As you squander through your life
Bigger cars, bigger houses
Term insurance for your wife
Tuesday evenings with your harlot
And on Wednesdays it’s your charlatan
analyst, he’s high upon your list
|Robin in late 1984|
Wasting precious time and health
Placing value on the worthless
Disregarding priceless wealth
You can wheel and deal the best of them
And steal it from the rest of them
You know the score, their ethics are a bore
The key in ministry is to avoid making the ministry a mini god by accident, whether it’s a church or a parachurch organisation we need to look at what God would do with any income received.
That means constant vigilance on our hearts.
I’ve been re-watching a favourite series of mine for the last couple of weeks, Boston Legal. I enjoyed it immensely a decade ago when it first aired, and now I find I’m actually the age of the younger central protagonist I’m enjoying it even more.
One of the episodes is entitled “Schadenfreude” and centres a storyline around a younger woman accused of murdering her older (much older) husband. The closing argument, typically the highlight of the show, consists of James Spader’s character – the lawyer Alan Shore – delivering a momentous closing argument and (usually) saving the day.
This episode stuck in my mind and I found it striking a chord in me. The sum of the argument was that as humans we love to have celebrities, but more than that – we love it when they are brought down. We build them up only so we can bring them back down to our level, or better, below us.
I think of the number of people this has happened with in the last few years. Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson, and many more have fallen from grace and been unable (so far) to get back into our graces again for all their efforts – not in most cases because they need the money. Most celebrities who fall have a few million stashed away nicely from their earlier projects or from ongoing royalties from sales. Why should any actor be paid upwards of $5,000,000 for making a movie?
The answer is simple. We idolise them. As a result we flock to see their latest work and pay exorbitant amounts of money for a box of popcorn you could make at home for less that $1 – including the petrol to and from the store. This generates income and the actors demand a slice of it. The Marvel movies over the last few years have generated income now measured in the billions, and the actors are (allegedly) paid many millions for their work.
But the thing is, we idolise them.
They become our distraction, our refuge, our safe-place.
Like it or not, they become our gods.
Think about it for a second or two. Many more people go to a movie on a Sunday afternoon than went to church in the morning. And those who went to church for the large part pay more for a movie ticket, jumbo popcorn and a large soda than they left in the offering.
Tell me how that’s different from the worship of Ba’al or Jupiter or Zeus?
We work so we can have enough money to meet our needs and be comfortable, then we go beyond comfort into luxury. Now I have no problem with the wealthy per se, but it’s how that wealth is gained and what is done with it when we have it that’s the issue.
We inherently know we must not create a false idol, and I think that’s why we relish the fall of these celebrities so much. Then we, who created them in the first place, tear them down so we can build another in their place.
And we love to see them fall.
That’s Schadenfreude, and it’s nod Godly.
Herod was guilty of it. He was afraid of the fame John the Baptist achieved, and what Jesus was achieving. His wife demanded John’s head. His people in the court demanded Jesus be condemned. And Herod obliged.
We do the same. Most of the younger movie-going public who will see “Iron Man” and the other movies are too young to remember when Robert Downey Jr was always the guy getting arrested and jailed. I’m happy for him that he’s sober now, but I worry about us.
There’s a place for movies, and even celebrity, as long as we can separate from ourselves the desire to see fame bring someone down.
We even see this desire more in church.
A few years ago there was a spate of leaders in major churches or ministries who fell. Last year we saw it again with the whole Ashley Madison debacle. There’s nothing the World loves more than a fallen celebrity – except a fallen Christian celebrity.
And we are more susceptible to it in the church than we’d like to admit.
The noise that was made when Kevin Prosch stumbled in the mid 90s was only drowned out by the calling for his blood – not repentance. I read a lot of articles about his fall. I know several churches that refused to then use any music he’d written, and one extreme place that refused to play any song he was known to have played. The leaders – not always the Elders in the church, but the influential members – whipped up others of like mind and got their wishes. Then they relished it until they could find someone new to tear down.
Personally, I respected Prosch for his repentance and I have no problem with music he wrote then or continues to today because frankly it’s the heart of the worshipper that matters, not the mind of the composer.
In the last ten years there have been many people fall from grace in the public eye, particularly in the music industry, who were put in the position of idol by the very people who then called for their blood later.
And I can’t think of one person I’ve met who didn’t gossip about the fall of at least one celebrity. Whether we want to admit it or not, there is a part in us that derives satisfaction, even pleasure from the downfall of the famous. Usually the ones who actually didn’t do anything we haven’t done ourselves.
We need to be better than this.
I certainly do.
