Thursday, October 28, 2010


I’ve been having an e-mail conversation with a friend on this topic, though I don’t think we’ve made much progress yet.  It’s a very deep and involved topic and has occupied the thinking of men and women far wiser than I.  A brief browse through this blog will show that it has occupied much of my thinking.

But what do we mean when we speak of “the imitation of Christ”?  I believe it means different things to different people.  Perhaps none gets the complete picture.

• To some, it refers to the contemplative life – meditation and prayer.  Certainly a study of the Gospels shows Jesus often going off alone to talk with His Father.
• To others it is an active life of sacrificial service to others.  Again, the Gospels present an active, robust Jesus working nearly nonstop in His service.
• Others emphasize the development of Christ-like character.  Sometimes we are steered from the Gospels to the epistles of Paul and others – Paul’s “fruit of the Spirit” or Peter’s “additions to faith.”
• Still others see Jesus as an example of “how-tos” – how to teach, how to evangelize, how to have a discipleship program, how to handle conflict, etc.
• Unfortunately there are also sincere, well-meaning Christians who totally ignore these ideas.  They read the Gospels, but (it seems to me) only pay attention to them when they can be mined for interesting children’s stories or sermon illustrations.   (The Old Testament is often treated in the same way.)  I confess that for years I was a part of this last group.

I believe that all of the above except the last are legitimate examples of the imitation of Christ.  However, it seems that we pick and choose our areas of imitation, often because of personality, preference or the church tradition we are involved in.  Perhaps we are looking to find our traits in Jesus and not Jesus’ traits in ourselves.  As has been noted of theologically liberal scholars who search for “the historical Jesus” (whatever that means), we often find a Jesus who looks amazingly like us.

The Jesus we see in the Gospels, is of course, a Man who cannot be imitated in every way.  He was the perfect Man.  He was sinless.  He was fully God.  He lived in a different time, a different place and a different culture than we do.  And yet He was human – made of the same stuff as we are.

So then what characteristics do we see?  What kind of man is this that we are to imitate?  And as we look at His characteristics, His personal traits, His actions, which are we to imitate and which are we to disregard?

• He was a Man who knew who He was.
• He spent great amounts of time talking to His Father, God.
• He lived a life of total commitment to God and demanded that His followers have the same commitment toward Him.
• He loved all people and demanded the same from His followers.
• He paid special attention to the suffering, the poor and the downcast.
• He risked His reputation.
• He lived a morally perfect life, yet extended love and forgiveness to the immoral.
• He was a religious nonconformist and actually flouted religious traditions.
• He was willing to suffer for the sake of others.
• He did all to the glory of God.

So how do we work these into our lives?  Or can we?  Or should we?

Also see:

Bill Ball

Sunday, October 17, 2010


I received the following question on my post TEN QUESTIONS ANSWERED: “What happened to all of the souls that lived and died before Jesus? Was just wondering .. are they just s____ out of luck?”
I gave a brief reply: “Good question. Briefly the answer is no. I’ll try to post a fuller answer in a few days. I’m out of pocket right now.”

Well, it’s been over a week, so I think I better sit down and come up with a “a fuller answer.”

Salvation – a right relationship with God – has always been based on the work of Jesus Christ and appropriated by faith, even before He was born and died and rose.

1 John 2:2, “And He (Jesus Christ) is the propitiation for our sins and not for ours alone, but for all the world.” The word “propitiation” means the sacrifice that satisfies the anger of God. If Christ’s sacrifice was enough for the whole world, that would include those born before He made the sacrifice as well as those in the future.

In Romans 4:3, Paul quoted from Genesis 13:6, “What does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness (right standing with God).’”

The Old Testament is filled with examples of men and women of faith, even though other expressions may have been used.

     “Then they began to call on the name of the LORD” (Genesis 4:26).
     “And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him” (Genesis 5:24).
     “Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:8).

The 11th chapter of Hebrews in the New Testament lists over a dozen persons of faith of the Old Testament, male and female, Jew and Gentile (non-Jew).

Early in his letter to the Romans, Paul speaks of what is known as natural revelation:

     “… because that which is known about God is evident among them (humankind), for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world, His invisible characteristics have been clearly seen, being understood through the things He made, that is, His eternal power and divine nature” (1:19, 20).

