Sunday, October 30, 2016

Monday Morning Thoughts about Sunday: The Courage of a Shepherd (2 Timothy 2)

Here’s the deal with 2 Timothy 2. A leader is not the smartest person in the group. A leader is not the one with the most experience, or the most charisma, or the best communication skills. Rather, a leader has enough courage to take the first step into the unknown space into which the group must go. For the group to follow the leader, trust must exist between the team and the leader. Furthermore, the leader creates and maintains that atmosphere of trust. Paul is challenging Timothy to lead the Ephesian Church out of their difficulties and toward, “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4.13, ESV). For this change in direction to occur, trust must develop between Timothy and the congregation. Simon Sinek is correct when he writes: “Trust is like lubrication. It reduces friction and creates conditions much more conducive to performance.” When a group of people trust each other, they morph into more than just a group of people, they become a team. God has given the Spirit to the Church that we may trust each other as a team with one goal. These assumptions lie underneath much of what Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2. So that the Spirit may transform the Ephesian congregation into a unified team that exists for the purpose of declaring and displaying the Good News of Jesus, Paul gives Timothy multiple instructions, each of which is based upon one foundational reality. 

Timothy, know who you are.

This is what Paul getting at when he instructs Timothy, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim 2.1, ESV). Timothy must strive to be a leader who is distinguished by the Gospel, not by his failures or successes as a leader. This is critical because as a Christian leader, we must be connected in a healthy way with those we lead. Like Jesus we must dwell among those we lead (John 1.14). At the same time, however, our identity must be distinguishable from those we are charged to lead. In other words, when folks aren’t following so well, we must resist the identity crisis that can emerge when who we understand ourselves to be is wrapped up with how people respond to our leadership. Timothy’s most basic identity is not Pastor. His most essential understanding of himself must be one who is strengthened by the grace of being in fellowship with Jesus. No matter what our occupation, no matter what our task at the beginning of this week, we must allow our identity to not be determined by that task or occupation. Ironically, the freedom that comes from entrusting our identity to who we are in Christ, sets us free to perform well at the tasks we have been given. Before Timothy can engage the difficult task of Shepherding the Ephesians away from dangerous false teaching, he must be confident that identity is secure in Christ. No matter what Jesus requires of us this week, if you’ve been united to him by faith in the good news about him, your identity is secure in him. Thanks be to God. 

Listen here, to our exposition of 2 Timothy 2.1-13. 

Here’s what I’m reading. 

The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus, by Fleming Rutledge

Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church, by Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin.   

Monday, October 24, 2016

Monday Morning Thoughts about Sunday: The Shepherd and His Story (2 Timothy 1)

Stories are how we get to know each other. During my second year of Seminary Yulinda and I joined what DTS called a Spiritual Formation Group. In this group we forged deep friendships and experienced real community. During our second semester of that group each participant had to present their Life Story. The purpose of this exercise was two-fold. 1) The Life Story exercise helped the presenter come to grips with the reality of his or her own story. What events (good or bad) had the most influence on me? 2) The Life Story exercise created a sense of camaraderie within our community. We were more than just friends. In fact, Galen, my best friend aside from Yulinda, was in my Spiritual Formation group. Paul and Timothy were comrades. They knew each other's stories. What's more, they knew the dark sides of their stories. Paul knew that Timothy's father was not a believer (see Acts 16.1-3), and this likely contributed to some of the difficulties Timothy experienced leading the Ephesian community. With this aspect of Timothy's life story in mind, some aspects 2 Timothy 1 come alive. As the letter opens it seems that Paul is exhorting his young friend to leave behind the darkness of an absent father, and to pursue a new narrative that flows out of Timothy's relationship with Paul and his connection to Christ. 

Timothy, my beloved child   

Notice Paul's fatherly disposition toward Timothy. He begins the letter with a heartfelt description of Timothy as his "beloved child." With these words, Timothy perhaps hears something he had longed for but had never heard or seen from his biological father. Paul is not afraid to express his love for Timothy to Timothy.  Never underestimate the importance of telling your children you love them. Furthermore, Paul also strongly encourages his son in the faith. Without qualification, Paul affirms Timothy's faith. "I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well." (2 Tim 1.5, ESV). With these words, Paul is encouraging Timothy. "You're the real deal, Timothy! I believe that you believe." Never underestimate the importance of affirming in others the faith you see in them. 

The faith and love that are in Christ Jesus 

Notice Paul's Gospel disposition toward Timothy. By "Gospel disposition" I mean that Paul encourages Timothy by pointing him to the resources that are in Christ. The main imperative in 1.3-7 is found in verse 6. Paul instructs Timothy to "fan into flame the gift of God." We must return again and again, not to what we have done for God, but to what he has done for us in Christ. It is only by the power of God, that Timothy can "share in suffering for the gospel" (2 Tim 1.8). Even more, it is only by the Holy Spirit that Timothy can "guard the good deposit entrusted to him" (2 Tim 1.14). By virtue of our union with Christ by the Spirit, we have been given the resources we need to stay faithfully on the task to which the Father has called us. In order to live out of our union with Christ this week consider with me two exhortations. 

