The Apostle Paul writes, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1, ESV).
It is not secret that we begin to take on the mannerisms of those we are around. How many times as a teenager did one of our parents get upset with us because we began to talk like one of our friends? Have we ever caught ourselves saying a catch phrase of one of our closest friends – and too often it is the very phrase that bothers us the most? Or how about the older we get the more we begin to remind ourselves of our parents? We begin to mix up the names of our children . . . or we say something the exact same way and the same tone that we once heard it out of our parent’s mouth?
It did not take me long to discover the difference between parenting a daughter and that of parenting a son. It occurred a couple of years ago while I was chasing Julia and Jace around the house, pretending as if I was a Tyranasaurus Rex. Julia screamed and shouted, “Chase me, Daddy!’ Jace abruptly turned around and replied, “Teach me how to do that.” There is something in all of us that wishes to copy. To find someone worth following. And if we don’t find someone worthy to follow – well, we find someone regardless.
My wife and I have to watch what we say – because our youngest daughter seconds as a parrot. Not that we say anything too outragous – but it is amazing how words seem so much more foul and immature when the are said by a three year old. Shut up. Darn it. Idiot (they learned that one from “Toy Story 3”. You get the picture. My oldest daughter has picked up on some of my less-pleasant qualities. She hates being late. In fact, she stresses about being late. She always asks what is next – my need to be in control. And as of late, she repeats herself. This quality I am least proud of and least able to kick. I believe it stemms from my fear of broken promises – of being dissapointed. As if I can prepare myself for being let down. Regardless, my seven year old now asks in such a way for a reason she knows nothing about. Be careful how we lead . . . because someone might just be following.
Then I look my father . . . every time I got up early for work or school . . . there he was reading the bible. He did not do this for any recognition or reward – just to start his day learning from and listening to the One he loved. Simple acts shape our children. I must remember that. I must arrive home as a father with the same intentiionality I was a pastor in the office. The way I talk to my wife. The way I pray for the meal. The way I wrestle. The way I do family devotions. I way I tuck them in at night. They are watching. I want them to pass on what is of Christ and rewrite that which is not. I want to be a leader worth following . . . .
The Apostle Paul writes, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?” (1 Corinthians 10:14-22, ESV).
The Hebrews tended to treat idolatry a lot more seriously than we do. They knew what idolatry cost them. There history was riddled with moments of great judgment. The stories have been passed down from generation to generation so much so that the great majority of today’s Jewish people hope to steer clear of anything that could even begin to resemble idolatry.
I wish that could be said of so many of today’s Christ followers in the Western world. Why is it that we search out ways to worship anything but the very One who created us? We want to feel good. We want to look good. We want to do good. All such emotions and actions – many of which begin with good intentions – cause us to only think of ourselves . . . or at least keep us from looking to the only One worthy of our attention. There are those who worship creation. There are those who are out to master the supernatural. There are those who who will do anything for fame or fortune. There are those who spend their entire time in pursuit of the opposite gender. Idolatry does not have to be a statue or another religion. What is that which grabs your attention and adoration? What do you think about the most – that which keeps your mind in conversation and connection with God himself?
The Apostle Paul writes, “However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble” (1 Corinthians 8:7-13, ESV).
So many of the Corinthians were attempting to play all of their cards right. They would rather cover all of their bases rather than put all of their eggs in one basket. What if they worshiped Christ but then in the process angered a god that actually existed? They were faithful to everything and therefore faithful to no one. Paul warned them that this was no way to live as a disciple. They had to not only take every precaution in being set apart for God but that they were to lead their brothers and sisters in the same.
We read about the situation so long ago in Corinth and we just shake our head and say, “Really?” They actually thought they could do this? They actually thought that they could get away with it? But then we place their perspective in our own context and it tends to hit a bit to close to home. In fact, our student ministry leaves this morning for our winter retreat. My prayer is that the students – no matter where they are and no matter what they have done – will be able to actually risk it all for Jesus and his Kingdom. That they will have those moments where all that which is in conflict and all that is comprimise will be exposed for all that it is. That God would give them a new heart. A new pursuit. A new purpose. That in all things they would know God, be known by him, and make him known. The temptation is great. But the reward is greater. All in.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman. But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:1-5).
Paul wrote about sex. And he was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Why has so much of the church shied away from the conversation? Don’t we live in an overly-sexualized culture similar to Corinth? Should we just stand by and allow the entertainment to maximize and misuse what was supposed to be enjoyable and beautiful? The playground. The television. The locker room. Facebook. We have to have the conversation. We need to redirect and redefine the conversation altogether. In fact, I am so grateful for a pastor who not only gives me a permission as a youth pastor to speak on the topic with freedom and maturity but also he himself has felt compelled at times to do dedicate entire series on relationships and intimacy.
That being said, there are two extremes that the church should avoid. The first is to go shock-jock. There is a great temptation to fall into the same trap of the culture and sale sex . . . under the guise of the gospel. I think we have seen this far too many times in advertisement. We should talk about sex . . . but such conversation can be done with tact and at a level that it is age-appropiate. For example, when I do an entire series on relationships, I will send a letter out to parents giving them fair warning on what we are talking about and why we are talking about it. I also practice full-disclosure – my notes are sent to them the day after with a link to our podcast (not to mention they are invited to attend each gathering). I hope the conversation happens at home – after all, they are the primary disciple-maker of that child and often know the best way to mentor them. In fact, after much prayer and consideration, I opted NOT to do a purity series this year. Our team felt that our youth ministry is at an average right now where it might be more effective to have certain conversations in the context of life groups and for others to wait a little longer before we talk about details.
