The Public Church Figure

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): 1 Timothy 3:This saying is reliable: if anyone has a goal to be a supervisor [bishop] in the church, they want a good thing. 2 So the church’s supervisor must be without fault. They should be faithful to their spouse, sober, modest, and honest. They should show hospitality and be skilled at teaching. 3 They shouldn’t be addicted to alcohol or be a bully. Instead, they should be gentle, peaceable, and not greedy. 4 They should manage their own household well—they should see that their children are obedient with complete respect, 5 because if they don’t know how to manage their own household, how can they take care of God’s church? 6 They shouldn’t be new believers so that they won’t become proud and fall under the devil’s spell. 7 They should also have a good reputation with those outside the church so that they won’t be embarrassed and fall into the devil’s trap.

O (Observation): Seems like a tall order. Be perfect? Well, Jesus said something about being perfect. Maybe all of this language about being perfect and striving for the Kingdom is about doing all you can do serve God in your context on this earth.

Bishops and deacons are mentioned in 1 Tim 3. Those taking public roles in the church have a responsibility. To serve God and to do so full of confidence and humility is a tough challenge. Yet that is the call.

A (Application): If you don’t want to be scrutinized, don’t go into public church work. You will be scrutinized and critiqued and challenged.

Now, with a humble spirit, you can take all of that public scrutiny and work it towards good for you and for God.

If the critique is good and honest and given in a constructive way, then by all means: bring it on!

If the critique is given to push you down so that another can lift themselves up, then that is not helpful. In fact, that is destructive.

I can gladly say that over my years of ministry, almost all of my critiques have come in loving ways that have helped me to grow. That encourages me to keep serving God and Church. (For those few times I received negative comments in a spirit of fear, I tend to dismiss rather well…though they do affect me.)

Please remember all of this when you are using 1 Tim 3 to constructively criticize your public church leaders. We aren’t perfect. We strive for the greater things by striving for the Kingdom. We know that God will guide us and shape our work as leaders in the church.

P (Prayer): God, mold us into the leaders you call us to be.

Southeastern Synod Meets in Assembly this Weekend – Our Annual Pilgrimage

Logo courtesy of Ms. Linda Few, Synod Assembly Committee

As most of you know, I serve as a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.   I serve as the pastor of Advent Lutheran Church, in Murfreesboro, TN.  My wife (Kelly) and our three children embrace the annual pilgrimage known as the Synod Assembly.    

The ELCA is comprised of 65 synods (think of “synod” as a geographical area).   Every synod meets annually for mutual upbuilding, fellowship, worship, and to speak with one voice on issues related to the ELCA, social issues, and much, much more.  We study Scriptire together, attend various workshops, and learn how we are all doing our best to be stewards of the Gospel.  

I will post a picture or two throughout the weekend, updating this post at various times.  

I will post a new devotion again on Tuesday, May 31.  
Update:  in the plenary hall!!!

What is Your Call?

S (Scripture): Romans 16:1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, 2 so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.

3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, 4 and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5 Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert in Asia for Christ. 6 Greet Mary, who has worked very hard among you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives[d] who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

O (Observation):  One of the most underrated and unspoken benefits to Paul was the work of women in the Church throughout Paul’s ministry.    We hear plenty about the male disciples throughout his writings, but thankfully we hear Paul greeting his fellow female compatriots in the personal greetings.  

Phoebe is one; she is a “deacon.”   Prisca may actually be more of a “Priscilla.”  A Mary is mentioned.  And Junia may actually be “Julia.”   There are others, but some of these ancient names may be difficult for us to discern a gender.  

The point is that in a time when females were not considered strong or helpful, Paul relies on the Spirit to work through males and females alike.  Gender is not the main identity marker, rather, identity in Christ is the key.  

A (Application):  As a pastor in the ELCA, I’m proud to identify with a denomination that considers identity in Christ as the foremost attribute to one’s call.   Male, female, transgender, questioning…one in Christ, child of God.  

Through whom can God work?  Anyone. 

The power of the Spirit in one’s call is most significant.  That call will need to be discerned throughout one’s life, not because of one’s gender or social status, but because the call to serve God takes many forms.   