I’d bet the vast majority of people who read this have cheered at least once when someone we saw as unworthy fell. I’m not talking about Saddam and Bin Laden here. I mean an actor or singer. There was recognition of the tragedy of Heath Ledger and what a loss, but there were those who also said he’d asked for it by living that lifestyle. What lifestyle? The one we gave him. And so many others.
But we give these celebrities their status. Some are famous, some have infamy because of unscrupulous behaviour in business gaining vast fortunes personally before having their company file for bankruptcy and starting another, only to repeat the cycle. Some have celebrity because they have genuine talent that got twisted into something commercial and glorified them rather than their creator. Some are lauded because they are simply related to someone else who is famous.
However they get there, at the final count it’s us that put them there. Some will find a way to hold up under the pressure and be genuinely nice people. Others not so much.
I had the opportunity some years ago to work at a tenpin bowling centre in Torquay, England. During the time I was there the local theatre had several plays and pantomimes run, and often after a long week the cast would come up after the Saturday evening show and play. Consequently, those of us working had the chance to see the cast out of “celebrity” mode (sometimes) and interact with them as human beings. One evening a tall guy came up to the front door and I buzzed it open as the manager behind me called that he was the first of the group from the theatre. He thanked me and the manager came out and the three of us chatted for a while, asked how the run had been and if they’d had good audiences and so forth. Just three guys talking about a week at work. The rest of the group arrived and the tall guy, Colin, went off to play. We locked the doors and I cashed up my till, then went out to help on the floor. As I did, there was Colin standing playing pinball in the arcade. And I realised that the photo on the pinball machine was his face as well. This was Colin Baker who a few years before had played The Doctor in Doctor Who on the BBC, and had been one of my favourite programs at the time. But he was so normal. Just another guy chatting about his job then going to throw 16 pounds of bowling ball down a lane at some pins.
Not all my encounters were as real as that, but that one stuck. I used to be awed by the “big name” speaker at conferences as well. I got cured of that by Mike Yaconelli in 1991 when I nervously asked him to sign the copy of his book I’d just bought. Everyone had these dumb-looking pens with them th
at years that had been given out free by someone. Just a single use pen with a blob of fuzzy cotton and eyes on the lid. I handed book and pen to him and asked him to sign, tripping over my tongue, and apologised muttering I was nervous. He looked at me, put his hand on my shoulder and said “I’d be nervous if I were built like you and had to use this pen!” It shattered the nerves I’d felt and reminded me that this man of God was also a man like me.
That’s what we need to remember.
The people we elevate and worship for their talent be it singing, acting, preaching, writing or anything else you can think of are only flesh and blood. Just like us.
The only difference between me as the writer of this blog and anyone who reads it is the place we are at in our individual walk with Christ. I read articles and books by men like Jesse Duplantis, Andrew Wommack, Dave Duell, John Eldredge, Max Lucado and many others just like any other person might read them. I am taught and inspired by these authors, just like any other reader. Iron sharpens iron, and we have a duty to sharpen one another, to keep our hearts honed for God. Any writer who publishes a blog, an article, a book or any other kind of material is simply someone called to do so by God. Not everyone has the same gifts. Not everyone is an administrator or a counsellor or a helper, but everyone has something of infinite value to contribute to the Body of Christ.
We place men on a pedestal at our own peril in the church. Sooner or later that spot will need to be filled, and you might just be the one called to fill it.
So don’t wait at the foot of the podium for the guy on top to fall so you can devour him and shred his reputation. Rather support the platform he’s standing on and allow him the space to be human by extending Grace towards him the way Christ offers it to us.
And walk away from schadenfreude.
“I have squandered my resistance
For a pocket full of mumbles, such are promises
All lies and jests
Still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest“
Over the last few weeks I’ve been doing something I normally avoid as much as possible.
I’ve been reading the news.
There’s a reason I avoid it normally. Frankly it’s because there’s enough stress and depression in any given issue to make the vulnerable suicidal.
One of the things I’ve been reading about is Donald Trump. He seems to be ubiquitous at the moment. There is simply no escaping articles written about him by his supporters, his critics, his campaign staff, his opponents from the Republican party, his opponents from the Democratic party and the satirical caricatures by most of the cartoonists based anywhere in the world.
I’m going to say something now that will probably make about 50% of people reading this want to stop. Please don’t.
Donald Trump is not the problem.
(There go the Democrats)
The problem is the system that allowed someone with such obvious character flaws to be in a position where he becomes a viable contender for the (arguably) most powerful job post in the world.
I’ve had a couple of online discussions – in the loosest possible sense of that word – about the process. They normally end up with me being told “You’re not American, what does it have to do with you anyway?”
