The Pastor I Want to Be

This morning I came across Philippians 2:19-30, and came to see it as an example of the type of pastor I wish I was and should strive to be.

In these verses, Paul speaks of Timothy and Epaphroditus and the encouragement they have been to him. Before looking at what he said about these two men let’s remember the situation Paul was in as he wrote these things.

They encouraged him in ministry. Only those who are well outside the loop believe ministry is an easy course. These men encouraged him in his imprisonment. Paul had been imprisoned for the gospel, in a world where prisons were especially brutal. They encouraged him as he faced the likelihood of execution. Paul speaks of his survival as a fifty-fifty shot.

This is the most amazing thing about this passage. Paul wanted the Philippians to experience the encouragement of these men so much that he was willing to send them, rather than to keep them close, serving himself.

So what does Paul say about these men?

First thing I notice is that Timothy is described of having the interest of others, from the perspective of Jesus Christ.

The opposite of this is to seek your own interests.  This is a constant challenge for a pastor or minister of any type. Just yesterday I sat with a missionary who spoke of the difficulty of speaking on God’s behalf without allowing the message to decompose into personal tirades at the people we love, because of our private, and often frustrating, knowledge of their sins.

Another challenge of seeking the interests of your congregation is that they don’t really know what is in their own best interest.  They too have a way of making their self-interests selfish instead of Christ-centered. So, in order to avoid telling people what they want to hear, you have to temper your message constantly with a deep connection to Christ.  This is the only way that you will know His best interests for your hearers.

The last thing I want to mention about this maintaining the interests of those you serve, is that it helps to have a support system outside of the circle of your own congregation.  Often others can see things in us we have carefully hidden from ourselves.  An honest friend will tell you what you need to hear to allow you the opportunity to improve. Every Paul needs a Timothy and every Timothy needs a Paul.

Second, Paul speaks of Timothy as a person of proven character.

Proving anything takes time. Proving character takes a lifetime. Timothy was not spoken of as someone whom Paul just met and had a good feeling about, but instead as someone that had served alongside Paul for an extended time.

Proving leadership has a trait in it that many people miss.  One of the ways that you become a good leader is by being a good follower. Paul’s leadership over Timothy helped bring out Timothy’s abilities in that area. Leaders who cannot follow, at least in my opinion, also cannot lead. Remember job one for any leader is to follow Christ.

Character is not weighed on scales, so that as long as more half their characteristics are good, they are a good men. Character is not a litmus test, meaning that when a strong majority of their characteristics are pure they are a good person.  Character is on the gold standard.  If it is not 100% pure then it is still in need of refinement. All of us are still in the process, but don’t use that as an excuse to change out to any other standard than Christ.

Finally, Paul speaks of Epaphroditus as a man who was willing to sacrifice all.

The first sacrifice was being willing to live broken-hearted for the people he served.  The passage describes it as longing for the Philippians, and indeed, leaving behind those you love is one sacrifice most face in ministry.  But the sacrifice of a broken heart comes in many other ways too. Everything from watching people drown in their sin to burying your beloved members break your heart.

He also was willing to walk the line of public scrutiny and shame.  I say this because prisons in that time and place were difficult to survive. Paul most likely would not have made it through if Epaphroditus was not bringing him food, water, medicines and encouragement.  But bringing these things to Paul meant he was willingly associating himself with the crimes the Roman overlords assumed Paul was guilty of.

Finally, Epaphroditus almost died from illness while performing these ministries. This was the context in which Paul said we should hold men like Epaphroditus in high esteem. Are we as willing to risk everything for the gospel?  We live in such comfort today that it is hard to tell. But if you are not willing to make the many smaller sacrifices included in ministry, you are not training yourself to be ready to make the ultimate sacrifice if, or maybe when, the time comes.

 

 

 

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Philosophy of Effort

What do you believe about human effort?  Should we, since we are not saved by works, therefore not put any effort into getting work done?  Or going just a little bit further, perhaps all human effort is inherently tainted by sin and therefore we should never do anything for God, but instead expect that all of Christian living and God’s kingdom on earth should be accomplished by Him without our participation?

It seems like the opinion that everything we do is sinful and worthless is very strong today. In this philosophy, humanity must allow God to build His church. The idea is that we are not able to help, and when we try we simply mess it up. For those who proclaim this message, I have this question.  Are you not doing a work by proclaiming this ideology?  Isn’t teaching, preaching, and instruction in practical application, tasks which require some degree of labor?

