There are a few things in modern church culture that make me a little uneasy (ok I’ll admit probably more than just a few), but there’s one in particular that I’ll take a minute to point out here. And it has to do with this idea of putting people on some sort of pedestal that are in ministry (usually the “platform” kind of ministry). A lot of it is done under the pretense of “giving honor where honor is due” (which along with “blessed and highly favored” is probably one of the most trite and inauthentic christian catch phrases you will ever hear). Now don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe in honoring those that have given their lives to serve God and others, and as such have been entrusted with a position of leadership – we do well to honor such individuals. But lets look at how we do it.
Having been a pastor and leader in the church, people do quite often want to address you using a title attached to your name, for me a lot of people refer to me as Pastor Tim, and I don’t have a problem with that, it’s perfectly appropriate, but I have a problem when folks insist that other people besides themselves call me (or anyone else) by a certain title; I don’t mind being called Pastor Tim (or any of a variety of other titles people have assigned to me) and I don’t mind being called just Tim either (I actually prefer it) – but either way it’s not a big deal to me. Or how about when people insist that others address them in a certain way, such as “Potentate Paul” or whatever else. I recall one instance while pastoring we were getting to know some new people in the church who had come to our congregation with experience in previous ministry, and in speaking with the wife she mentioned in the course of the conversation that she and her husband would like to be addressed as “Evangelist” so-and-so. Initially I thought she was trying to be funny and I came this close to busting out laughing before I realized she was serious. And then there’s the deal about making a show about “seats of honor”, and grand entrances by the “stars of the show”, just suffice it to say that I’ve seen this way too many times at way too many places. I just helped officiate a funeral and this church had about a half dozen or so really huge chairs on the platform that the leaders sat on – it felt like I was sitting on some sort of throne or something. The thing is I know the pastor of that church well – he really is a humble guy – but that was just the culture of that church. Bottom line, sometimes this stuff is legit (it’s not wrong address someone as apostle who actually is an apostle), but quite often it is not legit – and is fraught with soulish origins.
There’s a lot of off the wall stuff that people think and say and do when it comes to attributing perceived “super spiritual powers” as it were, to leaders or other so-called “famous” people in the church. I remember my friend Michael Tyrrell tell about a conference he was helping lead worship at, during some of the breaks between sessions people would come down and just sit in the seats where a couple of the conference speakers had been sitting. When Michael asked them what they were doing their explanation was something along the lines of “we wanted sit where the one’s who were carrying the special anointing were sitting”. As if the anointing was like some sort of perfume you put on or something and some of it rubbed off on the chair they were sitting on and then the next person came along to sit on the chair so that some of the residual perfume left on that chair would rub off on them. You can’t make this stuff up. Another example is when we were working with Eddie James. For a brief period of time when we were with him Eddie was the worship director at one of the largest megachurches in the midwest led by a megastar televangelist. There was also a popular Bible College connected with the ministry and I remember at times the TV evangelist/pastor would hand down some of his personal items such as old suits and the like to some of the bible college students. I was amazed at how these kids jockeyed for position to get their hands on some of this stuff and once they had it how they thought that all of a sudden their giftings and anointing would somehow be magnified multiple times (usually only if they were wearing the handed down apparel). Come on people!
I do have to say this – I know I’ve painted a picture of what we would consider dysfunctional tendencies in the Body, but even in the midst of these dysfunctions I have also encountered so many, because of their hunger and yearning to embrace an authentic experience with God, that even in these environments they have become infused with a fire and a passion to know Him, to Love Him, and to serve Him and others as well, and have found a way to be filled with His fullness and walk as mature believers.
Which brings me back to the primary premise of this blog: “fanning the flames of pure & simple devotion”. Making Jesus the center of our existence and our experience. You see what I have previously described can be directly attributed to the fact that somehow there has been a distraction and a deception that ever so insidiously takes our focus off Jesus, and in that vacuum we turn our eyes on ourselves and our own ways.
One of my initial bogs was entitled “Six Words” and I described how God in the spirit of “Pure and Simple Devotion” had actually spoken to me six words that He wanted me to focus in on. Those six words I have since come to realize have been a catalyst to a journey of embracing the simplicity of knowing and loving Jesus on deeper levels of intimacy as well as practical experience. So what were the six words? They are actually three separate two word phrases: “Love Hard”, “Stand Firm”, and “Stay Free”. I knew these words were not just for me but could be a means of communicating a heart for undivided devotion to Jesus that is dynamic in it’s simplicity and liberating in it’s practice.
So in this blog I wanted to expound on that first two word phrase: Love Hard. Like I described in a previous blog (see “Six Words”), when the Lord dropped these in my spirit my initial response was “huh?” That’s it? So I had a choice, either blow it off and have the attitude that God will reveal more when He’s ready so I’ll sit back until then, or… I dive in and start digging.
