Christianity 201

October 13, 2017

Achieving Results on Human Strength Alone

Numbers 20:11 Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with the staff, and water gushed out. So the entire community and their livestock drank their fill.

Today we have an excerpt from a brand new book by Skye Jethani, Immeasurable: Reflections on the Soul of Ministry in the Age of Church, Inc.; published by Moody Press.  Although the book is written for pastors and church leaders, there are principles here that I believe have a much broader application for the mature Christ-follower.

Effectiveness

…In Numbers 20, Moses has just led the people of God out of Egypt and into the wilderness.  There they begin to complain about not having any water. They’re ready to riot against Moses.  So he falls on his face before the Lord in the tabernacle and prays for a solution.  God says to him, “Speak to the rock and it will bring forth water for the people and their animals.” (see Num. 20:8).

Something happened to Moses after leaving the presence of God, however, and rather than speaking to the rock as he had been commanded, Moses struck it twice with his staff.  Incredibly, a miracle happened anyway. Water flowed abundantly.  The people were saved. Moses was a hero.

Now consider the scene from a human point of view, or from the perspective of the Idol of Effectiveness.  Was Moses’ ministry effective? Absolutely! By any human standard, Moses was an effective leader. Was his ministry powerful? Yes, a miracle occurred! Was Moses’ ministry relevant? Clearly. It’s difficult to be more relevant than giving water to thirsty people in a desert. Was his ministry strategic? Without a doubt. He equipped the people with what they needed to reach their goal, the Promised Land. If Moses were here today, he’d be selling books on 3 Steps to Drawing Water from Rocks.  He’d be speaking on the ministry conference circuit and hosting webinars for dehydrated churches. From a human perspective, Moses was outrageously effective.

But what about from the Lord’s perspective? Not so much. God was far less impressed.  In fact, Moses was punished severely for his disobedience. He was forbidden from entering the Promised Land. Instead, the Lord determined he would die within sight of it. Why? Because God does not judge our effectiveness. He judges our faithfulness. It’s clear in Numbers 20 that God decided to perform a miracle in spite of Moses, not because of him.

So, when we focus on effectiveness, we are focusing on the wrong fruit. We assume that if people are coming to faith, if the church is growing, if the world is changing, then we must be right with God. But in fact God may be working in spite of us, not because of us. And here’s the real truth we don’t like to admit — every time God works, it is in spite of us. He does not need us to accomplish His work. If He did, He wouldn’t be a God worthy of our worship. There is an important truth that ministers need to hear as much as, if not more than, everyone else: God does not need you.  He wants you.  He did not sent His Son to recruit you to change the world. He sent His Son to reconcile you to Himself. Your value to God is not in your effectiveness, but in your presence…

pp25-26

 

August 5, 2017

Ministry Give-and-Take

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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The Message, Philemon 8-9 In line with all this I have a favor to ask of you. As Christ’s ambassador and now a prisoner for him, I wouldn’t hesitate to command this if I thought it necessary, but I’d rather make it a personal request.

Today we’re paying a return visit to the rather unusually named Chocolate Book with writer Jackson Ferrell. Each day the author has a chocolate flavor of the day and a reading for the day (seriously!) working his way through the Bible chapter by chapter. (This is another excellent blog to bookmark if you want a commentary source in the future.) To read this at source, click the title below.

You’re encouraged to begin by clicking through to read the entire book of Philemon before beginning.

Philemon – Gospel Negotiations

Today’s PassagePhilemon

Welcome to the third-shortest book in the Bible by word count. It’s Paul’s letter to Philemon, a man who had come to faith through Paul’s missionary work. Philemon owned a slave named Onesimus, who had run away, encountered Paul, and been converted to Christianity. In the ancient world, fleeing as a slave was a capital offense, but Onesimus had tended to Paul’s needs while in prison and proven himself an enthusiastic and helpful follower of Christ. Paul found himself in a tight and complicated spot, and the letter gives us a look into his response to the problem at hand.

Full disclosure: I’m drawing heavily from N.T. Wright’s commentary on Philemon in Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters. It provides an excellent perspective on a situation that it could be easy to misunderstand, particularly when one is inferring based on nothing but a quick read of a 335-word letter. Wright’s done his homework, and his insights into Philemon come highly recommended.

But if you aren’t familiar with the letter or its background, Paul’s actions may surprise you: he’s sending back Onesimus to Philemon. He writes, “I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart” (12). He’s sending a runaway slave back to his master, who in the Roman world would have every right to punish a slave as severely as he sees fit.

Paul, however, has another plan. He tells Philemon, “For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother…If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me” (15-17). Paul makes an appeal, strongly suggesting that Philemon should not only accept Onesimus without penalty, but go further and free him. Paul negotiates shrewdly throughout the letter, but here we see the ace up his sleeve. If Philemon has in fact accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ, if he’s a partner with Paul in furthering God’s kingdom and embracing the love of Christ as a way of life, then he should no more return Onesimus to a life of slavery than enslave Paul himself. The implication is subtle but serious: if he doesn’t free Onesimus, then what kind of partner in the gospel is he?

Slavery in Paul’s writings, as we’ve seen before, is a thorny issue. But in his actions we see what is perhaps his strongest stance against slavery, a push to free slaves without resorting to a violent overthrow of the Roman social order, and an appeal to brotherhood between believers. And he puts his money where his mouth is, telling Philemon, “But if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account…I will repay it (not to mention to you that you owe to me even your own self as well)” (18-19). One gets the impression that even as he pushes against anticipated arguments, Paul is ready to pay the cost of Onesimus’ release, if Philemon would dare to charge him for it.

That’s the third-shortest book in the Bible by word count. It’s Paul’s letter to Philemon, a man who used to own a slave named Onesimus.

May 13, 2017

Jesus Builds His Core Team

Sometimes I have been guilty of using terminology incorrectly. I know in my younger days this was true with disciples versus apostles. To be clear, Jesus chose 12 apostles, but had many disciples. In Luke 6 we see a turning point where he, to use a modern church term, chooses his board members. …Actually, that may not be a great analogy; make that Jesus chooses his ministry staff.

12 During that time, Jesus went out to the mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night long. 13 At daybreak, he called together his disciples. He chose twelve of them whom he called apostles

When did this take place in the overall chronology? Meyers N.T. Commentary states:

According to Matthew, the choice of the Twelve had not yet occurred before the Sermon on the Mount; nevertheless it is implied in Matthew, not, indeed, sooner than at Luke 10:1 [the sending out of the 72] but after the call of Matthew himself. Luke in substance follows Mark in what concerns the choice of the apostles. But he here assigns to the Sermon on the Mount—which Mark has not got at all—a position different from that in Matthew, following a tradition which attached itself to the locality of the choice of the apostles (τὸ ὄρος) as readily as to the description and the contents of the sermon.

The important takeaway from the passage is not chronology, however. The thing we’re meant to see with greatest clarity is that Jesus made the decision after much prayer. At Heartlight we read:

Few events were more important in Jesus’ ministry than his selection of apostles. How would Jesus select 12 from the mob that followed him? These men would have to change the world. Could he actually find 12 that could do that? Jesus knew what was in the hearts of people. Would anyone be able to stand up to the challenges that he would have to face as one of Jesus’ chosen 12? Jesus withdrew to the mountains to be alone with God and pray as he faced this momentous decision. He didn’t choose 12 and then ask God to bless his choice. No, he spent the night in prayer before he chose the 12. When faced with decisions, whether they appear important or not, we need to follow the example of our Lord!