There is, and always has been, a revelation of God in nature, both before and after Christ. However, Paul says that this leaves humankind “without any excuse … because they didn’t glorify Him as God, or give Him thanks” (1:20, 21)

So I’d have to say that, as I understand the Scriptures, the only persons who are “s____ out of luck” are those who haven’t responded in faith to the God who has revealed Himself in nature, in the Scriptures and in His Son.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


If I were to attempt to name in one word the cause of the current financial/economical distress in our country today, I suppose I wouldn’t be the first to say “greed.”  Bankers, money managers and CEOs were out for all they could get and they got it.  Congressmen and senators, elected and supported by money from those same persons allowed it to happen and bailed out those who failed (see THE BIG SHORT).  But then these people also preyed on the greed of the “lower classes” – the desire for more than we could afford, which led to massive debt.

The Greek word in the New Testament usually translated “greed” is pleonexia and is related to the word pleon, which simply means “more.”  So we could define greed as the desire for more – avarice or insatiableness.

Greed, I suppose, is not looked on as a great evil, at least not in 21st century America.  After all, isn’t the desire for more the great driving force of our industry and economy?  Doesn’t it lie behind our individual ambitions?  Aren’t “we the people” now known as “consumers”?  We might even recite that line from an old movie:  “Greed – for want of a better word – is good!”

But the New Testament doesn’t seem to see it that way.

Jesus listed greed right along with fornication, theft, murder and adultery as one of the evils that proceed “out of the heart of men” (Mark 7:20-23).

Paul listed greed among the fruits of “a depraved mind” (Romans 1:28-32) and listed greedy persons (pleonektai) along with fornicators, idolaters and homosexuals as among “the unrighteous” who will not “…inherit the Kingdom of God” (1Corinthians 6:9, 10). He even said “… greed … is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5).

Apparently God takes greed pretty seriously!

Yet, the one time that we find Jesus giving a specific warning of the dangers of greed, He is not addressing bankers or CEOs or swindlers or even necessarily, the rich, but just ordinary people – the crowd – who were following Him:
     “And someone in the crowd said to Him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me!’
     But He (Jesus) said to him, ‘Man who appointed Me as a judge or arbitrator over you?’  And He said to them (the crowd), ‘Watch out and guard yourselves from every form of greed, because a person’s life doesn’t consist in the abundance of stuff that he has!’” (Luke 12:13-15).

Sounds like Jesus was being a bit harsh on the man, doesn’t it?  After all, the guy may have had a legitimate complaint.  Jewish inheritance laws were pretty specific and it’s not hard to imagine that his older brother was holding out on him.  If the brother was there in the crowd, it would have been easy for Jesus to make an effort at arbitration.  Or Jesus could have referred him to a good lawyer.

But Jesus was a Man on a mission.  He had just been speaking to His disciples about the necessity for bold witness and the certainty of God’s provision.  This guy had either been too preoccupied with his problem to hear or something that Jesus said had triggered a thought that led to this outburst.

Anyway, it looks like Jesus is speaking of some particular aspects of greed that we might fail to see.
     • Greed can be simply the desire to get what’s due me.  Jesus didn’t question the legitimacy of the man’s claim. I believe what Jesus was speaking to was the man’s preoccupation with getting what was due him, especially in the area of material things.  It is this feeling that preoccupies many of us.  We deserve better.  We deserve more.  If only I could get my due …
     • Greed is also the assumption that real life consists of the goods that we possess.  If I could have only a bit more.  If I could only have …

The Jesus tells the crowd a story:
     “And He told them a parable, saying, ‘The fields of this rich man bore good crops, and he was reasoning in himself, saying, ‘What’ll I do, because I don’t have any place to gather my crops?’
     And he said, ‘I’ll do this: I’ll tear down my barns and I’ll build bigger barns and I’ll gather there all my grain and my good stuff. And I’ll say to my soul, you have a lot of good stuff laid up for many years. Take it easy, eat, drink and enjoy yourself.’
     But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is demanded back from you. And the stuff you’ve prepared – whose will it be?’
     So is the one who treasures up for himself and is not rich toward God!’” (Luke 12:16-21).

To be truthful, I wouldn’t have thought of the man in the story as greedy.  He didn’t seem to be wanting more; he seemed satisfied with what he had.  But he was an illustration of what Jesus said in verse 15.  He thought he had it made, that his life really did “consist in the abundance of stuff that he had.”  But he had left God out.  His financial planning was all wrapped up in his own comfort – his stuff --and he had failed to recognize God as his provider and the One who had a claim on his life.
     • Greed is the assumption that I’ve got it made, the false security based on possessions.

