Category: 1 Timothy (page 1 of 2)

You Are Blessed By God

You are blessed by God. This is first and it’s foundational and it’s forever. You are blessed by God. This goes all the way back to the very first chapter of the Bible, the very beginning. The very day God created the first man and woman.

“God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them…” ~Genesis 1:27-28

God blessed them. The very first words God ever spoke to people at creation is blessing. Before God gives any command or any law, before he gives out jobs or guidelines for behavior, God gives his blessing. God’s blessing is not based on performance or on meeting some expectations. God’s blessings are based solely on the fact that you are created in his holy image, you bear his likeness, he made you and put himself into you. You belong to God and your are loved by God and God is very pleased with you because you are his child.

That is your identity. First and foremost and forever. That’s not just what you are, it’s who you are: blessed by God. And God speaks that blessing over and over and over to you, from that first day of creation glory to this very moment right now while you’re reading these words.

“This is what the Lord says — he who created you, he who formed you, ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine… Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.'” ~Isaiah 43

“I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands!” ~Isaiah 49

Jesus says there’s not one little bird in the sky that goes down without the Father being aware of it. What about you? You’re worth more to God than all the little birds in the world! God knows the exact number of hairs on your head!

Jesus says you know how to give good gifts to your children, and you’re not even that good yourself. How much more does your Father in heaven give to his children! How much more grace does he have for those who belong to him!

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” ~ 1 John 3:1

Over and over and over again, every page of Holy Scripture reminds you of the blessing.

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns?… [Nothing} in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!” ~Romans 8

You are blessed by God. And it’s not based on your performance. It’s not founded on what you do or how well you do it. God loves you because you are his child. God commits to you and publicly accepts you and approves of you because you are his child. You are blessed by God.

And that’s exactly where the devil attacks you.

Man, this is so important.

Ephesians 6 tells us to take our stand against the devil’s schemes. 1 Timothy 3 warns us not to fall into the devil’s trap. And we know what it is. The devil attacks the blessing. The devil wants to undermine your confidence in Christ, he wants you to doubt your identity as a beloved child of God, he wants you to lose your assurance — your certainty — as saved by Jesus Christ and sealed forever by God’s Holy Spirit.

I believe the devil wants to keep you from believing that Jesus really is the Son of God and the Savior of the World. Maybe Jesus was just a really wise and moral teacher. Maybe Jesus wasn’t really physically raised from the dead — those are just stories. Maybe there are other ways to get to heaven. I think the devil starts there. But his most subtle, most dangerous, and most effective attacks are on your blessing from God, your status as a beloved child who belongs to God.

If the devil can get your brain to believe that God loves you, but your heart to feel like God only loves you if you’re good enough — that’s his goal. If the devil can get your brain to believe that Christ’s death takes care of all your sins, but your heart to feel like that won’t cover the super big sins or the sins you can’t shake — that’s what he wants. If the devil can get your brain to accept that you are saved by God’s grace, but your heart to feel like you haven’t done enough…

The Bible calls the devil the tempter, and he certainly is that. But much more than that, the Bible calls the devil the accuser, the liar, the father of lies. Jesus says lying is the devil’s native tongue.

I’m convinced that most of the trouble in my world and in your world — whatever trouble you find in your heart and your soul, whatever’s not good inside you — is a result of knowing and believing in God’s love for you in your brain, and confessing his mercy and grace for you with your lips, but feeling something different in your heart.

All the research shows that when you ask Christians how they believe God thinks about them — “When God thinks about you, how does he feel? — more than two-thirds of Christians say “disappointed.” God is disappointed with me. Not “I belong to God.” Not “God loves me.” Not “God is well pleased with me.” We don’t feel what the Bible says about God and me, we feel what the devil says about God and me!

Brilliant, huh? And evil.

Peace,

Allan

Preaching: Gift of Grace

Most preachers are neurotic. And deeply flawed. And most of the Church knows it. Of course, we preachers know it, too. And we’re capable of making fun of ourselves. I was at a preacher’s convention in Dallas last year and they were giving out door prizes and the most popular one was this T-shirt: Help! I’m preaching and I can’t shut up!” I wanted it so badly.

This series of posts is not about preachers. It’s about preaching.