At Redeeming God there is an excellent article — also on audio — on this passage. We can’t reproduce it all here, but I want to share some of it; click here to read it all (including a biography of each one).

We often think of the twelve apostles as the only disciples Jesus had. But that is simply not true. He had hundreds, if not thousands of other disciples. Out of them, He chose twelve to pour most of His time, energy and attention into. The twelve are named apostles, which means “sent ones.” The question though, is why did He pick twelve, and why these twelve? At that time, when a teacher wanted to focus his time and energy on a few specially selected students, the teacher would pick only one or two, at the most three students to train. If you have ever done any serious discipling, you know that adequately teaching and training even one person is almost a full time task. But Jesus picks twelve! Why twelve?

A. Rulers

The main reason is probably because Jesus was picking men to rule in His kingdom. He was, in a way, inaugurating a new Israel in Himself. Originally, the twelve tribes of Israel were to rule over the nations, and they will again one day, but with the twelve apostles ruling over the twelve tribes (Matt. 19:28). Before that happens, Jesus has something new to establish – the church. And the apostles will be the ones to help establish it. When Jesus picks twelve, he was indicating to them and everyone else, that these were the ones who would help Him rule when He came into His kingdom. They represented a whole new Israel.

This would be a great encouragement to them when they faced trials and tribulations later in life. It can be a great encouragement to you also. If you are a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, you also will rule. You cannot be an apostle, but you can be a disciple, and many passages in the Bible tell us that Jesus Christ is calling you to be His disciple. If you respond and follow Him, you will later be given the right to rule with him (Luke 19:11-27). Not to the same level as the apostles, but still in a very special and significant way. By picking twelve, Jesus was reminding the apostles that if they followed Him faithfully, they would rule and reign with Him in His Kingdom. We need to be reminded that if we follow Him faithfully, we too will rule and reign with Him in His Kingdom. There is great motivation and incentive in that Biblical truth.

You say, “Yeah, but I’m not disciple quality. Jesus wouldn’t pick me.” Guess what? These twelve Jesus picked weren’t quality either. We sometimes elevate them and put them on pedestals, but they were human just like us.

B. Ordinary Men

They were perfectly ordinary in every way. Not one was known for being scholarly or well trained in the Bible. Not one was a great speaker, writer or theologian. None of them had outstanding talents or abilities. To the contrary, they were all too prone to mistakes, misstatements, wrong attitudes, failures of faith, and bitter resentment toward others. Even the leader of the group, Peter, was forever sticking his foot in his mouth. In fact, at times, Jesus is amazed at how slow they are to learn and how spiritually dense they are (Luke 24:25).

Furthermore, we see from them that God loves variety. There is not one perfect mold that all Christians must fit into. Some of them were fishermen. Two of them, one a tax collector and the other a religious zealot, under any other circumstance, would have been trying to kill one another. Some of them were brothers to one another. Some of them were married, some single. Some were probably craftsmen and tradesmen, or maybe farmers. Don’t ever think that you don’t qualify to be a disciple of Christ. If these men qualify, you qualify. Though these men may not amount to much in the eyes of the world, they are exactly what God is looking for…

…God’s way of doing things is not man’s way. According to 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, God chooses the humble, the lowly, the weak and the meek. He doesn’t choose the strong and the talented, the powerful and the rich. He chooses those who would never be chosen so that when He works powerfully through them, everybody knows that only God could do such things. The people we would pick are not the ones God picks. If you feel like you are not qualified to be a follower of Jesus, then you are just right. If you feel, however, that you are just what God needs, then you may have some things to learn before God can start using you…

So Christ picked these twelve to show that He was choosing some rulers for His kingdom, and He also picked these twelve to show us that we don’t have to have great training or popularity to be one of His disciples.

C. Students

What is most curious about Christ’s choice is that at first, it seemed these apostles had nothing to do but follow Jesus around and listen to His teachings. They thought they were going to be put to some grand task, and given some great responsibility, but all they did was sit around, go to parties, watch Jesus interact with other people, and listen to Him teach.

Similarly, when you first become a follower of Jesus Christ, it may seem that God is giving you nothing significant to do. It may seem that Jesus has called you to be his disciple, but then He forgot about you, or doesn’t have any true purpose for you to fulfill. But this is because, frequently, God’s first will for your life is to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn. Before you can live like Jesus, you must learn from Jesus. Before you can do His will, you must know His will. If it seems like you are not being used by God, then you should take the opportunity to patiently learn from God. There is nothing wrong with sitting and learning, as long as you are willing and ready to go when Jesus says, “Go!” In fact, he will not send you, until you have learned what He wants you to know.

Even once they were trained, they were not perfect. After their training was complete, the first night on their own, they all deserted, betrayed and denied Jesus Christ. Afterwards, some of them even tried to go back to their original occupation of fishing, but they failed at that too…until Jesus showed up and got them back on course (John 21). To be a disciple means first and foremost to be a learner. A lot of people think that following Christ is all about doing what Christ would do. That is why we had that fad a few years back where everyone bracelets and T-shirts that said “What Would Jesus Do?”

The problem is that we cannot do what Jesus would do, unless we first become like Jesus, and we cannot become like Jesus until we know Jesus. Not “know” Jesus as in “I know about Jesus” but know Jesus as in “I know Him as if he were my best friend.” And the only way you can become the best friend of Jesus is by spending lots of time with Him. That’s what he wants from you. He doesn’t want you to do great things for Him. He wants to do great things for you and through you. But the only way that is going to happen is if you get to know Jesus. Listen to Him teach. Ask Him questions. Watch how He deals with people. Let Him encourage you, lovingly correct you, and patiently instruct you. As you go through this process, He will eventually give you an assignment. First a small one, then larger and larger until you will be amazed at the things God is doing through you. But it all begins with sitting at His feet and learning…

…continue reading here

 

November 18, 2016

The Elder as Spiritual Parent

leading-by-example

BSB Titus 1:6 An elder must be blameless, the husband of one wife, having children who are believers and are not open to accusation of indiscretion or insubordination. 7 As God’s steward, an overseer must be above reproach—not self-absorbed, not quick tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not greedy for money. 8 Instead, he must be hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it was taught, so that by sound teaching he will be able to encourage others and refute those who contradict this message.

Titus 1:6 heads a list of qualities that a local assembly of believers should look for in someone who will give leadership to the church. But the last half of the verse, which deals with the elder’s children has been used to eliminate some otherwise worthy candidates or in some cases have an elder removed from their responsibility.

Translations agree (we used the Berean Study Bible today) but use a variety of adjectives to describe this:

  • a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.  (NIV)
  • his children must be believers who don’t have a reputation for being wild or rebellious. (NLT)
  • his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. (ESV)

As indicated by today’s title, it’s important that those who are going to be spiritual parents to many prove themselves in the parenting role in their nuclear family.

In my own life, a man who had a profound influence on me spiritually was also removed from the office of elder in a denomination which was very swift to practice church discipline, and passed that legacy down from generation to generation.