Speaking of digging, in this day and age it seems we’ve become huge fans of the “download”. We download and upload tons of information all the time at the click of a button and we think this should transfer over into the spiritual realm as well – we say, “Lord, let me just stand here while You download Your wellsprings of wisdom and revelation into my spirit so that I can impress my friends and family.” That prayer usually gets answered something like this…
Lord: My child I have heard your prayer, here take this, it is required for what you are asking.
COG (Child of God): Lord what is this?
Lord: It’s a shovel
COG: ummm… what for Lord?
Lord: So you can begin to dig
COG: but what about my download? – you know, those wellsprings of wisdom and revelation
Lord: Yeah so here’s the deal, the wells of my wisdom and revelation are most often obtained through process, through the journey of seeking and searching and finding, through persistence and perseverance. It’s a method I’m rather fond of, because it brings us closer together, and it brings out the best in you, and it forms something in you that makes you look more like me. So just remember, you don’t download wells, you dig them. That’s not to say I won’t ever give you a download, but just leave that to me and go ahead and start digging.
So when the Lord gave me those six words, I started digging. It started with “Love Hard”.
Wow, love… it’s not like there aren’t volumes on the subject all throughout scripture, it is the primary “fruit of the Spirit” that every tenet of faith is established upon. So then, where to begin.
For me, when I think of my “favorite” scripture passages, at the top of the rather long list is Matthew 22:37-40, it’s what we know as “The Great Commandment”: And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
I mean Jesus himself singled this one out and basically said if we don’t get this one (and the second one) right, that everything else, every belief or conviction or doctrine that we establish as important in our lives, will come crashing to the ground in a heap in the absence of the understanding and application of these two commandments.
There is another passage spoken by Jesus regarding this subject that I find quite interesting, it’s John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Ok, so in my mind, as simple as it is, I hear this question emerge: “Jesus says He is giving us a new commandment – but it sounds an awful lot like the Great Commandment – so what’s the difference, what’s new about it?
Of course the Great Commandment we’ve referenced was first spoken by God to Moses in Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19. In both these Old Testament verses, in the original Hebrew text the word used for love was the word “ahab”. One commentary describes the meaning of this word like this: “Ahab is remarkably similar to the English word “love” in that its range of meanings covers the same ideas. Ahab can refer to loving God, loving one’s friend, romantic love, love of ideals, love of pleasures, and so on.” So as it does in English the word love in these passages has somewhat of a generic connotation.
This is not so when we look at the “new commandment” passage in John 13. Of course the original text in this case is Greek, which has at least four different words that in English would simply be “love”. In the John 13 passage the word Jesus uses is translated as the Greek word for love “agape”. In Christian circles we are most likely familiar with the word itself but may not understand the depth of the meaning. Here again from a commentary is a description of the Greek word for love “agape”: “A word to which Christianity gave new meaning. Outside of the NT, it rarely occurs in existing Greek manuscripts of the period. Agape denotes an undefeatable benevolence and unconquerable goodwill that always seeks the highest good of the other person, no matter what he does. It is the self-giving love that gives freely without asking anything in return, and does not consider the worth of its object. Agape is more a love by choice than philos, which is love by chance; and it refers to the will rather than the emotion. Agape describes the unconditional love God has for the world.
Agape love is not natural, it is supernatural – it requires something that goes beyond my human abilities to pull it off. Before Jesus came on the scene it had never been seen by human eyes to even know what it looks like. So when He says this is a new commandment he is speaking of something that goes beyond the Great Commandment – in the words of what might be a pop song you’d hear on the radio “you ain’t never seen a love like this before”.
So as I study that passage in John it strikes me how practical Jesus is, how he never asks us to do something without first showing us how its done. In understanding the context for Jesus’ new commandment statement in John 13:34, we look at the scene in the beginning of the chapter, it was at the time of the last supper. Jesus knew that his time on earth with the disciples was to soon end, so this demonstration takes on a special significance.
We know the story, Jesus took a towel, wrapped it around His waist and began to wash the disciples feet. In the verses where we see this scene play out, there is so much to be drawn out, so much significance in each verse, we could literally write books regarding the implications of this one act and the dialog recorded here.
So Jesus makes the bold statement on essentially the last night he would be with them all together, and commanded them to “love one another; just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another”. ‘How do we love one another? Jesus had just showed them by example when he washed their feet and then said you also should do just as I have done to you.
Of course there is so much more that has been written in scripture regarding love – the love of God, the love for God, and love for others. In the New Testament most of the exhortations regarding love have to do with us loving one another, it is sort of a litmus test of our love for God, and our love for others is reflected by our willingness to serve others, to give and to sacrifice with no expectation of getting anything in return.
Which going back to some of the crazy stuff we see in our modern church culture today, we need to lay aside our striving for titles, of our posturing and primping in an effort to be seen, and instead of reaching for a microphone we need to reach for a towel. Take your eyes off yourself and put them back on Jesus and follow his example in the way that he commanded us to.
We talk about honor, we honor others not by showering them with adoration or by addressing them with superfluous titles, we honor them by following their example in as much as they follow the example of Jesus.
So here are my final words: Love Hard! Keep your eyes on Jesus and grab a towel.