I want to post this week about preaching as one of the many things that’s right with Church. Not the preachers — the preachers are one of the things that’s wrong with church. I’ll do that series someday: “What’s Wrong with Church.” Budget sermons, cold casseroles, Friends Day, and preachers.

“I became a servant of this Gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the Church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~Ephesians 3:7-11

Grace here is not about Paul’s salvation or anybody’s forgiveness. This is about Paul’s preaching. It’s a gift of God and this gift obligates Paul to use it.

You know when you give someone a gift you expect him or her to use it. If you give somebody a new shirt for Christmas, you can’t wait to see him again and you’re hoping he’s wearing that shirt. If you give someone a book, you hope she reads it and enjoys it and the next time you see each other you want to talk to her about the book. If somebody gives you something to put up in your house and it’s really awful — some ugly vase or some hideous painting — you can’t throw it away! You have to keep it! You keep it in the back of a closet somewhere and when those people come over you hold your nose and pull that thing out of the closet and hang it on the wall until they leave!

Preaching is a gift of God’s grace to Paul and Paul is obligated to exercise it. He knew he had this great gift from the Lord, but he also had a good handle on it. He calls himself less than the least of all God’s people. And he really believed it. He put no stock in his own abilities, he didn’t feel like he outranked anybody or was important in any way. It’s all a gift from God. Deep down, Paul felt like he should have been rejected by God, but he was chosen instead.

“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service… I was shown mercy… The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus… I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” ~1 Timothy 1:12-17

Preaching is a gift of God’s grace and it obligates the preacher. God puts that inside of a preacher and he can’t shake it. In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul says, “I can’t boast when I preach the Gospel because I’m compelled to preach. I’m forced by God. Woe to me if I don’t preach the Gospel!”

Somebody asked Mick Jagger one time what it takes to make good rock and roll. He said, “Three chords and a fire.” I think what makes good preaching is like that. Maybe three points and a fire. Something God himself puts inside the preacher.

I don’t always preach what our people want to hear. I preach what’s burning inside my bones, the stuff I can’t shake, what I feel like God is almost forcing me to say. And I’m always terrified. I’m always scared when I’m preaching. I don’t feel worthy. I don’t feel qualified. I know myself too well. I know myself and my sins. Who am I to stand up here in front of all these faithful men and women, these giants, and speak for God? That song right before the sermon? I’m praying the whole time. My heart’s racing, my hands get super cold, and I’m praying.

God help me. Thank you for this blessing, for this great privilege and honor, but you’ve got to help me. Holy Spirit, help me. Help me to remember everything you and I have worked on together this week. Help me say it exactly the way you want me to.

And then when Kevin starts that last verse?

It’s you and me, Jesus. Let’s get up there and see what happens. And I hope my sermon is better received than yours was.

Preaching is a gift of grace, to proclaim Christ, to explain and make plain the good news of the Gospel. And as a result of that preaching, the church participates in God’s plan. Sometimes I might say despite the preaching. And that’s the grace, right? Somehow the preaching causes what God is doing to be revealed through the church to all the powers and authorities throughout the whole universe. Preaching leads to unity and love and sacrifice and service and worship in the church and, by God’s grace, that reveals God’s power and wisdom and proves what he’s already accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

It’s grace. Only by the grace of God does preaching accomplish anything.

Peace,

Allan

Able to Teach

This “quality” for a church elder is found in the list in 1 Timothy 3 right after the words “respectable, hospitable” and before the words “not given to drunkenness, not violent.” Because we’re Campbellites and we’re conditioned wrongly to read the Scriptures like the constitution or a list of laws, we’ve sometimes taken this short phrase and disqualified a candidate for elder because he doesn’t teach a Bible class or he’s not a polished speaker.

Well, I’d rather SEE a sermon than HEAR one any day. Yes? What’s the deal with teaching? How necessary is it?

We get a fuller description of what Paul’s talking about when we look at his list of elder qualities in Titus.

“He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” ~Titus 1:9

The idea in Scripture isn’t so much the ability to teach a Sunday School class as it is the ability to pass the truth of the Gospel on to members of the flock. You know, you can teach a Bible class and still not have a good grasp of the Gospel. I’ve been in classes like that and you have, too. An elder needs to know and pass on that we are saved by faith in Christ Jesus, not be any good works of our own. That’s the Gospel. Sound doctrine. The truth.