What if someone who has a strong spiritual gift — pastor, teacher, evangelist, apostle, prophet — but their kids are a little unruly (KJV)? Our usual default here is to say that the first rule of Bible interpretation is that everything that can be taken literally should be taken literally. Some will argue how this is doubly so in the case of something the Bible says twice and Paul’s words to Titus are echoed in a possibly more familiar passage in 1 Timothy 3:

4 An overseer must manage his own household well and keep his children under control, with complete dignity. 5 For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for the church of God?

But doesn’t that verse in Proverbs (22:6) suggest there are going to be times of rebellion?

Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.

First of all, Prov. 22:6 is not an iron-clad promise. It’s a proverb, a general directive of how things ought to work and perhaps even usually work.  The Quest Study Bible notes in reference to Proverbs 3:

Proverbs are principles of right living and general descriptions of life’s realities, rather than sure-fire promises or guarantees. For example, Proverbs 3:1 appears to promise a long life and prosperity to those who do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart. Yet some godly people live in poverty and die at a young age.

This proverb isn’t offering immunity from illness, accidents or financial troubles. Rather, proverbs such as this point to a general principle, which if applied consistently to our lives, will save us from unnecessary pain and suffering. While we aren’t guaranteed we’ll never contract cancer or go broke, we can avoid the foolish choices that can prematurely cut our lives short or cause financial ruin.

While Proverbs observes the way life works time after time, exceptions to the general rules are evident in the books of Ecclesiastes and Job.

Paul Tautges, who we’ve featured here before, notes:

…[T]he proverbs are consistent observations, not categorical absolutes. The proverbs are not always intended as promises, but only as observations of repeated phenomena. Take Proverbs 22:6: ‘Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.’ Many a parent has been told that, in this verse, God guarantees their wayward child will return to the fold. But, like so many other proverbs, its author is making an observation of consistent behavior and outcomes (i.e. normally children raised in godly homes end up walking with God themselves), not issuing an inviolable law.

It will take discernment to carefully draw the line between divine guarantee and divinely inspired observation. A helpful path to such wisdom is the balancing of individual proverbs with the fuller witness of Scripture. This leads to a second principle of interpretation.

You can click this link to read more in a 2013 article, but we’re going to feature all six of his interpretative guidelines to the Proverbs tomorrow.

But we’ve digressed from our opening topic. Should a great Bible teacher or counselor be removed from their position if their kids are party animals?

If the Proverbs principle is true, then generally speaking we can say the children will return to the faith they have been taught. I would say that in order to be obedient to the words in Timothy and Titus, that leader should be sidelined for a season, and I think they would probably welcome the break from their leadership responsibilities to focus on their family issues.

The person in my example however was never restored to ministry in that denomination. He was dismissed instead of being sidelined. As it turned out, his kids did indeed return to faith, and a couple of them that I’m aware of accomplished great things in ministry.

But what about the sheep who wander from the fold and simply don’t return and show no sign of returning? Should those elders (or pastors) be forever exiled from ministry life?

That’s a tough one to answer.


NIV I Peter 5:3 Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example.

 

November 11, 2016

Developing and Practicing Biblical Discernment

Today we’re paying a return visit to Revive Our Hearts, though with a different author, Terri Stovall. This is a women’s ministry blog but I obviously felt there were some principles here that could be beneficial to a broader audience. Please support the various sources we use here by reading the articles at source by clicking the titles like the one below.

Get Off the Roller Coaster: 4 Ways to Practice Biblical Discernment

discernment-articleI am fascinated with roller coasters and just love riding them. Did you know that when a roller coaster is being constructed, if the builders are off even a half inch at the bottom of the first lift hill (the upward-sloping section of the track), it can be off as much as three feet at the top of the lift hill, depending how tall it is? That’s a coaster I don’t think I want to ride!

This past year has felt a bit like being on a roller coaster. Many of us have been shocked by the events and news reports that seem to challenge the very core of our beliefs. We live in a time when women are talking about transgender issues, political elections, and Supreme Court decisions on the one hand while struggling to know what really is true, noble, just, and pure (Phil 4:8–9).

Perhaps the place in which we find ourselves today is like the proverbial roller coaster that was a quarter of an inch off at the bottom of the lift hill. The issues that a decade ago didn’t seem like a big deal to slide a half-inch have now set us on a course where we feel we are about to fly uncontrollably off the track.

…We may not be building roller coasters, but we are mentoring, discipling, and influencing the lives of others. And it’s important to recognize there are many things that can move us off course from the truth.

We have the responsibility to make sure we are not even a half-inch off.

Warnings of Twisted Truth

Scripture warned that there will come a time when some will try to twist truth and deceive, even to the point of calling evil “good” and good “evil” (Matt. 24:4–51 Tim. 4:12 John 7; Isa. 5:20–21). Additionally, we have been commanded to grow in our ability to discern in order to test all things and to approve those that are excellent so we can hold fast to what is good (1 Thess. 5:21–22Phil. 1:9–11; Eph. 5:8–11). But I fear we have loosened our grip, and we are about to fly out of the seat.

Biblical Discernment: Four Ways to Develop

Discernment is being able to decide, determine, distinguish, or discriminate what is truth and what is error. So what is truth? It’s whatever God decrees. How do we, as women, build up those discernment muscles in order to know truth and recognize what is error? Jude 20–23 gives four admonitions that help us develop biblical discernment, which will keep us on track.

  1. Build your faith (v. 20) by being secure in knowing what and in whom you believe. The only way to do that is to continually read, study, and be consumed by the Word of God. You must engage and immerse yourself in what is truth so that when you encounter error, it can’t help but be obvious. How much does the Word permeate your typical day? How secure are you in your knowledge of who God is?
  2. Pray in the Holy Spirit (v. 20). You can have true biblical discernment only in and through the Holy Spirit. Pray without ceasing, being in constant communication with heart and ears wide open. Are you staying in constant communication with the Spirit, or do you have an on-again/off-again connection?
  3. Keep yourselves in the love of God (v. 21). How are you to love God? By being obedient to all He has commanded and walking accordingly (2 John 6:1, John 15:9–10). Are you picking and choosing some things to obey and letting others slide, or are you daily striving to walk obediently?
  4. Look for the mercy of our Lord (v. 23). That is, keep your eyes fixated on Christ. Paul puts it this way in his letter to the church at Colossae: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). When we take our eyes off those things above, we become distracted and frightened by all that is going on around us. What are your eyes fixated on today? What things easily divert your eyes away from Christ?

Biblical Discernment: Four Ways to Practice

As women’s ministry leaders, we have an added responsibility when it comes to the women we influence.

  1. Know what you believe, why you believe it, and be able to articulate it. If you can’t articulate it, you can’t counter lies with truth.
  2. Help the women you lead develop biblical discernment by teaching the whole counsel of God, not just the easy, feel-good parts we like.
  3. Recognize your responsibility to be on guard for the “savage wolves” that will come in attacking the flock ( Acts 20:28–29). You are the gatekeeper for what is let in and exposed to the women you lead. Keep your guard up, testing everything.
  4. Be willing to redeem and rescue. Jude 22–23 makes it clear that there is a time to be compassionate and redeem those who have strayed off course and there is a time to sound all alarms, rescuing someone before they are lost.

Yes, it does feel a bit like a roller coaster ride today, and you may wonder how in the world you are going to be able to navigate all that is to come. The answer? Look to Jesus, the One who can keep you from falling out of your seat.

