Who is Your Hero?

Sometime God speaks through a careful choreography of life events: conversations, readings, observations, and even the occasional media clip. Suddenly, all the pieces snap together, and we sigh (internally so no one hears us), “Aha!”

Who is your hero

This morning, I had one of those moments of clarity. Over the past couple weeks:

  • I pondered with friends why some people and ministries are wildly successful while other people and ministries—equally gifted—struggle for survival;
  • I heard a quote by Oswald Chambers: “Is He going to help Himself to your life, or are you taken up with your own conception of what you are doing?
  • I read a passage using the Scripture Meditation Plan: “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18)

These three events were preceded by a video I watched that smelled … funny. And the odor lingered. The creator of the video is a famous Christian writer who has morphed his verbal skills into marketing skills, and he wanted to help churches sell themselves.

In his video, a pastor shared the key to his own wildly successful church. I forget the exact words but he essentially said:

“I realized that too many churches make the pastor the hero. I decided to make the congregation the hero, and my church’s attendance exploded.” (Name withheld)

It reminded me of a conversation early in The Lost World movie. Repentant Jurassic Park creator John Hammond cries: “Don’t worry. I’m not making the same mistakes again.”

To which Ian Malcom retorts: “No, you’re making all new ones.”

It’s Time for an Execution

When I was a teenager, family and friends used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. (Now they just ask me when I will grow up). I always wanted to be a missionary.

Arrogant Executive r1

Immediately after college I began mission work in Europe. But one day, during a “normal” (that is, non-exciting) prayer time, I heard God speak two words: “Not now.” I sensed him say that if I did mission work “now” I would be creating an Ishmael not an Isaac; I would be birthing mission service out of my natural flesh and not out of God’s spiritual promise.

The sense was puzzling (I was serving God in the mission, wasn’t I?), but it was also compelling; so I left the mission field and entered the business world at the ripe old age of twenty-five. I eventually became an executive and owner of a software company.

Twenty-five years later, in another non-exciting prayer time, I sensed God say, “Now is the time.” I asked friends for discernment, and together we agreed that God was calling me away from my job. But none of us knew what God was calling me to.

That was why eight years ago, January 1st, 2008, I woke up  with no job, no client calls, no meetings, no paycheck, and no clue about what I should do with my life. When people asked me what I do, I always answered,

“Well I used to be a software exec….”

When Good Advice Boomerangs

Over the last month or so, I have heard of, witnessed, and (sadly) perpetrated several damaging acts of offering advice, examples where the counsel backfired and the recipient was worse off than before.

Boomeraning behaviors

And I’m talking about examples of good, sound, wise, practical advice. Instead of strengthening the listeners, the guidance pulled the rug out from beneath them; instead of encouraging, it discouraged:

  • A grown man told me how his father’s advice on how to handle school bullies made him feel like a lifelong coward;
  • I saw a man offer his wife excellent principles for dealing with her incompetent boss, and his advice shriveled her spirit;
  • I suggested to a friend three guidelines for strengthening a daily prayer habit, and the man’s prayer time went from ten minutes to two.

How many times have you received unsolicited advice and you wonder, Do I really look that stupid to you? Why does advice—and I’m talk about good, practical guidance—so often boomerang?

Fifty Shades of Denial

I’m not surprised that bondage/sadomasochistic sex is practiced. I’m surprised that we are no longer embarrassed. Everyone has embarrassing behaviors (especially thoughts), but we practice them behind closed doors. If we must perform our shameful acts in public, we disguise them, like wrapping brown paper bags around our open beer bottles.

Drinking from a brown paper bag

I had not heard of Fifty Shades of Grey until someone emailed me an article from the National Center on Sexual Exploitation about a real-life man who practiced BDSM. (He later arranged the strangulation of his wife after she refused to participate in his sadomasochistic sex fantasies.)

