Tag Archives: 1st Timothy

Do you feel you’re being asked to give too much, too often?

12 May

How many of you are living paycheck to paycheck?

What do I mean by “paycheck to paycheck”?  What I mean is that you need that paycheck to keep coming in order to pay your bills.  If you don’t get that paycheck, you won’t be able to pay bills, buy groceries, etc.  Does that describe your family?  If so, your answer is “Yes” to that question.

But if you have enough savings where you can live for at least a month or more without any income, without working, without unemployment, then you would answer “no” that you are not living paycheck to paycheck.

My intent is not to shame anyone.  I know in our society there is a goal, a dream, that we should build up savings accounts and become financially independent.  But the reality is that for many of us finances can be such a struggle.

Those of you who are younger families, life is expensive with all the sports, and lots of bills, school loans, groceries, health insurance, car loans, rent or mortgages, and credit cards.

If you are an older family you might have a fixed income, lots of health bills, and life might be expensive for you too.

The reality is that we live in an amazingly prosperous society, but most people don’t feel prosperous.  Instead, for most of us, finances stress us out.  Do finances stress you out?  My hand is raised for that one.  I hate money.  I work hard to earn it, and it seems like it is gone just as fast as it comes in.

You know what that means?  When money feels tight, it is hard to be generous.

Not to mention how many people and organizations are asking for money: the sports booster club, the fire company, the fraternal order of police, the politicians, the non-profits like the Boy Scouts and local social services organizations.

And then there is the church asking you to give to mission trips, fundraisers, missionaries, the weekly regular offering, and more.

Let’s just admit it.  We churches ask a lot.  Last week at Faith Church it struck me that on one weekend we asked our church family to bring donations for the youth group Chicken BBQ, then to purchase Chicken BBQ, then to give a regular offering on Sunday morning, then to give over and above offering to the Capital campaign, and then at the end of the worship service, we asked yet again, when took up our monthly special offering for missionaries.

Frankly, as I read this, it’s embarrassing.  Essentially, last weekend we asked the family of Faith Church to give to five different needs. I’m tired of fundraising.  Are you?

We live in a day and age where so much is asked of us.  We are tired of all the requests.  We wish we could give more, and we feel guilty that we can’t.  Have you felt like that?  It is called donor fatigue, and it is real.  Has donor fatigue crept into your heart and mind?

This Sunday we finish our study through 1st Timothy, looking at what Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:17-21.  He has some important words to say to those of us experiencing donor fatigue.  We invite you to join us at Faith Church this Sunday May 14, 2017 as we are going to talk about how we should view generosity in a world where finances are a struggle and many of us have a bad case of donor fatigue.

Advice to a new young pastor (and what all of us can learn from it)

27 Mar

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On July 1, 2008 I became the senior pastor of Faith Church.  I was scared.  What had I gotten myself into?  I had been youth/associate pastor at the church for the previous six years.  The youth group was awesome, and I had a ministry umbrella over me, deflecting the rain of difficulty, responsibility, and leadership.  That umbrella was the senior pastor.  On July 1st, 2008, I learned what it was like when that umbrella was gone.

Actually, I was surprised to discover the umbrella wasn’t gone.  I became the new umbrella.  I was the responsible one.  In the months leading up to that day, I was excited, I had dreams and looked forward to becoming the pastor.  I also held secret fears and anxieties.  Was I cut out for this?  I had a really good gig as youth pastor! Was I stupid for making the change?  So I read and listened to one passage of Scripture over and over.  It is a good one for young or new pastors.  If you’re not a young or new pastor or leader in the church, I think you’ll find that it is very important for you as well.

Take a look at 1st Timothy 4:11-16, and see if you can find out why this passage was meaningful to me.

I identified with Timothy because in verse 12 Paul says to Timothy, “don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young.”

I wonder who was looking down on Timothy?  When Paul goes on to ask Timothy to set an example for the believers, it is best to understand that it was people in Timothy’s church looking down on him because he was young.

