Tag Archives: timothy

How you can experience eternal life before you die (and why waiting till after you die is foolish)

9 May

Image result for eternal life now

Do you feel like following Jesus is difficult?  I sometimes think that I must be doing it wrong, because following Jesus seems like it should be easy, but I can struggle with it.  Is it is struggle for you too?  And what do we do when following Jesus seems too difficult?  We so often flee pain, trouble, hardship, and we pursue ease, comfort, entertainment.

In our continuing series on 1st Timothy, we have come to chapter 6, verses 11-16, and Paul talks about what it is like to follow Jesus.  As you can imagine, Paul does not tell Timothy to flee the pain and pursue ease.  In verse 12 he says this comforting phrase to Timothy: “Fight the good fight of faith.”

Fight is a brutal word.  When we hear “fight”, we think of boxing.  We think of pushing and shoving and punching and maybe even yelling and pulling hair.  Maybe we think of a sword fight or a gun fight or a bull fight.

But the word Paul uses is not necessarily that kind of fight.   It is defined as “to strive to do something with great intensity and effort—‘to make every effort, to do everything possible, to strain oneself.’”[1]

Surely that definition could relate to a fight.  But it could also be a noncombatant striving, a struggling.  And it is intense.  It involves great effort. We generally don’t like to hear that.  How would you react to the following”

“If you sign up to be a volunteer on the booster club, it is going to be really hard!  You’ll have to struggle and put in a lot of work and effort.”

Or, “Please sign up for to be one of our children’s ministry teachers, it is super hard!  It will require a lot of you. You will have to be committed in time and energy.  It will be exhausting.”

Or “follow Jesus, be his disciple, die to yourself.”

Not a very compelling marketing scheme is it?

How many advertisers do you see that market their experience or product as being a really difficult, challenging, hard experience?  Barely any.  Maybe the military.  Many an elite school.

“Buy this mattress and it will be so awful you’ll have a horrible night’s sleep!”  They don’t do that.

Instead, when marketers advertise to us, they want to make their product as accessible as possible.  So they generally tell us how incredible and helpful and easy and fun and comfortable their product is.

Jesus apparently didn’t go to marketing school.  His call to discipleship is hard.  Paul’s charge to Timothy is hard.  “Fight the Good Fight.”  It is a fight.  Fights are hard.  They hurt.

There is one word in that phrase I haven’t mentioned yet: “Good.”

Paul says “Fight”, but it is a good fight.  It is a good fight of the faith.

What you are fighting for, what you are working for, what you are striving for makes all the difference, doesn’t it?  If the cause is just and good, you are much more likely to put in the long hours, to take a pay cut, to exercise, to practice, to make sacrifices.  Though it is hard, though it can feel like a fight, and though you might be exhausted, you can continue on because you know what you are fighting for is good.

Finishing a college degree might feel that way.

Raising children might feel that way.

Following an exercise or diet plan feels that way.

Paul is talking to a pastor, so yes, ministry can feel that way.

But all these are good things!  In fact, they are very good.  While they can feel like a fight at times, while they might inflict bodily damage on you just like a fight does, they are good, and remembering that they are good is so important.

If we are honest with ourselves, though, and I will be honest about ministry, there are moments of doubt.  We start to question, is it worth it?  How many of you have been there before, when you are involved in something hard?  You start to ask “Why did I get into this?”

I’ll never forget the marathons that I have run, having those thoughts, those questions pounding in my mind.  In the picture below, see the “FULL” back plate?

Image result for baltimore marathon back bib "full"

In the Baltimore Marathon, the race organizers asked us to pin that to the back of ours shirt because we were running simultaneously with half-marathoners for the last 10+ miles of the marathon.  I’m not sure why they asked us to do this.  Maybe it was simply so that runners on the course could know and encourage one another.  And they did.  I was very encouraged when some half-marathoners told me how impressed they were with the marathoners like me.

But at about mile 21 or 22, my body experienced a deep kind of exhaustion that I had never felt before.  In training, the most I ran at one time was 20 miles.  Now I was beyond that.  And I still had 4-5 miles to go.  I was cramping, scared something was wrong and this 18 week process was falling apart.  I entertained the possibility of quitting, of not finishing.  Worse yet, I still had hills to climb.  I started thinking to myself “Why in the world did I ever do this?  This was so foolish!  I’ll never do it again.”

