Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

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Flashback Favorite - My first assignment

My first assignment
originally posted on April 20, 2016

Wait, I’m going to teach what?

That was my mental reaction to my first teaching assignment from my mentor, Joe.

Our mentor-protégé relationship began when he was teaching a Sunday School class and had asked if anyone was interested in team-teaching with him.  I was eager to teach, but I knew that I had to learn how to better handle the Scriptures if I was going to take on the responsibility of teaching God’s Word to others.  Joe pointed me toward Howard Hendricks’s Living by the Book and, with his guidance, I began to learn how to Observe, Interpret, and then Apply the Bible.

I figured that my first teaching lesson would cover one of the passages I had just learned from…instead, Joe said that my first teaching experience would come from teaching the class how to study the Bible, like I had just learned.  I was instantly nervous and gave Joe a weak “You sure about this?”.  But he assured me that this was the best topic for me to start with.

I profusely prayed over every lesson.  I did my best to communicate the three steps, as well as provide good examples and practice exercises – some lessons went well; others didn’t feel like they went anywhere.  To anyone who was in those first classes of mine, I say thank you for your patience!  That experience was a huge step for me and my growth – both in my relationship with God, as well as in learning how to organize and teach.  It certainly helped to have my mentor’s example, his directions, and his confidence in me.

Reading through the gospels, we find that Jesus did something similar with his protégés:

Matthew 9:35-10:1
Then Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness.  When He saw the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd.  The He said to His disciples,

“The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few.  Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

Summoning His 12 disciples, He gave them authority over unclean spirits, to drive them out and to heal every disease and sickness.

When Jesus told them to pray that the Father would send out workers to reach the people of Israel, I’m sure they agreed that would be a good thing to do…but then Jesus turns around and tells them that it is time for them to go out and participate in the harvest, by doing what they had only previously watched Jesus do!  Imagine everything that must have been going through their minds – anticipation, nervousness, excitement, tension?  Trust me, it was all those and then some.

Matthew 10:5-8
Jesus sent out these 12 after giving them instructions: “Don’t take the road leading to other nations, and don’t enter any Samaritan town.  Instead, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  As you go announce this: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, drive out demons.  You have received free of charge; give free of charge.”

Notice how Jesus gave them parameters and direction for their first assignment.  They weren’t supposed to go outside of Israel.  They had a very specific message to proclaim.  They were also given authority to do what Jesus did – heal, raise the dead, cleanse, and drive out demons – and they were not to charge the people for these acts, just as Jesus hadn’t charged anyone.

The disciples would eventually be ready for the larger assignment of the Great Commission, where they were instructed to go make disciples of people from all nations.  They were not ready for that yet, though.  The disciples were still going to do what they had seen Jesus do, but their first assignment was on a much smaller scale.

As a mentor, we need to give our protégé assignments that will begin to stretch them now and incrementally prepare them for later.  On the flip side, when our mentor gives us an assignment that seems like a very large leap, we need to trust them. 

Looking back, it was that first assignment that propelled me closer to God and sharpened my teaching ability.  Joe was making sure that I was not going to be just another teacher who can only feed people The Word, but he wanted me to be able to show others how to feed themselves.  Following through on that first assignment, despite how rough it may have been on me and/or the class, has paid many dividends over the years since.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

First day jitters and the start of a new life

Remember that first day at a new school?  Those feelings of being nervous, curious, not quite sure what was going to happen?  Or how about your first day in a new job?  Probably had flashbacks to being the new kid in school…

Being a rookie, at anything, is rough.  Everywhere you look, you see people who look like they’ve been successful for years.  You definitely don’t want to interrupt the way things seem to naturally flow, and you certainly don’t want to be in the way.  It’s easy to allow the doubt to creep in and cloud our thinking – Do I really belong?  Will they think I’m stupid or ignorant?  Will I mess this up?  Will I even know that I messed something up?  How many times can I mess up before they don’t want me around anymore?

Whenever we venture out into something new, no matter what it is, there’s always one thing we’re hoping for: someone kind enough to help us out and show us around.

We all have vivid memories of that first person to befriend us when we were feeling more lost than we cared to admit.  Their willingness to reach out to the newbie made it easier for us to find our place and figure out the rhythm to our new settings.

Honestly, the Christian life isn’t any different.  Being a newbie is a little scary.  We’re unsure of what to say or what to do next.  Everyone around looks like a spiritual veteran, like they’re a half-step away from perfection…and we’re just sitting here, surprised that God let someone like us into His family.

So, how is this supposed to work for a newbie Christian?  Since Jesus brought us into the family, why doesn’t He immediately take away all the junk and bad habits left over from our previous life?

Tucked away in John’s account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, there is a six word command where Jesus clues us in:

John 11:41-44
So they removed the stone.  Then Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You heard me.  I know that You always hear Me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe You sent Me.”

After He said this He shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth.  Jesus said to them, “Unwrap him and let him go.”

Not to make too much out of a minor detail, but I find it interesting that Jesus didn’t unwrap Lazarus from his burial cloths.  Lazarus didn’t unwrap Lazarus.  Instead, Jesus instructed those closest to the resurrected man to “Unwrap him and let him go.”

Jesus had just brought a man back from the grave, but He gave others the responsibility of helping Lazarus remove the remnants of his old life.  This wasn’t going to be a task Lazarus could do on his own.  He needed someone who was willing to reach in close and help deal with the dirty death-rags left over from his previous life. 

Let’s be clear:
If you were a world-class jerk when you met Jesus and accepted His offer of eternal life, you’re still going to have a lot of jerk-ness that needs to be dealt with, even after being saved. 

Anyone who tells you that you should be immediately perfect after encountering Jesus hasn’t read their New Testament in a while.  Instead of placing perfection-level expectations on a brand-new Christian, us veterans need to be willing to get our hands dirty.  We need to show them around, help them see the rhythm and flow of living a Christ-centered life.

Also note that Jesus didn’t tell Lazarus to go ask someone to help him remove his burial cloths.  Us veterans shouldn’t wait for a newbie to come up and ask for assistance.  We approach them, help them, and then smile as we watch them go in their new, life-long adventure.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Follow the leader (part 1)

When the Scriptures give us a direction, it’s always best that we pay attention.  If we observe God talking about the same subject more than once…well…then He’s putting down some emphasis that we need to linger on.

Twice in his closing statements and encouragements, the author of Hebrews mentions how the church body should be acting toward our church leaders.  The first one reads as follows:

Hebrews 13:7
Remember your leaders who have spoken God’s word to you.  As you carefully observe the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith.

