Good leaders prioritize well, execute tasks and communicate vision. Great leaders set an example for others. 1 Timothy 3 outlines the expectations for the two offices in the church—pastors and deacons. In my experience in church life, I’ve heard many stories and watched many pastors. Sometimes churches treat pastors and other leaders unfairly. Sometimes pastors and church leaders fail to lead by example and damage their churches. Paul describes for Timothy the character of those who will lead the church in the role of elder and those who will serve the church in the role of deacon. When viewed as a list of character traits for church leaders, I think we get the correct interpretation for who elders and deacons are to be. Competencies matter for pastors and deacons, but competencies alone do not qualify one for office. In a conversation recently, a pastor friend shared that nearby church called a man because they “liked the way he talked.” But now the church is divided, and it is possible the pastor will resign soon. Character counts. Pastors and deacons must exhibit godly character because they are to set an example. I’ve always believed that the best pastors will be good husbands and fathers who admit their flaws and imperfections but strive for holiness. The same could be said of deacons and any other church leader for that matter. One’s ability to communicate or teach is important, but dishonesty, immorality or arrogance will undercut one’s credibility in an instant. To church members, have high expectations first for the character of your leaders, then explore his competencies. To church leaders, prioritize your character. Submit yourself to the Word of God. Pursue personal accountability. Learn from your critics. Seek to become like Jesus. Then by all means improve your competencies. But beware lest your competencies and gifts take you farther than your character can keep you.

Sunday School Lesson for the Biblical Recorder originally published here

Focal Passage: 1 Timothy 3:1-13

In his book, The Generals, Thomas Ricks relates the changes that took place in the US army leadership during the twentieth century. Beginning with WWI, Ricks describes shifting philosophies that worked or didn’t work during the century’s conflicts. In WWII, George Marshall developed a teamwork leadership model and implemented a strategy with the clear purpose of working together with all the allies to defeat the Axis Powers. Clear mission with a clear strategy resulted in success. In contrast, Army strategy and leadership philosophy in Vietnam faltered. The conflict lacked a clear mission, failed to develop adequate leadership, experienced stateside political distraction and did not hold officers or enlisted men to the high standard that had been set in previous conflicts. It is unsurprising then that WWII is remembered as a victory and Vietnam is not. In I Timothy 2:1-15, Paul advocates a similar approach to pastoral leadership. Our mission must be prioritized—God desires the salvation of people through Jesus Christ (vv. 4-6). We should pray for government officials so that distractions and geopolitical difficulties will not inhibit the spread of the gospel (vv. 1-3). We should carry ourselves in an attitude of prayer and peace so that anger and quarreling will not distract from the mission (v. 8). We should not focus on outward appearances, personal image, nor allow gender and theological divisions to hinder the mission (vv. 9-15). In short, Paul admonishes Timothy to keep his priorities straight. Major on the gospel. Keep minor issues from becoming major distractions. The implications of 1 Timothy 2 are vital for pastors and church members. When we pray together faithfully, the priority of the gospel takes center stage. When we focus on the gospel, we necessarily focus less on our image, our platform or our opinions. When we organize our church leadership upon a biblical framework, we operate out of God’s expectations and can more faithfully live on mission. Are you clear about the mission of the gospel? Or are you living distracted?

Sunday School Lesson for the Biblical Recorder originally published here

Focal Passage 1 Timothy 2:1-15

For more about living on mission, consider reading a copy of my new book Commissioned: Leading the Neighbors and the Nations to Follow Jesus. You can find it here