The “full” sign really ought to say this: 

Have you ever doubted your abilities?  Have you felt foolish?

Maybe you have doubted our parenting abilities.  Maybe you wonder if you are smart enough to finish school.  We can doubt ourselves in the middle of the fight.

Have you ever doubted whether you can make it as a disciple of Jesus?  Do you ever feel like Christianity, discipleship to Jesus, feels like a fight?  Why does it feel like a fight?  What are you fighting against?  I think we followers of Jesus fight against at least three things.

First, we fight against ourselves.  We have free will.  When it comes to following Jesus, we freely chose to follow him.  Free will, though, means that we can freely choose the right thing, just as much as we can freely choose the wrong thing.  We have a tendency to make bad choices, think bad thoughts, and harbor bad attitudes don’t we?  Following the way of Jesus can feel like a fight because we ourselves have a free will struggle with our lack of self-control.

 

The second thing that can make discipleship to Jesus difficult is culture.  It is not like our culture has a goal of promoting discipleship to Jesus.  I think it is absolutely possible to live as gracious, compelling disciples of Jesus in our culture.  But it can be hard.  Are there elements of our culture that you find make it hard for you to follow Jesus?

The third thing that can make the good fight feel like a fight is opposition.  There is a very real enemy force in the world that would love to see us fail.  Satan.

Even though these three things work against, remember that it is a good fight!

What is your personal fight?  Here are some personal struggles that people often talk about:

Fear of what other people will say or do to you.  Mine is speaking the truth in love. Specifically the truth part.  I will often skip the truth part because I am afraid of offending. Perhaps the fight is the busyness in life.  Or is it that you feel loneliness, without much support? Our world certainly seems to pressure us to have material comforts. Are you hoping to climb the corporate ladder to the extent you are tempted to let other things go? Why?  To get more money, more prestige at work, or to get Power.  You can perhaps get all these things, but what will it cost you to get them ?  You’ll have to work long hours, and the resultant stress and anxiety will come at the cost of your personal time, sanity, and maybe your family or ministry time.

So Paul says to Timothy, “Fight the good fight of the faith.”  If we are to pursue righteousness and godliness, know that it could be hard.  But it is good!

In fact, Paul says next in verse 12 that it is not just a mediocre good.  Paul says it is a fight to take hold of eternal life.  It is that good!

He says that Timothy should, “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.”

Wait a minute! Eternal life?  Is Paul talking about getting saved?  Isn’t Timothy already saved and going to heaven when he dies?   That’s how we talk about eternal life, right?  You have your present life now, then you die, and after you die, you will go on to eternal life in heaven.

But think about this passage with me a minute.  It would be very strange if Paul thought Timothy wasn’t yet saved, considering that Paul already installed him as pastor of the church at Ephesus.  It would be very strange if Paul thought Timothy was not going to have eternal life in heaven, as if Timothy had to now accept Jesus as his savior and become a follower of Jesus.  Paul would never have allowed Timothy pastor this church that Paul loved if he, Paul, wasn’t certain that Timothy was a true follower of Jesus who was going to have eternal life in heaven.

You what that means?  Whatever Paul is saying here, this cannot be a statement about eternal life in heaven after you die.

Paul is saying that Timothy should take hold of eternal life now.  One of my favorite writers on the Christian life, Dallas Willard, says this:

What Willard says fits perfectly with this passage.  How do we know this?  See the phrase in verse 12: “Take hold”?  It is an imperative tense, which means that Paul is commanding Timothy to do this right now.

Later on in verse 14 he even calls it a command.  What that means is that this command, “Take hold of eternal life”, is really important.  Paul is serious about this.  He is saying, “Make no mistake about it, you have to do this, Timothy.”

Live an eternal life right now.  Or as Willard put it, learn how to live in the Kingdom of Heaven now.

This is another passage to ask ourselves, “How am I doing in my life? What is important to me?  Am I fighting the good fight of the faith to take hold of eternal life now?”

