There’s a meme that’s doing the rounds of the Internet at the moment. There’s a stick man called Bill. The text that accompanies the picture of him describes how he does something sensible and encourages people to be like Bill instead of responding with hysteria, following the crowd, doing something that annoys people, etc. For example:
And there are now ‘generators’ that can generate ‘Be like Bill’ memes and you can insert your own name in them.
And there’s a mini-backlash of ‘don’t be like Bill, be yourself’ memes.
And I have also seen a ‘be like Jesus’ meme.
And that got me thinking. I wonder if anyone would sign up for the following.
Jesus loves people.
Jesus hates it when things get between people and God.
Jesus gets really angry when it’s religious people who get in the way.
Jesus is smart.
Be like Jesus.
Jesus speaks a lot.
Jesus tells good stories.
Jesus tells lots of stories about how love of money can distract you what really matters in life.
Jesus is not distracted from God.
Be like Jesus.
Jesus has lots of friends.
Jesus’ friends say lots of things on his behalf.
Jesus wishes they wouldn’t put words in his mouth.
Jesus keeps it simple: love God, love people.
Be like Jesus.
Jesus invented church.
Jesus wanted it to show people what he is like.
Jesus didn’t want it to become a religion.
Jesus said ‘love people’.
Be like Jesus.
Jesus upset religious people.
Jesus called religious people ‘hypocrites’
Jesus told his friends off when they became religious.
Jesus got killed because he upset religious people.
Regular bloggists among you will know that I often refer to Christians (and churches) as ‘free samples of Jesus’. It was pointed out to me today that I have never really said exactly what I mean by that, so this bloggage is an attempt to rectify that…
In essence what I mean is that as God’s Spirit works in us he changes us. It’s often subtle, sometimes dramatic, but the changes make us a little bit more like Jesus. We become a bit more loving, slightly more inclusive, a smidgeon more gracious… and a bit less intolerant, slightly less religious, a smidgeon less irritable. There are a lot more ways in which we are changed. The Bible shows us a contrast between old us and renewed us:
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
That’s from Galatians 5. Part of being free samples of Jesus is that aspects of our life that used to be in the first list are diminishing and those that are in the second list are increasing as God’s Spirit acts in our life. I often think that the second list is a good summary of the character of Jesus, so if those things are being enhanced in us we are becoming better free samples of him to those around us. It happens in us as we ‘keep in step’ with God’s Spirit. Following Jesus is not just an idea, a concept, or a philosophy – it is a way of life. It has implications for every area of our life.
What it actually looks like will be different for each of us, and the same for all of us. It will be different because we all have different experiences, meet people in different places, and have to respond and react to different circumstances. But it will be the same because we are asking God’s Spirit to help us to emulate Jesus in those experiences, with those people and in response to those circumstances.
A free sample of Jesus might respond to someone who cuts them up in their car by smiling and offering a quick ‘bless you’ prayer rather than gesticulating and complaining.
A free sample of Jesus might receive angry criticism with gentle grace and pray for the person who is so angry.
A free sample of Jesus might offer to work extra unpaid hours at work sometimes in response to the boss reducing the length of their lunch break to increase productivity.
A free sample of Jesus might cook a meal for someone else without wanting or expecting anything in return.
A free sample of Jesus might well not only be nice to those who are nice to them, but will seek to bless everyone – perhaps especially those who are cruel to them.
A while back there was a flurry of activity selling wristbands with WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) on them, and I have wondered if all I am doing is re-packaging that. Perhaps, but you may be able to discern in the examples above that I have tried to take Jesus’ teaching and examples from his life and apply them to 21st Century living. To be a good free sample of Jesus means that we have to know what he is like in order to emulate him. If you want to be like him, starting finding out about him…
I am not sure when I first came across the matrix that is supposed to help you prioritise
I have always found it helpful, but there are a couple of problems:
Who decides whether something is urgent or important? What I consider important, for example, may be considered unimportant by others.
What happens to the not urgent and not important stuff? Do we ever get around to it?
If you put this matrix onto the gospel narratives about Jesus it doesn’t seem to fit. Surely going to his friend Lazarus when he was gravely ill was urgent and important, but Jesus waited a few more days and Lazarus died (okay, yes Jesus did raise him back to life later).
In the midst of a crowd, on the way to see a sick girl, a woman touched his cloak. Surely that’s unimportant and not urgent, especially compared to the child? But Jesus stops and asks who did it in order to bless that woman whose faith in Jesus healed her. (And yes, later Jesus did heal the girl, who had died by the time he got there).
But he seems to spend a lot of his time with people whose needs were considered unimportant by the majority. He got angry with his friends who considered blessing children to be unimportant and not urgent and turned them away.
Get the idea?
So, onto the matrix above I would like to superimpose several layers. One is what I consider urgent and important. Another is what the church I serve considers urgent and important and the third is what God considers urgent and important. Where they match – hallelujah! Where they don’t, God’s matrix takes priority.
I hope that you did not feel too short-changed by yesterday’s bloggage. I could not resist being a bit cheeky and hope that it might have at least caused the corners of your mouth to curve upwards slightly. Today I am getting a bit more serious…
A while ago I wrote a poem about prayer-envy (it’s the prayer pome if you scroll down on that page). I could have written a similar one about preaching envy, pastoring envy, memory envy and so on… There are so many people whose gifts as Ministers are so much better than mine. I am not saying this out of false humility (my family will tell you that!). I am not saying this because I actually have the envy I have hinted at above. And I am not saying this because I am have issues around self-esteem. I am saying it because it is true: there are many Ministers who are better at these things than I am.
But while I may not be as good as them, God has still called me, equipped me and wants me to get on with being the best I can be as his Spirit encourages, trains, supports, inspires and transforms me. He has given me the array of gifts he has given me in order to fulfil the task to which he has called me: and he wants to help me to make the most of them. He wants me to learn, to grow, to improve, to emulate what I see of Jesus in others and his Spirit is at work in me to help that happen.
And that’s where the rubber hits the road. I should not try to be the other Ministers, I should not try to do things in the same way that they do them. But if I see something Christ-like in them I should ask for God’s help to be like that. It’s not about emulating behaviour, but about character-transformation.
Sometimes it seems to me that we make an unnatural division between spiritual fruit and spiritual gifts. God gives all of us gifts and talents. But believe it or not we can use them in ways that are ungodly – in ways that are unlike Jesus. He wants us to use them lovingly, joyfully, peacefully, patiently, kindly, revealing his goodness, faithfully, gently and with godly self-control. God’s spiritual gifts and fruit are intrinsically linked. If I can do that more and more I will be happy, content and relaxed.