When looking for a mentor, role model, or Godly example, those who lead in the church should be at the top of our list.  However, the author does not give his approval to cast a wide net and grab ahold of any church member in any leadership position.  He says to focus on the ones who have spoken God’s word to you.  Does your preacher teach from the Bible, or does he only teach from pop-psychology to keep the audience engaged?  When you ask a question, does your teacher point you toward God’s perspective, or she rely on feel-good statements and stories?

The leaders who have spoken God’s word to you are the ones worthy of observation and imitation

Learning to be like Jesus is a lifelong journey.  We’re not going to figure out whose lives and faith are worth imitating by only checking them out at a surface level.  It will be impossible for us to evaluate the outcome of a leader’s relationship with God if our only interaction is by watching him online or reading her books.  This is why it is best to be involved with our local church.  Find a leader there who is worth partnering with and learning from.

Once you’ve found a good example, how should we follow them?  Notice the author says to imitate their faith.  Now, let’s be clear – he doesn’t tell his readers to act out their faith in the same way their leaders have done.  They don’t also have to be preachers, teachers, worship leaders…instead they should be trusting God as they use the gifts He has given them. 

They are to imitate the leader’s character and reliance on God – not to try and do the exact same skill in the exact same way their leader operates.  This is why the author says to carefully observe the outcome of their lives.  When we are able to watch closely, we can see the strength of their faith in God…which drives their ability to lead (instead of us guessing about their relationship from afar).  We must also keep in mind there are many ways to exercise our faith and demonstrate our reliance on Him.  God does not expect us to be carbon-copies of our pastor, teachers, and other leaders.

So, the first part of following church leadership looks like this:

·       Stay local
·       Find a leader who points you toward God’s Word and God’s perspective
·       Observe their lives
·       Imitate their faith in God as you act out your own

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Guard well

Paul’s letters would typically end with a goodbye and a few greetings for specific people.  Take for example, how he closed his letter to the church in Philippi:

Philippians 4:21-23
Greet every saint in Christ Jesus.  Those brothers who are with me greet you.  All the saints greet you, but especially those from Caesar’s household.  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Sometimes the greeting was brief, but other times it was quite lengthy.  Out of all the letters Paul wrote in the New Testament, only two have no ending greetings – Galatians and 1 Timothy.  It’s almost as if Paul was “all business” when writing these two letters. 

In fact, he ends 1 Timothy with the same emphasis that he started the letter with, warning Timothy to protect the truth of the gospel and to watch out for false teaching from deceived believers:

1 Timothy 1:3-4,6-7
…command certain people not to teach other doctrine or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies.  These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith…some have deviated…and turned aside to fruitless discussion.  They want to be teachers of the law, although they don’t understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on.

Now compare that to Paul’s final words in the letter:

1 Timothy 6:20-21
Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding irreverent, empty speech and contradictions from the “knowledge” that falsely bears that name.  By professing it, some people have deviated from the faith. 

Grace be with all of you.

From start to finish, Paul’s focus has been urging Timothy to be watchful – of his own teaching and of what gets taught on his watch as leader of the church in Ephesus.

In a very real sense, the church at Ephesus has been entrusted to his care.  Timothy needed to guard both the gospel message and those who had believed the gospel.  It was an important task, and Paul believed Timothy could handle the responsibility.

Closing out this letter from a mentor to his protégé has left me thinking about the people God has entrusted into my care…and how much the written encouraging words from my mentor has helped sustain me when challenges arise.  I still have most of the emails Joe sent when he was writing THE WORD, and I go back through them from time to time.  I’m sure Timothy did the same with Paul’s letter.

The gospel message has been entrusted to each of us, as well as certain people we are responsible for.  Make sure you guard them, and are also mentoring them to carry the message of salvation to future generations.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

Stomaching the misconduct of leaders

I think Dr. Thomas Constable was right when he wrote in his notes on 1 Timothy, “Criticism of leaders is a favorite spectator sport.” 

Let’s face it – not everyone is going to agree with or “like” every pastor they come across.  But how should an accusation of misconduct be handled?

As Paul continued his instructions for Timothy regarding the appointment of church leadership, he takes a realistic, yet extremely serious, approach to dealing with leaders who may not be living up the standards their position would require.

1 Timothy 5:19-21
Don’t accept an accusation against an elder unless it is supported by two or three witnesses.  Publicly rebuke those who sin, so that the rest will also be afraid.  I solemnly charge you, before God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing out of favoritism.

Paul’s directions fit in perfectly with what Jesus taught his disciples about church discipline (Matthew 18:15-17).  Timothy must thoroughly evaluate an accusation against an elder.  One person’s word isn’t sufficient.  However, if the charge proves true – if the elder isn’t living up to the qualifications set forth a few verses back in 1 Timothy 3, then a public rebuke and/or removal from office may be in order.  These steps would correct the issue with the elder in question…but also keep the other elders from falling into the same trap. 

Paul could not have been more serious regarding the importance of going through this process without any prejudice or favoritism.  When Jesus referred to his return with the Father and the elect angels, it was in regard to judgment (Matt 25:31; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; Rev 14:10).  While we might be tempted to think that a public rebuke is too harsh, it is better for an elder to be confronted now than for them to go on unchecked and then be confronted later by Jesus at the Bema judgement.

In order to avoid these kinds of situations, Paul gives Timothy some additional guidance:

1 Timothy 5:22-25
Don’t be too quick to lay hands on anyone, and don’t share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.

Don’t continue drinking only water, but use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.

Some people’s sins are evident, going before them to judgement, but the sins of others follow them.

Likewise, good works are obvious, and those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden.

Paul’s water vs. wine comment might seem a little strange to us, but keep in mind that wine was used for medicinal purposes in the ancient world.  Purified water from a faucet wasn’t readily available like it is for us.  Even though their water may look fine, there was a decent chance that it was contaminated.  Using a small amount of alcoholic wine would have been beneficial in keeping his digestive tract in working order.

It seems to me that Paul is taking a practical step from Timothy’s life and using it as an example of how to manage the appointment of leaders.  Timothy needs be cautious about appointing someone to represent God and lead others in their relationship with Jesus.  Just because someone seems like a “nice Christian guy” and he can quote a few Scriptures doesn’t mean he should be leading the congregation.  The importance of Timothy taking preventative measures to keep pure would also ensure that the church family would also avoid having to stomach elder-judgement issues in the future.

