Tag Archives: Apostle Paul

Reading other people’s mail – Titus 1:1-4, Part 1

10 Jun

Have you ever accidentally received mail for your neighbor?

It happens to all of us from time to time.  The question is, what do you do with it? Usually just walk it over to their house, right?

Do you ever just throw it away?  Please don’t!  It’s illegal!

Most often misdelivered mail happens when you move to a new house, and you get mail for the people who lived there before you.   Here at Faith Church, we get mail for previous pastors or for churches that rented from us.  It is almost always junk mail from organizations not aware of the pastoral change or that the church no longer rents space here.  So I tend to open the mail and read it, or more frequently just throw it away.  You can tell 99% of all junk mail by the outside of the envelope!  But if it is real mail we make sure it gets in the proper hands.  The USPS says all you have to do is write “Return to Sender” or “Not At This Address” on the envelope and place it back in the mail.

But have you ever read someone else’s real mail? 

That’s a bit more personal, isn’t it?  There are ethical concerns and legalities, right?  It’s illegal to open other people’s mail.  But in our technological age, it happens. 

Have you ever been sitting next to someone with their phone or laptop out, and you glance over and their email is open for all to see? I’ve heard stories about how that has happened and friends have learned shocking things about one another, and it has led to hurt.

You might think, “Well, you should have averted your eyes.”  That is easier said than done. Maybe it was one of those situations where it was unavoidable.  Maybe you’ve been there before.  You aren’t looking for it, and boom there it is right in front of you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.  You’ve seen it. 

Starting with this post, that is exactly what we’re going to do.  Actually, for the rest of the summer, we’re going to read other people’s mail.  Letters, to be specific.  Ancient letters.  

In the Bible, in the New Testament, there are a bunch of them.  Letters written from one person to another.  We call them books of the Bible, but they are not even close to what we normally think of when we think of books.  They’re letters.  Many are quite short, more like emails in our culture.  Notes, you might even call them.  This summer we are going to study the short letters of the New Testament.  Formally they are in the genre called Epistles.  Often when we use the word, “epistle,” our minds conjure up really long letters.  In fact many New Testament epistles are long letters: Romans, 1st Corinthians, 2nd Corinthians, and Hebrews, to name a few.  In our modern Bibles they are all divided into multiple chapters with intricate argumentation, and they frequently get the lion’s share of attention.  Since I have been pastor, I have taught through Philippians, 1st Corinthians, 1st Timothy and 1st Peter.  Maybe someday we’ll get to the 2nds of those epistles! 

There are also a group of short epistles in the New Testament, and they rarely get mentioned.  This summer we’re going to study all of them.  We’re going to read other people’s mail such as Paul’s letter to Titus.  His note to Philemon.  John’s two short notes called 2nd and 3rd John.  And finally the short note written by Jesus’ brother, Jude.  Some are so short, we’ll cover then in one sermon.  Today we start with Titus, which is the longest of the short letters.

Let’s begin with a quick overview of Titus.  There are many theories about when, where and why Paul wrote this letter, and for our sermon series I am going to take the position that Paul is writing later in life, most likely after the events described in the book of the Acts.  By this time, Paul is deeply established in the early church as a missionary statesman who has traveled on numerous long mission trips throughout the Roman Empire, preaching about good news in Jesus, starting new churches, and raising up other leaders.  He regularly brought people with him, and trained them to be new leaders.  One of those guys was Titus.  Peek down at Titus chapter 1, verse 5 and you’ll see that Paul has dispatched Titus to lead the network of house churches on Crete, where Paul had previously ministered and started the churches.  Crete is an island right smack in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.  You can read in Acts 27 when Paul visited there as a prisoner, and based on what we read in Titus 1:5, he visited there again with Titus.  Titus was a close associate of Paul.  Though Titus is never mentioned in the stories in the book of Acts he is mentioned in numerous other letters, where we learn that Paul trusted Titus to deal with difficult situations. And that is exactly what was happening in Crete.

Paul has two main concerns for Titus.  Good works. Sound Doctrine.

One is prophylactic. The other is evangelistic.

Wait, prophylactic? Isn’t that birth control? While it relates to that, prophylactic has a broader meaning.  A prophylactic is something that prevents disease.  In his letter to Titus, Paul is writing a prophylactic letter.  He wants to prevent disease in the church.  And so he will talk about sound doctrine.

