Monday, April 30, 2012

Peter, Paul, and Many

Spirit & Truth # 270
“Peter, Paul, and Many”

By Greg Smith

Telemachus and Mentor
            In Greek mythology, Mentor was the caretaker of prince Telemachus, son of Odysseus, the king of Ithaca.  While Odysseus was away fighting the Trojan war, Mentor served as the prince’s teacher, guide, friend, and protector.  Today, mentors fulfill a similar role, providing professional tutelage and serving as informal role models for their “mentees.”  For the past two weeks, we’ve looked at faith partnerships where spiritual leaders passed on their wisdom to their students, who in turn became leaders themselves.  I’ve challenged you to consider who your teachers may be, who your peers may be, and who may be the students to whom you can pass on your wisdom.

            In the Old Testament, Moses benefited from the support of seniors like Jethro and Jochebed.  He enjoyed the companionship of his wife Zipporah and his siblings Aaron and Miriam.  He passed on his faith to Caleb and Joshua.  In the New Testament we have the example of the apostle Paul.  Like Moses, Paul wasn’t a genius in his own right, but profited from the input of scores of people around him who contributed to his ministry and made him who he was.

            Paul was called to be a minister—but who ministered to Paul’s needs?  After his conversion to Christ, Ananias was the first furtive Christian to care for the former persecutor of the church.[i]  Having received Christ’s call to ministry, Paul went to Arabia for three years, then returned to receive fifteen important days of intense training from Peter and James the brother of Jesus.[ii]  Peter continued to influence Paul’s ministry.  At times they agreed with each other[iii] but at other times they disagreed.[iv]  Barnabas (whose name means “Son of Encouragement” took Paul under his wing when Paul was new to the ministry.[v]  Though Barnabas was the senior Christian in their missionary team, Barnabas allowed Paul to be the chief speaker[vi], ostensibly because Paul was in training.  Paul and Barnabas didn’t always see eye to eye,[vii] but total agreement is never necessary for one person to learn from another.  Much more could be said about other contributors like Priscilla and Aquilla, Epaphroditus, Phoebe, Chloe, Erastus, and many others, without whom Paul could never have accomplished what he did.

            Of course, no teacher is complete without his or her disciples.  Paul fed into the lives of young and rising church leaders like Titus and Timothy.  Paul’s letters of encouragement to these young men are today a support to all who are young in ministry[viii].  He encourages them to preach God’s word without reservation, whether it’s popular or not.  He reminds them of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are available to them for ministry.  He teaches them both how to rebuke and encourage God’s people.  Paul made sure that his legacy went on, so that long after his life’s journey was over his work would continue.

            If you are a Christian, then most likely you are somewhere in the continuum from student, to peer, to teacher.  Perhaps you are a bit of all three, taking on different roles with different relationships.  I hope you will take seriously your role as a disciple, as a friend, and as a godly influence to those around you.  Seriously consider who God has brought into your life, to partner with in faith and to strengthen by Christ’s love.

[i] Acts 9:10-19
[ii] Galatians 1:15-23
[iii] Acts 11:2-4; 15:7-11
[iv] Galatians 2:1-14
[v] Acts 11:19-25
[vi] Acts 13:11-12
[vii] Acts 15:36-41
[viii] Titus, 1 & 2 Timothy

Monday, April 23, 2012

Hand-Me-Down Genes?

Spirit & Truth # 269
“Hand-Me-Down Genes?”

By Greg Smith

            Like many kids growing up, I received my share of hand-me downs.  In addition to secondhand jeans, they also pass on hand-me-down genes.  Someone recently remarked that when they saw my mother speak in church, “It was like Greg—in a dress!”  We pass on material goods to our kids.  We share our genetics.  We also share spiritual legacy, insight and wisdom with the next generation.  But God doesn’t want us to keep our spiritual hand-me-downs “all in the family.”

            Last week we talked about the great influences in Moses life: his mother, wife, siblings, and father-in-law.  Like Moses, you may have a close-knit family.  They may have contributed greatly to make you who you are.  Supportive families are a blessing from the Lord, but I know some people who have become so clannish that their only friends are family members.  They have drawn a tiny circle around themselves, letting in only their closest relatives and (maybe) a few good friends.  God wants you to draw your circle wider—to include those who may not be very much like you.  He has wisdom for you to share with others.  God also wants you to open your heart to learn from others who may be different from yourself.  He wants you to choose a much larger family than you ever thought you could have.