There have been articles praising him for being a straight talker published one day and quotes of his utter gibberish the next.
But somehow he’s winning over much of the electorate in the USA.
He’s declared the Bible to be his favourite book but shown remarkably little knowledge of it when pushed on the subject. He states he has great respect for people of faith, then proposes banning 1.6 billion people from entry to the US because they are Muslim.
Obviously as a Christian writer I’m not going to say I think Islam is right. But I’m also not going to say anyone should ban an entire third of the population of the planet based on their religion from doing or going about lawful business. Let’s face it, the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls are no more impressive because you’re a Western Christian than they would be if you are a middle-eastern Muslim. A canyon is still a canyon.
Imagine the outcry internationally if a potential leader of Egypt proposed monitoring the movements of Christians within their own borders and refusing to allow tourists in to see the pyramids because they were not Muslim.
The problem, like I said, is the system that created Donald Trump.
In Frankenstein, the monster becomes too strong and kills its creator. Dr Jekyll creates Edward Hyde and the persona destroys the good man.
Many works of fiction have similar themes. Even the Marvel movies of recent years show it.
It’s fine in fiction, but art imitates life. It always has. Look at the Sistine Chapel and consider the artistry there. Michaelangelo includes a self-portrait in one section of his own flesh being held on the day of Judgement. He was a product of his time, what we now call the Renaissance. A time when science and religion were not seen as being enemies the way they are today, and people realised science is itself an art.
But today we have a reality that changes too fast for society to keep up. What was unthinkable a generation ago is commonplace today. It’s only 112 years since the Wright brothers flew under power for the first time in December 1903. In that time there have been two World Wars, the rise and fall of Communism and the entry of the “digital” age.
Western society has changed as rapidly as technology. And like technological change, it’s not always been for the better.
Which brings us back to the title of this entry: What’s the Problem?
America was founded after the revolution rejected taxation without representation in the British Parliament which answered to the king. The wealthiest men and women for the most part were the ones who came in early enough to have vast swathes of land in the New World. Many of them became the leaders of the rebellion and the founders of what became the USA.
But I’m sure you know this.
In the 240(ish) years since the Declaration of Independence was recognised and the British surrendered the society that Washington first led and was fine tuned by Lincoln after the Civil War has changed dramatically.
The modern system reflects the values of the day. It’s truly frightening when hate-speech and back-stabbing are what make an individual a viable candidate for the office. And no, this time I’m not just referring to Trump. Individuals who claim to represent the views of the party they are members of descend to the level of street fights and personal attacks rather than policies that they believe would better serve their electorate.
And that’s the problem.
Over the last 40 years Western society has been led by the American way. The country that once was a moral compass for the world in many ways, trying to give freedom and security and prosperity to everyone became self-centred. It happened while Reagan was President and Thatcher was PM in England. Looking out for yourself first became the motto to live by. Greed is good was the understanding, and society began to decay.
Trump is the natural outcome of that thought process. So is Clinton.
The problem is actually very simple, and one we need to look at as Christians.
The problem is that today politicians are in it for themselves. They look to gain power for selfish ambition and greed rather than the greater good.
Jesus said to be the leader we needed to become servant to all. He demonstrated it by wrapping a towel round His waist and washing the feet of all 12 disciples – ever notice that Judas Iscariot was included? He went on to open His arms to embrace anyone who would come to Him, and (to paraphrase Max Lucado) to show He’d never close His arms He had them nailed open.
Leadership used to be a burden. Heavy is the head that wears the crown was accurate. Today we see increasingly “leaders” who are openly corrupt and care nothing about who they stand on to reach the top and what they do to stay there. The young idealist who led the resistance in Rhodesia has become the tyrant that bankrupted the country as Zimbabwe. The sacrifice and selflessness of Mandela has been overthrown by the corruption (allegedly) of Zuma in South Africa. The hopes of JFK in his speech asking citizens to ask what they can do for their country have been shattered in the years since 1963.
Persecution is on the rise in the West, and dismissed by the media because it takes a different form in America than it does in Iraq and Syria. It’s ignored by the church as well, and many organisations founded during the evangelical rise of the 60s and 70s have been caught up in the wave of “prosperity gospel” teachings that focus on personal gain not Salvation.
I used to watch the TV show “Angel” regularly. In it, the antagonists say that the final apocalypse has already begun, not some huge battle fought openly but rather evil quietly chipping away at humanity and destroying it by undermining it. Maybe not the most theologically sound show, but the point stands nonetheless.
