I was talking with my barber the other day. Actually, I’m not sure if you call them “barbers” anymore. But to call him a “hair stylist” sounds awkward. I go to one of those chain shops, and he does a great job. But “stylist”?
I guess I’ll just call him “the guy who cuts my hair”. Yeah, I’m sticking with that.
Anyway, we were talking religious stuff and he mentioned that he’d been baptized as a child. The baptism wasn’t done by a pastor, but a family friend. And it was performed in a swimming pool.
So my friend wanted to know if God was OK with that, and if his baptism counted.
I explained that while it’s important to obey God’s command that His followers be baptized, the act of baptism is not the thing that makes you acceptable to God. To be clear, it’s a symbol of an exchange that’s already taken place in your spirit.
At some point you said to God, “I turn from my sins and accept the sacrifice Jesus made for me on the cross.” That’s what saves you, and baptism is the universal symbol to the world that exchange has taken place in you.
Sure, some people believe you’re only saved if you’re baptized in their baptistry in their particular way. They think God is really into the mechanics of it, and each minor word and action being done to specifications.
That’s when I looked at my barber (“stylist”, “only guy who touches my hair”, etc.) and said, “You know, God’s not that petty. In fact, God’s not even Tom Petty!” Snorts of laughter ensued.
We then had a joking discussion of the quality of Tom Petty’s music, his appearance, the video to his song “Freefalling”, and other completely nonreligious things. That’s just how weird I can get during a spiritual conversation.
Of course, I injected the Tom Petty joke to put my friend at ease. Talking religion can intimidate some folks, so I try to take the edge off with humor.
But there’s great truth underneath the jokes. A lot of folks make God out to be quite persnickety regarding performing certain rituals. They think if you repeat certain words correctly over and over, God will forgive you. If you pray in a particular position, God will be more impressed.
I see two extremes in how people think about God. Some think He’s all about the rules and is ready to send you to the back of the line if you get one detail wrong. Others don’t think He puts any expectations on them whatsoever, like a big gullible grandfather in heaven. Both the “by the rules only god” and the “grandfather god” are extremes and perversions of who the God of the Bible really is.
While God does expect you to live a Godly life that honors Him, the great Creator of the universe is not interested in picking your every action apart.
To the point, God is not petty.
When Jesus was ripping apart the self-righteous Pharisees for a full chapter in Matthew 23, He makes this remark in verse 13:
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.”
Jesus goes on to attack how precise they are in tithing on every little thing, but neglect “justice and mercy and faith”. And still today, our contemporary Pharisees always like to make it tougher to get to God, adding a maze of twists and turns to the road to heaven. All the while, God is desperately removing barriers and trying to draw men to Himself.
For example, there are churches where admitting you’re feeling sick is as good as sinning. Their theology swears that God never allows His children to get sick, in spite of the fact that every Christian for 2000 years has eventually died. They believe the Lord is auditing your words for anything that smacks of doubt or weakness. By admitting you’re sick, you are agreeing with Satan who wants you to be sick. Any acknowledgment of illness is faithlessness toward God.
“So if you’re sick, don’t say your sick. Because then God really will make you sick. Think you’ve got a cold? Don’t say, if you’ve got it. Because then you’ll really get it…”
One Sunday I decided to combat this crazy theology that thinks believers have the power to “speak things into existence”. I conspired to scare my congregation to death with an experiment. As I was preaching against this “word of faith” teaching, I suddenly proclaimed out loud, “Lord God, strike me dead!”
I stood there for about 10 seconds as the congregation stared back uneasily. After that awkward pause, I asked them, “So why didn’t God do what I proclaimed? And why was I willing to say something so terrible out loud? Wasn’t I afraid God might take me up on my request?”
No, I wasn’t afraid at all for one very good reason: because I have more faith in the goodness of God than to believe He’s a cosmic lawyer who’ll arbitrarily take my every statement seriously. I know Him too well to think He’d put my every word into blind action. I trust His heart more than I trust my words!
How many times have you prayed something ridiculous in a moment of stress like, “Lord, just let me die”? Aren’t you glad His destiny for you was stronger than the words you spoke in the midst of pain?
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know how we ought to pray, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words.” Romans 8:26
My friend, it’s time you stopped believing God is rooting for you to fail. He’s not – He’s a good, good Father who only wants the best for His children. And He will take your weak moments and your imperfect prayers and transform them into something beautiful.
If you had a bad father who was always trying to find fault in you, know that’s not your Heavenly Father. He’s not petty – He loves you and sees your heart even when your actions fall short.
In fact, though I’m not a fan, He probably even loves Tom Petty. Though He’s not petty. I mean, God’s not, but Tom is. Petty, that is…but God’s not.
Got it? ;0)