Since then I have read a score of articles about Fifty Shades of Grey with differing slants:

  • Most secular articles were in favor, essentially agreeing with the movie producer, who said, “People are not that prudish anymore;”
  • A few secular articles were opposed; one article basically read, “Finally! An issue leftist feminists and right-wing Christians can agree upon;”
  • And all the Christian articles basically said, “Just don’t do it. Or read it. Or watch it.”

But thousands of people read the book in public—no paper bags—and tens of thousands of people publicly watched the movie. Its opening weekend brought in $81.7 million dollars, the second-biggest February opening of all time (ironically, second only to The Passion of Christ).

Amazingly, 68% of the movie’s attendees were women, even though—in the words of one article—“In the final analysis, it is always women who suffer most at the hands of violent sex.”

How did we get here, where our private disgraces are now brazenly displayed on our rooftops?

Celebrity Christians

We live in an age of celebrity Christians. If it’s not the mega church pastors, it’s the best-selling authors or the Christian rock stars. While we may not worship them (at least not that we admit), we certainly want to be like them. But we constantly fall short.

Open Mic

Christina Kelly (former editor of young women’s magazines like Sassy and Elle) once wrote,

Why do we crave celebrities? Here is my theory. To be human is to feel inconsequential. So we worship celebrities and we seek to look like them.

But it is so dumb, with this stream of perfectly airbrushed, implanted, liposuctioned stars, you have to be an absolute powerhouse of self-esteem not to feel totally inferior before them.

So we worship them because we feel inconsequential, but doing it makes us feel even worse. We make them stars but then their fame makes us feel insignificant. I am part of this whole process as an editor. No wonder I feel soiled at the end of the day.

Oftentimes the greatness of others is crushing to us.

Superhero Burnout

I like hero movies. My grandsons love them. Hollywood adores them.

In the last decade, about sixty superhero movies have been released, roughly one every eight weeks: Spider-man, Iron Man, Batman, X-Men, Thor, etc. Not to mention their sequels. (Forget that I mentioned them.)

Superhero paint

I probably love normal hero movies even more, the ordinary civilian with a boatload of ordinary problems, facing unbeatable odds. Their stories stir something in me, a desire to go down swinging or to throw myself on a grenade. I see myself sacrificing everything for a greater cause, living a life of significance, having a life that matters.

But I wonder, sometimes, if hero movies insidiously stir the wrong thing. I once asked a hugely successful pastor for the key to his success. He said he just wants to be like his hero Jesus, and then he quoted St. Augustine,

Pray as though everything depends on God. Work as though everything depends on you.

Three years later he was exhausted, disillusioned, frustrated, and embittered. He dropped out of all service, divorced his wife, and—the last I heard—he was installing Invisible Fencing. He was a Super-Saint Burnout.

He had said he wanted to be like his hero Jesus, but he later admitted he just wanted to be a hero himself.

What Will Embarrass Us in Thirty Years?

The clouds peal with thunder, that the house of God will be established throughout the world; and yet these frogs sit in their marsh and croak, “We are the only true Christians.”  (Augustine)

flockface r1

Like silly past fashions, many stupid, past actions of Christians are embarrassing for us today:

  • The marginalization of women
  • The coercion of the crusades
  • The ill treatment of Galileo, Joan of Arc, John Wycliffe, and more
  • The hysteria (and brutality) of the Salem witch trials
  • The dehumanization and cruelty of the slave trade

If we examine our own personal Christian histories honestly, we will also find embarrassing excesses in some of the mistakes of our own spiritual influences.

As a kid, I was involved with Basic Youth Conflicts (now its leader has resigned amidst scandal). I was involved in the early Charismatic renewal (but now many of its leaders are obsessed with the spectacular over the gospel). I was involved in an excellent, influential Christian community (but many accused us of being elitist).

Hundreds of Christian movements have helped millions of believers. Yet many—maybe even most—of these movements grew imbalanced over time, exuding a sense of elitism, a touch of arrogance, a croaking, “We are the only true Christians.

Do you love the Christian movement (or circles) that you are now involved in? How do we protect them from becoming just another embarrassing haircut from our yearbooks?