Bottom line for us?  We need to recognize that our leader’s lives matter.  We can’t expect them to be perfect, but their position mandates a level of blamelessness in order for them to handle this kind of influence on God’s family.  Just like Timothy needed to take appropriate steps in evaluating a leader, we need to do the same when we are considering who we get our Bible teaching from.  Just because they’re on the radio doesn’t mean they are “good” and their teaching is accurate.  Just because they are “really nice” doesn’t mean that we should be submitting to their leadership.  We need to do some work on the front end to avoid being misled.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

How to deal with conflict

Ever get the urge to just “knock some sense” into someone?

Or at the very least, give them a verbal beat down that will “set them right” – and maybe let us blow off a little steam?

Take Paul’s protégé Timothy as an example.

He’s in a major metropolitan city he didn’t grow up in, he’s (at most) 30 years old, he’s in charge of the entire Christian church family in the city, and Paul has charged him with combating false doctrine and incorrect teachings of others.

How much conflict is going to come his way?  How many folks will be coming at him to argue with him?  Think he’ll have days where he feels the need to put someone in their place?

The Greek word for rebuke means just that – to strike or beat upon, to chastise with words.  I’m sure there were more than a few people (even some of them believers) who would have needed a strong dose of correction.

But look at how Paul says the young leader Timothy should handle those people:

1 Timothy 5:1-2
Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and with all propriety, the younger women as sisters.

While a rebuke would be a sharp, cutting word of correction, Timothy’s choice to exhort the person sits at the opposite end of the spectrum.  The Greek word translated exhort means to call to one’s side, to encourage and strengthen by consolation, comfort, or instruction.

Paul knew his Old Testament well.  As he directed Timothy, he likely had this proverb in mind:

Proverbs 15:1
A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.

In a separate letter, Paul reminded the believers in Rome:

Romans 2:4
Or do you despise the riches of His kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

Going toe-to-toe with an angry patron would make it difficult for Timothy to reach them with lasting correction and change.  Nor would harsh words model how God treats us.

One last observation to make.  Did you see the extra note Paul included for Timothy’s interaction with younger women?  With all propriety, [exhort] younger women as sisters.  We’ve all seen it too many times.  A high-ranking church leader losing his reputation, his job, and his influence for Christ due to an inappropriate relationship with another woman. 

Men, hear me clearly – if we do not keep ourselves intentionally pure and sinless in this area, especially with younger women, then we are inviting destruction into our lives.  Carelessness in this area will bring shame to ourselves and significant damage to God’s reputation in this life…and then we’ll have to answer to Jesus at the Bema Seat judgment.  You don’t want that.  I don’t want that.  We must take any steps necessary to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

So, here’s Paul direction to Timothy, all fleshed out:

Do not rebuke and older man, but exhort him as a father
Do not rebuke a younger man, but exhort him as a brother
Do not rebuke an older woman, but exhort her as a mother
Do not rebuke a younger woman, but – with all integrity – exhort her as a sister.

Put these into practice, and you will reflect God to others.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

The pressure of being young and in charge

New leaders often feel the pressure to “prove” they belong in their position.  New young leaders feel this pressure even more.  If left unchecked, this pressure will kindle a leader’s internal worries of public failure.  Their fear of failure normally manifests itself in a variety of bad ways – becoming bossy, refusing counsel, trusting only themselves, stubbornness, condescending actions, or even expectations of special treatment because “I’m the boss”.

A boss who behaves this way will undermine the aim and purpose of the organization they are supposed to lead.  Don’t think these fears and actions are isolated to just business leadership.  You’ll find them in any organization – volunteer groups, military, even your local church. 

When Paul left Timothy in charge of the church in Ephesus, he knew that he was leaving the congregation in capable hands.  However, Paul also understood some of the challenges that Timothy would likely face. 

Throughout his letter, Paul warns about the kinds of disputes Timothy will face as he leads the church in Ephesus.  When disagreements came up, it was certainly possible that someone would try to use Timothy’s age as a reason to discredit his leadership.  At this time, Timothy is likely in his late 20s, or possibly his early 30s.

So Paul gives this instruction to his protégé:

1 Timothy 4:11-12
Command and teach these things.  No one should despise your youth; instead, you should be an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.

Whenever I get the chance to encourage other fathers, especially fathers of young boys, I use phrases like “more is caught than taught” and “you must be the man you want them to be”.  In the long run, parenting is easier if we model the lessons we insist our children learn.  The same goes for leaders in the church.

Additionally, as Timothy did his best to emulate Jesus, there was a specific scene in Jesus’ life that he could have found reassuring.  Recall that at age 12 – still considered a child by Jewish society standards – Jesus was conversing with the teachers of the law in the temple, astounding them with his understanding and answers (see Luke 2:41-50).

Timothy couldn’t stop someone from questioning his position due to his youthfulness.  However, he could proactively prevent many concerns by how he conducted himself in his position.  The limitations other perceive in us are always overcome by our actions.  As Timothy modeled Christ-like behavior, his example would give him the credibility that his youthful age would not.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Be Prepared

Nearly everyone knows the Boy Scout motto of Be Prepared.

This motto is repeated to the young men over and over, encouraging them to think past their immediate circumstances.  This simple phrase shifts their gaze to what the future may bring and instructs them to consider what they may need to do now in order to be prepared for various scenarios.

Similarly, when Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy, he wrote to encourage his protégé to be prepared for all parts of his job as leader of the church in Ephesus.  We have observed Paul writing things like I urged you and I am giving you this instruction…so that by them you may strongly engage in battle.  Later we’ll see Paul write if you point out these things and be conscientious about yourself and your teaching

And in the middle of his letter, Paul gives his thesis – his entire purpose for writing:

1 Timothy 3:14-15
I write these things to you, hoping to come to you soon.  But if I should be delayed, I have written so that you will know how people ought to act in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

Notice that Paul admits to not knowing the future.  If anyone in Scripture was going to be clued-in by God as to what the future holds, Paul would be a good candidate.  But God didn’t tell him what personal, day-to-day events were coming next.  Peter wasn’t told those things, either.  Moses, David, Solomon…nope, nope, and nope.  While a vision or two was occasionally given by God to select individuals, those events happened only for very specific purposes.  Even when we consider the extensive Revelation given to the exiled Apostle John while he was on Patmos, future events were foretold; however, John was not informed if (or when) he would get to leave the island.

Paul has plans to work with Timothy again in Ephesus, but just in case something happens to change his plans, Paul wants Timothy to be prepared to continue his mission.

Timothy’s purpose was to take those who are saved – those who have trusted Jesus for eternal life – and help them answer the question: “Well, now what?”.  This is an incredibly important mission.  If Timothy were not there, then most folks would probably just go back to whatever sin-focused lifestyle they had before they encountered Christ…because that’s all they knew. 

