The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God
Ephesians 5:1

Today, a story in pictures.

To celebrate the first day of summer vacation, my girls and I with Grammy along to help, hopped in the van and made the trip to the newly opened Children’s Museum of Virginia.  We had toured every exhibit, played with every experiment, explored every room and we arrived at the final destination—a room set up as a stage with costumes in the corner, lighting and sound effects, and a puppet theater.

My oldest daughter first tries an octopus costume and then abandons it for a grass skirt and lei.  Then, like a superstar, she steps on the stage and begins to dance.  Grammy tells her to, “Use your hands to tell a story.”

Concluding her puppet show, my next daughter drops the prince and princess off her hands and runs to the costume corner.  Climbing into her own grass skirt, she then pops a lei over her head, steps on the stage and begins to dance just like her big sister.

Grammy and I watch the show and I snap pictures.  In the stroller sits my baby girl, tired and hungry.  She’s cuddling with her blanket now and ready for lunch and a nap.  We didn’t realize she was watching sisters one and two, but she was.  Climbing out of the stroller, she dashes over to the last grass skirt in the pile of costumes and wraps it around her little self.  I help tie it on her too-tiny waist and she then scoots away from me so that she can also step on the stage and dance.  She sways from side to side, waving her hands gently to the left, now to the right.   Hula dancing with the big girls.

Grammy tells the older sisters, “Look how she followed you even when we didn’t think she was really watching.  She wants to do what you girls do.  You always need to choose the right thing so that you set an example for her.”

They danced and hardly appreciated the wisdom in those words.  Make good decisions so those watching can follow your example.

To the Corinthian church, Paul wrote, “Therefore I urge you to imitate me” (1 Corinthians 4:16).  “Do what I do,” he says.  It seems prideful at best, almost blasphemous, surely dangerous to set himself up as a model for others. It’s context that brings clarity here.  In the same letter, Paul later writes, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1) and that’s the key really.  Paul strove to be a living, breathing, walking around, interacting with others example of Christ and because of that, others could see Christ in Him, follow Christ in Him.  He practiced what he wrote to the church in Ephesus, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1).

Yesterday, our Pastor asked the congregation, “Who has been an example of faith to you?”  Around the sanctuary, people called out names.  I thought of many who model Christ to me and then I remembered Mama Zello, one of the first life-examples to me besides my mom, a woman I remember to this day and who I consciously think of often as I read my Bible.  I remember the church service when I was about 11 years old during which the pastor of our fairly large congregation asked his momma to stand up.  She stood delicately to her feet, a “seasoned” woman of the faith whom I had seen many times.  She was so faithful to be at church even as age and sickness could have made it difficult.  She gave hugs and smiles to others generously.  On that Sunday, the Pastor asked in his microphone from his pulpit, “Mom, how many times have you read the Bible all the way through?”   And she answered—one time for every year she had lived.  In her later years, she had read the Bible through two times in a year to make up for the years before she could read as a child.

Just ponder that for a moment.  Imagine on your 80th birthday having read the Bible 80 times.

I was inspired.  Not by Biblical scholarship.  Mama Zello’s Bible reading was not head knowledge without life change.  She read the Bible over and over not to show off, not to stuff more information into her brain, not to attain some worldly success or make it into the Guinness Book of World Records.  She did it because she loved God and wanted to know Him more intimately so that her life could reflect Him.  Now, her son had risen “up and called her blessed” (Proverbs 31:28).  For me sitting in that sanctuary seat, it meant that the Bible mattered, really mattered in life, that when I stood up as a woman of 80, my greatest life accomplishment should be that I loved God’s Word that passionately and let it stir up in me a love for others.

She lived a life of example to me even when she didn’t know I was watching.  I was just a preteen girl sitting next to her parents in church on a Sunday morning and yet seeing and knowing this woman of faith impacts my life even now.

Do you live like that?  Do you imitate Christ so closely that others can imitate you—not worship you, idolize you, or adore you—-but see and follow Christ in you?  Does knowing you make others want to know more about God?

And, do you have an example like that in your life?  Someone whose life you can look at and say, “By following her, I am following a mentor who will teach me about God” or “that’s what I want to be like when I grow up.”   Certainly we must be careful not to place these examples on impossible pedestals and treat them as demigods.  Instead, we remember that in all their humanness, they have traveled with Christ a little farther than we’ve made it so far on our journey.  So, we can place our toes confidently into the impressions in the sand their feet have made and know we are simultaneously journeying to Christ-likeness.

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Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2011 Heather King

Losing a Superhero

At the moment, the most popular show in my house with three daughters doesn’t involve princesses or pink ponies.  It’s Batman, as in the 1960’s Adam West Batman, complete with puns, homemade-looking costumes, and the announcer telling you to stay tuned, “same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!”  at the end of each cliffhanger episode.  We especially love the moment in each show when Robin exclaims, “Holy Popcorn, Batman!” or “Holy Snowball, Batman!”

