Leviticus 9: Next Aaron presented the offerings of the people.
The sacrificial system has been explained, the priests ordained, and now it’s getting underway. Moses, God’s representative, puts everything into place and now Aaron, the newly anointed high priest initiates the first sacrifices. Before he presents the offerings of the people he has personal business to attend to. He makes offerings of his own in preparation for serving the people. The animals are killed and their blood is applied, a reflection of Precious Blood that will be shed many years in the future. It’s only after Aaron has done that that he turns his attention to the offerings of the people. This passage speaks to me as the leader of my congregation. I want to serve the people who are under my care but I must never forget that I have needs of my own. If I fail to bring them to the Lord I’m bound to fail my people. In addition, this is not a one time effort. In spite of what those outside the clergy think, we pastors stand in need of God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness on an ongoing basis. Today, as I read about these events of long ago and regardless of the huge cultural and practical differences, I find myself identifying with these priests of old as they take care of their own business before they can serve their congregation.
Take Away: If we’re to help others we need to deal with the needs of our own lives first.
Pastor to people
2John: My dear congregation, I, your pastor, love you in very truth.
Compared to some books of the Bible, 2John isn’t much of a “book.” It’s more of an “email.” It’s just a few lines, written as a quick placeholder for a congregation by their pastor. He’ll fill in the material in person. He greets them by declaring his love for them. I can’t help but think, as I read this opening line, that’s it’s a beautiful thing when a pastor loves his or her congregation “in very truth.” Because of that love-based relationship John starts his note to them by encouraging them, telling them how happy he is with them. Anyone who thinks the pastor’s job is to “tell it like it is” and “set people straight” needs to spend some time here. John tells his church how much he loves them and how pleased he is with their faithfulness to Christ’s command that his followers love one another. It’s only after doing that that he moves on to warning them about some false teachers who are taking advantage of gullible Christians. He has more to say to them, but until he can be with them personally, he thinks this little “email” will do. The brevity of this letter speaks volumes about the friendly, loving relationship between this pastor and his congregation. I can’t help but think that sometimes saying less is saying more.
Take Away: Pastors need to love and appreciate the churches under their charge. Churches, on the other hand, need to love and appreciate pastors who lovingly care for them.
1Peter 5: I have a special concern for you church leaders.
A church is without a pastor and the search is on to fill that vacancy. The pulpit committee has a list of pastoral qualifications and they’re sifting through applicants. They want an experienced pastor who still has children at home. The new pastor needs to be a good preacher, but who’s also a people person who’ll get along well with the diverse congregation. It’s not a bad idea to have such a list but Peter’s qualifications for church leaders ought to be prominently in the mix. He urges pastors to see themselves as shepherds who are dedicated to caring for God’s flock. He expects them to be servants who aren’t always trying to figure out ways to get more money or leverage over the congregation. He wants them to be tender in spirit and be good examples for God’s people. It would be nice to have a pastor with the right mix of youth and maturity, who is studious in sermon preparation but is also a people person. Still, I can’t help but think Peter’s criteria trumps all the above. A church with such a pastor is blessed indeed.
Take Away: Ultimately the Lord’s list of pastoral qualifications is the one that makes the most sense.
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.
Ultimately only one thing matters
2Timothy 4: But you – keep your eye on what you’re doing.
The Apostle has been around and he knows the score. He’s had people he counted on let him down. Some couldn’t help it. Sickness and other circumstances beyond their control have thrown a monkey wrench into their commitment to him. Others could help it but failed anyway, getting caught up in some religious fad or simply finding the going too hard. Timothy needs to be aware of all this. At times, people who should know better will want him to ease up on proclaiming the “take up your cross daily” aspect of the gospel message. Something else will catch their eye and they’ll want him to focus on that instead. Paul, who knows what he’s talking about urges this young pastor to “keep your eye on what you’re doing.” More than being a pastor who wants to get along with people, he’s “God’s servant.” Ultimately, what the congregation thinks is secondary to what God thinks. Even as Paul looks forward to receiving the Lord’s approval he wants Timothy, and all of us, to keep this ultimate truth in mind. From my point of view, I want to please those who call me “pastor.” I don’t want to disappoint them or to bore them with sermons that are somewhat less than timely. However, in the end, there’s only one word of approval that matters. I know you know that this is true for pastors and for everyone else too.
