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2020 Advent: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Tuesday, 8 December 2020 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28


The Text

12. We ask you, brothers and sisters, to appreciate those working among you, leading you, and advising you in the Lord.

13. Have immense regard for them in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.

14. Brothers and sisters, we encourage you that you must warn the undisciplined, cheer up the sad, hold onto the weak, and be patient with all. 

15. You must see to it that you do not return evil for evil, but always pursue good for one another and for everyone. 

16. You must always rejoice.

17. You must constantly pray.

18. You must give thanks in all things. This is the will of God in Messiah Jesus for you. 

19. You must not quench the Spirit. 

20. You must not despise prophecy.

21. You must test all things. You must hold fast to the good. 

22. You must avoid every form of evil.

23. May the God of peace himself make you holy through and through – in spirit, soul, and body – that you may be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Messiah Jesus. 

24. The one who called you is faithful to do it.

25. Brothers and sisters, you must pray for us.

26. You must greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss.

27. I solemnly charge you in the Lord to read this letter to all the brothers and sisters.

28. The grace of our Lord Jesus Messiah be with you. 


Commentary

Appreciation for Christian leadership is absent in our culture. I continually speak to ministers and one after the other share with me how miserable their life is. I am in a great situation, but I am worried about my brothers and sisters in other environments.

The sad thing is, this was avoidable. For the last generation preachers and church pontificators have turned worship and church into a spectator sport geared toward gaining the largest possible marketshare regardless of the consequences. The result is a fanbase and not a fellowship. This is at best a fickle faith that says when the pastor no longer says everything I agree with or who tells me something that challenges me, well, fine I’ll go somewhere else where they will tell me what I want to hear.

Church is not a consumer good, and communities are not interchangeable. Treating it as such demonstrates infantile behavior.

Itching ears always want to be scratched. By contrast to this itching playing to the crowd, verse 14 teaches something which would make a great four point sermon. First, warn the undisciplined. Given the earlier verses, we can assume this is a warning against their lifestyle of selfishness that has them teetering on the edge of destruction. Second, cheer up the sad. The sad are those who are suffering loss. This is about grief ministry revolving through our hope of eternal life. Third, hold onto the weak. These are no doubt weaker brothers and sisters in Christ whom we must hold close to and drag them along the walk of faith. Fourth, be patient with all. This probably is a reflection on the tension he felt earlier in the letter about whether or not they had walked away from the faith. Patience is an important part of any relationship.

Most of the verbs in this section are imperatives, like verse 13 where the teaching to be at peace is not a suggestion but an imperative, literally “you must be at peace”. But beginning with verse 16 there is a series of eight imperatives with two more in verses 25 and 26 that ratchet up the intensity. Most English renderings drop the imperative feel with things like “pray continually” “Do not quench” or “greet”. However, I feel like as Paul is winding this down he wants that urgent feel of command. This is not optional. In light of issues like life, death, defection, and the return of Messiah these are vital nonnegotiables. We must do these things.


Questions For Application

  1. What have you done to demonstrate appreciation for your spiritual leadership?
  2. Which comes most natural to you — warning others, cheering others, holding others, or being patient with others?
  3. Which is hardest for you — warning others, cheering others, holding others, or being patient with others.
  4. Among those ten imperatives, which one do you need to focus on most right now?
  5. Is there another ‘must’ you feel is missing from your life that is not on this list?

JOSHUA–SOME THOUGHTS

Yesterday I had a great time facilitating the discussion in our small group at church about the book of Joshua.  Our new church has been so gracious to us and has really made us feel welcome and has even let me lead the last two weeks.  We have a great round-robin style schedule for facilitators and I love that.  I can sit back and receive the wisdom of others for the next few weeks.

But back to Joshua.  Joshua is a hero to many people, especially pastor/leader types because of his precarious position of taking the mantle of leadership from a hero like Moses and then charging forward into new territory.  The Lord tells Joshua over and over again to be strong and to have courage, and most importantly, he affirms that he is present with Joshua wherever he goes.  These are the same types of encouragements we receive in the New Testament and through the presence of the Holy Spirit so we can somewhat identify with Joshua.

However, there are some really hard things in Joshua that are not quite so ideal.

1.  Rahab–No doubt she was a victim of sexual oppression.  For her the Hebrews were liberators from a system that forced her to perform a the whim of a male dominated society.  They were her opportunity for a better life.  However, she also lied.  Her lie saved the spies, but she lied.  This troubles some people.  However, it does not trouble me because there is gray in the world and lying in order to preserve life is not only justified it is the higher ethic.  Our military does it all the time.