Satan wants us to forget he exists. When we do, there appears to be no need for Salvation. The most liberal say we must forgive every time, but make no call for actual repentance. Instead we get half-hearted (if that) pseudo-apologies from the “leaders” caught in borderline criminal activities and let them carry on to go straight back to what they were doing. If there’s no devil then the argument
must be made that everyone goes to heaven and there’s no concept of Hell. Religion has replaced Faith and no longer needs the Holy Spirit. Our leaders do not feel accountable to a higher power.
And we bought into it because it’s an easy way to live.
That’s the Problem.
Something I was asked recently got me thinking about a talk I heard quite a number of years ago now.
The question: “What makes you think God will use you and Eagle’s Wing Ministries? I mean, who are you? Noboy’s ever heard of you!”
This is a condensed summary of the conversation points that followed the enquiry…
Firstly, I need to acknowledge that the person asking the question was right. Outside the few good folks who have written to me or the majority of other good folks who visit this blog and never post a comment or contact me directly I guess nobody ever heard of me.
Frankly I think that’s not a bad thing.
There are advantages to personal anonymity. There’s a reason I have a logo for this site and the ministry isn’t my own name. Actually there’s a couple:
- I don’t want my face to be what people remember
- The vision I had for this ministry is bigger than just me
Basically I’m actually not important. I don’t mind if people forget my name or even if they met me as long as anything they got from any message on this site or at a service where I spoke or in an abstract random personal conversation that touched their heart with something from God stuck with them and blessed them.
I first had the vision for Eagle’s Wing Ministries to be a resource for the Church over 20 years ago. The thought scared the daylights out of me so I tried to ignore it, put it off and forget about it. But God has a habit of keeping nudging you to do what He’s called you to do.
What scares me is actually the thought of being “famous” for being a Christian. I’ve seen several leaders have their ministries torn apart because they made a single mistake. And I’m not referring to anything as crazy as the whole “Ashley Madison” epidemic last year. A single mis-filed receipt shut down one ministry I knew of with charges of tax evasion. Another leader lost his ministry when it was found out he’d had an affair – several years earlier and before he gave his life to Christ.
I have no desire for fame. It can become infamy too easily and lead to pride and jealousy. Any second now and start talking like Yoda I will…
That being said, I refuse to try to hide anything from my past. I’ve made mistakes, and since I became a Christian at the age of 13 most of them have been made since I became a Christian. Anything outside my own mind is open for scrutiny from others, and my thoughts are criticised harshly by myself, so as far as my past goes I’m covered.
I also expect I will make mistakes going forward. I’m not perfect and I don’t expect I will escape change as I get older an learn more. In fact, I’ll be alarmed if I don’t change over time. My best example thus far is my categorical statement in 1997 to a friend that I would “never set foot in Africa”. By 2003 I was living in Cape Town.
The biggest thing that stopped me from doing anything related to this thing we call “ministry” was that first part of the question.
Why would God use me?
It’s a fair question. I had no theological training when I felt God call me, and I still have never been to seminary. My degree is in business and my work experience in customer service for the most part.
So why would God use me?
Then I thought of this guy I’d heard of a while back. He was a nobody, just an ordinary guy running his own business to put food on the table for his family. He worked with a couple of other guys and together they did ok. Loved their families, were good providers.
Then one day he had an encounter with God and everything changed for him. He went into ministry full time eventually and had a massive impact on the town he lived in, and then the area surrounding it. Eventually he had a ministry that impacted the world.
Just an ordinary guy. With a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee.
Peter. Just an ordinary guy.
Just like any of the rest of us. Why would God use Peter? He wasn’t a great leader when Jesus met him. He wasn’t an orator or Rabbi. He had a knack for opening his mouth to change feet. He denied Christ.
But when the chips finally came down, there was just one quality that Peter had that every Christian leader in history has had.
He was available.
It’s as simple as that.
But being available isn’t easy. Like I said already, it’s over 20 years since I felt the pull to create Eagle’s Wing Ministries. I was very enthusiastic at first. I registered the domain name on this “new” thing called the internet – there was no “Facebook” back then and the most common search engine was “Altavista” as far as I know. I registered, developed what I felt was the plan to move forward and then started with the doubt.
I let the domain name lapse and the concept became a dusty file in the back of my desk. I met a girl and just as I began selling insurance for a living and we got engaged. We had a very intense few months and then I stopped selling insurance and went to work for an agency employed by Directory Enquiries in England. I lost that job at the end of the initial training period and by the end of the week the girl had broken off the engagement. My dad got cancer a few weeks later and died just a few months after that.
And I stopped being available for use by God. I moved church the week before my dad died and I just sat for some time. I needed to heal emotionally and Spiritually. Both of these are a work in progress!