That being said, we should not apologize or make excuses for God’s creative-design for sex. We must hold to the conviction (with compassion and care) that he gave us this gift primarily for two reasons – for procreation AND pleasure). He designed sex to be enjoyed in one context – and one context only – between one man and one woman in a committed and lifelong marriage. We should focus not only what goes wrong when sex is stripped from this context but also on what goes oh so right when we keep it in this context. Can you imagine what the church would look like if we could display this type of obedience to Christ?
The Apostle Paul instructs, “When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?8 But you yourselves wrong and defraud–even your own brothers!” (1 Corinthians 6:1-8, ESV).
We so often attiribute the Corinthian church with sexual perversion as if that was their only vice. When really sexual immorality, as prevelant and problematic as it was, that was only scratching the surface of their issues. The real issue with the Corinthian church was that they were divided. They used and abused each other – the leadership lorded over their people, the men and women both tore sex from its creative design, and the rich neglected the poor. There was disorder and division wherever one looked. How in the world was anyone on the outside looking in going to see the Body of Christ?
Here is my conclusion . . . the church was no more perfect then than it is now. We often have a naive view of the early church as if they were at a place that you and I will never be. When the truth of the matter is that often Paul wrote to these churches for the very reason that he heard they had massive conflict. It is not IF the church will have conflict – it HOW the church responds to that conflict that will set us apart from the world. They need a model of reconciliation. The church needs to do everything in the power of the Holy Spirit to guard her unity – even in the midst of diversity and disagreement.
The Apostle Paul warns, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people–not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler–not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. Purge the evil person from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13, ESV).
I am very troubled with MTV’s latest invention known as “Skins.” For no other reason that so many middle and high school students watch this and actually believe (or want to believe) that this is the way to live – and all without any sort of lasting consequence. However, should we be surprised? Should we expect anything less from a television network that will do anything to make money – even if it is sale a generation? Talk about human trafficking? And yet, I don’t know if all of the picketing, boycotting, and debating is really the solution (not to say that people should not take advantage of the freedoms that have). Legislating morality will go only so far and often creates more interest in the behavior than ever was before.
Here is what troubles me more than anything else in all of this Skin-Mania . . . that Christ followers are joining in. Should we expect anything less from the world we live in? They have been misusing and abusing sex since the beginning of time. They have been disrespecting and degrading woman forever. They have done anything to anyone that they possibly could for the pursuit of pleasure. That has not changed. But what about the church? When did we start joining in? My heart breaks whenever I hear a middle school girl impersonate one of the ladies from “The Jersey Shore.” We too often pass off sexual sin as “entertainment.” As long as it is funny – I guess Jesus understands that we have taken one of his most lovely gifts out of a context that will only divide and destroy. Sure thing.
Here is the what the church can do and must do – from youngest to oldest. Show the alternative. Display Life. In a world that only knows pleasure – give purpose. In a world that uses women as objects – protect and nurture. In a world of profanity, pornography, and prostitution – show purity and commitment. We not only abstain from taking part in such activities – we give them the reason why. We have to find ways to be clear, creative, and compelling. We have to hold to our convictions in a world that – whether they admit it or not – are looking for some. These are real people in “Skins.” Real people who, when the cameras turn off, will be bruised and broken. MTV won’t show that. If there is anything consistent with the media – they love to tear people down and bring them back again. All for a sponsor. What will the church do on behalf of Christ and his Kingdom?
The bible reads, “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, He catches the wise in their craftiness, and again, The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile. So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:18-23, ESV).
I have mentioned before my concern in the “Christian celebrity.” The information age is very much a double-edged sword. We have so much at our fingertips – but still lack all of the discernment. The average Christ follower can follow the latest book, podcast, blog, tweet, or article. We are no longer restricted to one pastor and one congregation – but then again the result is so many who do everything but commit to one pastor and and one congregation. We take what most interested us or intrigues us without the added baggage of having to give back – to invest and involve in what we have gained so much from.
Now believe me, I am the first one who often is caught up in the latest and greatest. I love to read up on what is being done and who is doing it. I even find myself, if I am honest enough with myself, wanting to be a part of it all. Isn’t it true that there is always that great temptation in all of us to enjoy the sound of our own voice a bit too much – and wonder why others don’t enjoy it as much as we do? I have my favorite communicators, innovators, leaders, theologians, writers, etc. But in the scope of church history – not much has played out all that much in this era. What is timeless and what are trends? Especially when we consider how fast the world around us changes – how are we even going to pretend to keep up? There comes a point in all of our lives and ministries where we have to ask, “But what is the Spirit of the Lord saying to me?” What is he saying to the churches? To my church? To the church that has yet to be planted? There comes a point where we have to stop. To quiet our hearts. To be still and know that he is God. Who knows, maybe he will do within you and within me only that which he can do. Maybe he will do that which has not been done before – or that which has done in quite some time. May it be so.