Titus 1: I left you in charge in Crete so you could complete what I left half-done.
As I read Paul’s letters and the account of his journeys in the book of Acts I keep running into Titus and while I’m not given a complete biography of him, I pick up bits and pieces of his story along the way. He’s a Gentile, converted under Paul’s ministry. He joins Paul in his travels and assists the Apostle in various ways. The occasion of this letter is one example. Apparently, Paul spends some time on the island of Crete but for some reason has to leave before the work there is complete. He leaves Titus there to finish up, specifically, to appoint church leaders there. Now, Paul’s writing to Titus with some specific instructions for the completion of his task there. Again, while I don’t know all about Titus, I find enough information about him to cause me to think highly of him, as, obviously, Paul does. In this letter, Paul’s quick to get to the matter at hand. He wants Titus to put pastoral leadership in place in the Christian congregations on the island and he wants him to be careful in his selection of leaders. He wants people who are respected in the community, family men who are even tempered, welcoming to strangers, wise, fair, and reverent. An interesting qualification is that these leaders are to have a good grip on themselves and on the Good News of the Gospel. Understanding the gospel makes sense and so does having a good grip on self. Leaders need to be comfortable in their own skin. Obviously leaders need humility, but they also need a level of confidence. They need to know their strengths and weaknesses and be ready to entrust others to help shoulder the burden especially related to those weaknesses. Off Titus goes with his “shopping list” in hand, ready to pick people God has already picked and prepared for the task. Any church looking for a pastor will benefit from digesting this passage.
Take Away: The Lord uses a wide variety of people for his work, but some characteristics are to be found in them all.
1Timothy 6: A devout life does bring wealth, but it’s the rich simplicity of being yourself before God.
The final chapter of this first letter to young pastor Timothy is about money. Paul’s concerned about church leaders who see their position as a way to make some easy money. Timothy’s warned to identify such people as quickly as possible to keep them from infecting the whole church with their “germs of envy, controversy…” and other equally bad stuff. Timothy, himself, as a man of God, is to pursue, not money, but “wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy.” Finally, Paul addresses how Timothy’s to deal with those who are already wealthy. He’s to warn them to not be money centered but, instead, to handle their riches in the same way the Lord handles his: with extravagant generosity, helping others out of their bounty. Even though this is a short course on the topic of money and the church we find here a well-rounded treatment of the subject. First, watch out for church leaders who are in it for the money. Second, the pastor must be careful to not get caught up on the pursuit of money. Finally, those who do have money are to handle it with care, letting the generosity of the Lord, himself, but their example.
Take Away: Money doesn’t have to be a curse – rather it can be a way in which we reflect the generosity of the Lord.
Watching others preach the gospel
Philippians 1: I’ve decided that I really don’t care about their motives.
The first one out there, traveling from city to city preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ was Paul. He’s already a living legend among the Christians. For over twenty years he’s been faithful through thick and thin, through good days and bad. Actually, he doesn’t label “good and bad” as most people do. Right now he’s in jail and you’d think he’d call that “bad.” Instead, he happily explains that his being locked up has resulted in a lot of good things. People who wouldn’t have heard the gospel otherwise have literally come to him asking him to tell them about Jesus. Others, who’ve been timid about their faith before have been inspired by his faithfulness and have stepped forward to tell others about the Lord. A few have mistakenly concluded that with Paul locked up there’s a leadership void and are trying to fill his shoes, preaching about the Lord in hopes of gaining a leadership foothold in the church. That last group causes the great Apostle to reflect a bit on what it’s all about. Obviously, he doesn’t want false teachers out there preaching a false gospel. However, these folks, he’s concluded, are on target with their preaching and are only off target with their ambitions. Paul’s conclusion is that that stuff doesn’t matter as long as the gospel’s being preached. I can’t help but be impressed by Paul’s mature, focused attitude here. He’s willing to give up his freedom and his reputation if it serves to advance the cause of Christ. I’m reminded today that the Lord can accomplish great things through a person who doesn’t necessarily need to get the credit for what’s done.
Take Away: We do our best, leaving the results in the hands of the Lord.
2Corinthians 7: I know I distressed you greatly with my letter.
