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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Not a Herring Gull

Ring Billed Gull

Recently I went to a shopping center where I had seen gulls last year. They had been in perfect plumage, but seasons changed before I could get back up there to take the picture.

I wanted that picture, so I made a point of going back this year. Upon arriving all I saw was a few gulls on top of the lightposts. These were at a lousy angle for pictures, but with the help of a few french fries I managed to perform a couple of miracles. Not only did I pose the birds in exactly the best location and lighting, I also managed to produce about three times as many birds out of thin air. I have no idea where all those birds came from.

This is my favorite picture out of the set. When I got home to sort out the pictures I took a moment to verify my lovely picture of a herring gull. Rememeber I had been anticipating this shot for almost a year. When I checked the field guides, I quickly realized it wasn’t a herring gull at all. This is a ring-billed gull.

Instead of telling you about the bird, let me tell you about the mistake. There are a variety of gulls, but here in my area there are only a couple of species. It was a lot of years ago that I had identified these gulls and sorted out the field marks. Since then I had simply forgotten. When I saw a bunch of similar gulls I quickly assumed that they were the herring gulls because herring gulls are the most common gull in many, many places. I don’t live in one of those places. In the meantime, when I read birding magazines, websites and books they constantly mention herring gulls as the common junk bird of gulls. This would happen with all the reading material except the field guide, It, of course, always gets the details right.

When I mistook the ring-billed gull for another it was a shame. After all the ring billed is so much more spectacular than a herring. Notice the yellow eye, the fine streaking on the head, and the very unique color of the legs that defies description. Those legs are neither white, gray, yellow, pink, green or any other color commonly named, while managing to be close to all of them. But despite the shame of it, ultimately my mistaken identity was no big deal.

What is a big deal is when a believer decides that he knows everything already and steps back from Bible study. They have a general idea of what the Bible says because once upon a time they studied it. What they don’t know is which of their memories are fading, or being replaced by common theology. What I call common theology is the ideas every man on the street believes is Christian doctrine, only a lot of it is wrong. Since we are all still in contact with media and culture, we are likely to begin to buy into this common theology if we are not regularly countermanding their falsehoods with the truth of God’s Word.

Paul speaks about this theological drift and how quickly it can take shape saying in Galations 1:6-7 (NASB) “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.”

So never decide you know enough of the Bible. Churches have Bible studies for every age range because we all need to be anchored to Scripture and will drift without it.

 

Cactus Wren

Cactus Wren

This is a cactus wren, the state bird in Arizona. This bird knows how to exist in the desert. It doesn’t need any freestanding water to survive, being able to get all the moisture it needs from its food. It also has learned to take good advantage of the prickly nature of cactus.

Perhaps the most menacing of the cacti is the jumping cholla, a plant that will have sections break off and lodge itself in unwary passersby. These sections then will work their way deeper into the victim as they attempt to get free, unless they know exactly how to remove them. Cactus wren will commonly nest in these plants though, skillfully building down in the middle of the cacti’s natural defenses.

This does not stop all possible predators, but attempting to raid a nest is unlikely to succeed because not only is the location highly defensible, but the birds are known to aggressively defend their homes. When a predator attempts to access it, the birds will knock them off balance amid the deadly spines.

One story of such an event is on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website. They mention a Yuma antelope squirrel that was knocked into the spines and then to the ground. The cactus wren is able to successfully defend its nest because of the combination of a defensible position and aggressive defensive behavior.

Believers should take note of this combination.

The first step to success is to find a defensible position. The easiest way for a Christian to remain in a defensible position is to carefully and closely align yourself with God. Being in agreement with Biblical morality and strong in your personal relationship with God through Christ will allow you to miss the attacks that come from being unprepared and practicing immorality. Much of the warfare believers face is because they are living morally compromised and spiritually distant.

The second step is to know when and how to fight back for the remaining attacks. This can be tricky because our warfare is not like the battles of this world, so our defensive behavior needs to be different. Very often it is a Spirit led word of witness for the Lord. There may be times when the appropriate defense is to simply to explain a misunderstanding, socially or theologically. Increasingly in our world, the defensive component includes political involvement such as voting, campaigning, and political action campaigns. In all cases, our defense includes speaking out, not rudely, but gently and truthfully.

Consider Ephesians 6:11-13 (HCSB)

Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the Devil. For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. This is why you must take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand.

 

 

Verdin

VerdinThis is a verdin. It’s a small and very common bird of the desert southwest. The verdin has the distinction of being a tireless builder.

They might build 10 or more nests a year, all in the same area.

They will build different nests for nesting (having a family) than for roosting (socializing).

They will build different nests for different times of year. In the hot months the entrance catches the wind to provide cooling, while in colder seasons the entrance will be protected from the wind.

The male and female will cooperate in this building process, with the male building the stick frame, and the female finishing up with the decorative touches.

The roosting nests, used primarily in the winter, will have better insulation and more space, allowing a large number of birds to crowd in together to conserve energy.

All of these facts show the verdin’s skill as avian architects. They certainly do their part for developing livable habitat inside bushes. Their abandoned nests are utilized by a multitude of other animals, and in this way, God uses their predisposition to construction in greater ways.

I think every believer should be aware of God using their daily routines in greater ways too. We might not see how our work, patterns, and hobbies are being directed by God, but we generally only see God’s work when we are looking for them and He wants us to see them. God is always at work, and at work in everything. That would include the little details of your life like your trips to the gym and your time in line at the bank.

The believer who wants to be used by God might only need to open their eyes in order to find they are already being used. But the believer who wants to be used better, can take specific steps to make this possible too.