But how young was he?  We don’t know.  The word Paul uses could refer to someone as old as 40.  Some feel Timothy was maybe in his mid-30s.  I was 33 in July 2008, so this verse seemed like it was written to me!  Most scholars tell us that at the time Paul wrote this, Timothy could be anywhere from 25-40 years old.  The point, though, is not his specific age but that culturally it was not normal for a young person to have a position of authority.

Furthermore, Timothy is trying to fill some big shoes.  This church was started by Paul, one of the most respected leaders in the entire Christian church, from Jerusalem to Rome.  These Ephesian Christians could easily be talking to the Christians down the road in a town like Colossae, saying with chests puffed out, “Yeah, Paul is OUR pastor.  You should have heard the other day the discussion we were having in the lecture hall of Tyrannus with some Greek philosophers.  He schooled them!  It was awesome.  It rocks having Paul as your pastor.”

After a few years Paul leaves, and he installs Timothy as leader.  Timothy was young, and because of what Paul says to Timothy in his letters, we wonder if Timothy also had a much more timid style than Paul.

What a difference from older respected Paul to younger timid Timothy!

Over the years I have heard of pastoral transitions gone bad.  A new pastor follows the tenure of a well-loved leader, and the new pastor struggles in the shadow of that leader.  Maybe you’ve heard of a church like that. It happens regularly, truth be told. Anecdotal evidence suggests that 25% of a congregation will leave a church when there is a pastoral transition, and if true, that is sad.  From July 1, 2008 to July 1, 2010, we experienced something like that at Faith Church. Some of the attrition was the result of poor decisions on my part.  Some was death.  But a number of people left because I was different from the previous pastor.  I suspect some moved on simply because I was young, about half the age of the previous pastor, and young enough to be the grandson of many of the senior members of the congregation. I know there was a lot of talk going on during those years.  Some of it made it to me, much didn’t.

You can bet that kind of talk is going on there in Ephesus.  And you can bet Paul has heard about!  “Man, Paul, are you sure about Timothy?  He’s…well…young.  Are you sure he’s ready?  I’m mean, have you heard him preach?”

It is possible that Timothy’s authority, gifts, and abilities for leading the church are being called into question.  I have a feeling that not only has Paul heard about it, but so has Timothy.  It might have been Timothy who contacted Paul saying, “Are you sure about this?  Are you sure I’m ready?  These people aren’t always responding so well.  I’m getting push-back about being young. I don’t know that they will respect me.”

And so Paul says “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young.”  What does looking down on mean?  It is defined as “to feel contempt for someone or something because it is thought to be bad or without value.”[1]

“Don’t allow people to look down on you, Timothy,” Paul says.  But I think to myself, how is Timothy actually to deal with this?  If people start disrespecting him, is he going to step in and say, “I do not allow you to do this anymore.”  You can hear the snickering if he would try that.  Now if it got to a point, yes, he could make it a matter of church discipline and confront the poor behavior head on. Maybe he had to. If so, that would have been really difficult.

Disrespect of a leader in the church is always wrong.  No matter how old or young they are, we should respect our leaders.  We might disagree, but we can disagree in a respectful way.  If there is contempt going on, it must stop.  Disrespect and contempt is sinful.  Timothy would be well within his right to confront sin.

When Paul says “don’t let anyone look down on you”, I suspect he is saying to Timothy “you need to deal with the contempt and disrespect, Timothy.  You can’t let it happen. I know it is hard, but if people are behaving poorly, you need to intervene and make sure it stops.”

That is not all Paul says though.  He also makes a very different second suggestion.  I suspect Paul knows that the root of the problem is the age difference.  People that are older do not always have a hard time submitting to and respecting younger people.  Sometimes it goes well.  But let’s face it, the general tendency is for younger people to have older leaders.

How many of you have gotten a new boss that is younger than you, and you have found it hard to respect them?  I’ve heard the stories.  The new young boss comes to the company with energy and new ideas and starts making changes, and it can be very difficult.  They don’t know the culture.  They don’t know the people.  They don’t know what you’ve been through.  And as much as you complained about the old boss, you now find yourself wishing you had the old boss back.

