Monday, February 24, 2014

Our Blessed Hope

People put their hope in a lot of things. Unfortunately, the understanding of the word "hope" in our culture today represents the idea of a wish. "I hope I get to __________." "I hope __________ wins the game." "I hope...I hope...I hope."

But biblically, the idea of hope is something that is certain. It is not a verb, it is a noun. And in Titus, chapter 2, it is more than just any hope, it is our blessed hope. This hope is something for which we are to wait. This hope is something which should impact our lives. This hope is the return of Jesus - "the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. (v. 13).

The hope of this passage is truly found in Jesus and His future appearance. But v. 11 says that God's grace has appeared. It has appeared for all people (v. 11), for all lawlessness (v. 14). What does this mean? Jesus work on the cross was for all people covering all sin for all time. It was not cheap (costing Jesus His life). Thus the cost was paid in full. He redeemed us that we might serve Him zealously (v. 14).

Paul says that this grace trains us to lead our lives for Him. It is not automatic, it requires diligence. It teaches us to live self-controlled (with discipline) and enable us to live godly lives as we wait. And indeed, we are to wait. But we are not to be idle while we wait. We are to be in training while we wait. We are to become more godly while we wait.

And it is all possible by the grace of God.

And it is all for the glory of God.

Our hope is from a grace that has appeared (v. 11), and for a glory that will appear (v. 13). It is the true hope of all who truly believe. This grace, and the hope that comes with it, is available to all. Yet, not everyone has it. Why? Perhaps it is because they have not truly experienced His grace.

Each of us must ask where our hope lies. Is it in Jesus? Or do we place our hope in something less?

Do we place our hope in something certain? Or do we have "wishes" in the questionable?

Paul called the hope of Christ's return "our blessed hope". I am still learning to keep my hope purely in Christ. But by His grace, I am getting closer. By His grace, you can too.

Monday, February 17, 2014

2 Timothy - Making Disciples

Matthew recorded Jesus' final words in a statement commonly referred to as The Great Commission. The nature of the statement is that we, as disciples of Jesus, are to make disciples. The essence of this statement is recorded by each of the Gospel writers as well as in the first chapter of Acts. Jesus knew the importance of others continuing to teach others His message. One of those who would be discipled was Paul (by Barnabas). And it was Paul who we find discipling many people in the NT including Timothy.

But, just as Jesus told His disciples to make disciples, Paul did as well. In 2 Timothy 2.1-2, Paul wrote, "You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also."

Now, Paul, in some of his final words, tells Timothy to make disciples, just as Jesus commanded in some of His final words. Paul's command -  take what you (v. 2) heard from me (v. 1) to teach others (v. 3) that they may teach others (v. 4). Paul says that disciple-making should always extend to (at least) four generations. In Paul's day, even more than ours, that would have spanned the entirety of a person's life.

Timothy must have taken Paul's advice, because we are still here learning about, and teaching others about, Jesus. But the question we must ask ourselves is whether we are doing the same. Are you and I taking what we heard from another and teaching others that will, in turn, teach others? What if Paul hadn't? What if Timothy hadn't? What if those Timothy taught didn't? What if the following generation didn't?

Certainly, isn't it up to God to transform lives? But He has chosen us to partner with Him to not only transform our own lives, but also the lives of others. Think about it – the most important person who ever lived has asked you to do something for Him. Whomever you might consider the most important person who may have lived, or is living in your lifetime, will not likely ever talk to you, let alone know your name. Yet, Jesus, who is even more important (and is alive) not only knows your name, but asks you to partner with Him.

That is truly a privilege and an honor we are not worthy of receiving! Yet, it's true. So, will you accept the Lord's invitation? Truly it is more than an invitation, it is a command. So, will you serve Him by making disciples? And will you work with disciples to make more disciples? It was Paul's command, because it was Jesus' command. But it is for you and I to follow!

Monday, February 10, 2014

1 Timothy

Paul's first letter to Timothy is concerned with the false teaching in Ephesus. Timothy was a young pastor in Ephesus, which, among other things, was home to the Temple of Artemis. Artemis, was the Greek goddess of fertility, and the culture of Ephesus and the surrounding area was greatly influenced by the happenings (and teachings) at the temple. As the fertility goddess, much of the activity would include temple prostitutes which were partly responsible for spreading the false teachings into the church that Paul had helped establish.

Thus, Paul writes Timothy and begins with a charge to keep certain persons from teaching "any different doctrine" (v. 3) than what Paul had taught to the Ephesians and to Timothy. Two of these persons are mentioned by name in ch. 1, v. 20 for having made a "shipwreck of their faith" (v. 19). What were the teachings that were concerning Paul? Myths (Greek mythology, i.e. Artemis and others) and genealogies as well as demands by the Jews (such as Alexander - see Acts 19-20) for keeping the law, including dietary restrictions (4.3).

