Saturday, December 31, 2011

Getting the Message Out

As I began pastoring our church in 2011, part of our vision for our church was to help us move forward with newer ways to reach people with the same old, wonderful message of the Bible: that God saves us in Jesus Christ.

Fellowship WebsiteIn September we were able to roll out a newly redesigned website for Fellowship at www.fellowshipfamily.com. I pray that this will be great way for folks in our city to get initial information about who our church is, and why we do what we do. I hope you can stop by the website also, and maybe even our church.

Another small facet of this year’s vision for progress was to bring our sermons online. In the process of working toward this goal, I found that our church had in prior years podcast the sermons, but that it had stopped somewhere along the way. I am happy to announce that it has begun again.

Fellowship ResourcesWe have once again begun audio podcasting of our Sunday messages. You can listen to them on your computer, tablet, or mobile device, or you can download them to listen later. You may also subscribe to receive all updated sermons as they become available, using iTunes or generic podcasting subscription services.

All of the messages from the current series, Luke's Gospel: Good News for the Nations, are now available. Just go to the Media tab of our website.

We pray these resources will point you to faith in Christ for the first time, or strengthen your faith in Him!

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Church, The Community of Truth

We have finally completed a series of thoughts on 1 Timothy. This trust of guarding the gospel, as the community of truth, is a great and awesome privilege for your church and mine. I pray these notes can be encouraging and challenging.

  1. A Loving Command (Introduction)
  2. Protecting the Integrity of the Gospel (1 Tim 1.3-4)
  3. Promoting the Goal of the Gospel (1 Tim 1.5-7)
  4. Proclaiming the Grace of the Gospel (1 Tim 1.8-11)
  5. Preserving the Progress of the Gospel (1 Tim 1.18-20)
  6. Intense Desire for Ministry (1 Tim 1.12-17)
  7. Gospel-Advancing Prayer (1 Tim 2.1-8)
  8. Purposeful, Ordered Design (1 Tim 2.8-15)
  9. Proven Character for Leadership (1 Tim 3.1-7)
  10. Respectable Volunteer Leaders (1 Tim 3.8-13)
  11. The Pillar and Pattern of the Truth (1 Tim 3.14-16)
  12. Falling Away from Faith (1 Tim 4.1-5)
  13. Good Servants of Christ Jesus (1 Tim 4.6-16)
  14. Church Life as Family (1 Tim 5.1-16)
  15. Maintaining Trustworthy Elders (1 Tim 5.17-25)
  16. When God Doesn’t Change My Circumstances (1 Tim 6.1-2)
  17. Godliness with Contentment (1 Tim 6.3-10, 17-19)
  18. Guarding the Trust (1 Tim 6.11-16, 20-21)

Guarding the Trust

When you hear the word “command,” what kind of impulsive feeling does it bring? Do you immediately have a sense of warm fuzzies when you hear it?

I can remember growing up hearing all kinds of commands from my parents that were intended for my good. I also remember having a nagging feeling that commands were a bad thing. I don’t know any kid who likes commands. Or adults, come to think of it. And that’s not a good thing.

Why? Because, among all sorts of other reasons, the Apostle Paul says that the law (he was referring to Moses’ law, which included all kinds of rules and commands) was actually “holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7.12). When law is not misused, it is a wonderful thing because it points us to the truth (see 1 Timothy 1.8). Which reminds me that my disdain for commands was wrong-headed. If they are motivated by love, issued in love, and if the goal of them is love, then commands are wonderful.

This all brings us to the closing words of Paul in his letter known as 1 Timothy. In this series we have seen that he was communicating to Timothy the importance of the gospel, and reminding him that the church is to be the community of truth, pointing people to Christ. Here at the conclusion of his letter, in 1 Timothy 6.11-16, 20-21, Paul again issues important instructions (commands) to Timothy, as he did in the opening section of the letter. He commands Timothy and the church in simple reminders for guarding the gospel with which we have been entrusted. There are certain things we must flee, follow, fight, and fulfill.

Flee (v. 11)

There are certain things we must run away from—individually and as a church. Paul tells him to flee from “these things.” What things? The greed and false teaching that were already rampant in their day, and which he just described in verses 9-10. He tells Timothy to be content, and run away from these earthly pursuits.

Follow (v. 11)

There are certain things we must run toward—individually and as a church. He tells Timothy that instead of earthly pursuits, he should pursue “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.” These character traits need no explanation; they are obvious goals for the believer in his progress with the Lord.

Fight (v. 12)

There are certain things we must contend for—individually and as a church. Fighting may not seem like something you expect in this list. But Paul says that there are some things we must fight for. He reasons it this way in verse 12: Since you were called to the truth, and have confessed the truth, you must now contend for the truth. This means standing against deception wherever it may be found—especially fighting it when it rears its ugly head in the church. False gospels, which are not good news at all, must be exposed and eliminated. Lots of New Testament ink makes this obvious.