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen (Jude 24–25).

June 18, 2016

Are we required to submit to a vision by a pastor?

When people leave comments on my various blogs, I often check out their writing if they provide a website. That’s how I ran into Australia’s Luke Goddard, who along with his wife Peta, writes at From Frightened To Father and hosts the Filtered Radio podcast. (Don’t worry, he explained it to me!) I asked him if he would consider writing something for readers here, and he came up with a rather interesting topic. The situation described may be foreign to some of you, but in the modern church it can be far too common. Either way, I hope it gets you thinking… For my U.S. readers, Luke used the Anglicized spelling of honor so many times that I decided not to change it today! 

•••by Luke Goddard

Are we required to submit to a vision by a pastor? This is a valid question as it is an extremely common trait in modern churches to have a visionary leader who is like a miniature god that the congregation must “honour at all costs.” This honour is often driven into the members as if when they open up a discussion about theology, practices or ecclesiology in general is an attack on their God given dream for the church.

Scripture disagrees.

The qualifications for a pastor of a congregation are laid out very clearly in Titus 1:

5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. 6 An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

These qualifications include “not pursuing dishonest gain” and, “not overbearing,” and finally encouraging others in “sound doctrine…refuting those who oppose it.”

These qualities are lacking in many pastors, and our submission to them is not meant to be a compulsory, overbearing honour that weighs down and puts into bondage the congregation member. I have witnessed this type of leadership and realized that I was trying to support a vision for church that clearly was unbiblical, yet loved the hype, music, relationships and modern facilities of church and it kept me quiet. I had solid convictions about word-faith doctrine, heretical teachers that spoke blasphemous things that were being promoted by our old congregation, and many instances where visiting preachers said some grievous things from our pulpit… yet my “honour” principle taught from a young age told me to shut up and let it go. They’re a minister, I’m a member… there’s nothing I can say to change anything.

But Christian pastors are literally required to refute those who teach heresy, and also preach in accordance with sound doctrine the whole counsel of God! So I have come to learn that approaching a pastor in a friendly way is OK to discuss theology, but that in most modern churches this is completely unwelcome. Their vision from God for the church is usually “gospel” and unchangeable, and handed down from higher authorities in the Pentecostal movement through young people camps and leader training. It’s a battle for the Bible and souls in reality.

So back to the question: Do we have to submit to a pastor’s church vision? No! But we do honour them as our feeding shepherd, and if they are faithful and rightly handle God’s word then they’re actually due honour for doing so, but those that preach faithfully usually don’t have a “vision” for their church that is infallible. If they do, they end up sliding down a slippery slope anyway. We are in no way obligated in scripture to honour a pastor’s vision. We are, though, under the God given submission to a local pastor if he has “shown himself approved” by studying the word of God. This will be evident in his life, his kids, his teaching and his relationship with his elders and staff. This takes time to visibly witness, but is there for our good. We are to lovingly support our pastors, and speak openly with them about doctrine as it arises if anything is said out of line, but the truth is that heretical teachers usually abhor questioning. In fact, many have gone on record saying they will openly throw out any church member who dares question their way of doing church. This is dangerous. Dangerous because they stand in the place of Jesus as the builder of the church, and the author and finisher of our faith. Jesus becomes the tacked on message to the end of motivational speeches, pep talks, self esteem boosting sermons and mini-movie stories loosely to do with spiritual things.

I think the Bible makes it clear that Paul and Timothy were given very specific directions for pastors to follow, and that those that deviate are not faithfully serving Jesus flock as they should, and as such are liable for questioning. It is how we approach this questioning, though, that often gets us into trouble.

In the end, we need to pray for faithful men of God to proclaim Christ crucified, and support those who do, and listen in to what our current pastors are saying with an open Bible to make sure that they are preaching in context, with the right message, given in season and with faithfulness to the text.

That is the only way a church can grow healthily, and the flock be fed nutritionally.

February 27, 2016

Scripture Provides a Model of Being an Encourager

NLT Phil 1:4 Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now...

So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News.

Today we pay a return visit to the blog, Counseling One Another by author and pastor Paul Tautges. Click the title to read at source, and if you have time, at least do a quick overview of another resource by him which is linked at the bottom of today’s reading.

Write a Letter of Affirmation & Encouragement

It is difficult to exaggerate the value of an encouraging letter, a letter which affirms the value of a person made in the image of God, and which affirms the work of God in others. In his excellent book, Practicing Affirmation, Sam Crabtree writes:

Even with the Bible’s emphasis on humble self-denial and its warnings against pride, the Bible praises people—to the glory of God, ultimately. The chief end of God is not to glorify man, as humanistic thought would have it; the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever. Meanwhile, the praising of people does not necessarily preclude the praising of God, if the people are commended ultimately for his glory. God is glorified in us when we affirm the work he has done and is doing in others.

As Christians, we are too often light on commendation, and heavy on criticism. We sometimes have the strange idea that if we praise a person for their work, character, and love then they will become proud. And we somehow think that it’s not God’s job to keep a person humble—it’s ours. So we tend to be light on praise and heavy on criticism, light on commendation and heavy on complaining.

But the apostle Paul did not think that way. Instead, his mind’s eye looked for that which was praiseworthy in people. Now, mind you, he was also not afraid to give rebuke when it was necessary. But his habit was to look for evidence of grace in the lives of others, and praise them for it.

For example, just in this little letter called Philippians, we find the apostle commending the recipients no less than seven times. Paul praised them for:

  • Their partnership in the gospel (1:5)
  • God’s saving and sanctifying work in them (1:6)
  • That they were partakers of grace in his imprisonment, in contrast to those who forsook him, or those who were enemies of Christ (1:7)
  • Their love and prayers (1:19)
  • Their progress and joy in the faith (1:25)
  • Their kindness in meeting his $ needs, and supporting the work of the gospel. Their gift, he said, was a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice to God (4:15-20)
  • The spiritual fruit that was increasing to their account because of their love and generosity (4:17)

This is a cheerful letter of encouragement.

How about you? Are you heavy on criticism and light on praise? Instead of looking for evidences of God’s grace in the lives of your fellow believers, do you more quickly look for their flaws? Do you write letters of encouragement that build others up, or are you more prone to write angry, caustic emails?

As Paul began his letter to the Philippians, he began with words of affirmation and encouragement, and he greeted them with grace and peace. The order is significant: grace precedes peace, true peace only comes to those who experience grace. We need to remember, too, that Paul’s continued prayer means the supply of God’s grace and peace has not run out. There is still plenty there for you, and for me. And there is plenty to pass on to others.

So, here’s your homework (Yes, this blog post contains homework!). This weekend, write at least one letter of encouragement to a brother or sister who has been a blessing to your life. Note the evidence of God’s grace that you see in their lives. Tell them you are thankful to God for them and how God has used them to enrich your life, model Jesus, and help you to grow spiritually. Extend to them the grace that God has so richly extended to you. And then pray…ask God to make you the kind of believer who is heavy on praise and light on criticism or complaining.

[These thoughts are from last Sunday’s sermon, A Letter of Encouragment.]


There was another article by Paul on the same website that I wanted to include, but the format was quite different. Still, if you’re willing to copy and paste the references into a Bible program online, this would make an excellent study. Check out 14 Trinitarian Works… Revisited. (We might use this in the future as a scripture medley!)