We need a better understanding of human effort in the kingdom of God. Consider 1 Corinthians 3:14, here quoted from the NASB.  “If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.” You will want to open your own Bible and explore the context of this verse, but the general idea is that God expects us to work, will test our work, and that those whose work survives the test will be rewarded.

So let me suggest a philosophy of effort.  We should work to do our best as Christians. This is not for the purpose of being saved, because we are all saved by grace. Instead our efforts are for purposes of bringing glory to God, most notably by building His kingdom.  Our efforts in this regard are only successful when done in cooperation with Him. Because He empowers these efforts, He gets all the credit for any success.

Thinking about Work

 

Today I found myself thinking about works. What really constitutes works? At what point does our responding to God become works? Ephesians 2:8-10 makes some strong statements about works.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10 KJV)

The first use of the word works is in verse 9. It is there to tell us that we are not saved by works. I know people who are busy trying to balance a cosmic scale, scrambling furiously to do good works, hoping their good works will outweigh their bad works in the final judgement. This passage makes it clear that trying to balance the scales is working the wrong plan. Our positive actions do not weigh against our negative actions so the plan is doomed.

We are saved by grace, rather than by positive works. God has offered us a gift of salvation. Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty we owed for our own sins, and has offered this salvation to us if we are willing to receive it, by faith, as a gift.

But here is where theologians muddy the water. Many define receiving a gift as work. Furthermore, they would say, since humanity without Christ is described as dead in the previous context of Ephesians 2, dead men cannot do anything to bring themselves back to life. Therefore they believe God gives the gift to whomever He chooses and without any involvement by the receiver.

Let me step through some of the reasons why I agree with so much of this logic and yet arrive at different conclusions. First let me address the argument, dead men cannot bring themselves back to life. I would say amen. They cannot, and they do not. Jesus brings us back to life when we are declared forgiven, and not only forgiven, but also righteous in God’s sight. God does the work of redemption inside of the believer, we do not do it ourselves.

Being spiritually dead is a Biblical word picture. It is like being physically alive, but spiritually useless. The lost person is useless to God because of their sinful condition. It is not that they are incapable of doing anything, they spend every day doing something, but these things are of no importance, eternally speaking.

Jesus is offering to replace this useless, perpetual death with a very useful, eternal life. It is His gift offered to us, and like all gifts, one doesn’t have it, until they receive it. A gift we refuse or ignore, we do not get. As mentioned above, many people argue, if we actively cooperate in receiving the gift, such would constitute a work.

I disagree. If a man is to be given a wonderful gift, one they could never acquire on their own, he is not given credit for some brilliant accomplishment upon receiving the gift. All praise for the accomplishment goes to the giver. God gets all the praise for our redemption. Our willingness to receive what He sacrificed so dearly to provide is also to His credit. The receiver neither deserves nor gets any glory. The work of the accomplishment is not in accepting it as a gift, but in the sacrifice that secured it and the grace in desiring to give it.

Thinking, making mental choices, is not work. Following through on the choice might be work, but in this case it is Jesus who followed through, humanity is simply the recipients of the offer. Those who are willing to receive the gift are the redeemed, but not by any merit or work of their own, but by the activity, grace and glory of Christ.

I believe this moment of decision on our part is necessary for many reasons.

Without it there is no relationship in our relationship with Christ, we are only puppets doing whatever God chose for us to do. At least, up to the moment where He gives us Salvation.

Without this moment of decision humanity is essentially given enough free will to do wrong, but not to do right, meaning God is holding them accountable for actions they had no ability to avoid.

Without this freedom to choose, humanities love or God is never freely given and love is only possible when it is freely given.

Without this choice to receive on our part, 1 Timothy 2:4 as well as every other verses referring to God’s desire to reach the whole world, don’t make sense.

Angelology

Angels are God’s messengers. That is the meaning of the Biblical Greek word used for angels, and the word from which the English word is derived.

Angels are created beings but they are made differently than humans. In regard to how they are different it is rather speculative to elaborate, but angels are mentioned in Scripture a number of ways, and from these we can learn some specific things about them.

Guardian angels are likely real in that Jesus speaks of putting angels in charge of watching over children.

Angels can have different physical appearances since some are described with six wings, with implication that this is different than other angels.

Angels can be used as God’s warriors in battle since Jesus states He could call 10,000 angels to His defense and since a battle in heaven is described in the origination of Satan and his minions.