Elders must uphold that truth, they must defend that truth, they must rebuke those who oppose that truth in order to keep the whole church in that truth.

And when Paul writes “truthful message” or “sound doctrine,” he’s not talking about how to organize a congregation or how to conduct a proper worship service. He’s talking about salvation from God in Christ. In Titus, he’s specifically correcting the errors of the circumcision group and the “sound doctrine” he uses to refute that group and to encourage the others is — are you ready? — more faith, more sacrifice, more reliance on the Spirit, more love. He’s talking to them about expressing more fully the truth of Jesus.

The classroom is just one way, but there are many ways to teach and model and pass on the truth of the Gospel.

I would hate for us to read the Bible passages on church leadership through a legal lens that bogs us down on two or three points and distracts us from the heart of a shepherd that’s actually being described. My recommendation would be to put more focus on words like “respectable,” “hospitable,” “gentle,” “not overbearing,” “not conceited,” “not quarrelsome.” Those words describe our Lord. Those words are characteristic of a Christ-like leader.

Peace,

Allan

Husband of One Wife

For a church elder, WHO he is is much more important than WHAT he is. We respond to our shepherds because of their great Christian character, not because their names are on the back of the bulletin or because they lead the prayers at the end. The New Testament never instructs God’s people to follow a leader because he holds an office or a title. It has everything to do with his character and his life.

That’s what we have in those two lists in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. These are the marks of Christian maturity. These are the distinguishing traits of someone who has grown in Christ and experienced the life-changing power of the Lord. Their character, their consistency, is above reproach. Not perfect — that’s not what this means. If elders had to be perfect, we wouldn’t have any elders. Blameless, above reproach, means that nobody can legitimately accuse them of any conduct which is not fitting a mature disciple of Christ. It means these qualities should exist in a man’s life to such a degree that they should stand out as the kind of man he really is. It’s clear. He’s a model of Christian maturity.

Now, we have a tendency to view these lists as narrow, legalistic qualifications. We use these lists sometimes like a grid, holding it up to each elder candidate to see if he fits, to see if he checks all the boxes. Even then, we’re generally more concerned with two or three of the character traits than we are the others. And I want to specifically address two of these today and tomorrow and attempt to put them in their proper perspectives.

“Husband of one wife.” You find this exact same phrase in both of the lists, both times immediately after the general descriptive term “blameless” and “above reproach.”

The original Greek text in both lists is mias gunaikos aner. Literally translated it’s “of one woman/wife, man/husband.” Yeah, this is weird for us English speakers because gunaikos can mean woman or wife, depending on the context, and aner can mean either man or husband, again, depending on the context. It’s like the German herr can mean man or husband or sir or lord, depending on the situation. Frau can mean wife or woman, depending on when and where and about whom it’s being said. You’re not sure until you understand the context. The only thing I can point to in English that might be close is when we pronounce somebody “man and wife” at a wedding; you know that “man” means “husband” because we’re at a wedding.

For me, “husband of one wife” is the best English translation. But it’s just as possible and just as correct to translate it “man of one woman” or “man with one woman” or “a one-woman man” or just “faithful to his wife.”

See, the verb is present tense. It matches the present tense verbs in both of the passages. They’re all present tense. He is currently right now the man of one woman. He is presently faithful to his wife. The emphasis is on the man’s character, not his marital history. Maybe he’s had a previous divorce. Maybe he’s got sin in his marital past. The concern in these passages is what’s going on with him right now? Is he loyal? Is he sexually pure? Is he faithful to his wife in all things? Is there any indication he might not be faithful to his present wife?

That’s the way many English translations render this:

NIV – “faithful to his wife”
ESV – “husband of one wife” and a footnote: or “man of one woman”
NIRV – “faithful to his wife”
CEV – “faithful in marriage”
NLT – “faithful to his wife”
MSG – “committed to his wife”

For the Central church, this is our understanding and this is how we apply it: is he currently faithful to his present wife? This fits with the Scriptures and with the function of an elder much better. And it fits much more faithfully to the grace and forgiveness of the Gospel of Jesus than saying any divorce, no matter how long ago and no matter the reason, disqualifies a man from being considered as an elder. Divorce is not an unforgiveable sin — it never has been — no more than if a man at one point in his past had an issue with violence or greed. It doesn’t disqualify him from being an elder today.