January 3, 2016

Jonah Feared Success, Not Failure in Mission Nineveh

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NIV-Jonah 1:1The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

3 But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord…

One time when the kids were younger, for our Bible study we studied the story of Jonah for an entire week. Since by that point this was very familiar territory, we were looking for new insights into the story, and with scripture, you’ll always find them. We came up with a few, with a little help from the ESV Study Bible.

Chapter One
There is a great deal of bigotry that plays into this story, but not in the way we often think. We tend to assume that Jonah simply didn’t like the people of Nineveh and simply didn’t want to go on that basis. But it’s more accurate to say that Jonah was afraid of the success of his mission. He certainly wasn’t seeing them through God’s eyes. Do we do that?

  • What if that terrible family down the street become Christians and start going to our church?
  • What if that guy where I work became a believer and started expecting me to mentor him in his faith journey?
  • What if so-and-so in our extended family got serious about reading the Bible and started asking me why, if I’m also a Christ-follower, have I done some of the things I’ve done?
  • What if those poor people I prayed with downtown and left my phone number expect us to help them out?
  • What if all the people who put up their hands at the movie our church showed start coming ever week… there would be more of them than us?
  • Everybody knows the terrible things that _____ did; now that he’s been a believer for two years, is he going to expect a leadership position?
  • That’s the woman who hit our car in the hardware store parking lot last Christmas. What’s she doing at our small group meeting?

Chapter Two
The ESV Study describes the four chapters of Jonah as containing seven episodes, with the first three paralleling the second three. Jonah speaks to two similar audiences in the story. The crew on the boat heading for Tarshish were each praying to their own God, but then after Jonah explained to them what was causing the terrible storm, they prayed to Jonah’s God. Success! Just as he will experience in Nineveh. His ministry as a prophet was constantly bearing fruit. But inside the great fish, Jonah’s prayer is mostly thankfulness for his own safety and deliverance. There’s no mention of the sailors or the people who he was originally sent to. A rather egocentric prophet, don’t you think?

Chapter Three
Jonah shows up several days (or weeks) late for his assignment and delivers his message, albeit halfheartedly. Today we have preachers who read powerful scriptures and then deliver messages containing great truths — even if ‘borrowed’ from the internet — and yet don’t realize the power of the Word they are handling. It’s just a job. The people of Ninevah may matter to God but don’t matter to Jonah. He’s apparently quite disappointed that God doesn’t destroy the city. Perhaps that would be more fun to watch.

Chapter Four
Maybe God will destroy the city after all. He’s already changed his mind once. So instead of taking the first train, boat or great fish out of town, Jonah hangs around to see if anything develops. The closing phrase of the story shows how out-to-lunch his priorities are, as God’s final appeal is basically, “If I destroy the city, think of all the animals that would perish.” Since Jonah has a thing for houseplants, God figures he’ll appeal to Jonah’s sense of nature. Not a good ending for Jonah really. Final score: Ship passengers and crew – 1; People of Nineveh – 1; Jonah – 0.

We ended our week reading the story from The Street Bible by Rob Lacey, known in North America as The Word on The Street. He devotes almost half of his writing to Chapter Four. Maybe someone should re-tell this story for kids, using the last chapter as the basis for the story, and then recreate the opening scenes backwards in light of the closing. Call it “Jonah and the Plant;” or “Jonah and the Worm.” Or instead of pitching this story for kids, it should really be part of Church Leadership Lessons 101.

The 4th chapter — the entire book actually — ends with a question, “And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh…?” (NIV) to which Lacey adds, “Hard question to someone convinced God’s only interested in the Jewish nation. It’s tough admitting you’re wrong.”

Often our evangelism efforts are focused on people who, if converted, will look like us and talk like us — people who blend into our local church culture — but the command of Jesus to go into the world means the whole world.

 

November 29, 2015

Favoritism in the Local Church

NIV James 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6a But you have dishonored the poor…

I remember the first time I encountered this verse. I attended a large church at the time, and there was a couple in the church who would always arrive five minutes late, which was rare in that church culture. The service would start at 11:00 AM with the call to worship, the invocation and the opening prayer; and then either just before or just after the opening hymn, this man and his wife would walk in and be escorted by an usher to a seat near the front that had been kept for them.

Imagine my surprise when someone older and more cynical (but as I later realized, surprisingly accurate) told me that their late arrival was on purpose. That the whole point of their apparent tardiness was to create the grand entrance that I witnessed each week. To be seen. To be known.

In that stage of my life I would later move on to a succession of four much smaller churches, and I could say with all honesty that this problem didn’t apply in those churches. At least not as far as I could see. The problem of favoritism toward the rich obviously was an early church problem.

Around the same time however, I remember encountering these verses from Ken Taylor’s classic original Living Bible:

LB Romans 14:1 Give a warm welcome to any brother who wants to join you, even though his faith is weak. Don’t criticize him for having different ideas from yours about what is right and wrong.

The second half of this verse has been used to shut down all discussion of doctrinal matters, which I don’t believe is the intent. The first part has been the subject of what it means to be “the brother of weaker faith” and how it is often new believers (starters) who are prone to religiosity and legalism.

The point is not have a bias against people whose doctrinal interpretation is different on secondary matters.

Both the James and Romans passage remind us that in the church we do tend to give privilege and ministry opportunity to people who are (a) in positions of socioeconomic high standing and (b) people who we’ve already ascertained ahead of time will agree with us on matters of doctrine.

Again, in our world, we have people moving through our churches who come from a variety of backgrounds. It’s said that many millennials really don’t care whose franchise name is on the door. So our churches today you might find Calvinists and Arminians sitting side-by-side, egalitarians and complementarians on the same church board, and pre-tribulation and post-tribulation interpreters sharing teaching duties on the same adult elective class or small group.

Rather, in our modern church we sometimes have a different, more subtle examples of bias and prejudice.

When it comes to fairness in any organization, the one thing the world detests is nepotism. The Oxford Diction defines nepotism as:

the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs

In a church environment, this may include unpaid volunteer positions, as well as salaried positions. (For the former, the reward occurs later in heaven, right?)

When Paul and James are telling the early church not to ignore those of weaker faith, or not to prefer the rich people, they are setting out rules. A rule is something that may apply to (a) only one people group, or (b) only one location, or (c) only at one time. But the statements about people with whom we have doctrinal differences, or ignoring the poor are simply examples. In scripture, rules always derive from principles.

And what is the principle?

The principle is simply not to show favoritism. To be so circumspect in all your dealings (and dealing with the processes of hiring or appointing ministry leaders) as to not be seen as guilty of favoritism. To keep the process open and transparent. To keep accountability unbiased. To be willing to make the tough decisions if someone you’ve already placed in a position is falling short of the task required.

What’s true of churches also applies to Christians in leadership in a business or non-profit. It can apply to extended families. It can apply in neighborhoods.

I don’t know who among us needed that today, but I hope it will stay with you in situations you find yourself this week.

CEB Deut. 16:19a Don’t delay justice; don’t show favoritism.

NIV Lev.19:15a Don’t delay justice; don’t show favoritism.