First look at your life and consider the sins you have begun to downplay or overlook. Sin often hinders our usefulness, and especially unconfessed sin. Second for everything you do, do it to the best of your ability. Put forward your best effort at work and in productive tasks. Even in recreation and life management activities watch for ways to be positive, uplifting, and available to God.

In the meantime consider Hebrews 3:4 (HCSB) Now every house is built by someone, but the One who built everything is God. God is always at work, but you can do more by focusing on opportunities to cooperate with Him.

Lesser Nighthawk

Nighthawk

This is a picture of a lesser nighthawk. They come into our area in the summer and you can see them flying around the lights on ball fields and parking lots hawking insects at night.

They are strong flyers and a lot of fun to watch, but one of their most interesting traits is their vocalization. They make noises like sound affects in a Sci-Fi movies.

There have been a few nights when the noises coming from the surrounding desert made me want to scan the skies for a flying saucer.

I can picture a group of city dwellers camping in the desert. After nightfall, those sounds begin rising up around them, causing their imaginations to rise up within them. Given the creepiness of the calls and the furtiveness of the human imagination, one could predict a UFO sighting before the night is over.

Only it’s not a UFO, it’s just a nighthawk dashing in and out of the corners of their vision as it grabs insects attracted by the people, the sweet smell of s’mores, and the light of the campfire.

This alien assumption, which is so easily made about the lesser nighthawk, is also rather easily made about believers. We might not want to admit it, but at times we say things that sound completely alien to people who are unfamiliar with our language.

We say we are:

Children of the King,
Justified and sanctified,
Being made perfect, and
Washed in the blood.

Any or all of these terms might mean a great deal to us, but it is only going to help the unbeliever when we slow down enough to tell them what we mean by each phrase. Paul says a great deal about the importance of saying things in a way that can be understood in 1 Corinthians 14. Verse 9 summarizes the responsibility of the speaker in any communication to speak with clarity.

In the same way, unless you use your tongue for intelligible speech, how will what is spoken be known? For you will be speaking into the air.

Baby Killdeer

Killdeer Baby 04.09.15This little guy is a baby killdeer. He is probably not more than three days old and three inches long. Not much more than a ball of fuzz, but a very cute ball of fuzz.

There is something about babies. The toughest men will melt at the sight of a baby. The wimpiest men will stand tall and risk death to protect them. Babies change us, making us set aside our own goals and dreams to meet their needs. At least that is how healthy people respond.

This nurture and protect response, is it a spiritual quality? Just talking from common sense I would assume it is. God designed family, God designed the system where we start as babies before growing up, and God put into us these most common and universal responses toward babies.

I also believe we can see some Biblical instruction that protecting the youngest among us is an expectation of God’s. Consider Jesus’s words in Matthew 18:6 (HCSB).

“But whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in Me—it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea!”

Or for another perspective, consider Ecclesiastes 12:1 (HCSB).

So remember your Creator in the days of your youth:

Before the days of adversity come,
and the years approach when you will say,
“I have no delight in them”;

This section is saying it is important to come to grips with the most important things in life, your Creator being the most important, before life begins to jade you. Or by implication, we must protect children from those things which will corrupt their innocence and harden their hearts, so they can learn the lessons of life without these distortions.

I remember growing up my parents had a long list of things we were not allowed to do, see, touch or have, because we were not old enough yet. Coffee was not allowed. Dating was out of the question. Quite a few television shows were considered too racy.

In today’s world though I don’t seem to see the same limitations. If they put it on TV it must be okay for kids to watch. Children walk around with energy drinks in their hands. And I see kids talking about sexual situations and making boyfriends or girlfriends at seemingly any age.

Given these trends I am not surprised that more and more people abandon basic morality, reject the authority of God over them, and live in the misery wondering why they cannot enjoy life. It is now old fashioned to protect the innocent, and we are too oblivious to admit the consequences. But the truth is when a child is not protected from the adversities of life, they will adopt bitterness as normal and never enjoy what is truly good.

Northern Shoveler Wings

Northern Shoveler

This is a picture of a Northern Shoveler. This duck looks totally different in this picture than in other pictures of it because it has his wings open showing colors that are normally hidden away.

The iridescent portion of a ducks wing is called the speculum, and in this case it is followed by white and black markings.

If you did not see the bird in flight you would never see these details. Christians can be a lot like this duck. It’s only when we begin to do something that our true colors become visible.

When we care for strangers we show the love of Christ. When we work together we show the fellowship of the Spirit. When we live by the moral principles of Scripture we show the beauty of righteousness. When we share the message of Christ with the world we bring evangelism and missions into the public view.

Our activity shows off who we truly are, while inactivity can hide our identity. This is a problem in the American church, which carries an increasingly passive role for the person in the pew. Instead of worshipping we sit and watch choirs, praise teams and staff members worship. Instead of being directly involved in personal ministry we hire professionals to manage the work of ministry. The average person in the pew then is validated in stating their church experience begins and ends on Sunday, that their Christian ideas don’t affect their home or workplace, or that a church that asks for deeper commitments is too domineering.

But like the duck, the real nature of the church, and of the individual believer, is most visible when it is moving. For the duck that means when it is flying, and for the believer when they are serving. It is little wonder the church means so much less to society today than it did in previous generations. They cannot see it correctly because the opportunities to see it at work are severely limited.

In Matthew 7:15-20 Jesus talks about identifying people around you correctly by watching the fruit in their lives. If you want Christ to be visible in you, if you want His name glorified in your life, then do the work of Christ. In this way your fruit, that is your Christian identity, will be visible.

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (Matthew 7:15-20 KJV – translation chosen for the familiar wording by their fruits ye shall know them.)