Think it is any different in the church?  It’s not.

Paul has situation on his hands.  He spent so much time with the Christians at Ephesus.  He loves them.  But he has left them in the hands of his young associate Timothy who he also loves. Paul knows exactly who the people in the church are.  He knows their ages.  He knows by name who is probably struggling with Timothy, and as I said above, Paul might already have been hearing from those people: “Can’t you just come back, Paul?  This isn’t going well with Timothy.  Come back!”

So Paul knows Timothy needs to grow up fast.  He gives Timothy a very interesting suggestion.  He says “set an example for the believers.”  Paul could go on and on telling Timothy to confront and discipline.  But he doesn’t.  He says one line about not letting the people despise Timothy, but he moves quickly into a suggestion that is far more powerful: set an example.

“Timothy,” I can hear Paul saying, “I want your life to shine so brightly, that those people have no reason to look down on you.  Set an example for them.  Let your life do the talking.”

When I was in high school at Warwick in Lititz, PA, we had a pretty good basketball program.  We were always a contender for playoffs, and some years went very deep into them.  We also had a very rowdy student section, which I loved.  Cheering for our guys in the overheated old gym is still one of the highlights of my life.  One of my favorite student section cheers was only one word.  Repeated over and over.  Can you guess it?

The game scenario in which we would use this cheer was when my team was leading, and other team would start rallying.  They would be scoring points, catching up, gaining momentum.  That would fire their student section up, and from the other side of the gym they would get louder and louder. Back on our side, we would be feeling nervous.  We didn’t want them to catch up!  Our guys on the floor needed a boost, and we would say one word: Scoreboard. Scoreboard.  Scoreboard.  It was a great cheer.  We would really draw out the word “Scoooooorebooooooard”.  We wanted it to be a sobering reminder to everyone there that though the other team was rallying, we were still ahead.  We were winning.  In that moment, the scoreboard did all the talking.  We didn’t have to say anything, except to point to the truth.

The absolute worst, though, was if the other came back and won the game.  You know what the student section from the other school would start chanting back at us? “Scoreboard…scoreboard.”  Whew was that painful.  But the point was made.  The scoreboard still did the talking.  We might be walking out of the gym dejected, angry, thinking “we are a better team than that. We are way better than that.  We should not have lost.”  But the scoreboard told the truth about what was really going on.

Paul, in other words, is saying here to Timothy, “Let your life example tell the truth about who you really are.  Those people might be saying all kinds of stuff about you.  That you are too young.  You are an inexperienced leader.  That you are not as good a teacher as me.  That you are not as smart as me.  That you are not me. But let your life be the scoreboard.  You won’t have to say a thing, Timothy.  Let your life do the talking.”

How should he set the example?  In five ways: speech, life, love, faith and purity.  These are crucial areas.  Imagine if you were setting the example in these five?

  • Speech obviously is how you talk. No surprise to me that Paul lists it first.  Our mouths get us in trouble!  What would it be like for people to look at you as someone who sets an example in how you talk?  You would be gracious.  You would be kind.  Your words would be gentle, self-controlled.
  • Life is your conduct, your way of life. What would it look like for you to set the example in how you live your life?
  • Love is the word agape. Would people say of you that you are a loving person?
  • Faith, it is important to note, is not just believing the right things. This is best understand as faithful.  Having faithfulness.  Can people say of you: “There is a person who is faithful”?  Not because you know the Bible through and through.  Not because you know a lot of theology.  Faith is primarily not about knowing and believing the right things.  It is that.  But it is much more a choice to live them out.  I recently heard Richard Rohr put it this way “you don’t think your way into a changed life, you live your way into changed thinking.”
  • Paul is kinda saying the same thing over and over here, isn’t he? Be pure.  Be holy.  It’s not easy to do this in our world.  But pursue it. Set an example of purity.