2.  Violence–There is a lot of violence in the book of Joshua.  Entire cities are destroyed in total war that resembles jihad more than a military campaign.  One of the words that comes to mind is genocide.  So violent is the book that one of the great miracles is when Joshua asks the sun to stand still.  This is astounding, not because the sun did stand still and therefore time stopped moving forward, but what makes this truly astounding is the why of Joshua’s request.  He wants more time so he can kill more thoroughly.  There are several attempts to answer this violence from a compassionate Christ-follower perspective, but for me the only logical answer is that the Hebrews at this time were barely more than barbarians as were most of the other people groups and this the way they behaved.  God worked in the midst of their limited faculties to build a society that would someday teach us, through the prophets and ultimately through Christ, that violence is really not much of a solution to any problem.  In fact, keep this in mind, that as a victim executed by the oppressive government of Rome and the religious leaders of the Jews, Jesus has a lot in common with the residents of Ai or Jericho.

3.  Mission Not Accomplished–Joshua rides off into the sunset at the end of the book and the narrative feels like the work is done, the land is vanquished, and we can all live in peace now.  However, there are years of turmoil (probably 200-250 years or so) left before things are somewhat settled, and even then that settling is not permanent.  It feels like the writer of Joshua is leaving us with a false impression of what was really going on.  Thankfully, we have Judges, which gives us a more tragic look at the “Rest of the Story.”

4.  Joshua’s Failure–Joshua excelled at battle tactics.  Indeed, the second battle of Ai includes a brilliant feint and end around which was devastating.  However, as a leader he failed to secure the next generation.  When he leaves the scene, there is no clear indication of who will follow his footsteps, who will be the go to person for the hard decisions.  Each tribe goes home to its appointed land and there is no leader appointed.  Joshua does not do for someone else what was done for him.  Moses laid hands on Joshua and prepared him for the mantle and burden of leadership.  This is instructive for us as we learn from Joshua’s negative example.  Each generation carries the responsibility to help the next be ready for leadership when it comes.  Churches fail at this quite miserably and it is to our shame.

Please don’t get me wrong, there is much in Joshua that is laudable and exemplary.  However, the book as a whole reminds us of a very important Bible study principle:  Do not confuse what the Bible describes with what the Bible prescribes.  Joshua is not a book of commands nor is it a great example for us.  Instead it is for the most part simply a witness to a very exciting, messy, and adrenaline filled moment in the history of the people of faith.

SUCCESS–LESSONS FROM THE “ULTRA” WEALTHY VIA YAHOO BECAUSE I DON’T KNOW ANY

I don’t know if it is proper to write ultra wealthy or ultrawealthy?  Or is it UltraWealthy?  I think I prefer ultrawealthy, with no capitalization.  There is something about using the modifier “ultra” as a compound that makes me think of cartoons.

Anyway, yesterday my home page had an article titled “7 Habits of the Ultra Wealthy”.  There is no one, absolutely no one in my sphere of influence who would be described as ultrawealthy but I read the Yahoo article anyway.  (I know I know, Yahoo is not cool and shows my age, but I just can’t bring myself to leave it.)  The gist of the article is that we can learn from the ultrawealthy about how to be, well, wealthier.  Here are the 7 habits, with all apologies to Stephen Covey.

  1. An equity position is necessary to get wealth.
  2. I’m always looking to gain an advantage in my business dealings.
  3. Doing things well is more important than doing new things.
  4. I hire people who are smarter than I am.
  5. It is essential I really understand my business associates motivations.
  6. I can easily walk away from a deal if it is not right.
  7. Setbacks and failures have taught me what I am good at.

So,  I read those seven and my mind connected with each of them:  These seven speak to pastoral leadership and church life–each one of them.  The difference is the goal is not ‘worldly wealth’ but ‘spiritual wealth.’  Here is what I was thinking for each one.

1.  An equity position is necessary to get wealth–An equity position is just ownership of a company.  A key issue for pastoral leadership is that the pastor must own the direction the congregation is headed, and allow those he or she leads to likewise take ownership and responsibility for setting the direction.  This is very, very hard.  it is not enough for the staff or for pastors to own a vision, but those in the congregation must own it too.  I always butt up against this one because I have found that my vision doesn’t always align with the vision of those I lead.  This is where most of our conflict emerges.