Paul also wants the church to reach out, and so he will talk about doing good, which Paul sees as foundational to all outreach. 

What we will see in our series through this letter is how much we need to hear this message today.

Check back in tomorrow as we begin reading someone else’s mail.

How the Winnebago can teach us something important about grace

3 Oct

Yesterday I introduced the new sermon series I’m giving at Faith Church this October. We’re pausing the Deuteronomy series in order to make way for the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  Each week this month we’ll be looking at one of the Five Solas of the Reformation.  This week we start with Sola Gratia, translated as Grace Alone.

 

Last evening on our local news, the station’s cameras captured a local vigil for victims of the horrific shooting in Las Vegas. As they held candles, the crowd sang the words of the what is perhaps the most famous of all Christian hymns. You know the hymn, right? Sing it as you read it:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,

that saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost, but now am found;

was blind but now I see.

What is this thing called grace?

One of the first followers of Jesus, Paul (also called Saul in the New Testament), himself having experienced grace firsthand, wrote a letter about grace to Christians in the ancient city of Ephesus.  He knew them well and wanted to encourage them with a proper understanding of grace.  Many consider Ephesians 2:8-9 to be the apex of his teaching about grace.  There Paul writes, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Saved by grace?  What does Paul mean?  Grace as a gift of God?  What is that about?

My task this week is to answer those questions.  Today, let’s start with another amazing gift of grace that comes first: creation. Think about what a gracious gift it is that God created the universe and that he created everything in it. God has shown his grace in creation. He didn’t have to create us. He didn’t have to create our world. But he did. Grace is behind the very first chapters of the Bible.

What is so shocking is humanity’s response to God’s grace.  In Genesis 3 Adam and Eve sin and are banned from the bountiful garden God planted for them. Not long after that, their son Cain murders his brother Abel. In due time we read about how violent and rebellious the earth would become, thus leading to the flood.

What we see in these early chapters of Genesis is God’s grace in Creation, followed by man’s rebellion against that grace. We call this rebellion the Fall into sin. The grace of Creation leads to the Fall into sin.

The sin of humanity didn’t stop when God sent the flood and determined to start over with Noah and his family. The sin of humanity didn’t stop when God made a wonderful gracious promise to Abraham and Sarah, that their offspring would be a great nation through whom he would bless the world. The sin of humanity didn’t stop when that great nation, Israel, entered into a special covenant with God. God gave them his law, and they couldn’t keep his law. None of us can. We are in trouble because of our inability to stop sinning.

Theologians point out two lies we often believe.  Are you believing either of these?

  • Sin is something we can manage
  • God helps those who helps themselves.

These are lies.

Luther once wrote, “the person who believes that he can obtain grace by doing what is in him adds sin to sin so that he is doubly guilty.” You cannot help yourself earn God’s favor. You cannot just manage your sin.

The word “religion” itself can be an indication of these lies we believe.  Religion speaks of spiritual rituals that people use in order to accomplish God’s favor. As I was studying for this, one writer pointed out that we are a species that glories in our accomplishments. I saw this firsthand when we were on vacation this past June. My wife’s extended family met up near South Bend, Indiana.  We scoured the internet prior to the trip searching for what to do when we were there. One thing we came across was the RV Hall of Fame.

Think about that.  The RV Hall of Fame.  Come look at what we accomplished!  We people have made awesome RVs. We made the Winnebago.

What kind of creatures want to tout as an accomplishment the Winnebago?  We humans do.

In all fairness, humanity has accomplished a lot of good. But can all of our accomplishments make us acceptable in God’s eyes? No, because we are far from perfect. Our sin has created a brokenness between God and us, clearly depicted in Adam and Eve getting kicked out of the perfection of the Garden of Eden. It wasn’t just Adam and Eve that were separated from God, though, but, because we all sin, all of humanity is separated from God. That is a huge problem, not only for us, but also for God.  He graciously created us and wants to be close with us. Because of sin, that is not possible.

That brings us back to Ephesians 2:8-9 and the concept of saving grace.  God steps in to our fallen world with his gift grace.  And tomorrow we’ll learn what that saving grace is all about.

Why does following the way of Jesus seem so difficult?

