Be careful of pedestals
We have heroes.
These are the people we look up to, admire, emulate, and borderline worship. It may be an athlete, a politician, or your father or mother. It can be devastating when one of those heroes falls off his or her white steed; when they prove to have feet of clay. They seemed immortal, above the faults and failures of the mere humans with whom we interact daily. But then they are caught in some scandal, or they do something way too human, and our image of them is dealt a mortal blow. We may then become disillusioned, jaded, and bereft of hope. The one human we thought most perfect, the one who would never let us down proved to be imperfect, or worse. They fell from that pedestal upon which we had them perched, and tumbled violently to the earth, the cold, hard earth of mere mortals. In their fall, they knocked us from our feet.
Hero worship is dangerous like that.
Years ago, a friend told me a story about a man he held in high regard. The man was a member of a prominent gospel quartet, one of the biggest of the day. I will not name the quartet or the man because this is secondhand information. By the time he recounted the story to me, my friend was the pastor of a vibrant Fort Worth church. He told me that this quartet had come to town some years before. A friend got him tickets to the concert and a backstage pass. He made a beeline for the member of the band he most wanted to meet. He found the man nursing a whiskey, red-eyed, and with slurred speech, though his time to take the stage was but an hour away.
My friend, a teetotaler whose father had been a drunk, was devastated. This man he held in such high regard appeared to be a rude, foul-mouthed lush, who took the stage to sing gospel songs while drunk.
“Lesson learned,” he told me. “From that day on, I never put another person on a pedestal.”
I was a not-quite-twenty-year-old youth minister when I heard the story. It did not keep me from keeping certain people on the pedestals where I placed them, nor from doing so to others I would meet along the way.
My heroes have always been Cowboys
Roger Staubach, aka Captain America, the greatest of all the great Dallas Cowboys, is one of the people I placed on the pedestal reserved for the Immortals. A few years ago, when I still had my SilverAndBlueblood blog and was connected with Bleacher Report, I was invited to an event in Dallas where I would be able to meet with and interview a number of Heisman greats. Chief among them – Roger Staubach! It was the invitation of a lifetime. I invited another Cowboys and Staubach fan and friend of mine, Rob Wren, to accompany me as my “photographer.” His pay? Meeting Roger and the rest.
I have this photo where I am waiting my turn to interview Roger and he is looking at me with something less than admiration in his countenance. Suspicion? Maybe. When it came my time to interview, among my questions was one about Tony Romo and the much-debated rookie in the upcoming draft, Johnny Manziel, aka Johnny Football. Manziel was suspect because of his size and machismo. But rumors abounded that Jerry Jones, ever the lover of the big splash, would find him a temptation too great to ignore, despite having Romo at the helm.
I asked Roger about this and he was somewhat nonplussed. He said he liked Johnny Manziel but Romo was the man for the Cowboys – or something to that effect. I agreed with him. I was just asking a relevant question, given the swirl of rumors at the time.
Bottom line, I felt like I had put off the man I had held in the highest esteem all of my life. I imagined what it would be like between us, how I would impress this football legend, whom I had all but worshiped as a gridiron god throughout my youth. When I finally met him and talked with him, there was an utter lack of chemistry between us. I never told my friend Rob this, but I went away feeling worse than I had before I met him.
I had better chemistry later with Jerome “The Bus” Bettis when I interviewed him, a hated Pittsburgh Steelers legend, than with my hero, Roger the Dodger!
I still think Roger is great. I do not think he is immortal any more than any other man. Well, maybe a little more. Still…
My feet never fit a pedestal
I later found myself in positions of leadership and knew that some people had me on a pedestal. When I inevitably slipped off it, some were devastated, some were confused, but, ultimately, almost all of them were supportive and helpful, and many remain my friends (and some, even fans, I think) to this day.
A few, however, will never forgive the mortality of their heroes.
That is where the high horse comes in. The people least likely to accept failure in others are the ones riding high horses. Like the old folks say, “They think their shit don’t stink.”
The ones who believe they “could never” do such and such the way so and so did are the ones who will remain unforgiving. Or, they are the ones who say, “I forgive you but I won’t forget this.”
Don’t mistake smugness and spiritual snobbery for righteousness
Get over yourself! If you think this is holiness, you have no idea what that even means. If you think it is Christlike, you know little of Christ. To forgive someone and still hold them at arm’s length or in “contempt of (your) court” is not forgiveness at all. If that is the brand of forgiveness you hand out, keep it in your pocket.
Peter, the fisherman-turned-disciple, thought he was pretty smart. He figured out that the number seven is significant, that it represents completion or perfection. So, he posed a question to Jesus, one for which I suspect he expected to be confirmed and commended. He got the whole thing wrong…
Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”
“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!” ~Gospel of Matthew 18:21-22
At this time in his journey, still learning, and still immature in Christ, Peter was thinking he was better than everyone else because of his relationship with Jesus. He was going to dole out forgiveness from his high horse and make a check mark each time he forgave a person. Seven marks, Bam! You’re out.
Jesus set Peter straight. That seventy times seven remark was not so Peter would have to keep a bigger scorecard or invent the calculator. It was to emphasize that a human is infinitely more valuable than your wounded pride or hurt feelings or feelings of superiority or disgust or whatever it is that has you unwilling and unable to forgive.
Did you know that the Apostle wrote, “There is none righteous, no not one?” ~Romans 3:10
Have you ever read Isaiah 53?
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (v. 6)
You can ride a high horse straight to Hell, in fact.
Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” ~Luke 18:9-14, NLT
About that high horse upon which you sit so pretty…
The high horse is not the place for a Christ-follower. We recognize it takes as much grace to save the “good” sinner as it does the “bad” one.
Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. ~Hebrews 7:25 (KJV)
Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. ~Romans 5:20 (ESV)
Who am I to be less gracious than Jesus? Who am I to judge that the man who appears on the surface to be “all that and a bag of chips” is better than the outcast or the downcast? High horsemen would easily have chosen the Pharisee braggart over the Publican traitor. But Jesus saw through the facade. He saw the corruption and pride bound in the heart of one and the contrition in the heart of the other.
There is no righteousness but that which is imputed to us; therefore, it is nothing about which we should be proud or smug, or use to judge the worthiness of another.
And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith. ~Philippians 3:9 (KJV)
Steps to follow in order to be a lifter of the fallen
Recognize your own true state as a sinner saved by grace and in need of ongoing, abounding grace.
Understand Jesus’ desire to lift the fallen and his utter disapproval of self-righteousness.
Empathize – put yourself in the shoes of the fallen. If you were he and he were you, what would you want from him?
Initiate the restoration. Why wait for the fallen to come to you? Did Jesus do that? Or did he go to the well in the heat of the day to find a woman with a damaged reputation and a desperate soul? Did he find Zaccheus in that tree or wait for Zaccheus to find him? When Peter betrayed Him at the worst possible time, what did Jesus do???
We do not need to ask WWJD. We know WWJD because we can ask and read for ourselves, WDJD – what did Jesus do?
Take those people off your pedestals and let them breathe. It is ok to have role models and people you admire, but only a fool expects perfection from the fallen – and we are all fallen.
Get off your high horse and put him to pasture. Take an honest look at yourself, your motivations, your thought life, or your judgmental nature. Examine yourself in the light of God’s Word.
“When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! Pray like this:
Our Father in heaven,
may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth,
as it is in heaven.
Give us today the food we need,
and forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.
“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. ~Matthew 6:7-14
That just about does it for pedestals and high horses. It all comes down to amazing, abounding grace, forgiveness, and restoration.
My name is Gene Strother and this is Wednesday, Noon.