Clearly this passage is not just for young Timothy.  This can apply to everyone.  So review it those five categories, all of us.  Are we setting an example in them?  Might there be one category that you sense God is speaking to you to work on?

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 762. Print.

Do you need a spiritual HIIT trainer?

22 Mar

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Have you heard of HIIT?  High Intensity Interval Training.  This winter my workout partners and I have done some HIIT workouts.  They’re really tiring.  You exercise hard for 20 secs, take a 10 sec rest, and then exercise again, rest again, etc.  We’ve done a variety of exercises and work/rest patterns, and every time we finish, I’m wiped out.  Then at night, I’m sore.

So you might like to know that we did a HIIT workout at the beginning of my sermon this past Sunday! We did 8 rounds of 20 sec exercise and 10 rest.  4 minutes.  It was great!  I invited anyone from the congregation who wanted to come up front and do the workout.  About ten people of all ages came up front, while one lady from our congregation who is a HIIT trainer led us in exercises.  That 4 minutes is all it took for me to start sweating.  When it was over, I tried to continue with the sermon, and I couldn’t catch my breath.

You do a 4 minute HIIT workout and then try to read the Bible out loud!!!  It’s hard!!!

So why would I have our congregation do a HIIT workout in a worship service?  Read the passage I was struggling to read, and see if you can find out.  It is 1 Timothy 4:6-10.

In that passage Paul teaches Timothy to do two things: Stop and Start.

Stop anyone who is involved in telling false stories.  Start training yourselves for godliness.  The word “train” where we get our English word Gymnasium. It is the Greek word “Gymnadzo” and the scholars tells us that it means “to control oneself by thorough discipline…In a number of languages the equivalent of ‘to discipline oneself’ is literally ‘to make oneself obey.’ This may sometimes be expressed as ‘to command one’s heart.”[1]

Before we look at explaining what spiritual discipline toward godliness is all about, look at what Paul says in verse 8. He says that bodily discipline does have value, but he describes it as some/little value. Godliness, though, has value for all things.  It has promise, Paul says, for the present life and for the life to come. So physical training is good.  But its value is of comparatively small value to spiritual training. Physical training benefits us for the here and now, whereas spiritual training benefits us here, now and for eternity.

Paul is saying that spiritual training, then, should be given more time and priority. How about you?

I spend a lot of time in physical training, and I do not look at my time spent running or working out as wasted time.  Not one second of it.  I think it is really important.  The question I need to ask is whether or not I give spiritual training an ample amount of time.

Let’s talk about spiritual training, then.  What does Paul mean in verse 7 when he says “train yourself to be godly”?  To try to answer that, let me first ask you: What does it take to be physically fit?

If you ask me how to train to be physically fit, that is a pretty easy question to answer.  Look at a show like The Biggest Loser, and they have it all worked out.  It involves exercising, a trainer, and healthy eating.  Then take those components and implement them consistently in your life.  What happens?  The pounds fall off your body, and your build muscle.  Ailments start to fade.  A person moves from sickness to health.   I love that show.  I love to see the transformation take place in people’s lives.

Probably because I personally experienced a bit of that myself.

You don’t have to get on The Biggest Loser to train yourself physically.  There are tons of local gyms with trainers and there are training apps.  For me it was Joe Yu.  Joe was an LBC student and pastoral intern here at Faith Church back in 2008-2009.  He also had a background in being an exercise trainer.  He was regularly asking me to work out.  I was in seminary then and never thought I had time.  Then my wife Michelle also started saying I should work out.  I knew I had gained weight over the years, but nothing out of control.  Had some back problems.

One day after Thanksgiving 2009 Joe was at our house, and he and Michelle were both saying I should starting working out.  I said “Ok, ok…but the only time I could meet is early in the morning.”  Joe was a part-time security guard late at night, and I figured it wouldn’t work for him.  So he shocked me when he said “Great! Let’s do it!”  Joe is a very enthusiastic guy.  So that next week, we met up at the gym at 5:30am.  Joe brought one of his friends along, Matt, who was a professor at LBC and also very into training.