Ultimately, these false teachings were confusing the the people in the church at Ephesus. Paul wrote to the church in Ephesians 4 that a key responsibility of the leaders of the church was to equip the saints for ministry until all attain unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God. (Ephesians 4.11-13). But he continued with the reason in v. 14 with a "so that". The reason - so people would not be tossed about by:

  • different doctrines
  • human cunning
  • craftiness
  • or other deceitful schemes

All of these falsehoods confused the people from the real truth. Moreover, the people that were teaching them were corrupt by seared consciences (1 Timothy 4.2) and deceitful (4.1) with depraved minds who were deprived of truth (6.5).

So Timothy was to protect the Christ's church by keeping the false teachings out of the church. By Timothy speaking the truth it was possible that the false teachers could be won to Christ. After all, that is what happened to Paul. Paul talks about being the worst of sinners, yet being saved by Christ as an example of what God can do for people who let Him work in their lives. Paul says that he was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and insolent. (1.13). But God's mercy covered Paul. And God's grace saved Paul. And God's love delivered Paul. And although Paul would have to face much persecution (his punishment for his earlier actions), he was judged faithful by Christ. (1.12) And his letter was to encourage Timothy to remain faithful as well.

While it is unknown exactly what transpired, it is certain the church of Ephesus prevailed for some time. Even into the 5th Century, Ephesus had a place in God's Kingdom work with the 3rd Council having taken place there. But far prior to this Council, in fact just a few decades after Paul wrote this letter, Jesus gives His command to the church (Revelation 2.1-7). The church was still active. In fact, it appears they were following Paul's desires well about watching out for deceptive teachings. But they had lost their love for Jesus and needed to repent.

Church, we can do wonderful things for the Kingdom. We can serve God, proclaim Jesus, give abundantly, study and learn His Word, teach others faithfully, keep all of His commands, fight against the false teachings of our day, etc. but do we do so out of love? Have we, and more specifically, have you, lost your first love? If so, Jesus told the church to repent (Revelation 2.6). We are not to love blindly. Jesus commended the work done by the Ephesians in vv. 2, 3, and 6. But for all they were doing, they were neglecting their time with Him.

Paul's love for God and the impact of Jesus on His life is so evident (1 Timothy 1.12-17) that what he did was out of love - for Timothy, for the church at Ephesus, and for his fellow man in general. The first verses of 1 Corinthians 13 suggest that Paul knew well that he once had, and other people did, do many wonderful things, but without love they meant nothing.

So, church, stand up for God. Proclaim His message. Stand firm for His truth. Watch for the dangers of false teachers and their teachings. But first and foremost spend time with Jesus. It is then, and only then, that you will love Him, and be able to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4.15) to correct what needs to be corrected without condemnation. Only God knows, but our words, our actions, and most importantly our attitude of love may be the difference in someone's eternal destination.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ministry Context

This post is unexpected, yet nevertheless, is important. There are many churches and ministries that are highly effective, yet many others are not. While there are many reasons this could be true, a big part of the challenge is context. Let me give three short examples of how this relates.

First, the context of time. Some ministry opportunities are just stumbled upon. For instance, our church has recently stumbled upon a ministry of distributing food once a month. It wasn't something that we were intending to do, but it literally fell into our lap. However, most ministry comes from seeing a need and responding. People discuss the need and prepare a plan to serve others because of it. Prayer is often a large component of this (or at least it should be!). Such a ministry can be effective because it meets a certain need at a certain time.

Second, the context of place. Location. Location. Location. These words are used for marketing purposes often. But the same is true for ministry. Thankfully, the notion of the context of a ministry is being made more and more apparent. Of course, many types of ministry can be done in all types of places. But the question is how. Continuing the example of food distribution, many churches and ministries have a similar ministry. However, being in a rural location, the frequency with which we receive the food, the method by which we sort the food, and certainly how we distribute the food will be different from a ministry that is in an urban setting. Neither approach is necessarily better, as long as the approach fits the location.

The third context is people. Again, using the idea of distributing the food, a member of our church was contacted by an organization to see if we would be interested in receiving food in order to help individuals and families in our area. Essentially, the organization does not know what food will be available month to month. In fact, there may be months when we do not receive any at all. When the call came, our church member, knowing the need in the community, said yes to the opportunity. Yet, how does the context of people affect the larger picture.

Well, from the context of timing, our member knew the need, but the opportunity fell into our lap. From the context of place, having a relationship with someone in the organization was critical. But our choice is to deliver the food to the homes. This is not as viable in some communities. And that is where the context of people begins to take shape.

