Monday, August 31, 2009

2 Timothy 1 -- Keep Strong

Here we have Paul's second letter to Timothy. While the teaching of the letter is the same as other Pauline letters, there is a subtle difference to this letter. The tone of Paul is that of a man who realizes the end is near for him. It is as if he offers Timothy some final words of encouragement. The most prevalent, keep at it and keep strong.

In a few verses that I need to read more regularly, Paul reminds Timothy to fan into flame the gift which is within him. Also that we are not given a spirit of timidity, rather one of power, of life and of self-discipline. Meaning we do not need to be arrogant, but we do not need to shrink back either. Following after Christ who calls us will require us to be in hard situations. There will be times when we are not the popular voice. In those times we must persist, we must not be quiet. When we are quite when it is time to speak we are showing we are ashamed of Christ in our lives. We need to have the confidence in God more than humanity.

Paul knew Timothy would struggle with this. God knew we would struggle with this and therefore preserved the words of Paul to Timothy for our encouragement as well. When we are pursuing the life we are called to, many will try to step in and stop us or at least slow us down. We must not let that happen, we must keep strong in the Spirit of God which is given to us.

1 Timothy 6 -- Money and Faith

In a consumer driven society such as the American one, money is what talks and money seems to be the single greatest issue in the lives of many. I can remember growing up with the dreams of having great financial wealth, and those dreams creep in to this very day. The sickness of my humanity says if I can have enough money, then I can be satisfied with life. Sitting here writing I know this is not true, still the aspiration comes.

It is not wrong for a follower of Jesus to be wealthy financially, however there is a greater challenge for the person who is financially wealthy. Throughout scriptures and 1 Timothy is no exception, those who are wealthy are warned. It seems there is a great tendency by those of greater financial means, or those who crave it, to drift away from their relationship with God. I firmly believe God raises up persons of great financial wealth, but those people are raised up to help fund the works of God in this world.

Money and faith have always been held in tension. When we have little or no money we must have faith in God's provision. When we do not have the financial concern, the need to trust God does not go down, but the amount we trust God can suffer. In our culture when we are financially secure we can begin to thing we can care for everything we need to. It is easy to think we are self-sufficient, and do not need God as much. This is faulting thinking.

For those who do not have, keep trusting God. For those who have, offer what you have for the glory of God, not for yourself.

Friday, August 21, 2009

1 Timothy 5 -- Care of Others

As Paul continues his refresher course for Timothy he comes to talking about caring for widows in the church. It is safe to extend this to all people not just the widows, but that is the focus of Paul. The first responsibility of care is not on the church, rather on the family. A second point Paul makes is about who qualifies as a widow. This is not a wide open group. essentially those who can care for themselves should. The caution is when we help those who do not really need it we are actually doing harm.

Notice it is the whole church who is to be in the role of care for those in need, not just one or two people or the pastor. The elder referred to in the chapter is in the role of preaching and teaching. The people of the church are in the business of the care and support. It does not mean the elder never cares and supports, but that all the people of the church provide the care.

Contrary to what we might think the care of others is a little more complicated than once thought. It is not simply a matter of helping everyone the way they think they need to be helped. There are times when the best thing we can do is say no, and remind people of their responsibility to do their part.

1 Timothy 4 -- Be Diligent

Diligence is hard. Paying attention to something over a long period of time is not often the strong suit of humanity. As time passes we get captured by the next, the latest, the easier. When someone comes along and tells us there are easier ways to be on our journey with God, we tend to be all ears. Truth over time can be distorted to fit our fancy rather than shaping our lives into what the truth demands. Paul warns Timothy about this, and encourages him to persevere in teaching pure doctrine not matter what people say about him.

The final admonishment of the chapter is to be diligent in these matters. Stick with it. I am amazed at how our commitment to the things of God ebbs and flows like the tides. Diligence is not something many of us are afflicted with and has a huge impact on our journey with God. Diligence keeps us moving in the right direction. It helps us to remain in love with God. What was true for Timothy is true for us today. We need to remain diligent in our relationship with God. The latest and greatest will come along. Someone will always have a solution which requires less. However, remain diligent to the things of God, and conform your whole life to them.

1 Timothy 3 -- Leadership Standards

The American dream tells us that anyone can do anything. We love the stories of people with apparently nothing, in a material sense, who develop into some one who seems to be on top of the world. Part of the American spirit is to celebrate with whoever the winner is, but always pull for the underdog. This makes us thing leadership is open to all people. This is true while at the same time it is not.

Leadership in the church is open to all people, as long as they are will to shape their lives after the calling of God. Timothy is just starting out his journey as a pastor and Paul offers the standards by which leaders in the church are to live. Many would call these standards judgmental. Our American dream would call them archaic and too limiting. Paul would tell us they are crucial to conducting the business of God in the Body of Christ.