 

 

 

September 5, 2015

Pursuing God’s Agenda

Today’s article is from the blog Disciple All Nations which came recommended. Russ Mitchell serves as Assistant Director of Research for One Challenge www.OneChallenge.org. The article I would have liked to post here, On the Study of God’s Great Works was a bit longer than what we usually run here, but I hope you will check it out if you have time. As always, you’re encouraged to click the title below and read this at source…

Spiritual Leaders Must First of all Pursue God’s Agenda in Unity

My last posting highlighted two characteristics of spiritual leaders found in 1 Chronicles 12:32, namely that spiritual leaders understand the times and know what God’s people should do. Considering this passage in its context, a third characteristic of spiritual leaders emerges: spiritual leaders must first of all pursue God’s agenda.  So let’s see how this idea emerges from the passage.

1 Chronicles 12:23, which introduces the entire passage, says: “Now these are the numbers of the divisions equipped for war, who came to David at Hebron, to turn the kingdom of Saul to him, according to the word of the LORD (NASB). The last few words are key, as they provide insight into why these leaders of Israel took the action they did. They understood that it was God’s revealed will to make David king.

agendaThe fact that David was chosen by God to rule over all Israel was not new news. More than a decade had passed since God revealed to the prophet Samuel that David was to rule instead of Saul and Samuel anointed David as king (1 Samuel 13:14; 16:13). So the fact that David was God’s choice to rule all Israel had been known for some time.

Instead, we see that for a period, Israel’s leaders pursued a different agenda. At this point in time, seven and a half years passed since the death of Saul, from which time David reigned over only the tribe of Judah. These seven and a half years were characterized by conflict and civil war as the leaders of the other eleven tribes attempted to maintain the kingship of Saul’s house, whom God had rejected, instead of making David king, as God directed. Thus we have a significant amount of time where un-spiritual leaders were seeking to do their own will rather than pursuing God’s revealed agenda.

So the action that we see here in 1 Chronicles 12 was not immediate action based on a new revelation, but rather the leaders and people finally (!) coming into alignment with God’s long ago revealed will.

Henry and Richard Blackaby, in their book Spiritual Leadership, state that effective spiritual leaders move God’s people into alignment with God’s agenda. I find this description of spiritual leadership very helpful. But this passage in 1 Chronicles 12 brings to light the problematic issues that emerge when the majority of spiritual leaders choose to not pursue God’s revealed agenda. The intervening seven and a half years between Saul’s death and David being made king over all Israel involved civil war, assassinations and needless death and suffering, all because Israel’s leaders would not accept God’s revealed word. Instead they pursued their own agenda – to their own detriment.  In this context, spiritual leaders must first choose to pursue God’s agenda; then they are able to move God’s people into alignment with God’s agenda.

In my experience two plus decades of working with Christian leaders, I have observed that it is frequently necessary to persuade spiritual leaders to pursue God’s revealed agenda. One would think that this should not be an issue; but it is. There are many possibilities of why this is so. Some may be ignorant of God’s revealed agenda. Others have forgotten or neglected the pursuit of God’s will or have a list of excuses of why God’s  revealed will does not apply. A few have outright rejected God’s word in order to pursue a self-seeking agenda.  Maybe the pursuit of God’s agenda is “politically incorrect” or challenges the status quo of those who are positional church leaders. So the first task is to help spiritual leaders wrestle with what God wants, to take God’s revealed word seriously, to lay down their own agendas to pursue God’s agenda in unity. I ‘ve observed that a primary factor that derails church planting and disciple making initiatives is that leaders are unable to come together in unity to pursue God’s agenda. Is it any wonder that there is so much disunity in the Body of Christ when its leaders are unwilling to pursue God’s agenda?

So this is the key point: spiritual leaders must first of all pursue God’s agenda in unity; then they will be able to move the rest of God’s people to accomplish what is on God’s agenda.  We see this happening in 1 Chronicles 12, where hundreds of thousands of people come into alignment with God’s agenda to make David King of all Israel. Would it not be more wonderful to see hundreds of thousands – even millions –  of God’s people working together today to make Jesus king of the whole earth!

Adding this perspective to our previous observations from 1 Chronicles 12 about spiritual leadership it is seen that spiritual leaders must:  (1) pursue God’s agenda in unity, (2) understand the times and (3) know what God’s people should do.

I see that several practical applications that follow from these observations. So the next piece will focus on three practical questions every spiritual leader must be able to answer.

July 4, 2015

Passing the Torch of Leadership

“Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them–to the Israelites.
~Joshua 1:2 NIV

Brian StillerToday’s post is by Brian Stiller, former President of Youth for Christ Canada, former President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, former President of Tyndale University College and Seminary and now Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance. Brian has lived many lifetimes! You can read more about him here.

What makes what follows so interesting is that it was written in 1987. It appeared in an EFC communications piece, The Sundial, and my wife typed this out so we could share it here.

When we fail to pass the torch

As we look at churches and organizations today, we can see that there are many in need of torch passing. But either the senior leader desperately holds on too long with no attempt to train or give opportunity to the younger, or the tension produces so much conflict that the younger leader heads off to some other more flexible opportunity. Out of it all, energy and vision are suppressed. This leads to an increasing loss of touch with reality and a lack of clear goals and effective strategy.

How can the torch be passed?

There is a wonderful example in the Old Testament of the passing of the torch – from Moses to Joshua.

The announcement, “Moses, my servant, is dead”, boomed out across the tents in the valley. What would happen now? many wondered. Fortunately for the people of Israel, Moses had carefully nurtured and developed a younger leader – Joshua.

What Moses did then lends powerful ideas to this generation.

Leadership includes different styles

Moses recognized that leadership emerges out of different styles. Whereas he was a crusader, Joshua was a manager.

Moses was angered by the treatment of his kinsfolk. Later he defended some young women who were being harassed while tending their sheep. Ultimately his crusader instinct led him to say yes to God’s call to lead the people out of Egypt.

How different Joshua was. Right from the beginning we see his obedience. Never is there conflict between himself and Moses. There was no sign of trouble because of a strident spirit or a self-centered personality.

Moses didn’t look for someone identical to himself. A different style was needed. Moses’ and Joshua’s backgrounds, personalities, styles, means of operation and public profiles were vastly different. Yet each was a leader and each, from his base of strength, was used by God in a particular way and particular time.

Different times call for different styles

It’s easy to be trapped into believing in a “best” form of leadership. My generation has grown up thinking its cloth must be cut from a certain model. Since World War II church leadership has been characterized as aggressive, charismatic, individualistic and outgoing. This view of leadership, however, has been typecast from a specific time and culture. It’s time we looked for other models.

Moses was a restless and dominating figure who led his people out of bondage and defined the basis of the community by his special contact with God. How different was Joshua! Learning from his tutor, Moses, he took the patterns and ideas expressed by his predecessor and molded them into a working society. Each leader was competent but their styles were different.

Passing the torch is inevitable

It’s not always easy to make the transition from one generation to the next. My generation has lived with the “long shadow” syndrome. The long shadow occurs when a key senior leader, often a creative and crusading “Moses”, continues for so long that his or her shadow blankets the one who is following. And the up and coming leader never gets an opportunity to nurture his or her own vision. Instead, the potential leader gets trapped by serving the older and never really develops the fine edges of his or her own leadership.