We recently had the season of Lent.  Lent is the 7 weeks prior to Easter, and it is a season where people spiritually prepare themselves for Easter.  The spiritual preparation in Lent features fasting.  The question “what are you giving up for Lent?” refers to this.

I gave up phone games for Lent.  I can’t tell you the amount of time I wasted playing games on my phone.

How about you?  How are you wasting time?  Is what you are doing necessary?

It is good to first ask these questions between you and Lord.  Ask him to evaluate you.  Ask the Holy Spirit to evaluate you.  David in Psalm 139 says:

 

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. 

But you can compound the effectiveness of the evaluation by asking godly, wise people to evaluate you, to speak the truth to you.  One of one or in a small group, ask for accountability.

You know what the result of all this fighting the good fight, and taking hold of eternal life, will be?

We can live eternal life now!  That is so amazing to consider.

We so often feel desperation and frustration in life, and we think “I can’t wait for heaven and eternal life when all this pain will be gone.”  But in so doing, are we enabling ourselves to continue living in the muck of life?  Are we allowing ourselves to stay stuck in our bad habits, stuck in sin, feeling distant from God, feeling powerless to change?

Remember that Paul says “you can experience eternal life now!”  And actually he goes farther than that.  He commands it.  He is saying you must live eternal life now!  Take hold of it!

What an awesome privilege we have.  Following the way of Jesus might feel like a fight, but remember it is a good fight, because it means that we can take hold of eternal life right now.

I love the illustration at the top of the article because it shows how physical life and eternal life overlap.  We can and should experience eternal life now.  In fact, that is what God wants.  He wants the eternal life of his Kingdom to radically impact our lives, our world now, so that we and our world are being transformed now.

Paul is right, that might feel like a fight sometimes.  Anytime we go through transformation, it is usually hard.  But consider what transformation means: it is a good fight that means we are being changed to look and act more like Jesus.  It means that the list in verse 11, all those qualities of eternal life, are more and more are part of our lives.

So Paul finishes with a wonderful benediction in verse 13-16, charging Timothy to keep this command, and thus it is a charge to us as well, to flee evil, pursue Jesus, fight the good fight, take hold of eternal life now, until such time as Jesus returns or God takes us to be with him.

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 662. Print.

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!

How my Google Home taught me about discontentment (and how to be more content)

3 May

My smart phone was due for an upgrade recently, so when an advertisement came via email offering the newest version of my phone; I took a look.  The advertisement on that email said that if I pre-purchased the new phone—it was due to be released in a few weeks—I could also get a Google Home and a new TV.  I was ON THAT.

We didn’t need these things.  We already have a TV.  Our life is fine without a Google home.  But they were free!!!!

My new phone eventually arrived in the mail, and I got it set up, but there was no Google Home and no TV.  I started questioning.  Was I too late in signing up?  Nah, couldn’t be…I signed up literally within hours of receiving the email.  Where was the TV or Google Home?  A feeling rose up inside me.  You know what that feeling was?  Discontent.

I called my cell carrier because I wanted to know what happened.  They told me that I had to go to a separate website and register my info, sales receipt, etc., and that’s how I could redeem the offer.   I found the website for the Google Home offer and got my info registered and approved!  Yes!

Then when the email came that my Google home was being shipped, you know what I did?  I tracked that sucker five times every day till it was on my front porch.

But there didn’t seem to be a way on the promotional website to redeem the TV.  That led to more discontent!  Why did this have to be so hard?  I started feeling grumpy.  What if I had never called them?  This was horrible customer service!

I called them again.  They told me to go back to the same website.  What?  I was already there.  There was no button to redeem the TV offer like there was for the Google Home.  Oh, I needed to read the fine print…the TV offer wouldn’t go live for another week.  You know what I did?  I set up an appointment in my calendar for the day the TV offer website would go live and made sure I wouldn’t forget.  I had to get my TV.

Discontentment.  The TV still isn’t here.

Is it possible to find contentment in life?  Will I feel better when the TV arrives?  Maybe I should call again to make sure it is on its way?  Have you experienced any similar feelings in your life?

We continued our Sunday morning series through 1st Timothy this past week, and in 1 Timothy 6:3-10 we learned in verse 6 that “godliness with contentment is great gain.”  That’s a short, but loaded phrase!