Be one who is generous with affirmation. 

I'm sure there were things in Timothy Paul could have criticized. However, Paul was overwhelmingly generous with Timothy by expressing his love for him and affirming his faith and the gifts God had given him. It is not masculine to withhold expressions of affection. Every time the words of the Father are recorded in the Gospels, they include an affirmation of love for the Son. God is not a Father who withholds his love. May each of us, love others well and express our love well. 

Lean into union with Christ.

In our own lives and as we seek to affirm others, we must consistently point to Christ and what he offers us by the Spirit as what we truly need. In all that we say to all, we should be affirming that Christ is offering himself to all who will accept. Russell Moore puts it this way: 
For too long, we’ve called unbelievers to “invite Jesus into your life.” Jesus doesn’t want to be in your life. Your life is a wreck. Jesus calls you into his life. And his life isn’t boring or purposeless or static. It’s wild and exhilarating and unpredictable.
Listen here to our exposition of 2 Timothy 1.

Here's what I'm reading: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Monday Morning Thoughts about Sunday: Jesus as Mediator

Here's the deal about 1 Timothy 2.1-8. Something sinister lies within each of us that desires to personally negotiate all our relationships, especially our relationship with God. We imagine that no one, including God, could be as on our side as we ourselves are. Brothers and sisters, the powerful and extraordinarily good news of Jesus is that no one is for us as much as God. He knows us better than we know ourselves and his wise and unconditional love far exceeds any love we have known. Nevertheless, we often sneak other mediators into our life with God. Let's consider two false mediators to which we find ourselves attracted.


Each politician and the "movement" associated with him or her has a worldview that describes what is wrong with the world, how we got here, and a plan to restore the world to a particular vision of the good life. The Bible provides for its readers such a worldview. Genesis 3 describes what is wrong with the world and how we came to inhabit it. The Christ event (his life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the right hand of the Father) is the beginning of God's plan to restore the world to the vision described in Revelation 21-22. Brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ, who is fully God and fully man, is the mediator of this plan, representing both God and Humanity, he inaugurates, mediates, and carries to completion, God's plan to restore the world to the vision he intended. He is the One to whom our allegiance belongs. Please, do not look to politicians as the answer to what this world needs. May God grant us good and wise leaders. May God protect us, however, from the idolatry that places our ultimate hope for fixing what is wrong with the world in anyone other than Jesus and his vision for the Kingdom of God come to earth.


Religion assumes that God's default position. is less-than-satisfied. Like the Pharisee in Luke 18.9-14, we assume that God could never be content with how we're doing, so our practice of religion becomes an exercise in trying to impress him. This is such a subtle temptation for us. We love God and long to do what he says. We run into trouble, however, as we begin to believe that God's attention in our lives is mediated by our ability to faithfully pray, study the Scriptures, give to the poor, attend worship gatherings, etc. Like politics, none of these things is inherently bad. However, when we start to believe that our practice of the spiritual disciplines somehow causes God to be more satisfied with us, we have denied the effectiveness of Christ's work. Brothers and sisters, Christ is our satisfaction before the Father as we are united to the Son by the Spirit. Thus, our life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3.3). Beloved, the Father couldn't be more impressed with Jesus, and having been united to him, the impressive words the Father said over his Son are now proclaimed over us (Luke 3.21-22). Because you and I are united by the Spirit to Jesus, the Son of God, the Father says over us, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." 

This is what it means for Jesus Christ to be our mediator. He is our salvation. His story is our story. He ministers before God as one of us and does so perfectly. This is why Paul writes; "I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2.20, NET). Brothers and sisters, we have been set free from evaluating our own faithfulness. We live by the faithfulness of the Son of God. We can stop trying to make our story of conversion more impressive, because we do not live by our testimony. We live by the faithfulness of the Son of God. This is what it means to have Jesus as our mediator. Thanks be to God.

Listen to Jesus Our Mediator, an exposition of 1 Timothy 2.1-8.  

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Monday Morning Thoughts about Sunday: 1 Timothy 4

Here’s the deal with 1 Timothy 4. Having been shaped by the pattern of this world, we, along with those Timothy was leading, are tempted to place our hope in our ability to obey rather than Jesus’ obedience on our behalf. This does not mean our obedience is of no consequence. In the same chapter where Paul uses some of his strongest language against legalism, he still instructs Timothy to “train himself for godliness … because godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (4.7-8, ESV). This is critical for us to grasp. A commitment to reject legalism does not mean we can no longer emphasize godliness. So how do we emphasize godliness without falling off the horse into a big pile of stinky, gospel-contradicting legalism? Please consider this one truth as a way to stay lashed to godliness without become legalistic. 