Take Away: We have only one Master and pleasing him is, ultimately, the only thing that really matters.
You get what you pay for
1Corinthians 9: We who are on missionary assignments for God have a right to decent accommodations.
Frankly, the church at Corinth is every pastor’s nightmare. There’s sin in the church and the church has a bad reputation in the city. There are factions wrestling for control and leadership that isn’t leading, at least in any positive direction. Some, apparently, are questioning Paul’s authority, pointing out that he was there as a volunteer and in no official capacity. The Apostle claims his authority over them as one who has a personal commission from Christ. He concedes that he never accepted salary from them, but contends that if he had done that, it would have been his right. He reminds them that’s it’s a biblical principle that those who serve ought to be paid for their service. Now, in a strange twist, the fact that Paul served them without pay during his time with them is being used by some as reason to discount his ministry. It’s a no-win situation for Paul. If he had he accepted salary from them they’d have felt they owned him. Now since he didn’t accept salary they question his authority over them. The Apostle makes the best of it, reminding them that at least they can’t accuse him of just being in it for the money. Probably the best take-away here is that those who serve have every reason to expect financial support for doing so. At the same time though, there’s a time and place to just give away our service of the Lord. To some extent this sets us free from the domination and expectations of those we serve.
Take Away: A worker is worth his or her hire – at the same time, sometimes it’s best to just give our work away for the sake of Christ.
Jeremiah 23: You’ve scattered my sheep…you haven’t kept your eye on them.
This passage is clergy oriented so pastor types like me need to sit up and take notice. The Lord’s displeased with the spiritual leaders of Jeremiah’s day. He pictures them as shepherds who are given the responsibility of caring for the Lord’s flock. These leaders are entrusted with the spiritual welfare of God’s flock but they’re betraying that confidence. Instead of loving the flock, leading and caring for it, they’re taking advantage of things for personal gain. In some cases they’re actually harming those they’re supposed to protect. Otherwise, they’re neglecting them or even driving them away. God’s disappointed in these leaders and is angry with them. Sometimes I think that church people are too pastor oriented, giving way too much authority to the pastor, including letting the pastor do their thinking for them (or, standing on the sidelines and cheering as the pastor works him/herself to death – but that’s a subject for another day!). Today, I’m reminded that there’s a strong biblical foundation that supports some having spiritual leadership. The Lord has wired us in such a way that we look to some as “shepherds” acting as God’s representatives. These leaders are to be servants who put the interests of those entrusted to their care before their own needs. In this passage Jeremiah reminds me that as a pastor I’ve been honored with the position of leadership, but with that position has come accountability, not just to the congregation I serve, but to the Lord, himself.
Take Away: Church leaders are to be good shepherds of the flock of the Lord.
Checking the church calendar
Isaiah 1: Meetings, meetings, meetings, I can’t stand one more!
As a pastor I admit that this phrase resonates with me! In this case, though, it’s God who’s talking and he’s weary of his people going through the motions, filling their lives with meetings and other religious activity, but never simply getting about the business of righteous living. Sometimes, I think, religious activity is a cover up for spiritual failure or it may be a substitute for actually going out and making a difference in the world. There’s a time for meetings but those meetings are to move us to real living in the Lord. I fear that we church folk attend a committee meeting and think we’ve done what Jesus intended we do. In some cases, we’d be better off to drop the meeting and get out into the real world, making a difference in people’s lives for Christ’s sake.
Take Away: Remember, Jesus told us to “go and make disciples” – not “go and have meetings.”