Managing Moses’ ideas

Joshua became the manager of Moses’ ideas. And how necessary it is that crusaders nurture and train managers to put their ideas into order and practice. Joshua succeeded because he refused to succumb to the weakness which plagues all managers: maintaining the status quo. Rather, he nurtured his vision and risked beyond the borders of Moses

June 30, 2015

The Sin of Self-Importance

We end the month with a return visit to a blog with an unusual name, re-Ver(sing) Verses.  I love the format used there each day, when you click the title below, take a minute to look through other recent devotionals. (The format is also a good model how of to present Bible study material.)

3 John 1:9

 I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us.

3 John 1:9 | NIV | Other Versions | Context

Brief

By the time John got to writing the book of 3 John, it was understood that he was already very old, nearing a hundred. By then all the other apostles had been martyred – indeed, according to history (not the Bible), it was said that all the apostles except for John were martyred. Imagine living till that age? Almost ever single one of your peer would most likely have departed. While you will likely have a lot of friends, most of them would be a lot younger than you, and your friendship is based on your mentorship to them. Hence why the title of ‘the Elder’ that John calls himself by is doubly apt – whether or not he truly was an Elder in title or not, or simply in connotation. We know little about the Early Church except from what little the authors of the New Testament tells us, but most of those writers – Paul, Peter etc were all prominent leaders who regularly speak to different churches or visit different churches. Little is known about what goes on in a normal, regular church with a normal, regular leader. In 3 John we were given a glimpse of 3 obscure leaders in the early church days – Gaius, to whom John addressed the book of 3 John to, Diotrephes, who is our character of interest today, and Demetrius, who was the least mentioned but probably most commended. In this study we will focus on the very obscure Diotrephes from the very obscure book, and identify the common traits in a church leader that John has condemned as evil – that which we should not imitate.

Analysis

I wrote to the church – the assumption here is that this was the same church that Gaius was most likely a part of. The idea here was likely, John wrote something to the church, most likely some greetings and teachings, only to be rejected by Diotrephes. In order to reject them, he would have to be of a certain ministerial position – a position of certain authority and leadership powers, at least within the church itself. As a result of Diotrephes, the letter was likely destroyed or not read out to the church, and hence, John was now writing to Gaius, most likely another church leader, so that his message can be passed on to the Church. This was perhaps also an explanation for what he did not bring up the matter of Diotrephes with the Church but with Gaius, as any letter to the church would probably end up with Diotrephes and not paid heed to.

but Diotrephes, who loves to be first – the love of preeminence is pointed out specifically by John here. If Diotrephes is, as we assumed, a man holding a certain office in the church, likely pastoral, and likely amongst a core few key positions, there will certainly be a certain importance to this man. Indeed, even till today, we do afford our pastors and ministers higher importance as a respect of their positions. However, Diotrephes was likely being too self-important, even to the point of abusing his authority. It was out of his own pride, ambition, and self-interest. There are some scholars who believe that Diotrephes preferred a different gospel to the one the apostles preached, and thus did not welcome John, but that is something I cannot speculate on.

will not welcome us – there are two possibilities here, firstly, that John was physically unwelcome when he tried to visit the church, and secondly, his voice and words were unwelcome as Diotrephes disregarded his letter, paid no heed to his words, and withheld the letter from being read to the Church. Either way, this emphasizes the tyrannical rule that Diotrephes has over the church. While a church leader was meant to lead while walking in the truth (like Gaius, as praised by John in v2), Diotrephes not only rejected them and sought preeminence, he also had malicious words for them and chased some of them out of the church. John had harsh words for Diotrephes, implying that he was evil, and he implores Gaius never to follow his example – do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God [3 John 1:11].

Conclusion

Wow, this is like First Century AD Church politics, no? How dramatic, really. We see John, most likely a reputed figure in the Christian world and a mentor figure over several church leaders – the last of apostles, an old man with lots of respect reserved for him, being undermined by a pompous Diotrephes, who had some power in a church where Gaius, a commendable man, was also in. How complicated, but in truth, it happened in the first century, and it’s still happening today. Many times in the midst of our love for preeminence – let’s face it, we all like to be important – we lose sight of what is most important, what the church is about. We lose sight of God, and John’s warning is harsh – do good, or you are not from God.

As much as 3 John was a letter that commends Gaius, and as much as it reads, for a bit, like a complaint letter against Diotrephes to Gaius, the message is clear: lead the church properly, righteously, with the love of God. Do not imitate what is evil, but imitate what is good. And that Diotrephes?

Evil man!

For us modern day Christians, we may not be church leaders, but let us not become modern day Diotrephes, but instead imitate the good of Gaius and Demetrius.

 

March 24, 2015

Serving While You Are Young…and When You’re Older, Also

In I Timothy 4, Paul instructs his “son in the faith” (1:2) on the carrying out of his ministry. If you’ve ever had to write a word of encouragement to a younger Christian — especially a child or teen or twenty-something — chances are you might have quoted verse 12:

12a Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young…

But there is more to that particular verse:

12b Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. 

Breaking it down, Paul gives “Tim” five areas in which he is to be an example:

  • words, teaching, speech
  • conduct, behavior, actions
  • love, charity, agape
  • belief, faith, faithfulness
  • purity, integrity, a pure life

But this verse also leads off a list of five things Timothy is encouraged to do:

12 Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. 13 Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them. 14 Do not neglect the spiritual gift you received through the prophecy spoken over you when the elders of the church laid their hands on you. 15 Give your complete attention to these matters. Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you.

The other four would be:

  • read the scriptures; preach the scriptures; exhort and encourage people from the scriptures
  • do not neglect (or be careless with) the gift that was given to you, referencing a gift specifically imparted when the elders laid hands on (i.e. set apart) Timothy for ministry service
  • serve this ministry with abandon; immerse yourself in all aspects of the work; be absorbed in it, devoted to it, and un-distracted from it.
  • while doing all this outward ministry, watch and be conscientious about your inner life; be self-critical with your own spiritual progress; and do this not for the sake of your own spiritual life, but that of those who are watching you and are under your spiritual care

The Asbury Bible Commentary notes,

Paul’s exhortation in v. 12 shows an obvious awareness that some may not respect Timothy’s youth and that Timothy might even use his youth as an excuse for immature belief. Example is a pattern or copy from which other patterns or copies are made. The trio of love, faith, and purity conforms nicely to the admonition of 1:5.

The verse mentioned at the end occurs just a few after Paul calls Timothy his “son.”

I Tim. 1:5 The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith.

While some of you reading this may not be young — in years, or in your faith journey — I believe this passage can be used by all of us a type of “report card template” for us to examine ourselves to see how we’re doing.  Here are all nine of the above bullet points restated as a question:

  • What do people know about me by my speech?
  • What do people see through my actions?
  • Am I known as a giving person; a loving person; a person of charity?
  • What is the role of my beliefs in my life; how are they reflected?
  • Do I have a reputation for integrity; am I walking in purity?
  • Is my life scripture-rooted? Am I passionate about God’s Word?
  • Am I using my gifts in service or have I set some aside?
  • Would I be described as passionate in my devotion to Christ?
  • Is there a consistency between what people see and how things are internally?

You might even want to print these out, and keep them in a special place. You could check-mark things where you’re feeling no particular focus is needed right now, and underline things which need to be addressed. Then check back with the list in a month, in a new season, or in a new year.


Go Deeper: Here’s some teaching on Paul and Timothy relationships as part of a study on The Antioch Tradition. The graphic below is from that source.

