Tuesday, June 19, 2007

POLAR BEARS

Our society seems to not have a clue about matters of sexual ethics. The news abounds with ironies. Some of them would be laughable if it were not for the fact that, sadly, real people are involved. (I’m not making these stories up!)

A top U. S. Army general expresses his dislike for homosexuals in the army. He finds them immoral and says that homosexuality is as bad as adultery. The homosexuals are indignant. The liberals are indignant. The politically correct are indignant, There’s a lot of tsk-tsk-ing from the news media. I guess it’s insulting to homosexuals to compare them with adulterers. I don’t hear anyone speaking up for the adulterers. I’d bet there are more of them in the army than homosexuals!

A pastor of an evangelical super church has a homosexual affair, repents, confesses, is reconciled with his wife and is removed from office. A pastor of a denominational church leaves his wife to live in a “permanent” homosexual relationship with another man, and is promoted to bishop.

Homosexuals are lobbying for laws to allow them to get married. Heterosexuals seem to be doing their best either to avoid getting married or to get out of marriage as soon as they can.

An NBA star talks teary-eyed on TV about his love for his mother, and how hard it was for her as a single mother to raise him. He is congratulated by all for helping his girlfriend to become a single mother for the second time.

Now I’ll probably be labeled as a prude by many for even mentioning these things. But it does seem as though sexual ethical standards have changed a bit over the past few years.

It’s not that there hasn’t been sexual misbehavior in past generations. There always has been. And I’m not holding myself and my generation as paragons of virtue. Like Jimmy Carter, “I’ve lusted in my heart” a few times (see Matthew 5:27, 28).

Only a few years ago any sexual behavior (whether heterosexual or homosexual) outside of marriage, was condemned. Many were quick to point out the hypocrisy, self-righteousness, and lack of forgiveness on the part of those doing the condemning.

But it seems today that while there are still plenty of old-fashioned hypocrites around, there is a new kind of hypocrisy and self-righteousness. Those condemned are no longer the persons performing illicit sexual acts, but those who find something wrong with these acts.

Often reference is made to Jesus’ actions toward those who were sexual offenders He is seen as accepting of all, and that acceptance somehow is interpreted as permission. But it wasn’t just plain acceptance and it definitely wasn’t permission. His actions were based on love. They were based on the forgiveness offered through His death on the cross.

To a woman who was the “town sinner” (Luke 7:37, 48, 50): “Your sins have been forgiven … Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

To the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:3, 11): “Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more.”

He doesn’t say “keep on sinning, so grace may abound” (Romans 6:1).

Christ gives us the ability to resist temptation and the forgiveness when we fall. I believe though that the first step in dealing with sexual temptation is to recognize it for what it is.

A young person in a group I was mentoring in the area of sexual behavior decided that when asked by outsiders what we were discussing, we should answer “polar bears.” I think that’s a pretty good metaphor. Polar bears are beautiful and appealing. They look warm and comforting. But they are fierce carnivores and (I’m told) can run up to 35 miles an hour on glare ice! They can’t be escaped! And they’ll consume you if you’re not careful!

Bill Ball
6/19/2007

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

IMITATE ME, PART 2

Re: XLT’s comments on IMITATE ME!

Thanks Josh. I appreciate your keeping me in line. You addressed these comments in the form of questions, so I guess I need to answer them. I’ll try.

“Where is the line? For both right actions and sins when am I doing the right things enough or resisting sin enough to begin preaching for the virtue or against the sin?”

“Isn’t it too important to the spiritual life of the congregation to sit back and wait until we are comfortable with our mastery of a virtue or mastery over a sin, to warn those in our care of its dangers?”

You referred to James 3:1: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” I don’t believe there is a clear cut line, but I believe that as teachers we should be dealing with the areas about which we teach. The New Testament gives principles and warnings but often doesn’t draw clear-cut lines. James doesn’t in this verse.

I do believe, however, that we ought to examine our own lives. The qualifications for spiritual leaders are pretty tight. See 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9. The expression “above reproach” seems to me to sum them all up. I don’t think Paul is talking about complete perfection, but of relative maturity. These men are to be exemplary to the congregation and according to 1 Timothy 3:7, to “have a good reputation with those outside (the church).”

If we don’t find ourselves meeting these qualifications, at least in some measure, I believe we may have to remove ourselves from teaching.

“Is past struggle with a sin area to be an indication of hypocrisy in our teaching?”

No. But dishonesty about our past struggles is. I also believe that we need to admit our present struggles. “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10).

I think you know me well enough to know that I don’t have “a kind of comfort level with (my) mastery over sin.” I hope I didn’t imply this. I haven’t mastered and I’m not comfortable.

I agree “that Paul is speaking of particular actions of his that are worthy of imitation,” in 1 Corinthians 4:16. The list is there in verses 11-13. But there’s more than actions here. He is battering them with sarcasm to try to get them in line and to remind them that he is their spiritual father.