The official roster of the ELCA now has two major categories: Ministers of Word and Sacrament (“pastors”) and Ministers of Word and Service (“deacons”).  Paul and his compatriots would likely fit into one of these two rosters.   

Ministers of Word and Sacrament today serve mainly as pastors in congregations, but also as chaplains, professors, and in other specialized ministries.   Ministers of Word and Service also serve in congregations as musicians and faith formation leaders; they may serve as lawyers, advocates, community organizers and in so many other roles.  

The call is the central aspect.  

How and where is God giving you grace to serve the Kingdom?  

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to heed your call. Amen. 

“Balaam’s Ass” Moments

S (Scripture): Numbers 22:26 Then the angel of the Lord went farther, and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. 27 When [Balaam’s] donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she crouched down under Balaam. Then Balaam was angry, and he beat his donkey with a staff.

28 Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you that you have beaten me these three times?” 29 And Balaam said to the donkey, “You have made me look stupid; I wish there were a sword in my hand, for I would kill you right now.” 30 The donkey said to Balaam, “Am not I your donkey that you have ridden ever since I was yours until this day? Have I ever attempted to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.” 31 Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way with his sword drawn in his hand; so he bowed his head and threw himself down with his face to the ground. 32 The angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? Look, I came out to oppose you because what you are doing is perverse before me. 33 The donkey saw me and turned from me these three times. If she had not turned from me, I would have killed you but saved her alive.” 34 Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood against me in the road. So now, if it is evil in your sight, I will go back home.” 35 But the angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but you may only speak the word that I will speak to you.” So Balaam went with the princes of Balak.

O (Observation):  This story is a bit strange to follow.  God’s people are on the march and seeking passage through the Moabite territory.  They just go done destroying the Amorites, because they opposed God and God’s people.   The Hebrew people want to pass through Moab now, with no fighting.  But the Moabites are deathly afraid that the fate of the Amorites will now be their fate, as well. 

Because of the fear that captures the people of Moab, their king, Balak, wishes Balaam (a sort of prophet of the Lord) to bring a curse down on God’s people…which he refuses.   

To help convince Balaam that he should curse God’s people, Balak tries to persuade him by sending the rich princes of Moab to entice Balaam with money in order to get Balaam to curse God’s people.  

God allows Balaam to go with the princes, but strictly warns Balaam that he must say exactly what the Lord tells him to say.   

Now…on his way with the princes, God is angered.  (Perhaps God sees the riches as Balaam’s motivation, rather than his call as a prophet…). For whatever reason, God is directing Balaam with an Angel.  

Who sees the Angel?   Balaam’s ass.  The donkey sees it and turns away twice.   On the third time, the donkey cannot turn, for the path is too narrow.  

The Lord finally reveals the Angel to Balaam.  Balaam is reminded that God’s presence is here.  That God is in control and God’s words – and God’s words alone – are what Balaam is to speak to the Moabite King, Balak. 

A (Application):  When was the last time that you were reminded of God’s presence?  Have you had a major, “in your face” moment?  Has God spoken through a strange means to you?

Today I think about the disappointments in my life, and how those were “Balaam’s ass” moments for me.  

Failure at my first full-time job turned into a reminder of what God was NOT calling me to do with my life.   

Failure as a pastor reminds me that the ministry of Word and Sacrament is not mine to dole out. Rather, I serve the Lord, who shows all of us the way forward.  

Failures as a husband reminds me that when God is not at the center of my relationship with my wife, we suffer.   But when forgiveness and reconciliation happens between us, we deeply sense the joy that is God’s presence in our lives.  

Failures as a leader remind me that God is the one who leads me.   And that is sufficient.  When God wants me to lead…I will lead.  When God wants me to follow…I will follow. 

We never know through what means God will speak to us.  Rather, our call is to discern what God is saying to us…to determine the grace being poured out into our lives.   Then, after discerning that grace, we move forward… confident that God’s grace is what makes our movement possible. 

Listen for God’s voice. Perceive it.  Share with others what that voice says to you.  And move forward.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, you bewilder us sometimes.   But in all ways, you can show us mercy.   Help us to discern your ways and your will for us.  Guide us as we move forward today.  Amen.