The book of 1 Corinthians is almost painful to read. It’s clear the there are some sick situations there and that this church is far from being a healthy congregation. The Corinthian church isn’t a prototype of what a Christian church is supposed to look like, although how Paul deals with them is a primer on how a spiritual leader is to deal with a difficult church situation. An insight in this passage is that as Paul writes to Corinth he knows the impact his words will have on the church. Beyond that, his words impact him as well. Administrating this strong medicine is painful for Paul too. The old “this hurts me more than it hurts you” line is literally true in this situation. Paul gets no pleasure in writing to his friends at Corinth as he does. He’s frustrated with them and somewhat fearful for them. Still, he expects his strong medicine to bring about, in the long run, good results. Sometimes parents have to be disciplinarians. It would be nice to always feel warm and fuzzy about things but to do so isn’t what real love is like. In his first letter Paul steps up to the plate, telling them the facts of spiritual life even though, in his words, “I felt awful at the time.” Sometimes preachers have to be disciplinarians. As it is for Paul and as it is for parents, proper discipline should never carry with it a sense of pleasure in causing pain. I imagine tearstains on the parchment that contains what we think of as 1 Corinthians. In the same way, there should be tearstains on the sermon notes of a pastor who preaches a sermon that will cause some pain. Otherwise, that sermon should never be preached.
Take Away: Sometimes discipline must be done but it should never be done with pleasure.
Worship service or a wrestling match?
1Corinthians 14: When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared….
Attending a church service at Corinth must be quite an experience. Some people are involved in a civil lawsuit against each other. There’s blatant immorality and the church has divided between the “it’s no big deal” crowd and the “it’s sin” crowd. Communion has been turned into a potluck and there’s competition, not over who makes the best apple pie, but who gets to eat the most. Now, we see that people are fighting over gets to be “featured” in the worship services. One person starts praying, maybe in a prayer language, only to be shouted down by someone else who tries to pray better. One person has a “message from God” but is shouldered out of the way by someone being more spiritual about their “message from God.” The whole thing, in Paul’s eyes, is infantile. The Apostle tries to walk a tightrope about it all. On one hand, he likes the idea that they’re excited about having the Holy Spirit work in and through them. On the other hand, this disorganized, competition-filled approach to worship has to go. Paul lays down some rules intended to calm things down. When he’s finished, their Spirit-language praying is, for practical purposes, removed from their worship services. He also rules out this business of talking over the top of one another with their competing “words from the Lord.” He tells them to get organized and to come prepared rather than making up their worship service as it goes along. Singers, teachers, and preachers are supposed to come ready to do their part. Basically, he calls them to intentional, prepared, humble, courteous, organized worship. If a person can’t handle that, they probably shouldn’t be up front in the first place.
Take Away: We want Spirit-filled worship but an indication of that isn’t people competing to be the most spiritual.
Taking care of God’s people
Acts 20: God’s people they are…God himself thought they were worth dying for.
As did Jesus several years earlier, now Paul “sets his face toward Jerusalem” knowing that his arrival there will result in hardship. To speed his journey the Apostle doesn’t go back into Ephesus but, instead, sends word to the church leaders to meet him in Miletus, located about fifty miles south of Ephesus. Here he has an emotional meeting with his dear friends and co-workers. He charges them to guard and protect God’s people in Ephesus, reminding them that “God himself thought they were worth dying for.” Even as this great Apostle is going to go through trials so will this great church. As I study this passage I can’t help but think of the role of the ministry. Paul, I see, isn’t worried about the organization and program of the church. He doesn’t urge the leaders to focus on current worship trends or new technology. Rather, he reminds them that they’re to guard and protect the “sheep” placed under their watch care. They’re to value God’s people as God, himself, values them. Happily, Paul has good news for these leaders of Ephesus and for church leaders across the ages. He tells them that God “can make you into what he wants you to be and give you everything you could possibly need in this community of holy friends.” The work of the ministry includes guarding and protecting God’s people from false teaching. The power for accomplishing that task comes from a gracious God who works in our lives, giving us everything we need to successfully do the work to which we’re called.
Take Away: The Lord not only calls people to spiritual leadership, he also empowers them for that task.
Pastors and their congregations
Acts 6: Choose seven men from among you whom everyone trusts.