They needed to build their new lives on the foundation of the truth.  Timothy was to show them how to cut the wood, hammer in the nails, and make their home with Jesus.  Paul wasn’t there to help them do that, and there was a chance that he could be delayed in doing this good work alongside Timothy.  So Paul did the next, best thing.  He still made an eternal contribution to the Ephesian believers (and us, too!) by writing Timothy a letter, making sure that Timothy was fully prepared to do the work God had called him to do.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The ultimate blended family

What am I going to do?

The feeling of being helpless is more familiar than any of us care to admit.

We’re in a situation, or given some information…and we just don’t know how to process it, let alone what our best next step will be.  It’s in those moments that we want to look to someone with more experience, someone to show us how to deal with what life has brought our way.

Paul knew that the believers in Ephesus would be looking to Timothy with those kinds of questions.  The city was a huge cultural and spiritual mish-mash, and Timothy’s mission was to provide guidance and support to those in the church family.  Knowing the challenges Timothy would face, Paul sent him a letter.  About halfway through, Paul explains his motivation for writing:

1 Timothy 3:14-15
I write these things to you, hoping to come to you soon.  But if I should be delayed, I have written so that you will know how people ought to act in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

Paul doesn’t know the future.  He has a strong desire to minister side-by-side with his protégé again…but just in case he is delayed, Paul made sure Timothy knew how to support the people in the church.

I love the way Paul described those people, too…I have written so that you will know how people ought to act in God’s household.  We’re all part of God’s household.  Not God’s business.  Not God’s club.  Not God’s military, or any other socially-structured group.  We’re all part of God’s family. 

Being a family is hard.  And we’re not necessarily good at being a family with those with whom we share blood ties and genetics…so how are we supposed to be a household when we weren’t even raised in similar contexts?

Those are the legitimate questions the Ephesian believers are going to be asking Timothy.  If you were in his place, how would you answer them?

Stop and think of an answer before moving on…the church is the ultimate example of a ‘blended family’…so how do we make this household actually function as a family?

Paul actually gives us the answer.  God’s householdis the church of the living God.  We don’t define us as a family – belonging to the living Creator of the Universe is what ties us together as a family.  God is our pillar and foundation of the truth

This is no small thing.  In fact, Paul goes on to say:

1 Timothy 3:16
And most certainly, the mystery of godliness is great:

The concept of being in God’s household is, in the Greek, a megas-mysterion.  It is so large, that it has to be explained to us before we can really understand it.  But why is it that way, why can’t it be easy to live as part of God’s household?

Interestingly enough, Paul then quotes a hymn reminding Timothy of the greatness of our Savior:

He was manifested in the flesh,
justified in the Spirit,
seen by angels,
preached among the Gentiles,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.

Since Christ is so unique among all other proposed gods that the world looks to…it makes sense that being part of God’s household would mean that, at times, we’ll need help figuring out what to do next.  But that’s why we have mentors, and why it’s so important for us to mentor others.

Being part of God’s household means that we are connected to each other in the deepest, most unique way possible…it’s not always easy to be family…but it is who He created us to be.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

A warning for the young ones

Success at a young age can have its downfalls.  We see it often in the entertainment industry, when a child star has national fame and an unending flow of fans…and then, as soon as their voice begins to crack, the public focus shifts away to the next young talented person.  The starlet usually doesn’t handle this rapid change in fortune very well, either.  Our news feeds are full of sad ‘Where are they now?’ stories.

I think a large reason why these starlets begin to flail and eventually fail is because they are not receiving sound advice as they navigate their early success.  Their manager’s (and oftentimes, also their parents’) ambition is to take advantage of every opportunity to keep the starlet’s name in front of the public.  Whirlwind tours, constant events, and deceptive sweet-talk convince the child that he or she really is the center of the world.  When the starlet begins to believe they are the reason for everything going so well, they think that they actually deserve the spotlight.

As Paul explains to Timothy which characteristics either seek out or avoid for someone to fill the overseer role for the local church, he includes this warning:

1 Timothy 3:6-7
He must not be a new convert, or he might become conceited and fall into the condemnation of the Devil.  Furthermore, he must have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he does not fall into disgrace and the Devil’s trap.

Paul’s concern is that a “young one” in the faith will not be ready to handle either the rapid success or flattery that could come their way in an overseer role.  An overseer’s job is to leading people toward God, helping them avoid personal pitfalls, and instructing them on how to navigate cultural issues.  However, if an overseer doesn’t keep his focus on God, if he begins to dwell on all the compliments that come his way…then he might become conceited and think that he is reason for his congregation’s success.

It was pride that cost the Devil his position as an archangel.  Likewise, if an overseer becomes conceited in his position, God will remove him. 

Satan is more than willing to use his experience to lay a trap for the overseers in God’s church.  Therefore, overseers must be vigilant in protecting their reputation among those in the larger community, and especially among non-believers.  The world loves to point out the stories of when Christian leaders fall into disgrace.  If an overseer is a new convert, then the risk of being caught in these traps goes up significantly…so it is better to let the young one develop a blameless reputation on his own before he carries the burden of representing a larger Christian community.

Paul doesn’t gives Timothy these guidelines so individuals will be excluded from doing the noble work of an overseer; rather, Paul wants to protect the individuals who do lead, the church, and most importantly, God’s reputation among unbelievers.  We need competent, mature leadership within our church family. 

This is why Paul mentored Timothy.  Now it’s Timothy’s turn to mentor others.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

What a leader should NOT be

When it comes to choosing the person who will manage the overall activities of the church family, Paul listed qualities an overseer should have – as well as some qualities an overseer should definitely not have.