And then Jesus turned to His disciples and addressed them, still on this whole issue of greed:
     “And He said to His disciples, ‘For this reason I’m telling you, don’t worry about your soul, what you’re going to eat, nor about your body, what you’ll wear; for the soul is more than food and the body more than clothes’” (Luke 12:22, 23).

He then goes on to tell them about God’s provision (verses 27-30).

Were the disciples greedy?  Jesus didn’t accuse them.  But He did address their worries about material things.  Could this be one more aspect of greed?  Could we say this?:
     • Greed is the worry that I may never have enough – the insecurity brought on by looking to possessions I don’t have.

If the above definitions are accurate, then greed is a problem for all of us, a sin that we can fall into whether we are rich or poor, whether we are among the “haves” or the “have-nots.”

I’m not trying to excuse the greed of the rich, the CEOs, bankers and money managers.  The Bible speaks to their greed and of how it leads to the oppression of the poor.

But I do believe that greed is or can be a sin problem for anyone in any place on the socioeconomic scale, and that is what this passage speaks to.

As often in the New Testament, we are presented with an alternative, what could be called “habit displacement.”  It’s found in verse 31 of this passage:

“Seek His Kingdom and these things will be added to you.”

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


I’m writing this on my yellow pad in my friend’s house near the top of a huge rocky hill near Canyon Lake, Texas.  Uni and I are here for two Sundays and the week in between.  I’m preaching in a church pastored by this friend while he and his bride of a little over a year go on a much needed cruise.  We had lived in the Texas hill country for a number of years before moving to Oklahoma, and I miss it.

Autumn here is beautiful even though there are no reds and browns and yellows like there are up north.  Just green – the live oaks and the cedars.  It’s quiet up here.  We can walk or drive around and enjoy some of the beauty of Texas.  Each morning we drive a few miles to Canyon Dam and walk across it.  The breeze blows gently off the lake and cools us from the warmth of the Texas sun.

When we moved in last Saturday, we were shocked by the stillness.  There are neighbors but not close; I haven’t seen any yet.  There’s a dog somewhere that barks a greeting when we come or go.  Otherwise, it’s quiet.

Then we found out there’s no TV, internet or land line here.  Our cell phones barely show antenna.  That caused us a bit of panic.  What’ll we do?  We can’t find out what’s going on in the world.  We’re used to watching the TV news and to keeping posted on the internet.  We’re used to communicating with everyone via e-mail.  We’re used to being entertained by our TV in the evening.

Well, we did make a few adjustments.  We found a Scrabble game.  We read.  Uni crochets.  We play solitaire.  We picked up some cheap movie DVDs to watch on our laptop (what else can you do with it?).  We go to town every other day to check our e-mail on McDonald’s Wi-Fi.

But the real adjustment is that we are learning to enjoy the peace and aloneness and the time that we can’t fill up.  We’d already started on this path when we retired, except that we had neighbors and family around and a yard to maintain – and puttering.  This week is accelerating the slow down process.  (Is that an oxymoron?)

We’re learning to not be busy and it is refreshing!

Busyness seems to be considered one of the greatest of virtues among Christians and non-Christians alike.  We feel we have to be doing something in order to have worth.  We seem to gage a fellow-Christian’s spiritual condition by how busy he or she is.  We don’t like to brag on ourselves, but we do like to let others know how much we’re doing.

And yet I don’t find busyness listed among “the fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22, 23.  I do, however, find “peace, patience … self-control.”

Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not commending laziness.  There’s always plenty of work that needs to be done.  But I’ve found that I need to examine what things are essential as well as what jobs someone else can do better.  I don’t think that the opposite of busyness is laziness; it’s peace!

We need quiet time.  I’m not speaking of a structured “quiet time,” although that is important: we do need structured time for reading and prayer.

But we need free time to just let our minds wander, to meditate, to converse with each other and with our Father as we would someone sitting across the room, to listen to the Spirit, to just “have a little talk with Jesus.”

We need to be a little less like Martha who was “worried and troubled about many things,” and a little more like her sister Mary, who “chose the good part that won’t be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41, 42).

I think Uni and I are learning a little more this week about making Mary’s choice.

P.S.  This wasn’t published till we got home!