Fulfill (vv. 12-16)

There are certain things we must complete and keep—individually and as a church. Since he just described fighting for the truth, in verses 13-16 he reminds Timothy of what the true, good confession is. The church should “take hold of eternal life” (v. 12) and then keep clinging to our confession, while we wait together for the appearing of our rescuer, the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 14). He ends this section with a great theological hymn of praise for the One who deserves all glory.

The Community of Truth

Paul commands Timothy, and therefore us, with simple reminders to flee, follow, fight and fulfill certain things in order to guard the trust: we have been entrusted with the one, true, glorious gospel (vv. 20-21). He ends his letter by saying that this truth, the glorious gospel, is a stewardship that has been entrusted to us, and from which we should not deviate.

This trust of guarding the gospel as the community of truth is a great and awesome privilege. My prayer for my church and yours is that we stay close to the One who calls and sustains us by His glorious grace. To God be the glory.

[This is the final part of a larger series on 1 Timothy called The Community of Truth.]

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Godliness with Contentment

I realize it may seem harsh to post an entry on contentment just days after the most materialistic day in America, but I promise it was not intentional. As I am blogging through 1 Timothy when I find time, we have come to this section.

We are all rich in contrast to most of the rest of the world. There is no mistaking that we in America are rich. Yet we all want more. This year, government officials in Washington were once again arguing about the right process to raise our national debt ceiling. As I write, the national debt stands at approximately the $15.1 trillion mark. Why did they need to raise the debt ceiling? So that more money, that we don’t have, can be spent.

Even though in 1 Timothy 6.3-10, and 6.17-19 Paul turns his attention to address the rich and the greedy of Ephesus in their day, we have to realize that there are a few ways their context fits our present cultural context. How do we also grow towards godliness with contentment, and what will it accomplish in and through us?

Godliness with contentment is promoted by sound teaching. (1 Timothy 6.3-8)

Paul teaches here that the one who strays from and promotes teaching that is inconsistent with the teaching of Jesus ultimately is proven to be greedy, and only concerned about himself. This type of person actually thinks that a public speaking ministry is a way to get rich. They are shown however, to have a fake form of so-called godliness for the sake of material gain. On the contrary, genuine godliness is great gain when it is accompanied by contentment. We entered this world with nothing, and we will leave it with nothing.

Perhaps the most challenging and compelling point of Paul’s thought is how he defines what should make us content. He says that with food and clothing, we should be content.

Godliness with contentment prevents evil greed. (vv. 9-10)

When people are not content with the basics that God provides, and desire to be rich, Paul says that kind of discontent is like a snare or trap, and will plunge them into destruction. Then in his explanation comes an often-misquoted verse of Scripture. He does not say that money is root of evil. He says that the love of money, that is, greed, is a root of all kinds of evil, since it will produce in us all kinds of self-centered actions. Ultimately, unrepentant greed will lead you away from faith in Christ. To prevent that, God’s word says to be content, and keep trusting in Jesus.

Godliness with contentment provides for sharing and investing. (vv. 17-19)

In these final verses, directed toward the rich, it is important to note that he does not criticize them for being rich. Again, as with verses 9-10, the issue is not money itself, it is the love of money, in our hearts. He reminds them not to become conceited or arrogant, and not to place their faith in money. Paul simply teaches them the right way to handle their money: Be good stewards of it.

He says that the rich can do good works with their cash. They can help others; they can share. In so doing, they are investing in the future—not just the future lives of those around them, but even storing up eternal treasures in heaven, awaiting the real life that the new age will bring.

One other interesting note that these sections bring to light is that Paul addresses these groups differently. Those who are rich are not necessarily greedy, and conversely, those who are greedy are not always rich. Greed is a state of mind, or rather, of the heart. It’s not that God doesn’t care about our finances—He does. But God really cares about our hearts.

Our hope should never be in the things of this life. We should quickly learn that relying on money is futile. Our hope and help comes from the Lord.

[This is part of a larger series on 1 Timothy called The Community of Truth.]

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

When God Doesn’t Change My Circumstances

You’ve probably heard the old saying that troubles come in threes. That if a couple of bad things have happened to you, you might as well hunker down and get ready because another one is coming. There’s no such biblical evidence for this, of course…just some people’s observation. Difficulties do sometimes come in bunches. But what about those people that we know of who seem to face troubles—not in threes or fives—but in eighteens and forty-twos?

What about those who seemingly live in a constant state or condition of tough circumstances? As a specific example, what about those over the centuries who were subjected to slavery? Slaves are the very group Paul addresses in 1 Timothy 6.1-2.