2.  I’m always looking to gain an advantage in my business dealings–The spiritual advantage, that is.  A key question for leadership must be something like, “What is the spiritual advantage that will come from this action (or inaction) when it is complete.”  Too often the question we ask is, “Who will this offend or make mad?” or “Can we afford it?”  I suggest those are the wrong questions.

3.  Doing things well is more important than doing new things–This is an axiom that is true of nearly everything.  I am trying to help our church come to a place where we do worship, small groups, and serving others really well.  Those are the big three, the only three things I try to focus on.

4.  I hire people who are smarter than I am–Yeah.  My associate pastor keeps reminding me how brilliant she is.  In all humility, though, it is hard to find people smarter than me and most of them already have jobs (written in sarcasm font).  Seriously, though, I try to add staff that are different in temperament and personality than I am.  It creates balance.

5.  It is essential I really understand my business associates motivations–This reminds me most of the work of preaching.  I just finished a series on doctrine.  I am ontologically motivated to enjoy doctrine and to see the inherent value in it.  However, I am in a minority.  Just saying the word “doctrine” usually causes people to either go to sleep or leave.  The majority of my work in preaching through this series has been to try and discover people’s motivations in the doctrine–where do they connect to it.  Until I’ve done that work, I really do not have a sermon, I have a lecture.

6.  I can easily walk away from a deal if it is not right–I interpret right to mean two things.  If some activity or ministry or issue emerges it must align with the core values of our congregation and it must be in keeping with my personality.  I’ve learned through the years that if I sign off on a program or ministry that doesn’t fit my personality then I am dooming myself to misery.  Several years ago we engaged in a door to door evangelism strategy propagated by our program driven denomination.  That is just not my style, but I signed on anyway.  The result was misery for me.  I will not make that mistake again.

7.  Setbacks and failures have taught me what I am good at–It is a truism that we learn more from our mistakes and failures.  I have made some tremendous bungles in the past and I promise that I will make tremendous bungles in the future, so will our church.  Yet I see that as a good thing, not a bad thing.  Churches and organizations that never try and therefore never fail in new adventures are destined to sunset and die, as they should.

And that is the “ultra” end to this blog post.

 

WHAT WENT WRONG

Yesterday I finished my short four week series on some of the Judges from the book in the Hebrew Bible by the same name–Judges.  I loved preaching this series–Samson, Gideon, Ehud and Deborah are among the most entertaining stories in the Bible and it doesn’t take much work to preach them.  But what I didn’t have time to do was to analyze the overall picture of Judges.  Nestled between the story of Joshua and the emergence of the monarchy, Judges has a unique place in Israelite history.

The book of Judges tells the story of a people who are divisive, hostile, forgetful, idolatrous, violent, sexually promiscuous, and stupid.  Their behavior has more in common with the Germanic tribes of Europe before the fall of Rome than anything found in the Mosaic code.  The way the Israelites behaved, sometimes you want to root for the Canaanites (or the Amorites, Amalekites or Philistines).

What fascinates me is:  Why, or better yet, how did it come to this?  Surely this was not  God’s plan for Israel–hundreds of years of anarchy?

I’ve come up with two answers–and you are not going to like either one.

The first reason, the most obvious reason, is the people of Israel never truly believed or followed the Lord to begin with.  They were like the crowds who followed Jesus for bread and miracles but when he started teaching about belief and faith and “drink my blood and eat my flesh” (John 6) they scattered away.  People will always follow a good show, but when the show is over and it is time for obedience; well, there is always something else better on television.   A lesson is in there somewhere for megachurches and their pastors.  I’ll let you find it for yourself,  though.

The second reason, and the one that intrigues me the most, is that Joshua was a failure. I know that he is a hero to so many people because he overcome his fear (I so hope I never have to hear another sermon about how Joshua overcame his fear–I think I’ve heard it about 500,000 times).  Joshua did promise to serve the Lord and he promised that his house would do the same (Joshua 24:15) but he failed to lead Israel like he led his family.  He did not do what was done for him.

Here is what I mean–when Moses was about to die, he appointed Joshua as the next leader and made sure everyone knew it.  There was the passing of the proverbial torch from one generation to the next.  Joshua fails to do that.  He sort of rides off into the sunset and leaves every tribe, clan, family and individual to figure things out for themselves.  Because of this failure we get the constant refrain in the book of Judges–“In those days there was no king in Israel.  Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”

The most important thing a leader should do is to make certain someone else can lead when you’re gone and make certain the people you lead know who these next generational leaders are.  Without that kind of long-term approach all you do or accomplish is destined to be overrun by Philistines and die right behind you.