I’ll never forget that first day.  And especially that first night.  Those guys put me through a beginning training workout that morning.  At night, I was SO sore.  I woke up in pain, and then put muscle cream on.  But I put too much cream on, and it stunk up the room.  I couldn’t sleep because of the pain.  Michelle couldn’t sleep because of the smell!

Little by little, though, through Joe and Matt training me, leading me, encouraging me, my weight came off.  I started working out four times per week, and eating less, cutting out sugar.  In about six months, I figure I lost 50 pounds.

The running started that spring when Brandon Hershey, Matt Marvin and I ran my first 5K, the Race Against Racism in the city. Now years later at Faith Church we have an informal running group that has completed 3 half marathons and 2 full marathons, and a slew of other events.  We do quite a bit to help each other out.  Accountability during training.  Entering events to give us motivation to achieve a goal.

For me it was personal, and it was communal.  I wasn’t shocked by any of the methodology it took to get fit.  And I think most of us have a pretty good idea of what getting physically fit will entail.  We might not do it, but we at least know how.

But what about training for godliness?  How do we do that?

Spiritual disciplines such as reading the Bible, praying, deeply participating in a church family, are all wonderful steps to take.  But I have to admit, those are all standard answers.  Good answers, but they bring to my mind some questions:

Do you do these things on a regular basis?  More time than you give to physical exercise?  More time than you give to TV, phone, etc.

If you don’t do them, why?

And if you do them, have you found them to be helpful in training you to become more godly?

If not, what else do you need to do to train yourself to be godly?

Could it be that something more is needed?  As I think about how I’ve experienced physical fitness, it has always been best accomplished with other people.  Especially when I’ve had people training me, leading, me, helping me see the way forward, encouraging me, holding me accountable.  So when it comes to your spiritual life, maybe you need a trainer?  Spiritual Director.

When we have done marathons and half-marathons, we have done 18 or 12 week training programs.  You run 4 or 5 times per week.  And you follow the plan.  You don’t want to get to race day unprepared.  Race day is going to be hard enough.  But if you don’t train, it might mean either the race will be super painful, or unfinishable.  So we faithfully follow the training plan, and little by little it builds you up to run 26.2 miles.

But do we give anything close to that amount of time and energy to allowing a spiritual director to train us?

Keep that question in mind.  If you know a trainer at the gym could help you get physically fit, then how much time have you spent with a spiritual trainer to get spiritual fit?

This makes me think again of discipleship.  We all should be training ourselves to be godly.  We don’t have to hire a professional spiritual director, though I suspect that for most of us hiring a spiritual director would be a good thing.

During my upcoming sabbatical one activity that I am going to seek out is a spiritual director.  There is a Jesuit retreat center that offers spiritual direction retreats for 5, 7, and even 30 days.

And here in our church family we should also focus on discipleship relationships that emphasize helping one another train for godliness. Who is helping to train you for godliness? And then after you answer the question about who is training you for godliness, the next question to answer is “Who are you training for godliness?”

Paul will say to Timothy in his next letter, in 2 Timothy 2:2, “the things you’ve heard me say, teach other also, so they can teach.”  Paul trained Timothy, and then he wanted Timothy to train others, so that others could train even more!

Have a trainer, be a trainer!

 

Go out and get a book that will coach you on how to train for godliness:  Spiritual Discipline for the Christian Life – Donald Whitney.  This is a book that is like a trainer.

I urge you to read that book, and then pick one spiritual discipline to work on this year.  But don’t do it alone.  Get a trainer to help you.  Talk with someone who is better at this spiritual discipline and have them train you!

 

Next, who is your spiritual trainer?

Who are you training?

Have a trainer, be a trainer!

 

 

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 751. Print.