1 Timothy 3:2-5
An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not addicted to wine, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy…

One way to understand the importance of each of these not characteristics is to consider what it would be like if our leaders actually had these qualities:

not addicted to wine – Notice Paul doesn’t say “thou shalt not drink”.  Instead, Paul wants Timothy to ensure that the prospective overseer does not allow himself to be controlled by alcohol.  The line between appropriately handling and not appropriately handling varies from person to person.  Does he “need a drink” every time stress starts to build?  If he is regularly turning to alcohol for comfort, escape, or pleasure…then this is a huge warning flag.  Think of the damage a man with this addiction in an overseer position would do.  Personal and private issues would eventually become public incidents – divorce, DUI, financial disaster.  There is room in God’s family for anyone dealing alcohol and with the problems it can cause.  However, while they are being dealt with, that person should not be leading a congregation.

not a bully – We’ve seen this in other areas of life.  Someone is really successful at “getting the job done”, but when you look beneath surface, you find that they stepped all over people to actually get the job done.  Several times in His ministry, Christ said that the greatest in His kingdom was the one who was the servant of all (see Matthew 23:11, Luke 22:26).  As such, there is no place in leadership of God’s family for someone who physically intimidates others, is always ready for a fight, or who treats others belligerently.  An overseer is there to guide and direct others toward Jesus.  Since Jesus never led way, a church leader has no excuse to do so, either.

not quarrelsome – In addition to telling Timothy to avoid appointing leadership to someone who relies on being physically intimidating, Paul also tells Timothy to watch out for those who are verbally intimidating.  Does he love arguments because he relishes to chance to prove someone else is wrong?  Is he always on the defensive?  It’s impossible to lead others toward the God who loves them if the one leading them does not speak out of love toward them.

not greedy – Greed cuts into the attitude of both the poor and the rich.  It is a consuming desire for what you don’t have.  This is probably the most common visible vice for those in church leadership.  The low hanging fruit is to make sure that they are not lovers of money and not materialistic.  However, Paul doesn’t limit their greed to money here…greed could manifest itself in other ways, in their desire for authoritative power, or increased church attendance, or in the approval from people.

When we begin to breakdown Paul’s list, we find that these qualifications are rather exhaustive and to find all of these characteristics in one man might even be difficult.  However, I believe that is Paul’s point.  Look at how he finishes the qualification list:

1 Timothy 3:2-5
An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not addicted to wine, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy – one who manages his own household competently having his children under control with all dignity. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?)

A man’s family is his proving ground.  Since the church family is made up of our individual families, the same kind of leadership is needed at the church-level.  If I cannot handle my family of four…then I should not expect to be able to oversee 40 other families.  Paul knew that any one of these not characteristics had the potential to inflict severe damage to an individual family, and the damage would only be magnified when they crop up in church leadership.  Timothy had to be careful in who he selected for the job.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Providing oversight

Even though Paul writes Timothy a letter chock-full of advice and direction, there are three specific truth-sayings Paul wants his young protégé to remember.  We’ve now come to the second of the three trustworthy statements Paul highlights to Timothy.

1 Timothy 3:1
This saying is trustworthy:

“If anyone aspires to be an overseer, he desires a noble work.”

Knowing what an overseer does will help us understand the qualifications God has for the office and why Paul refers to the position as a noble work.

The Greek word for overseer carries the connotation both of inspecting and guarding, along with the general shepherding of the church’s activities.  Additionally, it’s important to note that Paul says being an overseer is, in fact, work.  A noble work, for sure; however, there is an expectation that the person in this office will be putting in effort.  Becoming an overseer isn’t a pinnacle one climbs to and then expects others to serve him; instead, when he achieves the title of overseer, he needs to understand that it’s time to roll up his sleeves and do the noble work.

As such, it is of the utmost importance that the right person be selected for the job.  We see it all time in the businesses world – someone gets promoted to a level of responsibility they were not prepared for, and their lack of leadership skills then wreaks havoc on the company.  The wrong person in leadership, even for a short time, can inflict significant, lasting damage to an organization.  To guard against a leadership disaster in the Ephesian church, Paul provides Timothy with a first-level checklist in order to considered someone for the overseer job:

1 Timothy 3:2-5
An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher…

It’s easy to gloss over a list like this, thinking “Yeah, we should only have good Christians fill this role” and then move along to other parts of Paul’s letter.  However, I don’t believe Paul haphazardly listed these qualities.  A simple description of each characteristic helps us understand why we need to see these qualities in our church leaders:

above reproach – Could he be accused of wrong doing or misconduct against others?
husband of one wife – Paul had previously explained to the Ephesians that the marriage relationship is the highest earthly example of the relationship between Christ and the church.  As such, an overseer must not be polygamous, and if he has been widowed or divorced, those circumstances must be considered.
self-controlled – Is he sober-minded and temperate in his action?
sensible – Does he have a safe/sound mind, can he balance the range of emotions and passions?
respectable – When dealing with himself or others, is he well arranged, orderly, modest?
hospitable – Is he generous and welcoming toward guests?
able teacher – Does he understand God well enough that he can skillfully instruct others, through both verbal teaching and his own personal example?

A deficit in any one of these areas will hinder the overseer’s ability to approach people from God’s perspective.  As such, selecting the right individual is of paramount importance.  God doesn’t take this position lightly, and neither should we.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Women and church leadership (part 2)

When coming back to a difficult passage, we need to remind ourselves of the three rules:
1.  Context is key.
2.  We interpret a passage we are unsure of in light of passages we are certain of.
3.  We let the author speak for himself

In the previous post, we discovered how important these rules are – because sometimes our first impression (i.e. – assumption) of what the author meant isn’t always the correct interpretation.  A couple of paragraphs after our subject verses, after Paul finishes his entire discussion regarding the qualifications of church leaders, Paul tells Timothy the following:

1 Timothy 3:14-15
I write these things to you, hoping to come to you soon.  But if I should be delayed, I have written so that you will know how people ought to act in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

As such, we need to keep in mind that Paul’s intention for this section of his letter was so that Timothy and the Ephesian believers will know how people ought to act in God’s household.

As a refresher, here are the verses we reviewed last time.  If you haven’t read Part 1, I suggest going back a reading it before going further with this post.  However, if you did read Part 1, reading the verses again will help form the context for the verses that follow:

1 Timothy 2:9-12
Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense; not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, but with good works, as is proper for women who affirm that they worship God.

A woman should learn in silence with full submission.  I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent.

Last time we discovered that the education system of Paul’s day held the expectation that pupils would receive instruction from their teachers in silence and with full submission.  We found that these two phrases describe a student who peacefully conducts themselves while they are respectfully under the authority of their teacher.  We also realized that Paul’s prohibition against a woman teaching or having authority over a man was only in regard to the official teaching and ruling ministry of the church.  His directions to Timothy are not a prohibition on women leading in business, government, or even other sub-groups within the church family. 

Now, let’s see how Paul supports these directions for the church:

1 Timothy 2:13-15
For Adam was created first, then Eve.  And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed.  But she will be saved through childbearing, if she continues in faith, love, and holiness, with good sense.

Paul notes that Adam was created first, then Eve.  God could have made them both at the same time, but instead, He created them at different times and in unique ways – with Adam being formed from the dirt and Eve being fashioned from Adam’s rib.  There were distinctions in origin and design from the get-go, from which God has specified a distinction in roles within the family and within church leadership.  God entrusted Adam with leadership responsibility over his wife.  Before God, Eve was not responsible for Adam in the same way that Adam was responsible for Eve.

