There is a tombstone in a London cemetery that offers pasers by some sobering advice.
“As you stand neath sun and sky
Remember as you are now, so once was I
As I am now, so you shall be
So be prepared to follow me.”
Not long after this memorial had been completed an anonymous visitor added the following inscription:
“To follow you, I will not consent
Until I know which way you went.”
This sound advice about carefully choosing our way showers in life was driven home in the news this week.
In fact, the stocks of a couple of high profile guides in life took major public hits.
Consider the sad story of Texas Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton.
A few years back, Hamilton’s life was on the ropes.
Alcoholism had nearly cost him his family, his career, even his life.
But then Hamilton experienced a miraculous turn around.
Through a professed faith in Christ he entered recovery, restored his marriage and resurrected his career.
Hamilton’s story was the kind of turn around they make movies about, and he soon became an in demand, high profile speaker.
He willingly assumed a high visibility position as a role model in churches, the community and the club house.
Until last week.
Lurid pictures of Hamilton in full party mode hit the gossip oriented web sites.
And yes, they were taken just before spring training was to begin in Phoenix this year.
Hamilton is a recovering addict, both of alcohol and a host of drugs, crack cocaine among them. Before the spiral, he was the first pick overall in the 1999 draft, but addictions derailed him from the game for more than three years until 2007, when he finally found his way to the big leagues. He said he had been clean since 2005. He said he was now a man of God. His wife, children, organization and support group sustained him. He had become an inspiration for recovering addicts about what was possible even when things appeared to be their worst.
But in January, at least for one night, Hamilton veered off to the raunchy side of the tracks. At a bar in Arizona, he got drunk. His wife not around that night, Hamilton had the kind of.. moment available to ballplayers on a nightly basis if they’re so inclined.
“I’m embarrassed about it. For the Rangers, I’m embarrassed about it, for my wife, my kids,” Hamilton said before Saturday’s Rangers-Angels game. “It’s one of those things that just reinforces about alcohol.”
Unfortunately, Josh Hamilton wasn’t alone inbeing knocked of the role model pedestal this week.
University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, also well known for being a strong moral and religious advocate ended up publicly apologizing for a long concealed affair.
The cover up exploded when the woman involved was indicted on extortion charges.
During his press conference Pitino emphasized that all this happened six years ago, and that he has done his best to make amends with his family. But those in attendance walked away wondering if he was sorry for what happened, or sorry he got caught.
As sports writer Mike DeCourcy put it:
Another role model bites the dust.
Athletes, politicians and celebrities have continued to show us that no matter how high we place them on a pedestal, they are as faulted and flawed as the rest of us.
So why do we continue to seek to find guidance through life by following those who are ultimately just as lost as the rest of us?
It’s a tendency that can turn around and bite us even in (and perhaps especially in) the church.
We are all looking for heroes and role models.
And from a distance pastors can certainly look like they can fill the bill.
But the closer we look, the more the cracks begin to show.
And there are many who will cash in their faith because they put their faith in a person who, in the words of James Russel Lowell, ended up being “dreadfully like the rest of us”.
Two thoughts –
First, if you find yourself in a position of spiritual leadership, realize that you are called to be an example.
And a consistent one at that.
All most people want out of a spiritual leader is a passion for the Lord and honesty about their mistakes.
If we start playing a role rather than having a real relationship with God, it will come out sooner or later.
And if we wait till we have no choice but to fess up after a fall, all the carefully chosen words and even crocodile tears will seem a bit hollow.
Simon Peter drove home the crucial nature of personal integrity and honesty when he wrote:
The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. (I Peter 5:1-4)
Second, when it comes to spiritual letdown it really does take two to tango.
One of the most often voiced objections to Christianity I hear goes something like this:
“Why should I become a Christian? The biggest hypocrites I know are in the church!”
How do I respond?
Believe it or not – I agree with them.
To a certain point.
Yes people in the church, and even leaders in the church aren’t perfect. In fact, sometimes we can all catch ourselves in a moment of flaming hypocrisy.
But I also point out that being a Christian is about following Jesus.
And He is no hypocrite.
Who is your spiritual role model today?
Who have you decided to follow as your guide through life?
Only One Person will never let you down.
Only One Person will never lead you astray.
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-3)
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