an internal ‘I’m not defensive!’ then you should read on.
Caring what people think of you can have some base intrinsic value in that it maybe prevents you from walking around in the streets with no pants on while sporting a mullet. But generally, i think it can be quite a destructive mindset.
It might be helpful to point out right away that someone who really didn’t seem to care what others thought about Him was Jesus. We know this because He kept doing things He was not supposed to do – like hang out with women and children and Samaritans and lepers and prostitutes.
Jesus also didn’t aspire to be the type of person other people were expecting of Him. The jews had viewed the Messiah as the liberator of the people and largely held the view that this involved a political overthrowing of the powers of Rome, not a humble submitting to being killed by them in the most violent of ways.
Even when he was being questioned and accused and challenged in the most aggressive of ways, He mostly remained silent, but when He did respond it never reeked of defensiveness. He asked questions or told stories or made simple statements which themselves often threw other people into panic, but there was never a sense of Him feeling the need in the moment to have people know He was right. We watch as He allows the rich young ruler to walk away from Him without calling out or softening the commitment required or trying another angle.
But christians? Wow, we can be defensive. No, we can’t! Yes, we can.
And we need to stop. Because it is destructive. It tends to smell of self-importance or arrogance. It often feels like we have to maintain this aura of ‘We know all the things’ and ‘We can’t be wrong’ when so much of what we know and believe is held in tension with the doubts that strike against it [Otherwise we might call what we have ‘certainty’ and not ‘faith’].
We have seen this in the wider church when sexual scandals have too often been swept under the carpet rather than being openly dealt with.
We have seen this when someone has dared to have a differing opinion to the main man of God who runs the church. And is shut down and often squeezed out. How dare you question God’s chosen man?
In some extreme cases, we have seen pastors with bodyguards shielding them from the people – cannot get much more defensive than that.
We see it daily on social media. Christians being so defensive about the views they hold [often against other christians who hold opposing views] as if we are defending God and if we get it wrong God will somehow fall of God’s throne!
It’s okay to be wrong or to get it wrong. As long as we can admit to that rather than defensively shut down the conversation or engagement.
It’s okay to not be sure about something. To say ‘I don’t know, but I will try to find out from someone who does’ [which is usually my friend Sean cos he eats commentaries for breakfast].
It’s okay if someone has a different opinion from you. Or viewpoint. Or reading of the situation.
Where this gets tricky is that there is probably a fine line between being defensive and responding with a different opinion. Because sometimes i disagree with someone and they will respond with “You’re being defensive!” [which sometimes is the best way to be defensive by the way] and it might just be that i have a different opinion on this one.
i have found that having strong accountability with people [Wayne, Sean, Mahlatse, Val as a few in my corner] who have been given the right to call you on stuff, helps determine which side of that line you are on. If you never have anyone who can call you on stuff [Truth in Love] then that’s a problem too.
Instant defensiveness often prevents us from even hearing the point being made because we jump to it so quickly [i use ‘we’ because i am definitely not immune from this!] and so ways of combatting defensiveness include:
– Take time to hear the person out
– Put some time in between hearing the thing and responding to it
– Bounce your response off a trusted friend who has been given the right to challenge you on stuff
– Go back and read the thing again [when your emotions are more even] and see if you hold the same opinion
– Apologise if you realise you got it wrong.
This is a huge area for those of us who would follow Christ. Let’s use the example of His life, words and actions and try to hold ourselves back from defensiveness and be more open to engagement.
Stop being so defensive!
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#33 Be still and KNOW!
A lot of following Jesus involves doing stuff – stuff which doesn’t save us but is necessary to demonstrate that we have been saved. There is stuff to do.
But i love this reminder from Psalm 46.10 which tells us:
‘Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’
In the busyness of life and activity and family and tragedy and needing to pay bills and and and, it is important that you make time to stop.
To stop in the name of love. When we are still and just fix our eyes on God and are reminded who God is and what God has done for us. i find this works best for me in nature – my very brief time at the Niagra Falls is still possibly one of the most spiritual moments of my life, the pounding water just reminding me how big my God is. Time sitting at the Grand Canyon with Val and my friends Rob and Nicky was another time. Being still and knowing.
To stop, collaborate and listen. Because busyness can rob us of pausing to ask what God is doing around us and where the Holy Spirit is prompting us to be or to speak or to do something or to hold back. Making times to stop and ask God, ‘God, what are you busy with here and where can i get involved?’ can be life-transforming moments.