5 May

For those of you that are followers of Jesus, have you ever thought that that following the way of Jesus is difficult?  I think life itself can feel difficult.  But then add following Jesus, and there is another layer of effort, right?

Ever think thoughts like this?

I hear Jesus say “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” and sometimes I think “What?  Jesus, following your way of life is frustrating and complex!”

The process of life transformation that God wants to work in our lives is not always an easy one.  In fact it might be more accurate to say that it is often difficult.

And that can make us frustrated, can’t it?  Whether it is a habit we’re trying to change, a relationship we’re trying to mend, a ministry we are involved in or a sin that we’re trying to repent of, following the way of Jesus can feel heavy.

How many of you think “I just want a break!”?

I often wish following Jesus were easier.  In fact that raises a question in my mind.  Should following Jesus be easier than it seems?  If we think that following Jesus is hard, maybe the way we are following him is wrong?  Is it our fault that following Jesus can be difficult?  If you feel frustrated as a disciple of Jesus, what is going on?

This coming Sunday as our family of Faith Church gathers for worship, we continue our study through 1st Timothy and we’re going to read some comments that Paul gives to Timothy about following Jesus.

You can preview it at 1st Timothy 6:11-16.  Then we hope you’ll join us at 9:00am to hear more!

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.

Why I’m preaching 3 different sermons about modesty…at the same time…kinda…

25 Feb

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Tomorrow I’m preaching 3 different sermons on modesty…at the same time.  Kinda.  Obviously, I can’t speak three sermon simultaneously, unless I recorded them separately and played them all at the same time.  Or maybe I could record two, playing them at the same time as I preach the third.  Imagine the cacophony.

Instead, I’m planning on speaking three sermons on modesty within the same timeframe of 30-35 minutes.  Don’t worry, Faith Church, tomorrow is a coffee break Sunday, so that means coffee and snacks come before the sermon!  You might want to bring extra with you back to your seats.

Actually, the first two sermons on modesty will be rather short.  In fact, I can summarize each of them in one paragraph for you.  Before I do that, though, you might be wondering why I am preaching on modesty at all.  Simply, it is what comes next.  I have been preaching through the biblical book of 1st Timothy, which is actually a letter that the Apostle Paul wrote, around 60AD, to his young associate named Timothy, who was pastor of the church Paul started in the Roman city of Ephesus.  Paul wanted the church to thrive, and he wanted Timothy to thrive as its pastor.  He writes Timothy, then, giving him advice and instruction about numerous matters in the church.

Last week we started chapter 2 in the letter, and we found that chapter 2 includes instructions about worship.  First up was prayer, and Paul talked with the men about raising hands in prayer.  You can read about that here and here.  This week he speaks to the women, instructing them how to dress modestly. That’s why we’re talking about it.  You can see what Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:9-15.

I’ve been thinking about this sermon quite a lot this week, and I’ve decided it is going to require three sermons in one.

The first sermon on modesty is the one that some men have asked me to preach to the ladies.  Here’s a summary:

Dear sisters in Christ, we battle lust in our hypersexualized culture.  It is hard.  We get weary. The last thing we want is to see some of you dressed immodestly.  So help a guy out. Please cover up.

And now for my second sermon on modesty.  This is the one that some ladies have asked me to preach to the men.

Dear brothers in Christ, we are ogled at in our hypersexualized culture.  It is hard.  We get weary.  The last thing we want is to have you checking us out.  So help a girl out. Please look up.

But you know what?  I really don’t want to preach either of those sermons.  There is certainly truth in both of them.  And that’s why I’m still going to preach them.  But I have a third sermon on modesty as well.  It is the one I really want to preach  That one you’ll have to come to Faith Church tomorrow February 26, 2017, if you would like to hear it.  I hope you can join us!  Then stay for sermon discussion group, where we can talk further.

PS – There might even be a bonus 4th sermon. 

Could prayer meetings and hand-raising be the worship that God really wants?

21 Feb

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Last week I mentioned the massive investment Christians have made in building-centered, staff/program-heavy, Sunday worship.  I wondered if God might evaluate us concluding, “I wish you would have done something different.” But how do we know what God would say?  Most of us involved in leading church worship do want to know God’s evaluation of our worship.  Is it possible to get such an evaluation?

At Faith Church, we’ve been studying the biblical letter of 1st Timothy, and the section we came to on Sunday brought us face to face with an evaluation of our worship.  Read 1 Timothy 2:1-8 to see for yourself.