One of the growth pains of the infant church has to do with the distribution of resources among the church’s own needy. Some women, apparently due to a language barrier, aren’t getting a fair share of the food the church is providing. The disciples realize that this is an important concern and willingly share the leadership responsibilities with seven non-apostles. The result is that the disciples are able to focus on their role in the church while sharing some responsibilities with those who have gifts for that purpose. The needs of the people are met and the church continues to advance. As a pastor I’ve read this account again and again trying to understand it in light of the current pastor/congregation scheme that’s generally in place. I’ve tried to translate it into the 21st century average Protestant church with an average attendance of 70 to 100. On one hand, I realize that the church of Acts now numbers in the thousands. Even if the disciples try to handle it all it simply can’t be. The question that comes to mind is, is that the only reason for the addition of non-clergy leadership? I think that a lot of church people think so. In their smaller situations they’re very pastor-centric. They want the pastor to be the one who visits them when they’re sick and who makes regular nursing home visits. They expect the pastor to attend every committee meeting and to pray every public prayer. Then, if the church grows, they’ll take care of things by hiring an assistant pastor. I can’t help but think this is mistaken because I have the idea that the division of leadership in the Acts church isn’t all about size and work load. Rather, I believe the leadership and ministry opportunities need to be shared because it’s healthier for the church. Had the disciples been perfectly capable of caring for the widows while handling the preaching and teaching responsibilities, I still think they would have done, under the Spirit’s leadership, just what they did. Some church people need to find a place of ministry and plug in, not always looking to the pastor to do it all. Some pastors need to quit hogging all the ministry opportunities and give others a chance.
Take Away: The Lord didn’t come to be served, but to serve and we aren’t his followers unless we follow him into lives of service of others.
Mark 10: He came to serve, not to be served.
Jesus begins his march to the cross. As he and his disciples begin their journey to Jerusalem he tells them what’s coming, the bad and the good. When James and John ask for favored positions in his kingdom, Jesus tells them that they don’t know what they’re asking. Very soon, being on his right and left won’t be very desirable places to be. He again directs them down the servant path as the route to greatness. Being the slave of others is the Christian route to leadership and Jesus is about to demonstrate that in a most unexpected way. He’s going to die, not only that we might be set free from the death penalty, but so that we might learn from him to, ourselves, die. This lesson isn’t only hard to learn, it’s also unwelcome. Most of us live our lives trying to get things our own way. When we somehow achieve position one of the perks is that we can now call the shots to suit ourselves. It is human nature to view everything from the “me” point of view. Jesus turns this self-centered world upside down. He says that in his Kingdom, those in power serve with the needs of others uppermost in their minds. Frankly, after 2000 years you’d think Christians would have a better grasp on this. Frankly, after being a Christian most of my life, I’d think I’d have a better grasp on it.
Take Away: Jesus gave his all to, in part, show us how to give our all.
At least they know what Daniel stands for
Daniel 6: We’re never going to find anything against this Daniel unless we can cook up something religious.
At the end of chapter five we find a simple statement that Darius the Mede is made king. Apparently, there’s a lot of history loaded into that statement. The handwriting on the wall informed the now dead Belshazzar that his kingdom was going to be handed over to the “Medes and Persians,” a confederacy that rose to challenge the power of Babylonia. Apparently, there’s a lot of historical push and shove concerning all that happened in that takeover. Daniel spares us all that, barely mentioning his own rise to authority in the reorganized kingdom, now under the rule of Darius. This king recognizes leadership capability when he sees it and makes Daniel, first, one of his three vice-regents, and then moves to make Daniel the man in charge. Of course, there are those who oppose this elevation of Daniel and they scramble to find some way to discredit him. When they can’t come up with anything bad about him they focus in on his religion. They conclude that his devotion to his God is his weakest point and decide to attack there. I know it isn’t intended, but what a compliment to Daniel! After living among the Babylonians for many years he’s still known for his devotion to the Lord. It all started many years earlier when he decided to keep the dietary laws of his religion. Now, we see him untouched by the pagan culture. Things are about to get dicey for Daniel, but for now, he can say “thanks” to his enemies for the compliment.
Take Away: Live in such a way even our enemies recognize our devotion and commitment to the Lord.