What is godliness?  What is contentment?  Let’s take a closer look.

While Paul refers to godliness in verse 6, he had already referred to it in verse 5, but very differently. Look at the end of verse 5.  He says that those false teachers (he called them arrogant ignorant false teachers) thought that godliness would lead to financial gain. Paul says in verse 5 that those false teachers are robbed of truth.  They think godliness will lead to financial gain, and they are simply wrong.

So what is this godliness he is talking about? In the original language this word is defined as “appropriate beliefs and devout practice of obligations relating to supernatural persons and powers—‘religion, piety.’[1]

We Christians tend to dislike the word “religion”.  We say that when it comes to our faith in Jesus, it is not a religion but a relationship.  Religion gives us the idea of buildings and set prayers and rules and something very fake and empty.  We say relationship is where it’s at.  Talking and walking with Jesus and having lives transformed, filled with the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, self-control.

So what is Paul talking about here?  A religion or a relationship?  Because he says in verse 5 that the false teachers think godliness leads to financial gain, that kind godliness must be a false religion, right?  The problem is he uses the very same word in verse 6 when he says that godliness with contentment is great gain.

Look at the definition of godliness again.  It actually encompasses both religion and relationship.  Religion and piety. Religion refers to outward acts of connecting with God, while piety is inward, relational, what we would call our heart and mind connecting with God.

That means godliness is a very well-rounded word here.  You can see why Paul would use it.  So he says godliness is not a means to financial gain.  We should not be using the outward or inward elements of our connection with God to try to enrich ourselves financially.  Using God for personal gain is the stuff of the arrogant and ignorant.

Instead, Paul says godliness with contentment is great gain.  What, then, is contentment?

Contentment is “The state of being content with one’s circumstances or lot in life.”

Have you heard that you are not supposed to use the word you are defining when creating a definition of that word.  So for example, “running is when you run.”  That might be true, but we have not learned much about running in that definition.  How about “running is the act of moving your legs rapidly, starting from a standing position then allowing your body to go in motion”?

So therefore, how do we define contentment?  It can’t just be “the state of being content”. We discussed this at sermon roundtable, and one person said that “contentment is to know that we are children of the King, and he will care for us.”   Additionally, we are content when we feel an inner sense of being okay with ourselves.  One author describes it like this:

“Self–sufficiency in a good sense, sufficiency with oneself as spoken of a satisfied mind or disposition[2].”

I like that.  A satisfied mind.

There is such a thing as holy discontent.  That is when something is not right, maybe an injustice is happening, and you feel discontent about it.  Holy discontent motivates you to right what is wrong.  Paul is not talking about that.

Paul is talking about being content in life.  Contentment is a satisfied mind.  I will admit that this one is a struggle for me.  I don’t always handle stress well.  The years of 2013-2015 had some difficult elements.  And in the late summer/fall of 2015 I started experiencing strong anxiety and even a couple panic attacks.  I was not content with life.  I did not have a satisfied mind.  I couldn’t sleep well, and I needed help. And I sought out that help.

For me discontent has manifested itself emotionally.  Discontentment might also be experiential.  What I mean is that we might be very tempted by the things of this world.   We live in a culture where we are trained to be discontent. Businesses want us to be discontent.  They create advertising so that we will feel discontent and buy their products, which they promise us will make us feel good.

 

Instant gratification trains us to only be happy if we get what we want immediately.  What is the trend of the week that we have to have in order to feel satisfied? The reality is that many of us think it is completely normal, this ongoing discontentment.  We feel that if we have things to hold on to, or if we have the right clothes, gadgets, homes, then we will feel fulfilled, normal.  As if that is just the way life is.

What does this say about us?  What is going on inside us that we can be deceived into believing that these things can provide us the satisfaction we deeply desire?  It is what some have called the “empty self”.  A God-shaped hole. That’s a big hole to fill.  No amount of stuff can fill that hole.

That’s why this principle is so very important!  Godliness with contentment is great gain.  Paul’s statement is a direct judgment to those false preachers who look to godliness to achieve financial gain.