I’ll never forget those first few hours with our firstborn son. My wife and I were eagerly anticipating the birth of a child we had been praying for and preparing for. We hoped we were ready. In the hospital room it hit me. I’m responsible for the well-being and development of this little boy. God entrusted me with him. Being entrusted is not the same as being given a gift. When we receive a gift, it is ours, but hen we are entrusted with something, we remain responsible to the giver. We remain responsible because the gift still carries value for the one who gave it. In a similar, yet astoundingly more important way, we as followers of Jesus have been entrusted with the gospel. Paul shared the gospel with Timothy, mentored him and appointed him an elder in the church. Then he entrusted Timothy (1:18) with the gospel. This meant that the gospel was not Timothy’s possession, nor was it Paul’s possession. The gospel belongs to God. Yet, we’ve been entrusted with it, and we are responsible for what we do with it. What we do with the gospel reflects not only on us, but on the true owner of the gospel—Jesus Christ. In the first chapter of Timothy, Paul reflects on our responsibilities that flow from the entrusted gospel. The entrusted gospel makes us responsible to love others with a pure heart. A failure to love is a failure to reflect the gospel. The entrusted gospel makes us responsible to sound doctrine. Timothy faced the challenges of people who would major on minors, get bogged down in speculative arguments and minimize the Old Testament law. Without the foundation of the law and sound biblical doctrines which underscore human sinfulness, the gospel cannot be good news. The entrusted gospel makes us responsible to our Savior. Jesus saved us from our sins and privileged us to serve him. As his followers, we are now responsible to the One who entrusted us with his good news.

Sunday School Lesson for the Biblical Recorder originally published here

Focal Passage: 1 Timothy 1:3-17

If I asked someone in your family or neighborhood or place of employment or school about your faith, what would they say? Would those who interact with you regularly know that you are a follower of Jesus? Do you stand out as a Christian or do you blend in with the values, attitudes and conduct of unbelievers? It appears to me that too many Christians live like everyone else and fail to distinguish themselves from the sinful values of our age. In contrast, the Bible offers us numerous examples of living distinctly. One of my favorite examples is Daniel who not only survived exile in Babylon, but thrived.

In chapter one of Daniel, he and his three friends were taken to Babylon to serve the king. They were likely Hebrew royalty. It is also possible they were made eunuchs when brought to Babylon. They had lost their home, very likely lost contact with their families, been separated from the location of their faith and possibly been maimed physically. If any group of people could have justified compromise and sinful behavior, it would have been Daniel and his friends. Yet, they refused to compromise. They stood out. Daniel 1 reveals four specific ways that Daniel and his friends were distinct from the pagan culture around them.

  • Daniel and his friends were distinct in name (v. 6). Daniel’s name means, “God is my judge.” Hananiah means “Yahweh is gracious.” Mishael means “what is what God is?” (the idea being that there is no god like the God of Israel). Azariah means “Yahweh has helped.” Even when given new Babylonian names, they referred to themselves by their given Hebrew names that referenced the one true God. When people hear your name, do they think of God? If your given name does not specifically mean something Christian, we must still remember that we’ve been given the name of saint, believer, Christian. Do our names reflect the salvation we’ve been given?
  • Daniel and his friends were distinct in conduct (vv. 8-16). Daniel and his friends were given the best food that the king of Babylon could offer. The food of the king would have included pork and horseflesh which were unclean for Hebrews. The meat and wine would also have been offered sacrificially to Babylonian gods connecting the foods to idolatry. These foods would have made Daniel and his friends unclean. Daniel resolved himself not to be defiled. Daniel suggested a diet of vegetables and water and wisely offered a timeframe for their looks to be tested. While I don’t necessarily think that what we eat should reflect that we are Christians, what we do should reflect our faith in Christ. Does your conduct (what you watch, listen to, how you spend your time, what you read) reflect the wickedness of the culture around us? Or does your conduct reflect Christ? Can those who know you best tell that you are a follower of Christ by your daily conduct?
  • Daniel and his friends were distinct in worldview (vv. 17-21). Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah had the opportunity to learn and study at the locus of world power at that point in human history. They had the foundation of their biblical, Hebrew culture, but were introduced to many new ideas. I imagine that much of what they learned in Babylon was benign, while much was not. They were likely confronted with religious and philosophical ideas that were contrary to their childhood education in Jerusalem. Sounds a lot like public school, college and university campuses, doesn’t it? I don’t believe that sheltering ourselves or our children from false ideas is the solution to the worldview conflict around us. But I do believe we need to subordinate false ideas appropriately underneath a biblical worldview. Don’t be afraid of reading things that are false or being exposed to untruths. But become an expert in what is genuine and true–God’s Word. One of the surest ways to develop a biblical worldview is to read, study, memorize and meditate on God’s Word. To parents and grandparents reading this, if your children and grandchildren are not taught biblical truth regularly, then they will not learn to think Christianly. It is our responsibility to embed biblical truth into their minds and hearts. Thank goodness Daniel and his friends had a solid biblical worldview in place before being taken to Babylon.
  • Daniel and his friends were distinct in God’s favor (vv. 9, 14, 17, 19-20). We are currently living in a post-Christian era. No longer does the expression of Western  Civilization reflect a biblical worldview. Media, politics and education reflect views on humanity, sexuality, philosophy, history and technology that are at best non-Christian and often anti-Christian. So how do we live distinct as Christians in a post-Christian world? We pursue the favor of God, not of man. Daniel and his friends experienced God’s blessing and favor even when their views contrasted greatly with the prevailing culture. Do you care what others think of your lifestyle and opinions or what God thinks? Being favored from God occurs when we receive the gospel of Jesus Christ and live underneath the truths of the gospel.