In 1 Corinthians 11:1, he is concluding a section dealing with the attitudes of the strong toward the weak (chapters 8-10). He has held himself up as an example not only in this verse but throughout the section. In chapter 9, he presents himself as an example of one who foregoes his rights. His conclusion in 1 Corinthians 10:31-33, “do all to the glory of God,” also includes the words “just as I …” (verse 33).

I believe a careful reading of these texts shows that Paul is going beyond simply “imitate me in this” to just plain “imitate me.” While this imitation includes actions, it also includes attitudes and character traits. Of course, our criterion for imitation must be “as I imitate Christ.” John adds another criterion: “Beloved do not imitate what is evil but what is good” (3 John 11).

Of course Paul doesn’t expect his readers to imitate him in matters that are not directly related to our imitation of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 7, he says that his preference is for the single life, but he does not expect everyone to imitate him in this matter. See especially verse 7: “Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that.”

I agree with you that “One thing in which it is impossible for us to imitate Christ is the proper response to personal sin, …” We can’t challenge people as Jesus did, “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46). But even here as a Christian leader I have to be honestly striving to deal with personal sin in order to imitate Christ. And I should be an example of how to do it.

The frightening thing to me is that people do imitate us, whether we want them to or not. We can’t escape it!

A number of years ago, when I was pastoring a church, it was decided that we should have a “youth Sunday.” The teenagers were in charge of everything: the music, the announcements, even the sermon, which was preached by a young man 16 or 17 years of age. They all did a great job, but I was especially impressed by the young preacher. As I listened I thought, “This is great preaching!” He had it all put together! When I whispered my opinion to my wife, she whispered back, “Of course you like his preaching – he sounds just like you!”

That’s frightening!

Bill Ball
6/13/2007

Monday, June 11, 2007

IMITATE ME! Part 1

Sounds pretty arrogant, doesn’t it?

I often hear Christians saying just the opposite:
-- “Don’t look at me, look at Jesus!”
-- “I don’t want people to see me. I want them to see the Lord.”

Or, when someone is commended for some accomplishment:
-- “It wasn’t me, it was the Lord.”

Now I know these folks mean well, that they’re trying to be humble and give God the glory. I’ve even said this sort of thing a few times myself. But I believe this is a false humility, not a biblical humility. Look at the apostle Paul. I would suppose that he was a humble person, but look at what he says:
-- “I exhort you therefore, be imitators of me” (1 Corinthians 4:16).
-- “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us (2 Thessalonians 3:7).
-- “ … to offer ourselves as a pattern for you, that you might imitate us” (2 Thessalonians 3:9).
-- “Become imitators of me, brothers, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us” (Philippians 3:17).
-- “In everything I showed you … “ (Acts 20:33-35 – read the whole thing).

And he expected those who imitated him to get others to imitate them:
-- “ … you became a pattern to all the believers … “ (1 Thessalonians 1:7).
-- “ … become a pattern for those who believe” (! Timothy 4:12).

(NOTE: I have tried to consistently translate the Greek words mimeomai, mimetes and tupos as imitate, imitation and pattern.)

How can Paul say this? It was because Paul himself was an imitator of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, he makes this clear. “Be imitators of me just as I am also of Christ.” Also see 1 Thessalonians 1:6, “You also became imitators of me and of the Lord … “

Christ is our example and He holds Himself up as the example for us to imitate.
-- “I gave you an example that you also should do just as I did to you” (John 13:15).
-- “ … love one another, just as I loved you (John 13:34; 15;12).

Jesus is the ultimate example. He wants us to imitate His behavior and character. There are plenty of examples of that in the Gospels. But He’s not around us in the flesh, and neither is Paul, or any of the other New Testament saints. So we’re stuck with our fellow believers. And our assignment is not only to imitate but to be patterns or models of Jesus for others to imitate. That’s frightening!

Last week was a tremendous week for me. I taught a one-week crash course at the College of Biblical Studies in Houston. It was one of those summer classes where the students go all day long from Monday through Friday and receive 3 hours credit. The title of the course was “Foundations of Spiritual Life.” We covered everything from theological foundations to the actual practice. The practice is harder to teach than the theology.

I know that the students were doing more than reading the material – they were reading me. That’s an awesome responsibility. Twenty people, not only clinging to my every word, but observing my every action. I pray that they saw the real me and not just an actor. And I pray that in the real me they saw Jesus. I know that they picked up a few bits of wisdom, a few illustrations, a few clich├ęs. But I just pray that they might have picked up a little bit of Jesus.

We who are teachers and spiritual leaders have no right to excuse ourselves with a false-humility. Nor do we have a right to say “Do as I say and not as I do.” Jesus had a word for folks like that. He called them “hypocrites.”

And by the way, we are all someone’s example. We do not have the right to say as Charles Barkley is alleged to have said, “I’m no role model.” We are role models to someone.

I had a boss once who said (jokingly, I hope), “Ball, you’re not completely worthless – you can always serve as a bad example!” I pray that Jesus doesn’t have to say that.

Bill Ball
6/11/2007