Essentially it matters how you live and what you do with the gift of life God has given. If one is to lead in the church, they must be able to lead their own life and family. They must be able to live a life which honors God above all other things. All people can work to this end, in fact should, yet it seems only a few live it.

Just because a person shows progress on their journey does not mean they are called to church leadership. They must be called by God. If you are called, you should go. You should also conform you life to the call of God in all aspects, especially how you live.

1 Timothy 2 -- Is Paul Sexist?

The great debate of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century around Paul has been his treatment of women. In chapter 2 we have one of those sections where Paul sets people ablaze. Used for by many are evidence for their cause, the words of Paul to Timothy create quite a problem. For some the teaching about women has been used literally and the basis for women not being pastors is born. Others have discounted God because of Paul's words. So where is the truth?

I am not sure I can know the truth. I can however look at the evidence. While there are times when Paul speaks against women, there are also times when Paul speaks about women in leadership of the church. Paul seems to be wishy washy on the issue. That is not how we often think about Paul, yet that is exactly what his writings promote on this issue. If the passages are going to be taken literally, then all the passages about women from Paul must be taken into account. The result will be a lose of clarity and the increase of questions, something some are not interested nor comfortable with.

The other issue of people being turned away from God. This is real and I have met many who fall into this category. I have no answers for Paul, I do know however his heart was to have all people have an intimate relationship with God. Further that all people live our the calling on their lives. I cannot imagine the grief Paul is experiencing as his words are hindering people from connecting with God. Everything about Paul's ministry was driven at connection. Is it possible we simply do not understand Paul.

As Paul being a sexist, one could find that in the text. Is that truth, I am not sure. What I do know is it matters not your gender when it comes to God. I have met male pastors and teachers who should remain silent as well as women. I have met pastors and teachers of both genders who speak, preach and teach with the very authority of God. I will be faithful to what God has put in front of me and leave the rest up to God.

1 Timothy 1 -- Grace

Is the grace of God on display on your life? In the church we talk about the grace of God quite a bit, but can that grace be seen in us? Here in the opening chapter of the letter to Timothy Paul contrasts the law and grace. This is a favorite pass time of Paul, but he shares it with Timothy. Paul has quite a past as he points out, but says now the grace of God can be seen because of the ways God has transformed Paul.

It was not the law which changed Paul, in fact it was the law which had him working against God. The law is what drove him to persecute the followers of Jesus. When the grace of God broke the chains of the law, the world was never the same. Are you living by the list of does and don'ts, or are you living a grace filled life.

It must be remembered that just before this teaching Paul reminds us and Timothy to watch out for false teaching. Meaning, while it is through grace we are saved, we cannot simply live however pleases us because there is grace, which was being taught. There are things the Lord still requires of us, and they are possible only by grace. Only when we are living by grace can we follow the call God has placed on our lives.

Colossians 4 -- Make the most

In this the final chapter of Colossians Paul employs a common letter writing technique for his day. He gives a list of encouragements or admonishments of what he expects people to do. Prayer is at the top of the list, and God honoring conversations are there too. One that might be missed is being wise in our interactions with outsiders, to make the most of every opportunity.

I have a feeling your life might be like mine, wrapped up in the day to day details, not really paying much attention to the world going on around us. All the time we are interacting with people who would consider themselves outsiders. Often we do not even notice their struggle because of our own preoccupation with ourselves. In short we miss a lot of opportunities.

Paul encourages us to make the most of every opportunity. To do this we must take our eyes off of self and see the world through others eyes. That store clerk, the cashier, the other driver, the list can go on and on of people who need to experience the grace of God in a tangible form, you and me. The question is will we slow down enough to make the most of the opportunities we are given by God?

Colossians 3 -- Focus

Where is your heart set? Is there more concern for the things of this world, or for the things of the Kingdom of God? Paul reminds us our primary concern and focus should be on the things of the Kingdom, not of this world. Our struggle is we still live in this world while we live in the Kingdom of God. For as long as there have been theologians there has been this challenging balance of the already and the not yet. We are already part of the Kingdom of God, but we have not yet fully realized life in that Kingdom.

The tendency is to focus on what we can and are experiencing. For many whatever is right in front of them is the thing which gets the focus. The major problem with this our limited vision. In many ways followers of Christ must live in this world while being focused on the world to come. We must live a reality that is not seen by all. Paul shares with the Colossian church what a life focused on the Kingdom looks like and how that life is ordered.