Angels have a decision making ability and at least a degree of free will, since one third of the angels mounted this rebellion.

Angels can take on physical form since they took human women and interbred in the book of Genesis. These might well have only been fallen angels since Jesus mentioned angels do not have marital relations.

So how do we put these things together to give us a Christian understanding of angels? Begin with the very first thing mentioned. Angels are God’s messengers, sent to do the work of God. While God could accomplish His work in any number of ways, He chose to do some of it through angels.

But be careful, some of the conclusions people arrive at in regard to angels I would discourage. It is not wisdom to worship angels, or to seek their intervention on your behalf. We are to go directly to the Boss, not to His servants. We should not seek to know the names of specific angels or demons nor try to understand their hierarchy or realms of responsibility. Again we should relate directly to God through Jesus Christ. Remember they are God’s messengers, doing God’s work, so taking focus off of God to put it on angels will always be a misstep.

 

Christmas

I believe in Christmas:

The virgin birth,

The Christ child,

Angels singing,

Magi traveling from afar

Peace on earth,

And good will toward men.

I believe in Christmas:

God’s personal outreach to humanity,

God’s Son as the first and greatest gift,

The Word becoming flesh to dwell among us,

The eternal king taking the manger when He deserved the throne

And the same king that will come again.

I believe in Christmas.

 

Missions

“Then He (Jesus) said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.’”

Matthew 9:37-38 (HCSB)

Millet

As a pastor I keep my eyes open for mission opportunities. I do this because I believe being involved in missions will encourage the members of our church, bless them in their service and allow them the privilege of participating in God’s work in new ways. Even though I recognize mission trips will always invoke a large amount of spiritual warfare, and it will always present more challenge than we expected or are ready for, I want us to continue to be involved in missions.

I hold a high view of missions.

Recent circumstances allowed us to go on two mission events this year. The tricky part is the second even occurred only a short time, about three weeks, after the first. In both events a little over a dozen of our people were able to go and help other churches in Arizona. The first was in doing a block party for a new church start and the second was to assist an existing church in doing framing in a new building project.

These events were challenging for us since we are in an economically depressed area. These trips were hampered by the fact that a lot of our people are seniors. But despite these hindrances we went to do what we could to help.

Now that the second trip is done, I am finding myself evaluating the two trips. As it happens the first trip was to help a new church start in an affluent community. The fact we were going to an area with a much higher cost of living, and generally more affluent families didn’t seem to hinder us in any way during the trip. As it happens the second trip was to a church which is at probably more than twice the size of our church.

Both of these mission trips were therefore a bit beyond what people expect in missions. We can fall into a mindset that missions are all about reaching out to the poor, struggling churches or reaching out to unreached peoples. But missions also includes anything that allows us to expand the kingdom. The questions of income, age, church size and so on, are merely false values compared winning souls for Christ.

I am excited to see what God leads us to do next.

Coexist: Facts and Falsehoods

Recently I was on a mission trip to one of those trendy, touristy, new agey towns. As we prayer walked up and down their streets I saw a lot of Coexist bumper stickers. I agree with what the sticker says, but necessarily what people read into it or think it says.

What I mean by coexist is giving humanity room to decide for themselves what they will believe.

What I don’t mean by coexist is the accompanying assumption of many, namely that it doesn’t matter what you believe. It does matter what you believe. Jesus is the truth. But you cannot glorify God by physically forcing someone to accept this truth. Faith requires that they choose to accept it. Love for God, like any other love, only means something when it is freely given.

On the other side of the coin though, I do not believe that discussion, education, or witness is a form of coercion. People who are offended by hearing the religious views of others, need to grow up and toughen up. Words and ideas are never to be feared by people who are seeking the truth.

So coexistence is a matter of religious freedom. I believe God gave us religious freedom because it supported His purpose. He wants us to have the faith to choose to serve Him, or alternatively to choose the consequences of rejecting Him. Therefore being Christian naturally leads to a belief in religious freedom.

However, not every religious viewpoint supports religious freedom. The very first symbol in the normal Coexist bumper sticker does not believe in religious freedom, and in fact believes that forced conversions and religious war have a place in God’s will.

This is a major falsehood in what people think they are saying with those Coexist stickers. They think they are saying all religions are basically the same, that all are equally at fault in sowing disharmony, and that it is possible to maintain your beliefs and peacefully coexist. This is a deep pile of false ideas.

Wouldn’t you rather work from a foundation of truth, morality and genuine religious freedom?