Living in these ways will lead us to live distinctly in our post-Christian age.

 

 

Each week I have the privilege of meeting with a discipleship group. We gather for breakfast at a local restaurant to share what we’ve been reading in the Bible and pray for one another. Our group provides accountability, support and encouragement. Currently, we have six in our group. As we read during the week, we prayerfully look for a Scripture verse that stands out to us. We make note of it, sometimes journaling about it and share it with one another. We are not on a common reading plan.

This week when we met, I just knew I needed to share from John 6. In the first few verses, Jesus fed 5,000 men (maybe 20,000 people with women and children) with five loaves of bread and 2 small fish. After that event, Jesus went to the mountain to pray and walked to his followers on the sea while they were traversing a storm. The verses I shared came from the conversation Jesus had with the crowds on the other side.

27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”
29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” – John 6:27-29

Jesus told the crowds to work for the food that leads to eternal life. You can anticipate the question of the crowds, “What must we do to work for eternal life?” I love Jesus’ response, “Believe on the One God sent!” Jesus does not tell us to work for eternal life. He tells us to believe for eternal life. The foundation of our Christian experience is belief in Jesus Christ. Belief is also the most important aspect of growing in Christian maturity. Anyway, I shared these verses during our meeting this week.

As soon as I finished, one of our group members, Lee Bentley, said, “You’re not going to believe this, but the verse I felt led to share is:

29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” – John 6:29

It was as if God YELLED at us this morning. We need to believe in Christ and trust in his provision for our Christian walk. Not every group meeting results in such a providential development, but this morning was tremendously encouraging. It was also the first meeting for two new members so the experience was greatly encouraging.

The importance of reading God’s Word cannot be overstated. Here’s an excerpt from my new book Commissionedthat highlights the importance of reading God’s Word:

In his book The Shape of Faith to Come, Brad Waggoner reflected on the importance of Bible reading for Christian maturity,

Our study of churchgoers included the measurement of more than sixty factors characteristic of biblical spiritual development… Our statistician applied sophisticated procedures to our data to produce a rank-ordered list of correlations. The number one factor, or characteristic, most correlated to the highest maturity scores is the practice of “reading the Bible.” I almost had to laugh when I saw this. Sometimes we complicate things. The simple discipline of reading the Bible has a major impact on Christians.[1]

Essentially, consistent Bible intake leads to spiritual maturity. Nothing is more important to one’s spiritual development than the reading of God’s Word. The reading of the Bible is where group interaction is so vital to the follower of Jesus.

[1]Brad Waggoner, The Shape of Faith to Come (Nashville: B&H, 2008), 68.

Reading God’s Word and sharing it together is vital for our spiritual growth. Let me challenge you.

  • If you’re not reading God’s Word daily, start today. Begin in Genesis or Matthew. If you have a smartphone, you can download the ESV Bible app. The app contains regular reading plans that you can choose from.
  • If you’re not in a Sunday school class or Discipleship Group, find one. Gathering with other followers of Jesus around God’s Word to learn together is spiritually invigorating.
  • If you’re not memorizing God’s Word, then begin now. At Wilkesboro Baptist, we have monthly memory verses. For April, our verse is Isaiah 41:10. Or you can be like one of our most godly ladies and memorize Psalm 46.