But Paul says that true gain is only found in the combination of godliness with contentment. 1 Timothy 6:6 could be translated like this:

“Religion is a source of great wealth if it is accompanied by contentment with what one has.”[3]

If you are like me, struggling with discontent, then what I say next probably sound very normal. I have literally asked God for $1,000,000 as that would pay off our mortgage, pay off small debts, and get our kids set for college.  What this prayer request shows me is that I am not content, and I believe that removing money concerns from my life will make me feel better.

How many of us think more money will help us feel content?  Paul warns us about this in verses 7-9.  We think the things of this world will be the answer to our discontentment, but what we need is to learn to be content with just a few things like food and clothing.  Contentment comes, Paul says, when we learn to be satisfied with just a few things.  And that is a battle in our society.  But it is a battle followers of Jesus must fight.

Why?  Because discontent can lead to disaster.  It’s a trap, a temptation that is too powerful for most. Paul says, “Nope.  The love of money is a root of all evil.”  To be clear, money is not the problem.  Money is neutral.  It is the love of money that is the problem.

I can’t tell you how many times you will hear the phrase “money is the root of all evil.”  That is not what Paul says.  Look at verse 10.  It is the “love of money”.  It is a heart issue.  It is greed, avarice.  Who can spot what is wrong with this picture?

Image result for in greed we

“In greed we trust”.   It should be “In God we trust.”  But money is temptress and trap.

Money shows how discontent we are.  Like this guy:

When you love money, you are greedy, you are passionate about wanting more and more.  And that is why it so often leads to evil.  Theft, crime. Though we might not be in prison because we committed a financial crime, we might have done some other things.

Did you strive to report your taxes properly?

What about the issue of being demanding when you are not treated right or given the right deal on something you purchased.  Might greed be at the root of that desire?  We might say “Well, I wasn’t treated right, and I want justice.”  Justice is quite important, but is it possible that we can use justice to mask greed?

When we recently visited our son who completed Army Basic Training at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, we arrived at our hotel to find they had given our party of four a room that slept two.  There were literally no rooms left in the hotel.  None in their sister hotel.  None in two other hotels nearby.  It was 1:30am.  I slept on the floor.  The next day, thankfully, a room opened up in their sister hotel next door and we moved over.  But that day I spent some time talking with management about this.  My internal question was how far should we go in getting a refund for the inconvenience?  I had the confirmation email which clearly stated the type of room we paid for.  The hotel was wrong.  They gave our room to someone else, and they took the blame for their mistake.  Were we not due a refund or discount for our troubles?

Or maybe that sense of what was due us was motivated at least in part by greed? Maybe “godliness with contentment” could help us to view this situation from another angle?  Maybe we could take the hit and show grace?  Just like Jesus did for us?  At what point do I just allow myself to be content and avoid the nagging feeling of greed that wants more and more.  As Paul said in Corinthians “why not rather be wronged?  Why not rather be faulted?”

So what does it mean to live a content life?

Evaluate your life.  Get someone who will provide a real honest assessment to evaluate you.

Seek examples to emulate.  Who is an easily recognizable person or example of someone who demonstrates contentment in life?

Contentment is possible.  Not in money.  Not in material things.  But only in Christ.  So pursue godliness.

 

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains 1996 : 530. Print.
[2] Zodhiates, Spiros. The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament 2000 : n. pag. Print.
[3] Louw & Nida, 298.

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

27 Mar

Image result for advice

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?

What if Christianity’s massive investment in worship is wrong?

17 Feb

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Is it possible that Christianity’s massive investment in worship is misguided?

Think about it.  We invest a lot of time, money and energy into worship, don’t we?

One morning or evening each week is devoted to it.  Our society is very much oriented toward a weekly schedule that keeps Sunday mornings free.

We also build buildings for worship.  We don’t have to.  We could worship without them.  But it is also not wrong to build buildings.  The simple matter of fact, though, is we build buildings, lots of them.  I don’t know the specific number, but I have heard that there are about 800 churches in Lancaster County, and most of them have buildings and property.  Some are massive, some tiny, and many sizes in between.  Drive around Lancaster County and start tallying up the church buildings and you lose count.  Think about that with me for a minute.  What would you estimate the average value of a church building and property to be?  Now multiply that by 800.  Then add the years upon years of furnishings, utilities and upkeep.  That’s a lot of money, isn’t it?  I wouldn’t doubt the figure is in the billions of dollars.