The love of God for the sinner is not affected by the sinner’s sin

In some imbalanced presentations of the Gospel, the disposition of God toward the sinner is one of exclusive anger. This is where Jesus enters the scene for one reason only - to assuage the one emotion God is feeling - anger. Brothers and sisters, what makes this presentation of the Gospel so dangerous is the thin element of truth it contains. With all false teaching, this is the case. An element of truth is slanted out of proportion like a fun house mirror to the point of forgetting other, more basic truths. Here’s how this works. The Bible does teach that God is angry toward sin. This is the plain fact (See Rom 1.18). The above Gospel presentation, with which each of us is quite familiar, takes the fact that God is angry toward sin and emphasizes it to the exclusion of what other texts plainly teach. Texts such as Romans 5.6-8 teach that God’s disposition toward weak and ungodly sinners is one of love. So how is that these truths coexist? God’s anger toward sin is motivated by his love for the sinner. Much like an oncologist hates cancer - Much like a cardiologist hates heart disease, God hates sin for the havoc it wreaks on those he loves. Brothers and sisters, this is basic Gospel truth. God loves sinners. What’s more, the love of God for sinners is the only reality capable of rescuing sinners from sin. Consider another text from the Apostle Paul. 

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3.14-19), ESV) 

Through prayer Paul is transitioning from the Gospel reality of God rescuing sinners who are dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph 1-3), to the Gospel implications of that rescue (Eph 4-6). More specifically, Ephesians 1-3 describes what God did for the world through the Christ event. He made us alive (2.1-10) together (Jews and Gentiles, 2.11-22) with Christ. Ephesians 4-6, on the other hand, command us to walk in a certain way as a response to the reality described in Ephesians 1-3. So how do we get from the glorious saving rescue described in Ephesians 1-3, to be able to hear and obey commands like the following? 
Let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor (4.25). 
Be angry and do not sin (4.26). 
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths (4.29). 
Be kind to one another (4.32). 
Forgive one another, as God in Christ forgave you (4.32).  
These verses describe the type of godliness for which Timothy is commanded to train himself. How do we pursue this godliness without leaning in the direction of legalism? The answer is found in Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3.14-19. Only when we have been given “the strength to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” will we be able to emphasize godliness without the threat of legalism. True godliness can only be a response to God’s love. All others forms of godliness are a cheap knockoff. So let us emphasize the love of God as the only effective means by which we can be trained to be godly, because: 
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103.11-14, ESV).  
Listen here to our exposition of 1 Timothy 4.   

Here’s what I’m reading. 

The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation by Richard Rohr and Mike Morrell. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Monday Morning Thoughts about Sunday: 1 Timothy 1

Here's the deal with 1 Timothy 1. We have been squeezed into the pattern of the world when we desire the local church to focus on anything other than Christ. The principalities and powers endeavor to draw the church away from her true message - away from the content of the message that contains the power of God. The fallen wisdom of this age entices us away Christ - the One we need, the only hope for the world. This is why Paul wrote to the Corinthians.
And I, when I came to you brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor 2.1-2, ESV). 
Michael Horton writes the following in his book, Christless Christianity.
“What would things look like if Satan really took control of a city? Over half a century ago, Presbyterian minister Donald Grey Barnhouse offered his own scenario in his weekly sermon that was also broadcast nationwide on CBS radio. Barnhouse speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia (the city where Barnhouse pastored), all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say "Yes, sir" and "No, ma'am," and the churches would be full every Sunday...where Christ was not preached.”
This emphasis on proclaiming Christ as what each individual and community needs is what we learned yesterday from 1 Timothy. According to Paul all the Ephesians need, everything for which we long, and the truth around which we must orient our lives is "the grace of our Lord overflowing with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus (1 Tim 1.14). Paul could never "get over" Jesus, nor should we. On the road to Damascus, Saul of Tarsus was ambushed by the risen Christ and he was never the same. What's more, it was the mercy of Jesus Christ that transformed him. See 1 Timothy 1.12-17 . Underestimating the power of Jesus' mercy was the essential error that had slithered its way into the Ephesian congregation. The Ephesians had been taught and had begun to believe that it was through something other than faith in Christ, that life could be found. Moreover, through an unlawful use of the Mosaic law, they were believing the lie that through myths, endless genealogies, and speculations, they could find the secret to life. Against this backdrop the letter we call 1 Timothy, is an extended exposition of how what we truly need is found in Christ. Indeed ...
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth (1 Tim 2.5-7, ESV).
What's the one thing you need? A spouse? A better marriage? A new job? To get out of debt? While these (and others) are good things, these are not the ultimate thing you need. The only ultimate thing each of needs is Christ.

What's the one thing our local church needs? New and better parking? More young families? A different form of church government? Numeric growth? While these (and others) are good things for which we pray,  the only ultimate thing our local church needs is something we already have - Christ. This is the one necessary thing for the church - to pursue Christ together as the ultimate thing.

Listen here to our exposition of 1 Timothy.