Too often, in churches and other ministries, a ministry began due to a servant wanting to serve. Time was invested. Prayer may have made a tremendous impact at the outset of a ministry - even for several years. But over time, the ministry continues - passed down from generation to generation. This is not all bad, not at all. But when future generations begin to take over the responsibilities some questions need to take place:

  • Does the ministry fit our time? Will we commit to pray for this ministry as others have in the past?
  • Does the ministry fit our place? Do we still have the correct resources, or should we alter the approach?
  • Does the ministry fit our people? What skills, passions, and giftedness are available today?

Too often, well meaning servants attempt to take on a ministry that is not meant for them. Their intentions are pure and their effort is faultless. BUT, God has prepared them for something else. Too often, ministry opportunities which were great in the past get handed down to people who are not gifted to serve in such a ministry. Unfortunately, many churches (and ministries) will criticize these individuals rather than celebrating learning to serve as God has gifted them. Such criticism stymies the effectiveness of ministry and hinders the impact of the church. And, unfortunately, this type of criticism drives many from our churches and from their desire to serve God.

I am thankful that we currently have this new opportunity to distribute food. It is certainly biblical. And it currently fits our time, our place, and our people - or, at least one person who is passionate enough to coordinate the ministry effort. However, as times and people change, my prayer is that this church will re-evaluate this ministry opportunity to make sure it still fits. If not, I hope future servants have the courage to change the methodology or even drop the ministry altogether in order to best serve as God enables them.

Truly our ability to minister at our best - individually and collectively - is for each person to serve as God has called and prepared them (1 Corinthians 12), encouraging each other to reach our potential along the way. After all, it is not our ministry that is being done - it is God's.

Monday, February 3, 2014

2 Thessalonians

For the past fifteen months, my focus has been on creating more of a social media presence for the church at which I serve (Fairfax Baptist Church in Fairfax, MO). In conjunction, I needed to reset my own understanding of how I would use social media personally to post messages while also posting on behalf of the church.

Today, marks the renewal of this blog. I plan to blog each Monday with thoughts related to my sermon from the previous day. Currently, I am in the midst of a series preaching one sermon from each book of the Bible, largely related to the glory of God. I pick up the study here in 2 Thessalonians.

The first letter to the Thessalonians was after Paul sent Timothy to get a report on how they were doing in their new-found faith. His report was good. However, they people of Thessalonica also had questions for Paul. One of the questions was about the return of Christ (answered in 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18). The second letter addresses a similar concern because of some false information being passed around (2 Thessalonians 2.2-3).

Paul, and his companions, write often about the return of Christ in some form (e.g. 1 Thessalonians 4, Titus 2, 1 Corinthians 15). Yet while he writes often, he doesn't get specific with the timing. If anything, Paul is concerned far more with living in the present and not worrying about tomorrow (see also Jesus's words in Matthew 6).

In 2 Thessalonians, Paul stresses what we (as believers) are to do while praying for what God may do. In fact, Paul uses the word "may" many times in 2 Thessalonians. Verses such as 1.5, 1.11, 1.12, 2.14, 2.16, 3.1, 3.5, and 3.16 are examples. Specifically, we could break these down as prayers of:

  • worthiness - 2 Thessalonians 1.5, 1.11a, 2.14
  • work - 2 Thessalonians 1.11b, 1.12, 2.16-17
  • guidance - 2 Thessalonians 3.1, 5
  • goodwill - 2 Thessalonians 3.16

Paul is challenging his readers to be actively involved in their faith. He encourages them to be sanctified, to stand firm, and to not be idle in living out their faith. "Make sure you are worthy of your calling" is not a challenge of their salvation, but is rather a challenge issued to encourage each one (of them & us) to participate with God in our sanctification (growth).

Ultimately, Paul's concern was with the inactivity of certain members because of the expectations of Jesus' return - getting rather direct in Chapter 3.6-12. Many people had an attitude of why should I work if Jesus is coming back? The reality is that we should work all the more because Jesus is coming back. It is as Oswald J. Smith (Canadian pastor from the 20th Century) said, "We talk of the Second Coming; half the world has not heard of the first."

The truth is that many, myself included, don't always work because we are worried about our comfort. Yet, Paul prays that God would comfort us (2.16-17) because of our good work and word. He prays that we will receive the fullness of God's peace in every time in every way because we are in need of His peace while we are working with and for Him.

How many of us fail to ask for God's peace or comfort because we are working so hard to secure our own peace and comfort? How many of us miss the opportunity for God to lift us up and provide comfort that is beyond our ability to create? Most importantly how many of us miss an opportunity to introduce others to the eternal peace that God offers?

Paul's prayer was for his readers to be active. That was true of his original readers. It is true of us today. May we partner with God for our own growth while we partner with Him to reach others - making disciples while we wait for our Lord's return!