In verse 3 where Paul says that “this is good and pleases God our savior.” What is good?  What pleases him?  To be a praying people!  “This” refers to verses 1-3 in which Paul is urging them to be a praying people.

You would be hard-pressed to use Scripture to support the investment most church makes in buildings, worship services, and staff (including pastors) that lead programs.  I am not saying that Scripture says those things are wrong and we should stop doing them.  Instead, we need to see Paul here teaching us that Christians demonstrate a commitment to being a praying people.  When it comes to worship, being a praying people is good and pleases God our Savior.

So what will it look like for us to increase our quantity of prayer?

An attempt to answer that question brings to mind the Jim Cymbala quote I put at the top of every Faith Church Wednesday evening prayer meeting guide:

“From this day on, the prayer meeting will be the barometer of our church.  What happens on Wednesday night will be the gauge by which we will judge success or failure because that will be the measure by which God blesses us.”

Think about that quote.  Is it possible that if we are prayer-less or don’t pray enough, we will not access the blessing and power that God offers us?  Is it possible that we emphasize Sunday morning worship too much, and Wednesday evening prayer not enough?

Paul says a few other things about prayer in this passage as well.  But I’d like to jump to his conclusion in verse 8, where he says, “Therefore I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.”

Based on everything he has said to Timothy about prayer, Paul wants men everywhere to lift up hands in prayer.  Paul has made his case.  He has argued that prayer is vital. He spends time describing what prayer is, who to pray for, what to pray for, and now his conclusion?  Lift up your hands.

I have to admit that I got to that part and thought to myself, “Huh?  Really?  Why does he care about lifting up of hands?”  And to some degree I still think that.  In fact, I often think that hand-raising can be so contrived.  Like in this video:

Then I think, I’m at least a bit used to the idea of raising hands during the musical part of our worship service.  So why would Paul ask them to raise hands in prayer?  And why does he pinpoint the men?  Notice that in verse 9, which we’ll get to next week, he is going to talk specifically to the women.  If there he is clearly talking to the women, here in verse 8 we know he is specifically talking to the men.  I bring that up because sometimes “men” can be a generic way to speak of both genders.  “Peace to all men, or all mankind”.  Not here though.

Paul wants the men to lift up hands in prayer.

Men at Faith Church, including me, barely ever do this.  Is that cool, in God’s evaluation, or not cool? We have some people, including men, that lift up hands during singing.  Is that the same as what Paul is talking about?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

Let’s approach it from another angle: why do people not lift their hands during prayer?  Should we? Investigate this with me a bit further.

Paul is possibly speaking figuratively here.  It could be that he just wants people to pray, and he is using the words “lift up holy hands” as way of describing prayer.  I grew up in a culture that taught Sunday School children to “bow your heads, fold your hands, and close your eyes”.  Some Christian speakers, before leading a congregation in prayer, say “Would you bow your heads with me?”  They don’t even use the word “prayer” but we all know what they mean.  They don’t really want people to physically bow, do they?  No, they want people to pray.  But the act of bowing has become synonymous with the act of praying.  “Bow your heads in prayer.”  Paul could easily be doing something similar here.  We’re not used to it because raising hands in prayer is not a part of our worship culture.  But it was for them.  Look through the Old Testament and raising hands in prayer is all over the place.  So it could just be cultural.

But let’s not just assume that Paul is speaking figuratively.  What if he does want Christians, and especially men, to raise their hands when they pray?

When I was a student at Bible college, we had chapel service every day in the morning.  At some point a group of students started lifting their hands during worship.  A few weeks went by, and one day the President at the time started off chapel with an announcement.  “There will be no raising of hands here.”  Why not?  Was the president of a Bible college going against the Bible?  It seems so, because here we have Paul specifically telling the men to raise up holy hands in prayer.

Frankly, I read this verse and I don’t like it.   I must admit within me, I rebel emotionally at the idea of raising hands.  Why, Paul, why?  It seems so stupid.  Really, Paul, no one cares whether or not I raise hands in prayer!

I think there are a few ways to respond to that.