By any means necessary, learn from God’s Word this week. Maybe God will use what he’s saying to you to encourage someone else!

 

persecution-1

If you’ve paid any attention to the news lately, you’ve seen some terrible things. Muslims were slaughtered in Christchurch, Australia. Villages of predominately Christians in Nigeria have been targeted and persecuted in the ongoing regional conflicts. Even a glance at world news relates stories of suffering, death and sorrow.

Not many days pass in my ministry where I’m not ministering to a family that is facing death somehow. Death, suffering and, by extension, persecution, are a part of the human experience. These realities are tragic. God’s original design did not include death, suffering and persecution. But because we sinned and chose to reject God’s authority in the Garden of Eden, catastrophe occurred. Suffering, pain, persecution and death entered the world because of sin.

If you pay attention to the cacophony of voices around those who suffer you will often find a great distinction. It is not a left/right distinction. It is not a good/bad distinction. It is not an economic distinction. It is not a distinction of privilege. The distinction I speak of is the reaction of genuine followers of Jesus to suffering, tragedy and persecution with the rest of culture and society. Suffering is not to be sought after. Persecution and hate are to be called out. Murder and terrorism must always be prosecuted to the pursuit of justice.

But as followers of Jesus, our hope does not rest in the justice and fairness offered by governments and society. Our hope rests in the eternal. In my  quiet time, I’ve been reading through the book of John.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. – John 10:10

Jesus came to bring life, not death. He came to forgive, not condemn. He came to bring hope not despair.

And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. -John 17:3

For the one who knows Jesus, there is hope that is beyond this life. We must pursue justice, righteousness and goodness in this life. But we must not despair when our efforts or the efforts of governments and organizations fail for our hope is eternal.

I talked with someone just this week who is saddened by the death of a family member. But they are not in despair because their family member is experiencing eternal life. No longer are they bound by pain, suffering and torment. They have eternal life.

Follower of Jesus, it is our privilege to live out the hope of eternal life with distinction. It is through our confidence in the eternal life of Jesus Christ that we might bring hope to those in despair.

‘Tis close to Spring. Aren’t you glad winter with all its germs is close to an end? I am. Spring is right around the corner and many homeowners in my neighborhood are already putting down new mulch. When we put down new mulch, it looks good for a while–great actually! But by the time next year rolls around, it looks drab and dead. That’s because it is. Mulch is not alive. Weatherbeaten and sun-bleached, it loses its color.

I think there’s a spiritual lesson here. The sin that dwells in our lives is drab, rotting and disgusting. But instead of removing it, we often cover it over with something that looks a little better. We replace lust with pride. We replace pride with self-righteousness. You get the idea. Sometimes, we do better than that. We replace a sin with something good. We look better for a time. But then the goodness fades, and we return to old habits and behaviors. In reality we are just covering up something dead with something else that is dead—painted, colorful today, but not alive.

What we need is to repent. To overcome sin, we don’t need to do better, be cleaner, or act nicer. Rather, we need our sin to be cleansed and removed. You and I are not spiritually capable of doing this. We need Someone else–the only One who can–Jesus. As believers, we know that we needed Jesus to forgive us of our sin when we came to faith. But did you also know that you need Jesus for your sanctification today? Our part in dealing with sin is to repent and pursue the righteousness of Christ. It is Christ’s job to cleanse, to cover and to replace the old with the new, the dead with the alive, the unholy with the holy.

Believers, we need the gospel and its activity in our lives today as much as we did when we came to faith in Christ. If you have a sin, don’t try to cover it. Expose it to God in repentance and confession. Let him cleanse and cover it with the gospel. The gospel is good news for a reason. It is the good news that Jesus can forgive, cleanse and make new. That’s a promise for you today, just like it was the day you came to faith in Jesus.

For a biblical framework on this thought, read Paul’s explanations on sin, forgiveness and cleansing in Romans chapters 6-8.