What is your focus?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Colossians 2 -- Human Regulations

As someone whose life is tied to the institutional church as well as the Body of Christ followers I am all too familiar with the 'extras' humanity adds to the requirements of people. It seems the church is more known for it's shall nots than anything else. Like the Pharisees of Jesus time, we in the institutional church are very good at adding to what God has set forth in Scripture. This is all done under the guise of protecting people from themselves or as the Pharisees said it, building a fence around the law so we might not come close to breaking it. There is a problem here, it is not humanities responsibility.

These human protections often become vehicles of captivity. These human developed rules and regulations create a relationship with God so filled with should and should nots that no one can meet the measure. We are not the first to wrestle with this. Paul is writing the church letting them know they are more free than they realize. Human developed rules are not the measure of our faith, rather it is the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus which provides the measure.

This does not mean we can do whatever we want to. There is a standard by which we are called to live. And yes, as humanity we are in this together meaning we help each other see when we have gotten off track. Still we are not to add rules and regulations. When it comes to things of God, none of us are in management, we are all laborers in God's vineyard. We receive our direction from God. Some have been given the task of oversight, but they still do not create the vineyard.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Colossians 1 -- Big Jesus

For those in the church we become so familiar with talking about Jesus we run a huge mistake. The mistake which can snare all of us is making Jesus too small. It is easy to lose sight of how big Jesus really is. I am not talking about size, rather the level of importance we place on Jesus, and the role we allow Jesus to play.

More than a religious figure Jesus, as Paul reminds the church in Colosse, is the first born of all creation. Jesus is above all things and all things were created by him. Jesus is also the head of the church. It is easy to think we are in charge of our lives and the church. The reality is both the church and our lives have been given to us, and we are the stewards of each.

The reality is Jesus is in charge of the whole ball of wax. He is the one who directs the paths, and is the one who calls us to life and being. From time to time humanity likes to assume the role Jesus is to play. When this happens to an individual, repentance and reconciliation is needed. When a church as an organization finds itself in this role, reformation is what is called for.

What time is it?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Ephesians 6 -- The Enemy

When engaged in a battle there is one single most important thing which must be known, who is the enemy. It does not good to wage war if we are not in the right fight. Followers of Christ often fail to live a victorious life because they fail to properly identify the enemy. I use to get a lot of the literature of the what might be considered the moral majority, or the Christian right. I also get much of the progressive of liberal press. It seems to me that both have failed to identify the enemy. Both say the same thing, if we could just get people to act more like God, especially the government, then all would be well. The problem is it is the wrong enemy.

Powers and principalities of this world are not the enemy. The real enemy is anything which distract us from following God. This is the chief work of Satan. rarely dose Satan confront face to face, rather Satan uses distraction to such the energy and life from the followers of Christ. When we recognize the enemy, we recognize the need for the proper equipment in battling the enemy. If it is about shear might, we will lose. It is about having the right protection and connection which will win the day. The full armor of God, is about clothing yourself with the righteousness of God. It is about being ready to not be distracted.

Governments will rise and fall, as will societies and cultural norms. The power, will and love of God will remain. The enemy is all about distraction, will we fight the right enemy or will we lose to distraction?

Ephesians 5 -- Imitators

I love the opening of this chapter, Be imitators of Christ. Simple words, very difficult reality... or so we think. I have had the joy of spending some extended time with my family these past few days. I love watching my children as they play together, and with other members of the family. One of the games that gets played often is copy cat. One of the kids will decide to mimic everything the other does. While it builds great frustration with children, that is exactly what we are called to do as followers of Christ.

I have heard people say they would do what Christ did/does, if only they could clearly know what Christ has shown us to imitate. I really want to just slap those people. We do know how Christ functioned, we know what it is that Christ did and what we are to imitate. All we must do is read the Gospel accounts of Scripture. Now these are not an exhaustive look at the life and work of Christ, but we get a pretty good idea of what Christ was all about.

The death and resurrection of Christ is a crucial part of the picture. Without the death, there is not atonement for our sins, without the resurrection, Jesus is just another man hung on the Roman cross. Still, the most important aspect of the Gospels is found in how Jesus lived. Who Jesus spent time with, where he hung out. Most religious people and the established church hated Jesus. Hummmmmmmmm. Imitating Christ means doing what Christ is doing. Are we?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ephesians 4 -- Maturity

One of those great Christian buzz words deals with maturity. I have seen job descriptions looking for a person who is spiritually mature. Many church people talk about being spiritually mature. Yet I find the idea to be lost in many circles of the church today. Paul was writing to the Ephesians about this issue, of which they obviously struggled. His sign of an immature faith, one that is tossed back and forth by every new teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of man.