First, I need to remember that God is not interested in rituals.  We read that many places as well.  He was regularly upset with the Israelites when they practiced the rituals of worship, especially the vast sacrificial system, but didn’t give their hearts in worship.  God says “I want your hearts, not sacrifices.”   Hand-raising could easily become a ritual.  I start praying and raise my hands just to check it off the list.  Or what if, at the end of each sermon when I normally close in prayer, I say, “OK, men, I’m going to start praying now, so up with your hands!”?  Our God is not into that kind of ritual.  He wants our hearts!

And that is where I think we would do well to examine why we do or do not raise hands.  If done with the right heart motivation, raising hands can show a submissiveness to God. Look at the physical difference between the posture of open hands raised and that of crossed arms.  Open vs. Closed.  Symbolically that says something.  Raised hands can be a plea to God for help, a humility before God.

Paul is not saying that you need to go to Tim Hawkins’ hand-raising class to learn how to do it right.  But we all should look at our inner attitude and motivation when we do raise our hands.  Examine your heart.  Why do you do this?  To draw attention to yourself?  Or because you think you have to?  Or because you are filled with gratitude to God, because you want to show humility and praise to God?

At Faith Church, we have a lot more of us that never raise hands, as compared to those that do.  We have some that want to raise their hands, but are shy.  Or we wonder what people will think if we raise our hands.  Yours truly is in this category.  When we’re singing songs, I have all kinds of thoughts going through my head.  I want to raise my hands, but I don’t want to be showy.  But then I think, maybe I should raise my hands because I’m the pastor.  No, I think, that’s not what God wants.  Not ritual, but heart.  Then I think, yeah, but remember how excited you get at Connor’s soccer games, and your hands are in the air a lot!  And you don’t care what anyone else in the crowd thinks of you.  Michelle is embarrassed at how loud you get.  Why can’t you do that during worship?  True, I tell myself, true.  My fear takes over though.  I rationalize: I don’t need to raise hands, do I?  I mean, God doesn’t really care, right?  He wants my heart, right?  And I usually don’t raise them.

And that is a peak into my heart and mind almost every Sunday.  It can feel like inner turmoil rather than the worshipful, thankful attitude I want to have during singing praise to God.

If that at all resonates with you, are you allowing fear to grip you and control you, more than your desire to lift up your hands as act of praise and prayer showing your submissiveness to God?  I can’t answer that for you.  It could be that a lot more of us do need to raise our hands.  But none of us should judge.  Whether we see people raising hands a lot and think they should less, or whether we don’t see people raising hands much and think they should more, let us not be a people of judging one another.  What is important is the heart!

Let us also, Christian brothers and sisters, be a people of prayer.  I love that during most Faith Church worship services, we have an open mic sharing and prayer time.  But I also love that we have Wednesday evening 7-8pm focused on prayer. There are many other ways and places that we can pray.  Sunday School classes, small groups, Bible studies, one on one, before meals or before bed time.  I encourage all those things.

But let me ask, family of Faith Church: what is your schedule like on Wednesday at 7pm?  Seriously.  Will you consider making Wednesday evening prayer meeting a priority?  We won’t force you to pray out loud.  We don’t require long, eloquent prayers.  We have a short Bible study, right now we’re going through the book of Joshua, and then we pray.  We have a time for requests, we pray through the bulletin prayer list, we pray for any requests that are submitted via the connection cards, email, or otherwise, and then we start praying for our church and ministry.  I find the time usually flies by!  Will you join us so that we can become more the praying people that God wants us to be?

Two things Christians should fight for

14 Feb

Image result for fight the good fightPaul tells Timothy to fight the good fight.  Generally Christians are not supposed to be fighting.  So what fight is Paul talking about?  He calls it a good fight.  Not too many fights could be described as good ones.

Life can feel like a fight.  Have you ever felt that way?  Life seems too hard sometimes doesn’t it?   Is that what Paul is referring to?

Actually, Paul is saying, the fight to stay faithful to the Lord is a good fight. And maybe that resonates with you.  If you are a following of Jesus, you might know the feeling of how difficult it can be to remain faithful to the Lord.  This life is full of temptations which, if we caved in, would lead us to be unfaithful to God.  Sometimes it is our own bodies that tempt us.  Sometimes it is an addiction.  We know that Satan loves to tempt us.  Sometimes it is other people.  Staying faithful to God can seem like a battle.  Paul says it is a good fight.