God had an order and a plan for both men and women from the start, and Paul says the structure within the home-family should be the blueprint for the church-family.  Paul’s instruction here builds upon his previous teachings to the Ephesian church (see Ephesians 5:22-33).

Avoiding deception, especially concern against women being deceived, is frequently repeated in Paul’s communication with the Ephesian church (see Ephesians 4:6; 1 Timothy 4:1, 5:15; 2 Timothy 3:6-7).  Paul was concerned that the women in Ephesus were in danger of being deceived by false teachers, just like Eve had been.

One last note, on Paul’s last statement.  The Greek word saved can mean to be rescued from something or can mean to be returned to a previous state.  Given the context here, saved clearly does not refer to eternal salvation from sin’s penalty; instead, Paul emphasizes that women can be restored to their pre-fall status, and find leadership fulfillment within her family, provided she continues to walk with God.  Additionally, I think it would be acceptable to apply this concept to both naturally born children or to those spiritual children that a woman directly mentors.

With this, Paul wraps up his discussion on what women should not do with something they alone can do.  It was pointed out to me recently that perhaps we put too much emphasis on the leader up front and we unfortunately minimize the influence and mentoring of those who got them to that point.  It’s been said that “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world”, and there is a lot of truth in that statement.  In fact, before Timothy met Paul, his entire spiritual instruction came from his mother and grandmother.  Without them preparing Timothy’s foundation, he would never have grown into the influential leader he was in the first century church.

In short, Paul’s directions in this passage to the believing women in Ephesus is to take God’s design for their immediate families and extend those characteristics to the church family.  As we all live out the talents, opportunities, and roles God has designed for us, our lives will become the walking gospels that point others toward God – and not to ourselves.  Ultimately, though, we are responsible before God for how handle His instructions.  If God is who we claim Him to be in our lives, then we should be able to trust Him in all aspects of life – even in the difficult passages.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

His origin story isn't what you would expect

We love a good origin story, don’t we?  A movie does well in the box office and instead of providing us with what happens next, Hollywood is ready to film a “prequel”.  We want to watch these backstory accounts because they help us get to know a character better, and they explain a character’s motivation and influences, for better or worse. 

We want to hear how someone “came from nothing” and bettered himself.  We want to know how she “beat the system”.  Stories like that give us hope that, somehow, some of us will “make it” and be successful.  But it’s the impossible-odds stories that really make us sit on the edge of our seat and silently wonder: I’m not sure I could have done what they did.  That much effort, for that long?  To risk like that?

We have the same tendency to revere mature Christians like that.  From a distance, they look like peaceful giants; yet we have a sneaky suspicion they could pray for thunder on a clear day and God would answer with a downpour.

However, when we drum up the courage to ask them about their faith’s origin story, how they learned to trust Jesus as much as they do…their answer has very little to do with themselves.  Instead, their focus is much like Paul explained to Timothy:

1 Timothy 1:12-16
I give thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, appointing me to the ministry – one who was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man. 

Notice how all of Paul’s “I’s” and “me’s” point back to Jesus.  Everything that Paul has done as a missionary found its start in Jesus:

thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord…[He] has strengthened…He considered…[He] appointed…

The only portion of his origin that Paul contributed was his actions as a blasphemer (someone who either credited God’s work to Satan or wrote it off as simply evil), a persecutor (someone who actively sought to harm and kill Christ followers), and his own arrogance (being full of pride and insolence).

As Paul continues, he will marvel at this contrast and Jesus’ acceptance.  For reasons unclear to the human eye, Jesus was willing to accept someone with that monstrous of a history…and then strengthen him, because Jesus considered that Paul would be trustworthy for, of all things, ministry!

A modern day equivalent to Paul’s origin story would be the leader of ISIS becoming a missionary for Jesus.  Can you even imagine it?  Paul knew that Jesus was entirely responsible for his backstory, and he wanted Timothy to share that with the believers in Ephesus.

Since the Ephesian believers only saw Paul during the missionary and letter-writing phase of his life, they could have been tempted to believe that Paul had always walked closely with God or that being a Christian came easy for Him.  However, Paul dispels that notion and doesn’t gloss over who he was without Christ.

So if we’re tempted to think the mature Christians we know have had it easy, or that they survived because of how strong or good or caring they naturally are…just ask them about their origins.  And then listen for all the ways Jesus moved in their life.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

A note of encouragement

Remember your first “big assignment”?

You have learned, observed, asked questions, learned some more…and then, it was time.  Your boss gave you a task and then went on vacation.  The director stepped aside, and you were the only person on stage.  Your teacher put you in charge of the class – and then left.  How ever your situation came about, suddenly you found yourself working without a net.

If that sounds familiar, then you can empathize with Timothy. 

Timothy spent years working side by side with Paul.  He’s seen the good and the bad, the easy days and the hard days.  Together they have lived life, worshiped God, shared the gospel, and strengthened the faith of believers.  Timothy had started the church in Ephesus with Paul, and they ministered there for two years.  Now, years later, they have come back to Ephesus…however, this time Paul is moving on and Timothy is staying behind.

Ephesus was the third largest city in the Roman empire, with over 250,000 people living there.  It was also the regional capital, a bustling commercial center, and an important seaport.  Ephesus was a true melting pot of Middle East culture, and the people who became Christians had a wide-ranging background of religious experiences.  As many as 50 different gods and goddesses were worshiped there.  Other religious communities included Jewish religious practices and those who practiced magic, shamanism, and the occult arts.  The city was cosmopolitan on many levels, and the group of people who believed in Jesus for eternal life no doubt had a fair bit of baggage, a number of questions, and a need for guidance as to how this whole “life in Christ” thing is supposed to work out.

This is Timothy’s mission field.

It would be one thing to lead people with your mentor in an environment like that…it would be a whole ‘nother challenge if he left you in charge – but that’s what Paul did.

Imagine how Timothy felt, after he had been doing his best and some time had passed, when one day he received a letter:

1 Timothy 1:1-2
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus, our hope:

To Timothy, my true child in the faith.

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul had written Timothy a letter of encouragement and instruction.  Right from the beginning, you can see Paul’s affection for Timothy – my true child in the faith.  These words would have breathed new life into the young man.  However, Paul’s words for Timothy weren’t sunshine and fluff.  In fact, Paul recognizes much of what he talks about as being hard…and that’s exactly why he writes to encourage Timothy to keep up the good work.  About halfway through his letter, Paul says

1 Timothy 3:14-15
I write these things to you, hoping to come to you soon.  But if I should be delayed, I have written so that you will know how people ought to act in God’s household

Paul doesn’t write Timothy to tell him how to share the gospel; Timothy knows how to do that.  Instead, Paul gives Timothy advice and encouragement for how to know what God expects of His family in the midst of mixed-up culture.  Even from a distance, Paul continues to support and exhort his young protégé. 