Now, this doesn’t mean that the circumstances of a man’s past divorce are irrelevant. If he sinned in his marriage, he might fail some other qualities like blameless, loves what is good, self-controlled, holy, disciplined. Maybe. It needs to be vetted. Is the divorce a past sin that’s been confessed, repented of, and forgiven? Are those sins evident in the man’s life today or is he known as living proof of the Holy Spirit’s transforming power? Is his life an evidence and an example of faithfulness, of a heart saved and changed by God in Christ? Those are the concerns.

Marital faithfulness is a virtue. It has little to do with going through a divorce a long time ago. It has nothing to do with being married twice due to divorce or death. Those things do not reflect on the current Christian character of a candidate.

Peace,

Allan

Where is Jesus? Part Three

BandAidRedPlease keep my darling wife Carrie-Anne in your thoughts and prayers for the next few days. She’s having surgery this afternoon to repair a fairly significant hole in a sinus passage. The surgery is only supposed to take about an hour and a half, but everybody’s telling us the eight days after are going to be horrible. As you’re probably aware, Carrie-Anne has the best looking nose in our family, and we don’t want anything to happen to it.

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RightHandSaints2

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” ~Colossians 3:1

“God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms.” ~Ephesians 2:6

It’s a well known and well rehearsed spiritual reality that by our baptisms we all participate in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. We are united with Christ, we are one with him and share in his death and resurrection. But the Scriptures are clear that we also share in his ascension. We reign over the world with Christ both now and, ultimately, when he returns, in the future forever. We’re co-regents, co-rulers with Jesus.

Now, let’s be clear about what this means and what it doesn’t mean. Reigning with Christ does not mean that Christians are supposed to take over the world and start passing laws and trying to push the way we live on others by power or threat or force. Reigning with Christ does not mean telling everybody what to do. Christians have tried that. Christians are still trying that. And it’s always led to disaster.

Reigning and ruling with Christ means the Church — empowered by the presence of Christ by the grace of the Holy Spirit — enters the world vulnerable and suffering, praising and praying, sacrificing and serving. The Church lives in the world as misunderstood and misjudged by humanity, saved and vindicated and raised by God. Like Jesus. Why would we ever believe we can reign with Christ if we’re not going to reign like Christ?

Man, that’s a good sentence right there. I’m going to write it again. Maybe you should tweet it right now: Why would we ever believe we can reign with Christ if we’re not going to reign like Christ?

RightHandWeReignWe like the idea of Jesus being with us everywhere, even inside us. Jesus is present with us because of his Holy Spirit. He dwells in and with his Church. But the One who is present with us and living inside us by his Spirit is also the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who rules with all power and authority from a position over us, directing us, rebuking us, encouraging us, teaching us. So, yes, in a very real sense we do reign with Christ today in the heavenly realms, but only in the ways he directs — with Jesus, in the name and manner of Jesus.

We are a kingdom of priests, or kings and priests, it depends on how it’s translated. Either way, it means we participate in the reign of God like Jesus. We have important roles to play, we have Christ-ordained jobs to perform with our Lord as he brings his Kingdom rule to earth just as it is in heaven. But we don’t fight what’s wrong in the world with the power of the sword, we use the power of love. We don’t threaten or condemn anyone; like our Lord, we suffer and we serve everyone. We’re priests, so we intercede, we pray, we bring the world to God, we lift up people to God. We cannot bring in the Kingdom of God, but we can witness to it. We can’t create the Kingdom of God, but we can set up signs and tell stories. We can’t build the Kingdom of God, but we can live it with humility and faith — turning the other cheek, walking the extra mile, forgiving others, giving up our freedoms and rights, loving our enemies, and praying for the people who want to do us harm.

Jesus is bringing his eternal rule to this world in ways this world does not understand. 1 Timothy 6 says it’ll happen in God’s own time. He is with us, yes. We reign with him, oh yeah. But he is our Lord. And for us to use methods that are contrary to Jesus’ methods is to reject him as Lord and to try to establish a rival kingdom.