How to stop the drama in your life

16 Jan

Image result for how to stop dramaAre you a drama magnet?  A drama queen?  None of us likes to admit it, so maybe I should ask “Has anyone ever told you that you are a drama queen?”  Have you ever looked at your life and thought, “Why does drama seem to follow me around?”  In my post last week, I shared some suggestions for determining if you are a drama magnet.  The first step is to open your mind to the possibility.  Would you do that?  Would you open your mind to the possibility?  Read the post to learn more.

Even if you still conclude that you are not a drama magnet, I would venture a guess that most of us on this planet feel like we have too much drama in our lives.  We’d like to deal with it.  We’d like to remove it from our lives.  Know this, it is possible to stop the drama.

Yesterday, we continued our teaching series through the Apostle Paul’s letter to a young pastor Timothy, which is why the letter is called 1st Timothy.  Last Sunday we looked at the introduction, and yesterday we studied Paul’s first instructions, which you can read in 1st Timothy 1:3-11.  He has a command for Timothy.  Simply put, the command is “Timothy, I’ve been hearing about the drama queens in the church, and you must stop them.”

That might sound harsh, but we must remember that Paul started this church.  He knew these people well, as he had spent nearly three years with them.  He loved them, and he wanted them to thrive as a church.  When he hears about the drama, he knows that is not in their best interest, and worse, it has a strong chance of ruining the life-changing work that God wants to do in their town.  The drama has to stop.

But how?

In this passage Paul reminds Timothy that the people in the church need to have a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith, which will lead to love.  Basically Paul is saying that we need to be transformed within, because what is inside us what matters. These qualities turn our lives into fertile soil from which love grows.

As Jesus said, “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”  We need to remove the junk from inside and place goodness within.  Then love will flow from our lives rather than controversy.  We’ll notice that we are starting drama much less as we love more. And when drama enters into our lives, as it almost surely will, we will be prepared to respond to it with love rather than more drama.

Paul teaches Timothy a powerful principle about Christian faith.  Disciples of Jesus stop the drama because they have been inwardly transformed.  Disciples of Jesus have a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith, all of which work together to build a solid foundation of love in their lives.  It is a foundation that cannot be shaken by controversy and drama that so often seeks to throw us off kilter.

The question, then, is this: how do we change from the inside?  How do we transform a dirty heart into a pure heart, an faulty conscience into a good one, weak faith into sincere faith?

We had a good discussion about this very question at sermon discussion group yesterday.  Let’s keep that discussion going in the comments below!  Please share your practical suggestions for how to change your inner life.

I have a few suggestions that I believe are basic.  When I played soccer in college, our coach required us to start every practice with 10-15 minutes of working on basic ball control skills.  You’d think that a college-level player should be way beyond that, right?  You’d think that in college we had the basics mastered long ago, so we could spend time on advanced skills and tactics.

My coach was on to something important, though.  We should see the basics as important all the time.  Just as practicing the basics is vital in sports, in music, it is in faith.  So I recommend that if you want to move on to a more sincere faith, if you want to move on to a purer heart and good conscience, then first ask yourself how you are doing with the basic habits of faith?

Basic Habit #1 – Prayer.  Are you praying that God will change you?  How often are you praying?  How can you go deeper in prayer, spend more time in prayer?  Will you need to get someone to help you pray?  Will you need to stop doing something, like watching TV, in order to make more room in your life to pray?

Basic Habit #2 – Study.  Are you reading the Bible?  Are you thinking about what you read?  How often do you read the Bible?  And when you read, how much do you read?  Do you need to get someone to help you understand what you are reading?  Most importantly of all, are applying what you read to your life?

Basic Habit #3 – Accountability.  Are you talking about your inner life with anyone?  Are you isolated?  Who can you talk to about the purity level of your heart?  Who can you talk to about your conscience?  About how to have a more sincere faith?  Disciples of Jesus are not meant to go it alone.  Instead we grow through relationship.  Just like Paul is staying in touch with Timothy through this letter, we need people in our lives to help us grow. This is also why a church family is so important.

What are other habits have you used that help you grow?