That is a great observation for us to take ahold of – mentoring doesn’t always happen side-by-side.  A note of encouragement can go a long way toward strengthening a person and keeping them focused on their Godly mission.  And that’s just the beginning.  We’re also going to take a look at what Paul had to say and how it was helpful to Timothy.  We have much to learn from their example.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Proud papa

How do you spell “love” to a child?

T-I-M-E

The same is true in mentoring.  Even a cursory look at the relationship between Paul and Timothy shows two things – that they spent a lot of time together, and Paul was proud of the man Timothy had grown into.

After leaving his family to join Paul and Silas, Timothy was present in many significant events in Paul’s missionary travels.  Timothy was at Philippi when the mob had Paul and Silas arrested.  Later an earthquake leveled the jail, which led to the jailer and his family to believe the gospel.  Timothy was also in Thessalonica when the riots started there, and he stayed with Silas in Berea when Paul was forced to travel ahead of them.

Timothy was also with Paul when he spent 18 months in Corinth, starting a church and ministering there.  Similarly, Timothy was with Paul during his two year stay in Ephesus.  Piecing together the timeline from other New Testament writings, we find that Paul would send Timothy out as his representative to encourage the churches they had previously established.

Timothy’s efforts mirrored his mentor’s so closely that Paul even referred to Timothy as “my co-worker” (Romans 16:21) and “our brother” (2 Corinthians 1:1, Colossians 1:1, Philemon 1).  Even more impressive is that Paul listed Timothy as a co-author in six of his letters – 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon.  None of Paul’s other ministering partners come anywhere close to that.

Over the years and years of working together, Paul also witnessed a lot of growth in Timothy.  Notice how Paul proudly recommends Timothy to the believers at the church they had established in Philippi:

Philippians 2:19-24
Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon so that I also may be encouraged when I hear news about you.  For I have no one else like-minded who will genuinely care about your interests; all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

But you know his proven character, because he has served with me in the gospel ministry like a son with a father.  Therefore, I hope to send him as soon as I see how things go with me.

Their relationship is an excellent example of what a mentoring relationship should look like.  Timothy wouldn’t have developed without Paul’s guidance and the time Paul invested.  Timothy was able to learn from Paul; and not just to become a carbon-copy of his mentor, rather he would use Paul’s investment as the launching point of his own efforts to live out and spread the gospel.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Hello, my name is Timothy

Given the numerous mentoring examples in the Bible, it’s easy to see that God values the mentor-protégé relationship.  It is a special bond at an intimate level between two people.  Most of the Biblical examples give us just a snapshot – a mentoring moment or lesson taught – and then we must look at what happened next to the mentor and the protégé to find out how well the lesson was applied.  However, there is one mentoring relationship in the Scriptures where we get to see much more than a glimpse.  Paul and Timothy spent many years together, and much of their efforts and relationship is on display throughout the New Testament.

But who was Timothy?  How did they meet?  Why did they pair up?

We are first introduced to Timothy at the start of Paul’s second missionary journey:

Acts 15:40-16:2
Then Paul chose Silas and departed, after being commended to the grace of the Lord by the brothers he traveled through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. 

Then he went on to Derbe and Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a believing Jewish woman, but his father was a Greek.  The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke highly of him.

Timothy was a young man stuck between two worlds.  He believed in Jesus as the Messiah who would come from the Jewish half of his parents, but Timothy was also half Greek and grew up in a Greek city, surrounded by Grecian culture.  Since no additional information is given about his father, we can’t be sure of how much influence that heritage had – but the fact that he had not been circumcised suggests that Timothy wasn’t raised in a strictly observant Jewish household.  However, both worlds were still a part of him and people were aware of his mixed-race background. 

Although such mixed marriages were illegal in Jewish law, rabbinic texts reckoned a person’s decent through the mother’s line; and as such, Timothy would have been considered to be a Jew by the Jewish community.

Acts 16:3-5
Paul wanted Timothy to go with him, so he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, since they all knew that his father was a Greek.  As they traveled through the towns, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem for them to observe.  So the churches were strengthened in the faith and were increased in number daily.

Was it necessary for Timothy’s salvation that he be circumcised? 

No, not at all.  Salvation from eternal separation away from God is only through believing (i.e. – trusting) Jesus for eternal life.

Then was Paul being inconsistent by circumcising Timothy?  Was this an example of Paul “giving in” to local peer pressure?

No, not at all.  Timothy was already a believer before he met Paul.  However, given Timothy’s well known heritage, for him to come with Paul and have access to be a missionary in Jewish synagogues, he would need to be circumcised.  Otherwise, the Jewish communities would consider Timothy an apostate, and they would not be willing to listen to what he had to say about Jesus.

Timothy was willing to endure significant physical pain in order to share the gospel message with those who would have looked down on him as a “half-breed”, the same way that Jews had historically looked down on Samaritans.  In fact, by agreeing to be circumcised, Timothy boldly demonstrated an evangelistic principle which Paul would later pass on to the believers in Corinth:

1 Corinthians 9:19-22
For although I am free from all people, I have made myself a slave to all, in order to win more people.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews; to those under the law, like one under the law – though I myself am not under the law – to win those under the law.  To those who are outside the law, like one outside the law – not being outside God’s law, but under the law of Christ – to win those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. 

I have become all things to all people, so that I may by all means save some.

That is an incredible lesson for Timothy to grab a hold of so early in his mentoring relationship under Paul.  And it’s certainly not the last time Timothy is a reflection of his mentor.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Pleasing others, for their good

Think of a major accomplishment in your life.  To get there, you had to work hard.  Perhaps you worked for a long time, even years.  Significant progress was made, and you know – more than anyone else – how much effort and time and worry and late nights went into finally “arriving.”

Maybe your mountain is a promotion or tenure.  Maybe it’s a high school or college degree.  Maybe it’s the applause of your peers, the community, or even your family.  We strive and work toward many noble goals in this life – financial freedom, career advancement, raising a family, business success, doing adult-things and doing them well.

Whenever we get to the point where we feel like “we’ve arrived”, there’s a seemingly innocent urge that sneaks into our minds.  While we relish the moment and reflect on the work that got us there, there is also a subtle tug to coast (just a little) and take it easy.