Paul and Timothy

 

 

 

February 8, 2015

Churches Contain People Who are Good Examples, and Bad Examples

NIV 3 John:9 I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. 10 So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.

11 Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God. 12 Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone—and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true.

Christians and hospitalityFor Sundays in February, we’re highlighting the website Christian Fellowship Devotions. Today we looked at the writing of Pastor Geoff, who has number of articles which together form commentaries on Daniel, Nahum, Ruth, the Ten Commandments and the Bible itself. We were drawn to the section on John’s Epistles, and particularly to the little book of 3 John which is easily overlooked.

We gave today’s item a headline that reflects the central teaching in these verses, but 3 John is also overlaid with the theme of hospitality, hence the graphic at right. To read at source click the titles of the two articles combined below.

Diotrephes

A Negative Example in the Church

I suspect that John was most concerned about the behavior of Diotrephes, as it related to the potential danger to the Christian community. And it is to this he spoke when he wrote the second part of his third letter. He knew the church must remain true to that which advances the kingdom. It could not follow a pattern or a man that was bringing dissension and disruption.

As we have seen in the previous session, there was much going on in this local church that was a positive testimony for the Lord. John had commended Gaius because he, and by inference, the church, where providing the gift of hospitality to servants of the Lord who came through the community.

A Negative Example: But as is frequently the case, there was a fly in the ointment. This fly went by the name of Diotrephes. It appears he had a formal position within the local church. He certainly exercised considerable power. And he certainly was creating major problems through the misuse of that power.

Diotrephes wanted to hold the place of honor, or authority, within the church. He was obviously impressed with himself. He may have recognized though, that authority – and for that matter respect – actually rested in John, and possibility as a result, resented him. Diotrephes had no interest in anything that John might have to say. What are some disruptive examples that you have observed within the church community?

Letters of warning about Diotrephes’ behavior were being ignored. So John spelled out what he would do if he came to visit the church. He believed that it would be necessary to confront Diotrephes face-to-face. He spells out the specific behaviors that were unacceptable. Diotrephes was guilty of gossiping with the intent of creating problems, and undermining John’s authority. Gossip is contrary to Christian behavior. Paul warned about this when he said:

“We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies” (2 Thessalonians 3:11-12).

In Diotrephes’ case, he was using gossip to intentionally create trouble.

Second, unlike Gaius, Diotrephes was preventing the exercise of hospitality to Christians coming through the community. He refused to accept or provide for them. Additionally, if that wasn’t enough, he wouldn’t allow others to offer hospitality. He took action to expel those who endeavored to go counter to his directions.

Good Example, Bad Example

Verse 11-12

Once again, John doesn’t mince words. Immediately following his comments on Diotrephes, he notes that believers are to model themselves after that which is good, not that which is evil. Clearly the behavior of Diotrephes is presented as evil.

John reiterates that good behavior (what Scripture defines as good) can only occur when obedience to God is the motivator. In contrast, those who do evil are functioning outside God’s will. Most likely, he is suggesting that Diotrephes’ behavior demonstrates his lack of godliness. And this being the case, Diotrephes is not to be a model of Christian behavior, nor to be allowed to exercise a leadership position.

A third person in the local body is mentioned. This is Demetrius. He is presented in contrast to Diotrephes. This individual had a good reputation. Everyone spoke well of him. John emphasized that truth itself validated those things said about Demetrius. This means that Demetrius was functioning in the truth of the apostles’ teachings and God’s Word. John knew Demetrius personally, and was able to give endorsement of the godliness of this person. What is the source of a good reputation within the church?

Demetrius is presented as an example of someone who abides in Christ, while Diotrephes is offered as an illustration of someone who is outside the veil of the church. When a person is within the church, but not part of the body, he often chooses the role of disrupter, and can be used by Satan to undermine the efforts to serve the Lord.

John warns this church about the importance of doing all in truth. In the second epistle, truth was the basis for withholding support for people claiming to represent Christ. Here, truth is the criteria by which service is performed.

October 2, 2014

Exegeting Eldership

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1 Timothy 3 – New International Version (NIV)
Qualifications for Overseers and Deacons

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full[a] respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

Exegesis is the careful word-by-word, phrase-by-phrase, verse-by-verse study of a Bible passage. Unlike topical study, the student is rooted firmly in the text and while cross-references may be used, one’s Bible stays open to the passage at hand. A great example of this is David Murray’s recent blog post on the qualification of an elder in I Timothy 3.  This appeared at his blog Head Heart Hand and you can click the title below to read this at source. (His title was also alliterative.)

Electing Elders Is An Evangelistic Act

I and my fellow elders at Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church have been focusing on elder training over the past couple of months. Part of that involved preaching on 1 Timothy 3 v1-7, a sermon that ended up with 10 points (not usually recommended!):

1. The vital importance of these verses: This saying is trustworthy

This passage is the second “faithful saying” and is introduced with the same words as the amazing statement of soteriology in 1 Tim. 1:15, emphasizing the importance of ecclesiology.

2. The huge responsibility in these verses: the position of an overseer

Paul uses “shepherd,” “elder,” and “bishop/overseer” interchangeably indicating that they are three different words for the one office.  To “oversee” includes observation, analysis, discernment, guiding, guarding, etc.

3. The powerful and pure desire in these verses: If anyone aspires to the office…

This is a strong desire but also a commended desire because it is not motivated by selfishness and pride but by a desire to serve Christ and His church.

4. The worthy work in these verses: a noble task

It is work; it involves labor, sweat, toil, and effort. But it is noble (lit. “beautiful”) work.

5. The uncompromising imperative in these verses: the elder must be

Given the importance and worth of this work, there are rigorous qualifications to be imposed. It’s not “Ideally…If possible…We’d prefer…” It’s a “must.” An imperative. An uncompromising standard.

6. The beautiful self-control in these verses: blameless

After insisting that the elder must be “above-reproach,” “blameless (lit “unassailable”) Paul moves to Christian morality in general with a strong emphasis on Spirit-given self-control or self-discipline:

  • Self controlled in sexual matters: husband of one wife
  • Self-controlled in behavior: vigilant, temperate:
  • Self-controlled in thinking: sober-minded
  • Self-controlled with money: not covetous
  • Self-controlled in the use of addictive substances: not given to much wine:
  • Self-controlled in conflict: not violent

7. The useful service in these verses: hospitable, able to teach

His holy character comes out in holy service of others:

  • The elder is hospitable: warm, welcoming to others, invites people to enjoy food and fellowship in his home
  • The elder is able to teach: able to communicate appropriate information in an appropriate way and at an appropriate time

8. The testing ground in these verses: manage his own household well

Due to parallels, a man’s home is a testing place for his role in the church. One indicates suitability for the other.

9. The fearful danger in these verses: not a recent convert

Choosing elders is a serious business with serious consequences if we get it wrong – both for the church and the person. That’s why we must avoid electing new converts or any with limited spiritual maturity.

10. The evangelistic impact of these verses: well-thought of by outsiders

Who we elect to office communicates so much to the world about what the church and the Gospel is all about, that it should be considered a major part of our evangelistic message to the world. The list of elders’ qualifications have two similar bookends: “above reproach” and “well-thought of by outsiders” underlining that electing elders is an evangelistic act.

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