I used to wonder: What in the world do we do with those tough verses? Some scholars and pastors simply redefine these sections to say they address employer-employee relationships. I think something deeper is at stake.

In the middle of ongoing, persistent difficulties, our common and natural response is to desire to change the situation. We pray about it, but God hasn’t—by our standards—fixed it yet. Paul’s brief comments to slaves in this section of the letter are exceptionally challenging. We all probably would want the same the questions answered: What happens when God doesn’t change my circumstances? I think there are two main reasons given here.

When God doesn’t change my circumstances, it allows me to demonstrate the gospel more clearly. (v. 1)

Having grown up in East Tennessee, I remember periodically driving through the foothills of the mountains and seeing some farmers still using the old process of yoking a beast of burden to till the ground for their crops. The reason for the yoke is obvious: it places the work on the animal and reminds it who its master is.

Paul apparently decides to use this figurative language to remind his readers that he knows their plight. He simply encourages them to bear up under the yoke with grace, even when their authority figures don’t deserve it. He uses their negative circumstance to point them to a positive outcome. When they continue serving their masters and regard them with honor in spite of and in the midst of their difficult circumstance, they demonstrate the gospel clearly. This is a hard truth, but an important one. The entire letter of 1 Peter says the same basic principle. When we bear up under pressure well, we live under grace and represent the God who saves us.

Listen to how Paul emphasizes this elsewhere:

Slaves are to be submissive to their masters in everything, and to be well pleasing, not talking back or stealing, but demonstrating utter faithfulness, so that they may adorn the teaching of God our Savior in everything. (Titus 2.9-10, HCSB)

So when anyone facing ongoing difficult circumstances keeps on patiently trusting and serving God by honoring those over them, they show the gospel’s power by not only preventing others from having fodder to revile God’s name, but also by putting on display His glorious saving grace.

That’s a hard principle. Who thinks like that? It’s not natural to think about preserving the progress of the gospel through our difficulties. No, it’s not natural; it’s supernatural. Which brings us to the second idea.

When God doesn’t change my circumstances, it tends to transform my thinking more constantly. (v. 2)

When we are in the middle of a trying time, especially when we feel it’s at the hands of Christians, it seems the most important thing is to pray, and hope it ends soon. That’s the normal reaction. But again Paul takes a different approach here in verse two. He says that slaves who have Christian masters should not disrespect them because the masters claim to be brothers, but instead the slaves should serve them all the more, since the ones benefitted are beloved Christians. Again, that’s hard.

There’s a general principle that Paul is getting at. We often have a problem with our attitude, with our thinking, and it needs to be transformed. It’s not wrong to desire a change in our circumstances, but we are missing an opportunity to let our thinking be transformed in the process.

A while back I wrote about how my thinking changed during a season of constant pain with a pinched nerve. The continual pain was a continual reminder. It forced me to think differently. And that is what Paul through the Holy Spirit is teaching here. If I were a slave, I would want to get out of it, and I would certainly expect a Christian master to either set me free or at least treat me well. But Paul says in this instance: Think differently and keep serving well.

Who thinks like that? God does. Look at this verse regarding transformed thinking:

Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. (Romans 12.2, HCSB)

Take a look at these verses regarding not focusing on changing your circumstances, and how slavery comes up again:

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity. For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God. (1 Corinthians 7.17-24, ESV)

In this long explanation in 1 Corinthians 7 regarding marriage and singleness, Paul speaks to the idea that some were focused on (or perhaps obsessed with) changing their marital status. He uses the illustrations of circumcision and slavery (admittedly both are points which had more impact in their day) to essentially say three times: Don’t be focused on changing your status; rather, live well representing God in whatever status you find yourself (see vv. 17, 20, 24). That’s radically different thinking.

Certainly this by no means implies that those who are being abused should endure it just to help them think differently. The slave trade and trafficking that exist to this day are horrific tragedies and we must pray and act to put an end to them. There have been many forms of slavery over the millennia, and a look at Paul’s short letter to Philemon regarding a slave named Onesimus is helpful in understanding slavery in their day. And even for their form of slavery he specifically says to gain your freedom if you can (1 Corinthians 7.21). But his basic point is clear: Let the pressures and hardships constantly transform your thinking, like iron in a fire.

For those who follow a health and wealth gospel, this will sound hollow. But God is doing a deep work in us when He lets us go through hard seasons, or even a hard life. He is for us, not against us.

So when God has caused or allowed our circumstances to be hard ones, our response must be one where we remember that we are able to demonstrate the gospel more clearly, and transform our thinking more constantly.

We tend to say, “This junk in my life isn't fair. It's not right!” No, it's redemptive.

We tend to say, “I can't respond to this mess with love and grace—that’s not normal!” No, it's not normal, it's Christian.

[This is part of a larger series on 1 Timothy called The Community of Truth.]