No matter how impossible the situation is, Batman escapes the clutches of the enemy and averts disaster, always at the last possible moment.  The villain, thinking he or she has gotten the best of the hero, gloats and brags about defeating the “Dynamic Duo” only to learn of Batman’s miraculous escape.   In the final fistfight scene that concludes every episode, my daughters and I yell out the words splatted across the screen with each  punch—“Pow!!  Orff!!  Zonk!!” and then watch as Commissioner Gordon and Officer O’Hara congratulate the Caped Crusader and his Boy Wonder and carry the bad guys off to jail.

Superheroes and hero worship.  It seems like such a kid thing, but it really isn’t.  Somehow, even as adults, we often unwittingly begin to worship people, gifts, goals, and awards—all great things, but nonetheless things that take our focus off God and elevate people to positions they were never meant to occupy in our heart.

We do this with Christian speakers and authors, sometimes becoming more excited about them or a book they’ve written than the Bible itself.  We do this with mentors, pastors and Sunday School teachers, expecting them to be perfect all the time.  We do this with ministry goals and spiritual gifts that we seek after so intently that we stop seeking after God alone.

Or, maybe you are the teacher or mentor that others look up to and you feel the pressure at times to fulfill everyone’s expectations of perfection.  You can’t ever be tired, frustrated, down or lose your temper, because you’ll disappoint others.  So often, they are unfortunately placing their faith or trust in you and your ability, and not the God you serve.   Perhaps you’ve learned that the top of a pedestal is a pretty lonely and treacherous place to be.

Maybe you, as a Christian, feel you need to be perfect all the time.  We don’t want others to think we’re hypocrites, so we try to do everything just right.  But the thing about us Christians is that we’re human, we’re sinners, and we mess up sometimes—that’s why we needed a Savior in the first place.   While we strive for personal holiness and desire to become more like Christ, sometimes we need to let people see our struggles, not so they think we’re hypocrites, but so that they can see you don’t have to be perfect to come to God!

I believe that God knew exactly how apt we humans are to transform ordinary people into superheroes, how we sometimes place our trust in their leadership rather than God’s, or how we become so dependent on them, that we sometimes stop seeking God for ourselves.  Certainly, this happened for the Israelites with Moses.  Deuteronomy 34:10-12 tells us:

Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt — to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land.  For no one has ever shown the mighy power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel (NIV).

Moses had led the Israelites for decades.  He had been their judge, their guide, their miracle worker, their intermediary with God, their lawgiver, and their rescuer from slavery.

And then he died.

It would have been so natural for the Israelites to set up the grave of this much-loved leader as a shrine or place of worship.   In their humanness, they most likely would have made him a Superhero, the Batman of his time.  God, knowing this propensity of the human heart, “buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is” (Deuteronomy 34:6, NIV).  He buried Moses Himself, privately, keeping the exact location a secret.

God did something similar for the prophet Isaiah.  In Isaiah 6:1-2, 8, the prophet writes:  “ In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple . . . Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’  And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!'” (NIV).

We read in 2 Chronicles 26 that Uzziah was a great king.  Isaiah had probably grown up hearing of Uzziah’s accomplishments—how the king had rebuilt cities and towers, defeated the enemy Philistines, restored territory to Judah and amassed a powerful army.  Uzziah was a superhero king, who unfortunately let all of his success go to his head.  Ultimately, “his pride led to his downfall” (2 Chronicles 26:16, NIV).

Instead of allowing only the appointed priests to burn the incense within the temple, Uzziah entered that holy place also and burned the incense himself.  The priests confronted him and in that very moment, he was struck with leprosy.  Uzziah lived the rest of his life outside the palace, cut off from his people, while his son ruled in his place.

Uzziah had been a superhero king and his fall from that place of pride was devastating. Yet, it is in this moment, with a human hero displaced, that God reveals Himself to Isaiah in amazing glory and Isaiah receives His call to ministry. Isaiah’s call is directly linked with “the year that King Uzziah died.”  We don’t know what Isaiah’s ministry would have been like without Uzziah’s death at this time, but perhaps God had to remove this superhero king in order to capture all of Isaiah’s focus and attention.

Have you ever lost a hero?   Maybe a mentor died or moved away.  Maybe a favorite spiritual teacher sinned in a public and devastating way.  Isaiah lost a hero, and subsequently saw God more fully.  While your loss may be great, give your hurt and grief to God and allow Him to reclaim all of your focus and worship.

Or maybe you are the hero.  Do you feel pressured to be perfect all the time?  It’s hard work, but continually point people back to Jesus.  Don’t let them elevate you to superhero status.  Be open, vulnerable and real with them, sharing your struggles and mess-ups, so that they can place their trust only in God.

In the end, our human superheroes will always disappoint us.  Batman may have saved the day in every episode, but no person in the flesh can be perfect all the time.  We ourselves will face a humbling and hurtful fall if others make heroes out of us.

Instead, we must place all of our hope and trust in God alone and give Him all of our worship and attention.  As the Psalmist writes, “My soul, wait in silence for God only, For my hope is from Him” (Psalm 62:5, NASB).

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Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2011 Heather King