This is an epidemic in the church today. People are so longing for a feeling, or to see movement in their journey that they will begin to follow anything or anyone who has something to offer. For Paul, and for us, the work of maturity is not easy, and not about a feeling or being tossed, it is about a disciplined life. A life in which we follow after God more than anything else. This life will be seen in the how we live not how we claim to live. The result will be a steadfast faith, and a steadfast belief in the faithfulness of God.

Take a look at your life, is it in good standing, or do you find yourself going from experience to experience looking for what I call the spiritual high? Looking to bring back that loving feeling. I am not sure the journey with God is all about that. There is plenty of love and there is plenty of joy, but in the midst is a lot of hard work. That love and joy is found in the hard work of commitment to the teachings of God, not the next greatest thing or feeling.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ephesians 3 -- Immesurable

How big is God's love in your mind? No matter what you just thought or said, it is too small. The love God has for us, humanity, is far beyond what we have the capacity to measure. This means we do not get to put limits on God's love either. Without even knowing it we can rule out God';s love for others. We do not know the depth of God's love. Yet that is out quest.

We are on a quest to not just understand, but experience the fullness of the Love God has for us. Here in Ephesians that is Paul's prayer for the church, that we would know and experience the depth, and breadth of the Love God has for us. Remember us is a community thing not an individual thing. Whether we fell completely loved or completely lost, we cannot comprehend the fullness of God's love.

The love God has for humanity is immeasurable. There are not words to describe it or measurements which can contain it. There is always more of God's love than we can know and understand. Just remember, you are not experiencing the full force of God's love right this moment, it gets even better than this.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Ephesians 2 -- Insiders and Outsiders

Whenever there is a group of people there are insiders and outsiders. The insiders are not always aware they are insiders or that there are those who are on the outside wanting in, but there are. Outsiders are keenly aware of the insider, outsider divide. When it comes to Jews and Gentiles this divide existed. Jews were the insiders with God, or so they thought, and the Gentiles were on the outside looking in, or so the Jews thought. Paul says, I do not think so.

When it comes to the grace and mercy of God, there is no such thing as insiders and outsiders. The offer is extended to all people. No longer is the Jew or Greek, black or white, male or female, there simply is members of the Kingdom of God. Still humanity can create insiders and outsiders. When we do this we are not functioning consistent with the teachings of Scripture.

Our task is to be careful that we do not disqualify persons from connection with God. There are standards for those who follow Jesus. Still there is a lot more room than we often make out. We must be in the business of extending the grace and mercy offer to other people, then letting the Holy Spirit sort it out, not us.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Ephesians 1 -- Chosen

Here is the first chapter of Ephesians Paul's writings have been used to further the idea that some people are chosen and some are not, also know as predestination. As we read through the rest of Ephesians it will be easy to see this is not what Paul intended, but it will be easy to see that being chosen is part of the equation.

The challenge is found within our North American context. We think if we are chosen, someone else must be not chosen. It is the competitive nature which is deep within our American ethos. When the word chosen is used by Paul however the meaning is much more broad than we often understand. All of humanity has been chosen. Each person has been selected by God to be a part of the Kingdom of God, redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. While all are chosen by God, not all choose to follow God.

The way we chose to follow God is through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only way to accept being chosen by God. If we reject Jesus, we reject the fact that we are a chosen people. In fact the evidence of our chosenness is found in the fact that God sent Jesus to rescue us all.

You are chosen, have you chosen the One who chose you?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Galatians 6 -- The Way We Live

So many people want to get everything out of life, but for what? Is if for the optimal personal enjoyment? Is it to leave a great legacy. The reality is often we want to live life for all its worth for ourselves. Two thoughts come to mind when I think about the state of American society and the way we live. First, "If it feels good do it." the second thanks to Cheryl Crow, "If it makes you happy, it can't be that bad." These two thought patterns can lead us to a very dangerous place.

Paul addresses this line of thought without even knowing it. A person reaps what they sow. If you live for yourself, that is all you will have. If you live for the Kingdom of God that is what you will have. The terms Paul uses is sinful nature, and the Spirit. When we live for ourselves we are living out of the sinful nature. When we live for the kingdom, we are living by the Spirit.

I have not traveled this journey as long as others, one thing I have learned so far is happiness and life by the Spirit are not always connected. There are actions, and situations the Spirit offers to us that are not pleasant or happy, yet they are still exactly what God would have us do. I have heard people say God would never call us to do something we do not want to do. This is a load of crap informed by the above thoughts regarding happiness.

Follow God, living by the Spirit is hard work. Along the way we get glimpses of what our perseverance will bring about. Another way to thing about this is our effort by the Spirit brings the hope of what God is doing in all of creation, ourselves included.