When You are Overwhelmed by your Self-Importance

I mean ‘overwhelmed’ in the ironic sense…

There’s an odd culture in church, a dangerous attitude where certain members who are perceived as holy become icons amongst their contemporaries. This turns into a ‘hype’ of sorts, and before long the person has acquired celebrity status; they will be found at every church event, their picture is in every album; people from North London to South Manchester know who they are. They have thousands of friends on Facebook; some so popular they have to rotate people, deleting some to add others, because they’ve reached the friend count limit. To be a part of this person’s true friendship circle, you have to be a very special person, and this automatically makes you important, just for being seen as important by the celebrity.

This behaviour is displayed more explicitly among the youth. My friends and I call these celebrities the “A-Listers”. Normally, the A-List is filled with singers and musicians, but there are also preachers on there, their girlfriends; socialites; people from old Adventist families; Bible workers and missionaries, and those who have set up their own ministries which have gained a following. It’s an interesting phenomenon to witness, but the sycophants that follow the A-Listers are what worry me. Even if they think they’re being sincere in their attempts to approach this special group, to find role models in church, their actions can be the downfall of others.

I bear no grudges against these popular people, for of course, they didn’t nominate themselves to this position, but even in a place like church a culture of celebrity exists and sometimes, even the most unsociable introverts are thrust into the limelight. But that meekness and humility of character can very easily warp into something ugly when you’re forever followed, praised by others, complimented on your talents, told how amazing you just are as a person; and everything you say is taken so seriously and dwelt upon. It’s almost as if your words become a gospel of their own… And then you start to believe you really are important. You are no longer a vessel surrendering to God to be filled, but you have filled yourself with the compliments of others. Your words are ambrosia: people taste them and receive strength.

It comes to the point when you feel the need to admonish for the sake of admonishing; filled with a zeal given to you by your peers, it is now your duty to show everyone where they’ve gone wrong. You could actually go onto Facebook or Twitter, write something as mundane as “Baa Baa black sheep”, and your followers would believe it has some esoteric meaning; they’ll just assume you’re so deep that they need to decipher the meaning of your sentence. Why is the sheep black? Is that a symbol for sin? Are we the sheep, like in the parable of the lost sheep, instead we’re not lost, we’re saturated in sin, but completely oblivious so we only talk in babble, which is what our sinful words sound like to God…. (???)

You get where I’m going? I’ve seen this attitude. It’s very unattractive for a person to believe that they are so important that everything they say must be from God, even when it truly isn’t. I’ve read some ludicrous statuses on Facebook where I’m literally peering deep into the screen, utterly perplexed, and all I see are commenters praising a statement that is quite spiritually questionable. This person, this A-Lister, has only reached this level of pride because they were thrust onto a golden stage and made into an idol. And because no one has challenged them, they have stopped listening to the Holy Spirit, to the point where their very sermons are an abomination, because the words came from a selfish place.

To conclude: there’s nothing wrong with encouraging people you can see are doing well, but it’s always important to know when to give God credit when it’s due. If someone is clearly walking on the right path, it’s because of the Holy Spirit, not because of anything they have done within themselves. Once you realise that, you will stop looking to others to start changing your own attitude about things, and start looking to God.

Because these church celebrities are as fragile and as prone to sinful ways as you are.

The Right Way to Pray

Is there such a thing?

I actually wanted to talk about Independent Women, but something happened today that really put me in a sour mood for a good few hours…

I was asked to do the closing prayer at Sabbath School today. I actually hate praying in public: the words never come out; I get tongue-tied and I forget most of what I have to say. A few months ago I had been asked to do the pastoral prayer and I was dreading it until my Sabbath School leader suggested I write it down, so that I cover all the bases and don’t forget anything. Since then, this has been my way of doing public prayers before the church. I pray before I write the actual prayer and pray after, I pray throughout for inspiration. It has never been a problem before and it alleviates some of the stress on my part.

Today, I did my closing prayer and a few minutes afterwards a visitor from the Netherlands asked me to see him outside. Then he pretty much berated me for reading the prayer! He told me that I must never do that, and that God would give me the words to say. He said that prayer should always just come from the heart and not be prepared beforehand. I calmly told him that I heard a seminar once where it was argued that preparing prayers were not unBiblical, because in the same way one would prepare a sermon to speak before the church (and a sermon is also something that “comes from the heart”, with God leading it), one could also prepare a prayer. Which was true, I can’t remember the exact seminar, but I know it exists because that particular message was relayed to me.