Now, don’t misunderstand me…rest is good.  Rest is Biblical.  God rested after six days of creation.  However, when rest is complete, we will have to make a choice – will we allow our rest to become self-indulgent, or will we face the difficult question of what to do next?

As Paul was finishing up his letter to the believers in Rome, he touched on several practical issues.  He approached these issues from two sides –  from those believers who had already arrived at maturity and those who had not yet matured.  We find that kind of mixed company in the church today also.  Here, Paul talks about the responsibility of those who have developed a strong relationship with God:

Romans 15:1-2
Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves.  Each one of us must please his neighbor for his good, in order to build him up.  For even the Messiah did not please Himself.

When we have a mature, developed relationship with God, it is not time to be self-centered.  God doesn’t want us to sit around being full of ourselves.  Rather, He wants us to leverage our development in a way that pleases our neighbor

And this kind of pleasing isn’t about just making them feel happy, either.  We are to purposely act for their good, encouraging them and building them up so they can experience and live out the same kind of relationship we have with the Father.

Honestly, even for someone who has walked with God for a long time – developing others is hard.  Building up a fellow believer can be really messy sometimes, it’s not a give-advice-once-and-be-done kind of thing.  In case we have any question as to what that looks like, Paul says that the model for the mature believer to follow is Christ’s example.  Jesus found motivation to continue on, complete His mission, and please His Father by looking ahead to the mission’s end result.

A few verses later, Paul points his audience toward the end result of building up their fellow believers:

Romans 15:5-6
Now may the God of endurance and encouragement grant you agreement with one another, according to Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with a unified mind and voice.

That’s the goal here, humanity’s created purpose – to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and for us to do so with a unified mind and voice.  We who are strong and mature are to bear with those who haven’t made it yet.  Not just to tolerate them, either.  After we build them up to maturity, together we can all give God the glory He deserves.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The invitation that launched a ministry

Let me introduce you to one of the great mentors in the Bible:

Acts 4:36-37
Joseph, a Levite and a Cypriot by birth, whom the apostles named Barnabas, which is translated ‘Son of Encouragement’, sold a field he owned, brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Barnabas shows up many times throughout the New Testament.  He was always well respected, and he lived up to his nickname by encouraging others.

After Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, not everyone believed that he had really changed.  Imagine if the top leader of ISIS, who had personally killed or imprisoned your friends and family, suddenly declared that he was now a believer.  Wouldn’t you be nervous to have him over for dinner?

Acts 9:26-30
When [Saul] arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to associate with the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, since they did not believe he was a disciple.  Barnabas, however, took him and brought him to the apostles and explained to them how, on the road, Saul had seen the Lord, and that He had talked to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus.

Saul was coming and going with them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.  He conversed and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they attempted to kill him.  When the brothers found out, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

Saul was accepted by the disciples only after Barnabas vouched for him.  However, soon after, the one who had once hunted believers was now being hunted for being a believer.  They needed to get Saul to a safe place, so the disciples sent him far away to Tarsus, back to his hometown.

About a decade later, we find that the persecution of Christians which had begun under Saul was the driver for getting good news of salvation through Jesus to those outside of Jewish boarders.

Acts 11:19-24
Those who had been scattered as a result of the persecution that started because of Stephen made their way as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the message to no one except Jews.  But there were some of them, Cypriot and Cyrenian men, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Hellenists, proclaiming the good news about the Lord Jesus.  The Lord’s hand was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.

Then the report about them reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to travel as far as Antioch.  When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he encouraged all of them to remain true to the Lord with a firm resolve of the heart – for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith – and large numbers of people were added to the Lord.

It's what Barnabas does next that I find surprising: he leaves.  In the middle of a great spiritual awakening in an important ancient city, Barnabas leaves the many to go find one man – Saul. 

Acts 11:25-26
Then he went to Tarsus to search for Saul, and when he found him he brought him to Antioch.  For a whole year they met with the church and taught large numbers, and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

Tarsus was further out from Jerusalem than Antioch.  Barnabas was willing to go out beyond his initial orders to find the man that he knew would be of great help to the newly formed church.  The church in Antioch would also be an opportunity for Saul to grow personally and for him to learn to lead both Jews and Gentiles in their new Christ-focused lives.

The work of Barnabas and Saul in Antioch would prepare them for future missionary journeys throughout the known world.  All because Barnabas invited Saul to participate.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

A question of forgiveness

Ever wish that you just had someone to talk to?  You need advice, and you would love to run your ideas and concerns past another experienced, trustworthy person.  That’s exactly what a mentor is for, and we have a perfect example of this with Peter and Jesus.

The disciples had been arguing, yet again, about which one of them was going to be the greatest in Jesus’ coming kingdom.  They brought their argument to Jesus, who told them

Matthew 18:4-5
Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child – this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And who ever welcomes one child like this in My name welcomes Me.

Keep in mind that children were of little value in ancient society, so Jesus’ direction here would have been especially hard for 12 adults to accept.  However, Jesus doesn’t stop there.  He goes on to give them three more difficult lessons:

·        Drastic measures should be taken to avoid leading others into sin
·        A single, stray brother is worth searching out and there is great rejoicing when the one returns to the many
·        How to approach a brother who sins against you – first privately, then with a few others, and lastly, if necessary, involve church leadership

These lessons were counter-cultural for how the disciples had been raised and taught.  When giving their arguments about which one of them was going to have a bigger kingdom title, I doubt that these areas of their lives were part of their resume.

After hearing these teachings with the rest of the disciples, Peter had a question and wanted clarification.  He didn’t need to have any of the lessons repeated, instead Peter was wrestling with how to apply Jesus’ teaching when his brother repeatedly sins against him.

Matthew 18:21-22
Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how many times could my brother sin against me and I forgive him?  As many as seven times?”

“I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus said to him, “but 70 times seven.”

While the phrase seventy time seven may feel familiar to us, keep in mind that the conventional rabbi teaching of Peter’s day recommended to extend forgiveness only three times.  So Peter likely felt he was also being counter-cultural and generous by offering to forgive twice as many times, plus one extra.  However, Jesus pushed Peter even further and instructed him to give his brother significant, not limited, forgiveness.  Jesus then told Peter another parable to illustrate His point.

This is one of the times in life where having a mentor is beneficial.  Peter thought he had progressed sufficiently in his thinking, so he brought his new understanding to Jesus for verification.  Although Peter was growing in the correct direction, he was directed to go even further – to forgive generously, and be great in Jesus’ kingdom.

Keep Pressing,
Ken