 

In our study of 1st Timothy, we have come to chapter 1, verses 18-20.  There Paul describes  what he wants Timothy to fight for: first, to hold on to faith, and, second, to hold on to a good conscience.

The image here of holding on is a person who is holding on to an object and not letting go.  It is an iron grip.  I know in life it can often feel like we are losing grip on our faith.  In the next verse Paul is going to refer to some guys that did just that.  Hymenaeus and Alexander, he says, lost their faith.  Part one of fighting the good fight is to hold on to faith.

The second thing Paul wants Timothy to hold on to is a good conscience.  What is the conscience?

One scholar says that it is “the psychological faculty which can distinguish between right and wrong”.  That same scholar goes on to say that “In some languages [this word] may [refer to] ‘the inner voice’ or ‘the voice in one’s heart’ or ‘how one knows right from wrong.’”

So Paul is referring to something that is inherently within us.  We believe that God created all humanity with this inner voice, this true psychological faculty to distinguish right from wrong.  That doesn’t mean that all people will do the right thing.  You can know the right and not do it.  I think we all are very aware of this in our lives.  How many times do we know what is right, but we do what is wrong?  What is worse, it seems that the more we do the wrong, the less we are aware of the right.

We can see why Paul would place such importance on fighting the good fight in the areas of faith and good conscience. Hold tightly on to them!

How do we hold on to a good conscience?

  1. Keep a sensitive ear to the voice of the Lord. The means we should practice prayer.
  2. Remain teachable.  Remember the story of Samson in the Old Testament?  He didn’t even realize that God had departed from him.  He wasn’t teachable.
  3. Read the Bible. It is our instruction.  We need to know who God is and what he wants us to do.
  4. Be doers of the word, which means that when you read the Bible, you then do what it says. This may require change.
  5. Have accountability. This means close fellowship with other Christians.

We have to intentionally work at being sensitive to God. If you let it go one day, it will be easier the next day to grow callous to God.  If you keep letting it go, you can find yourself quite distant from God.

In the physical world, the less food we get, the hungrier we get.  In the spiritual world, it is the opposite: the less food we get, the less spiritually hungry we get.  If you skip lunch, you’re crazy hungry by dinner, right?  If you skip out on spending time with God, though, you start to lose desire for it.  I wish the spiritual worked like the physical in this regard.  I wish I would get spiritually hungrier if I skipped time with God.  But I have found that when I distance myself from God, I only grow more apathetic about him.

It is more like relationships.  When distance is put between two people, they start to fall away.  So we need to fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience.

To successfully fight the good fight, I’d like to talk a bit more about one of the suggestions I made above, remaining teachable.  I have found in the last 20 years or so, that a healthy self-awareness, humility and teachability are perhaps the most important foundation a disciple of Jesus must have.  If we want to fight the good fight, first we must be teachable and humble.

We should be Christians who are seeking out the truth about ourselves.   Think about yourself.  Are you actively seeking people to speak the blunt honest truth about yourself?  Or are you thinking “I’m scared of what people think about me…I want to avoid it.  I don’t want to hear what people think of me.”  Would you rather live in a fantasy world of your own making?

Many of us choose to live in a fantasy world because it is much easier.   In those fantasy worlds, we are generally pretty awesome people who don’t have to change.  In those fantasy worlds we can tell ourselves that we are good.  But a huge part of holding on the faith and a good conscience is being humble and teachable.

It means having a healthy self-awareness, and a willingness to speak openly and honestly about yourself, both your successes and your failings.   And that means that you invite the tough stuff into your world.

So let us fight the good fight, hold on to faith, and a good conscience.

Fighting the good fight implies that it will be tough.  Paul doesn’t say “sleep on a cozy bed.”  “Eat delicious desserts”  “Enjoy a stress-free walk.”

He says “fight the good fight.”  It is good.  And it is a fight.  It is good, worth it, fighting for the mission of the  Kingdom of God. It is a fight against evil, a fight against injustice, a fight against Satan, a fight against selfishness and pride.

But it is a fight, and fights are hard.  They require energy, time, and usually bring pain and hurt.  Disciples of Jesus are fighters.  But they fight the good fight.

Jesus said something about this fighting concept when he said, “take up your cross and follow me.”  He was referring to self-denial.  It is a fight. Often a fight against our inner inclination toward selfishness.

If you don’t want to shipwreck your faith, you’ve got to keep fighting.