But some time after I met the lady who became my wife I learned to be available again. This time without the “I can do this” mentality that I realise now was what stopped me before. The domain name had long since been taken by another group so I did a search for variations and came up dry. Then I looked for the original name again. www.eagleswingministries.org – and it had become available again! So I re-purchased the name and began this blog.
This time I determined I would not quit unless God specifically showed me I should.
In the first four months of blogging I think I had a total of about 30 hits. Then it crawled up and reached about 30 a week, then levelled out. For over a year I kept writing and a few people each month read what I offered. Then suddenly about mid 2015 something unexpected happened. I had 1500 hits in a month. I couldn’t believe it. There’s not been a month below 1900 hits since and most have been well over 2000.
I realised I had shown myself to be available.
I may not be the world’s greatest writer, I know this. My insights are drawn from the spiritual battlefield I’ve been fighting on for 30 years not from some dusty book in a sterile university environment, but by getting my hands dirty and doing what nobody else could do the way God had put in me to do it.
So I write. Sometimes I counsel informally.
But mostly I befriend broken and hurting human beings. I offer them what I have to give, a touch from God through words and actions.
Anyone can do it. You hear of a single mother who lost her job and needs to feed her child so you give her groceries and help her find another job. A complete stranger for no reason starts telling their life story of how they were abused as a child and have been raped as an adult more than once, so you become the ear she’s been looking for, someone to tell her (or him) that it wasn’t her fault.
But we’re human too.
I have a nasty temper. I get angry easily – especially if the wronged party is a friend or a child. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s what we do with that anger that ultimately defines us. When I was younger I didn’t get in fights often because people refused to engage physically against me. My temper – which I’m told may be hereditary – is both sudden and violent rage. When I see it coming I can channel it into some very effective p
rayer. Mostly it catches me off guard and I blow up at people I love and care deeply for. I can count on one hand the number of people who have seen me a bit angry, but at this time in my life there’s nobody who’s present who has seen what I know I’m capable of.
And it scares me.
I spend much time running on fear and anger and not enough on Joy and Love as Jesus bought for us, but like I said before, I’m a work in progress.
We all are.
Pick a sin. We all have them. Lust, greed, idolatry. The list is long but it allows me to make sense of myself and my situation.
We are a people who fall short of being capable of receiving love. It’s unhealthy.
But God doesn’t look for the capable. He looks for the available.
I have a friend who I used to work with who is going through a very tough time right now. I feel responsible because I was put in a position where legally I had no choice but to fire her from the job she loved and – once she arrived – she was exceptionally good at. She’s a single mum who is searching for God. She even came to church with my wife and myself a few weeks ago and was touched by the Holy Spirit. Today she told me she wants to come again with us because the last time was so very meaningful for her. The punchline to this is that the service she joined us for I had wanted to crawl under my seat and disappear in because I didn’t think it was a “good” service for someone who was coming for the first time.
Just shows how wrong we can be about something.
Moses felt he couldn’t speak well. Peter denied Christ. Paul had concerns at the start because he’d overseen the stoning of Stephen. I’m prepared to guess that the nicknames “Sons of Thunder” wasn’t given to James and his brother John because they were calm and level headed.
I once read a business appraisal of the character traits of the 12 disciples as if they were being considered for a CEO post. The only one who fitted what the average business in the World looks for was Judas Iscariot. Yes, the article was satirical in nature, but it also as written by a CEO who had become a Christian. I have a degree in Business Management, not Theology, and my education and experience tells me that the writer was right in more cases than he would be wrong.
Various times over the years I’ve seen companies put Shakespeare into a modern setting, both in cinema by setting his words into modern dress (think Romeo+Juliet with Leonardo Di Caprio) and borrowing the storyline (West Side Story), as well as modern dress performances of Hamlet, MacBeth and Henry IV (part 1) at assorted theatres over the years. It works.
But I’ve never seen a production of the story of the life of Jesus that felt real when brought into the modern scene. I don’t doubt that Jesus would be rejected by the majority of established dogmas wrapped in the cloak of a denomination. He would be seen as subversive and divisive by the establishment, both secular and religious – and they’d be right.
But there is something about the story that needs Jesus to be in 1st Century Jerusalem. God could have picked any time after the last prophet to place Jesus into the world. He picked that time because the right people to form the foundation of the Church were there. It wasn’t an accident.
The people He chose were all available. Only Paul had a theological background, and he spent the first few years before he stepped out on his journeys sitting at the feet of an Elder of the Church being taught. He had to un-learn everything he thought he knew.
But he was available. He based his life on two questions: “Who are you?” and “What do you want me to do?”
Paul was an ordinary guy. So was Peter.
So are you and I.
Be available. Let God have the ability.