To stop and hammertime. Okay, that one doesn’t work quite so well. Except hammer makes me think of ham which makes me think of bacon which makes me think of baking which makes me think of bread which makes me think of daily bread which makes me think of the Word which is both the bible and Jesus. And so sometimes stopping to get back into the book and reread and be reminded and re-encouraged by the things we believe. Sometimes reading about the promises and character of God remind us in our innermost parts who God is.
Be still and know.
Be still and…
Don’t let the chaos of activity stop you from making regular pilgrimages back to the feet of Jesus. To slow down and pause and listen and watch and just be.
Be still and know!
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#34 Stop supporting the killing of people to teach people that killing people is wrong.
i’m talking about the death penalty.
My mind is blown by how the majority of people i know who are probably death penalty are followers of Jesus.
Jesus who taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. i just don’t see the bit in brackets where he quietly adds “Oh yes, and kill them!”
Jesus who cried out for the forgiveness of those committing murder while hanging on the cross.
Jesus who took the definition of murder and extended it to anger with sibling.
Jesus who turned ‘an eye for an eye’ on it’s head saying, “But I tell you, “Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”” And while we may be creatively able to reinterpret that statement as an act of resistance and shaming the person who hits you, we cannot take it to mean ‘Then later have him killed!’
It just makes no sense to the character and words and life of Jesus that we should ever take another person’s life.
Especially, because when the crime has been murder, as it so often is, we are literally killing someone to declare that killing people is wrong.
Every person is created in the image of God. Sometimes that image can seem quite distorted or hidden,but we have to believe that no person is beyond redemption. Anything less shows a way too small picture of who God is.
And if God calls for their forgiveness and redemption, how can we do anything less.
Yes, we need to stop them from doing it again. But we really should be focusing on redemption over simple punishment.
All of this is why i also struggle with the idea of Christ followers carrying guns (remember Jesus response when Peter cut off the guard’s ear when Jesus was being arrested?) or being in support of war.
Ask yourself honestly: Would Jesus support the death penalty? Would Jesus advocate carrying a gun? Would Jesus be pro-war?
Stop supporting the killing of people. Or at the very least, stop pretending that this is a stance that Jesus wants you to have.
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#35 Learn to speak out the “That’s not okay!” that is needed in society.
When people were extorting the poor by selling animals for sacrifice at exorbitant prices, Jesus fashioned a whip and drove them out of the Temple grounds.
When the crowds tried to keep the women, the children, the lepers, the blind away from Jesus, Jesus called them to the front.
When the religious leaders of the day were speaking one message and living out another, Jesus rained down a whole cascade of “Woe to you!”‘s upon them.
When they brought a woman who had been caught sinning [you know, the solo sin of adultery, because no guilty man in sight] in front of Jesus to get permission to stone her, Jesus invited the sinless among them to cast the first stone.
When Jesus was confronted with sickness, He spoke, touched, spat the message of “This is not okay!” again and again and again!
When Jesus was faced with followers who wanted the best seats in the afterlife, He cut them down to size publicly and taught about serving and demonstrated by washing their stinky feet.
Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a month. Or the rest of his life.
But also [and this is all Shane Claiborne inspired or said] you also at some stage need to ask why fishing licences are so expensive, who put up the fences around the fishing ponds, who has been polluting the waters and why certain people have all of the fishing poles and others have none.
We have to look at systems and structures with the same mindset and speak out and live out a “This is not okay!” when it is required, otherwise we risk becoming complicit in the injustice. Can all of us do/tackle all of the things? Please no, else we will die or burn out or fade away, but each of us have to be doing some of the things and hopefully engaging with some other of the things.
It starts with a “That is not okay!” accompanied by a demonstration of how we can live differently and a having our minds transformed to a new way of thinking which accompanies [maybe precedes, maybe follows, maybe a bit of both] that.
It’s not okay or particularly helpful to just keep handing out fish if there is work to be done in the systems or structures that perhaps need to be dismantled and redesigned or sometimes just tweaked so that there is a plentiful supply of fish for all.
i do think that in many occasions in history, this is an area where the church has often got it really right and made a significant difference with regards to health and education and politics and more…
All-white conference panels and all-white church leadership teams feel like a very big part of that as far as i am concerned, but at least be asking the question.
Learn to speak out the “That’s not okay!” that is needed in society.
[To return to the start of the series and catch up on some tips you missed, click here]