Peace,

Allan

Christianity’s Las Vegas: Last Part

(This is post #998. You only have this post and the next one to enter a comment and automatically qualify for all the books we’re giving away with the 1,000th post, probably sometime next week. See the September 20 and 21 posts for excruciating details.)

We’ll wrap up this week’s conversation as it relates to Christians and politics with a final look at Bryan Roberts’ article, “Seven Things Christians Need to Remember about Politics.” Roberts’ fifth thing to remember is “Scripture tells us to pray for our governing leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-4) and to respect those in authority (Romans 13:1-7). His main point in this paragraph is that “if you’re mocking your governing leaders on Facebook, you’re in sin and the Holy Spirit is grieved. We should spend more time honoring our leaders and less time vilifying them.”

Amen. No question about any of that. But let’s take it a bit farther. Let’s talk about our prayers.

Let me be clear in my belief that God’s Church is very political. We are committed to political thought and actions. But our politics are not of this world. We are citizens of a Kingdom that is not of this world. So do not do things the way the world does things; we do things the way Jesus does things. Not with power and force, petitions and votes; but with sacrifice and submission, love and service. Our politics are entirely different from this world’s politics.

So our prayers need to be bigger than just about the United States. God’s Church knows no national boundaries and neither does his Kingdom to which we belong. Yes, pray for the leaders who are elected in America. But also pray for the leaders and peoples of every nation around the globe. There are Christians in Iraq and Afghanistan; we have brothers and sisters in Iran and China. God is working in those places, too.

As for our congregations, I would suggest two things about our Sunday morning prayers together. If you’re leading a public prayer in your worship assemblies or Bible classes, why don’t you model something like this:

One, our prayers should be for God to work through those who are elected for his holy purposes. We shouldn’t be too overly concerned about who is elected; God’s people focus too much on the big picture to be too worried about that. Praying that the President will be impeached or that your particular candidate will be elected doesn’t count. And, in light of the politics of Jesus, it’s out of line. The prayer is that God will use them, whoever they are, for his purposes and to his glory and praise.

Two, we should pray as God’s people that we will always be submissive and obedient, that we will honor all those who are leaders of our cities, states, and countries, regardless of whether we agree with them or not. That means the rulers who hold office now and those who will hold office in the future. Romans 13 tells us that those who rebel against the government are rebelling against God.

Roberts’ sixth thing, “Don’t be paranoid,” is also very important for God’s people to remember during this political season. The United States is not going to be destroyed if your candidate loses. It’s not going to be the end of the world. We should all be clear by now that the individuals or parties in control of government actually have no control whatsoever. Our God is in control. He alone causes nations to rise and fall according to his eternal plans. That should fill us with great confidence, not anxiety. God has not given his people a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind. Stop being afraid. Besides, what happens when your candidate wins and, four years from now, all the same messes still exist? The messes in your life and in your state or country? Government doesn’t ever fix what’s ultimately wrong with this world.

And, Roberts’ seventh thing is closely related, “Stop saying, ‘This is the most important election in the history of our nation.'” I’ve heard this several times in the past few months. Almost daily, somebody in my own congregation will say it in my hearing or forward me an email declaring this to be the most critical election ever. Roberts claims the most important election in the history of the U. S. was when Abraham Lincoln was voted in as President. Before that, he reminds us, we thought it was allright to own people. Every generation always thinks it’s living in the most important moments in history. We’re not. Our parents weren’t. Our children won’t. And that’s OK. Claiming that this is the most important election of all time ignores all of ancient and recent history, heightens fear and paranoia, and puts too little faith in our God.

Let me close by repeating again what I think is a critical thing for us Christians to remember during this election season: Government doesn’t ever fix what’s ultimately wrong with this world; only God’s mercy and grace, his love and salvation through Christ Jesus, can ever repair and reconcile and produce lasting joy and peace.

“The most interesting, creative, political solutions we Christians have to offer our troubled society are not new laws, advice to Congress, or increased funding for social programs. The most creative social strategy we have to offer is the Church. Here we show the world a manner of life the world can never achieve through social coercion or governmental action. We serve the world by showing it something that it is not, namely, a place where God is forming a family out of strangers.”  ~Resident Aliens

“The Church exists to set up in the world a new sign which is radically dissimilar to the world’s own manner and which contradicts it in a way which is full of promise.” ~Karl Barth

Peace,

Allan

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