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On Sunday morning before our worship services, several deacons gather in my office to pray. Nearly every week, one particular deacon arrives in my office with an update and a prayer request from the church members he is responsible for. He’s called them, prayed with them, visited them and is ready to share with us what is going on in their lives. He’s fulfilling his calling as a deacon.

As Paul detailed to Timothy the care of widows and elders in the church, he brought attention to one of the pastor’s key responsibilities. The pastor is the overseer of church ministry.

Whether it involves music, ministry, pastoral care, preaching, the nursery, evangelism and so on, it is the pastor(s) or elder(s) who are responsible to make sure that church ministry happens and that people are cared for.

That doesn’t mean that the pastor is the only one to do the ministry. Rather, he is to oversee the ministry of others within the congregation for the care of the congregation.

Evidently, Timothy’s church was experiencing some controversies regarding how widows were cared for. This type of conflict was also what led the first church to select deacons (see Acts 6:1-7). Being responsible for ministry means knowing what is going on, thinking through controversies, listening to others and developing solutions that reflect love and compassion.

Being responsible does not mean always being in control or having to have things your own way. For a pastor to be pleasing to Christ, he must make time for study and preparation in the preaching and teaching ministry (5:17-18). But he cannot neglect the oversight of other ministries.

Pastors who bear their responsibility well will lead others to serve and lean on servant leaders to minister to others. If you are pastor, heed Paul’s advice here. If you are a church member, ask your pastor how you can help bear the burden of ministry in your church.

Sunday School Lesson for the Biblical Recorder originally published here
Focal Passage 1 Timothy 5:1-8; 17-21

Doctors receive a lot of education. Rightly so. They practice medicine with the aim of helping and treating diseases and ailments of the body and mind. I want my doctors to be well-read, well-studied and diligent life-long learners. After all, they are to assess my health and well-being. In other words, I would like them to have applied themselves well and studied very hard in medical school. I don’t want a doctor who had the typical study habits of a high school student. I want my doctors to have advanced study skills.

Do your spiritual study habits and skills reflect the advanced study of doctors or the distracted study of a typical high school student? Too many of us today are easily distracted. We are losing the ability to think deeply and concentrate intently. With technology and social media controversies merely fingertips away deep concentration and application of God’s Word is often neglected.

While the categories and controversies might be different, Timothy’s challenge was no less important. Legalism and theological minutia were distracting the leaders of the church and tempting Timothy to be distracted. Paul admonished his protégé to point out the truth, give attention to teaching the word and train others in the truth. Paul taught that staying the course of Christian ministry was hard work that required discipline, effort and attention. As Paul finished this thought to Timothy, he encouraged him to pay close attention to himself and to his teaching.

Paul’s advice is astonishingly simple and powerful. If we are to stay the course in our ministries and callings, we will not do so by flirting with controversies, by succumbing to distractions or by getting too close to temptations. Rather, staying the course requires attentiveness to our theology and to our Christian living.

Many begin the Christian journey well. But those that end well are attentive to God’s Word in study and application.

Sunday School Lesson for the Biblical Recorder originally published here
Focal Passage 1 Timothy 4:1-13

One of the greatest tragedies experienced by Christians today is that they fail to believe God loves them unconditionally. Most of us know John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” We know 1 John 4:8, “God is love.” But knowing and believing are sometimes disconnected.

One of the greatest prayers ever prayed for the church was written down by Paul in Ephesians 3:14-21.

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Paul prayed that this church would be rooted and grounded in love.

He prayed that we would would know the breadth, length, height and depth of God’s love.

He prayed that we would know the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge.

Does your belief in God’s love match Paul’s prayer here? Do you really believe God loves you? Too often we are rooted and grounded in our pursuit of happiness or health or wealth. Too common is it that we believe God loves us based on our obedience or our goodness or our giving or our church attendance. Too many days do we wander through life devoid of peace, strength and calmness because we are not living in the certainty that we are loved by God.

In his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning asked,

Do you really accept the message that God is head over heels in love with you? I believe that this question is at the core of our ability to mature and grow spiritually. If in our hearts we really don’t believe that God loves us as we are, if we are still tainted by the lie that we can do something to make God love us more, we are rejecting the message of the cross.”[1]

[1]Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel, 165.

Here are some reminders that I trust will encourage you today:

  • God loves you unconditionally.
  • God’s love is deep enough to reach you at the deepest point of your sinfulness (and not just you, but those you love and pray for regularly).
  • God’s love is long enough to give you eternal life.
  • God’s love is high enough to take you to heaven.
  • God’s love is long enough to go all the way around the world and save you and many, many others all over the world.

Maybe, you believe that God loves you. Maybe you don’t doubt it. Or maybe you know someone who does. Consider sharing this with someone else? But more than anything, pray for them. Pray that someone else will know the fullness of the love of God.

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.