Then think about the other costs of worship.  Staff is the big one.  That’s me.  The pastors.  Then there are worship leaders and the many other staff.  Multiply that by 800 churches, and here in Lancaster we spend a lot of money on hiring people to be involved in worship and worship programs, don’t we?

Next think of the time involved.  Not just the 1.5 to 3 hours that you spend attending worship service and classes.  Also add in the prep time, the volunteer time.  Multiply that by 52 weeks every year.  The result is a boatload of hours.

Put it all together and what do you have?  We Christians make a massive investment in worship, don’t we?  Why do we do this?  The standard answer, and it is a good one, is that we give so much because God is worthy of our worship.

Not so fast, though.  God is worthy, no question about it, but does that mean we can worship him however we want?

Because we invest so much into worship, it is incumbent on us to evaluate our investment, right?  When you give time and energy and money to something, you are being responsible if you evaluate how that time, energy and money is being used, right?

How many of you would want to stand before God in heaven and hear him say “Your worship was seriously wrong.  All that time and energy and money you spent on Sunday mornings in your buildings with your professional staff and worship services with songs and sermons and classes…I didn’t want you to do that!”  You would want to know that,  right?  And you’d want to know what God wants sooner rather than later, wouldn’t you?  I would.  In fact, even if he said “You were on the right track, you were mostly right, about 75% correct in your investment in worship, but here are some things I wish you had done differently…” I would want to know that too!  I would want to know even if we only got 5% wrong.  Even if it was 1%.  But how can we know?

When I meet people who don’t know much about Faith Church, they often have a series of questions they ask me:  How big is the church?  Is it inter-generational?  And what kind of worship do you have?  When they ask about worship, they’re not wondering about my sermons.  They are wondering about the music!  Is it traditional, contemporary, blended?  We had a guest musician at our church a year ago or so for a special service, and he asked me that question: “What kind of worship do you have?”  When I answered “experimental”, you should have seen the wrinkled up, confused look on his face.  It was great!   More recently I have changed my answer a bit.  I still describe our worship as experimental, but I try to explain it a bit because people don’t know what I mean.

So what do I mean by “experimental”?  People from Faith Church reading this might actually be confused by what I’m saying here because most Sundays we have a typical standby kind of worship.  If you’ve been with us for a couple months, you know what I mean:  welcome & announcements, focusing prayer, worship songs (mixture of old and new), sharing time, prayer, dismissal of kids, sermon, closing song, fellowship time.  Doesn’t sound very experimental does it?

But I say that we are experimental because about once per quarter we try to do something completely different.  Silent Sunday, Church has left the building, Worship in the park, worship in the Fellowship Hall around tables, artistic Sunday, change up the order of worship, change the method of communion, etc.  It has been wonderful having the variety!

Why do we experiment with worship?

We experiment because we don’t ever want to give ourselves the idea that we have worship figured out.  We always want to have the posture of learners when it comes to worship.  There is no one right way to worship. We can learn from many different Christian traditions and new and upcoming styles about worship. Silent Sunday, for example, was informed by Quaker and Taize worship.  We want to keep learning.

Why am I saying all this about experimental worship and being learners about worship?  Because on our next two Sundays in our study of 1st Timothy, Paul teaches Timothy about worship.  This is perfect for people who see themselves as learners of worship.  Learners of worship don’t come to worship expecting to worship how they like to worship. Instead learners of worship come to worship services expecting God to teach them.  That’s you and me. We are learners of worship.  Disciples are learners from Jesus.  And when we come to worship we come with hearts and minds that pray “Lord teach me today.  Teach me how to worship you.  Teach me what you want to teach me.”

Learners come to worship with teachable hearts and minds!  And for the next two Sundays we are going to learn from Paul how to worship.  Paul wanted Timothy to teach the church in Ephesus about worship. You are welcome to join us at Faith Church on Sunday if you want to learn about worship too!  To prepare you might consider reading 1st Timothy 2.  Hope to see you there!