As soon as I had said this, he looked embarrassed for telling me off; shuffled away and said “Oh sorry, I’m from the Netherlands so I don’t really know.”

You “don’t really know?” And what’s coming from the Netherlands got to do with it?

Huh?

This is why we should be cautious of people who say their opinions on religious matters with such conviction. If I hadn’t had the seminar to back me up, he would have made me feel really stupid and I would have had a completely negative outlook of my prayer life. All it took was a couple words from me for him to admit he didn’t really know what he was talking about. If only Jim Jones and David Koresh had had the same challengers. Yes, I am taking it a step further than what really happened, but when it comes to religion people are easily swayed, which is something I’ve seen a lot of recently in my own church. One person comes along, with no credentials, says something slightly “grey” with enough confidence, and then everyone starts to get confused.

Beware of such people!

Anyway, I felt really cheesed off after this man spoke to me and I have to admit I treated the Sabbath in a terrible way; I even went off to the cemetery to sulk! God forgive me.

Is there a “right” way to pray? Or are we too used to praying traditions?

The mind wanders…

 

A Text for Sabbath.

 

Don’t, by the way, read too much into the differences here between men and women. Neither man nor woman can go it alone or claim priority. Man was created first, as a beautiful shining reflection of God—that is true. But the head on a woman’s body clearly outshines in beauty the head of her “head,” her husband. The first woman came from man, true—but ever since then, every man comes from a woman! And since virtually everything comes from God anyway, let’s quit going through these “who’s first” routines.

1 Corinthians 11:10-12, The Message.

 

A text I really need after how I felt yesterday. I know that I create a lot of the gender politics in my head and I’m always on the defensive. Sometimes, though, you don’t know who to trust. It seems as though to be a Godly woman is to be a woman of the 1950s. It makes me irrational, I guess. I told my brother that I wasn’t going to get married because I don’t think I’d like it. He said ‘you can’t tar everyone with the same brush’. So I guess I’m also guilty of generalising men sometimes. They’re obviously not all bad.

At the end of the day, though, these things aren’t important. My salvation means more to me. For now, I’ll concentrate on my marriage with Jesus—because I honestly can’t be asked for all this gender hype.

I’m tired.

The Venus Trap

I told you to be a good girl and make sure your dress was starched for church. You sat there with acid in your look, but you obeyed.

Because you were good and sweet then.

I ensured that you didn’t wear the make up and oils of the heathen women, so as not to contaminate the eyes of innocent men. I always knew your body was too shapely–rounded–like the curves of a loveheart, the arcs culminating into a point of desire. A soft, rose coloured Venus Trap set to enslave the souls of wandering brothers. You remained untouched, untampered.

Because you listened to me then.

I told you to shut up when the following were speaking:

Men.
Elders.
Pastors.
Friends.
People who were smarter than you and prettier than you and understood their Bibles and the importance of obedience.

You were nice then. Understanding.

But one day, your star fell and you plummeted from Grace.

When that happened, you never returned.

 

Elijah

You cut yourself again
and I saw lines of scarlet
digging trenches along your arms
so that they spilled over.
The ground was decorated in your
essence. It rained into the dust
and formed pools at your feet
but you didn’t care
because your eyes were cast upwards
upwards
at a God that wasn’t there.
How did the clouds look to you that day?
And I,
I sat and watched
as the choir chanted to him
but he didn’t come for you
and your altar remained dry.

I sat and watched.
Because Mine was coming.
And I wanted you all to see.

I’ve Never Sinned in My Life

I just wanted you to know
that she was a harlot
was, is and will forever be
because I wasn’t her only one.

Yep, I ‘ve heard a lot about her antics,
how she wears tight skirts in church
and blush on her cheeks
and eyeliner, perfect
like an Egyptian
so that she stands out
like a star amongst the pews

So it wasn’t my fault that I took her
because she had forced my hands
to touch her in that way
with her base, blatant seduction
a modern day Delilah
transforming Church into Sodom and Gomorrah

Just remember this:
It was her sin. Not mine.
Pray that she begs God for forgiveness
and understand her place as a woman:
silent, subjective, humble
and pure. Let her stay in the back
whilst the men discuss her habits
in business meeting.

So next time you see me on the pulpit
giving my sermon,
feel sorry for me
because I was tricked into playing her game.
Remember that I am an upstanding man
and that I give double my tithes
and I help clean the church
and I wear the best suit in the house.

When you see me take my seat
next to my wife and my children,
remember
that I’ve never sinned in my life.