Ruth & Naomi
            The book of Ruth is a beautiful story that begins with heartbreak.  A Jewish woman named Naomi has two sons.  Each of her sons is married to a Moabite woman.  Tragically, both sons die, leaving their wives and their widowed mother to fend for themselves.  One of the daughters-in-law, Orpah, decides to return to her own family in the hopes of remarriage and a new start in life.  But Ruth chooses to remain with her mother-in-law to support her and to learn from her.  She says, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”[i]  Though they had little in common other than shared tragedy, Ruth and Naomi became a dynamic spiritual partnership that became an example of faith for many.

            There’s the family you’re born into, and the family you choose.  Ruth and Naomi chose covenant with one another.  The young woman contributed her ability to glean in the fields to provide their needs.  The older woman offered Ruth her wisdom and counsel, by which the duo were rescued from their plight.  God brings people together to form spiritual partnerships.  Sometimes they’re the most unlikely of associates—but if God puts them together, they’re certain to succeed.

            Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts,” says Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (HCSB).  “For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up.  Also, if two lie down together, they can keep warm; but how can one person alone keep warm?  And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.”

What potential faith partners have come into your life recently?  These people may have characteristics that make them an obvious choice.  On the other hand, you may have little in common with them at first.  But if you keep an open mind, you may find that they are just the friend that God has in store for you.

[i] Ruth 1:16

Monday, April 16, 2012

"Mo & Co."

Spirit & Truth # 268
“Mo & Co.”

By Greg Smith

            Has God called you to be a leader in your church, in your workplace, or in your home?  Believers need look no further than Moses for a great example of what it takes to be a leader.  Moses was a spiritual and political adept whose contributions continue throughout Judaism and Christianity to this day.  His influence affects not only adherents of those two religions, but through them he continues to shape the world.  Though famous for his sagacity, Moses was not a genius all by himself.  He enjoyed the benefit of a company of advisors, both from his own generation and the generation above him.

            Moses’ mother Jochebed exercised great faith in placing him in the care of Pharaoh’s daughter by way of a floating cradle.[i]  The Egyptian princess who raised him surely provided him with the finest of tutors, in addition to all the advantages afforded to a prince of Egypt.  Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro Ruel of Midian, offered astute advice concerning the administration of justice in Israelite court cases.[ii]  While Moses’ insight into the divine surely came from heaven above, his worldly wisdom was a gift from loving people one generation above him.  

Moses, Aaron, and Miriam
            Good leaders need to listen to the wisdom gleaned from their elders.  They also avail themselves of the counsel of peers.  Moses’ wife Zipporah saved his life with her quick thinking at least once,[iii] and certainly proved that “behind every good man is a good woman.”  As a young child, his sister Miriam was the agent by whom Jochebed became her own son’s wet nurse.[iv]  As a grown woman, Miriam the prophetess led the Israelites in worship,[v] and offered Moses advice (whether he wanted it or not).[vi]  Moses’ brother Aaron served as the stuttering prophet’s spokesman,[vii] and later became the high priest of Israel,[viii] helping his brother Moses turn Hebrew tradition into an established religion.  The three siblings worked so closely together that there was little divide between where the work of one ended, and the work of another began.

            Leaders need advice from those who have been around the block a few more times than they have.  They also should listen to input from their peers.  But leaders are nothing without the people they lead.  As Jesus called His disciples to make other disciples,[ix] so He expects all believers to pass on the wisdom He has given them.  Moses was a mentor to Joshua and Caleb, who carried on his work long after he was gone.[x]  In turn, these young disciples assumed the mantle of leadership and passed on their knowledge to the generation beneath them.

            If God has called you to be a leader, then remember the resources He has given you.  You don’t have to go it alone.  Receive help from those who have already blazed the trail.  Prayerfully consider the opinions of your peers.  Pass on God’s truth to those who follow you.  And the wisdom-giver “will be with you always, even to the end of the age.”[xi]

[i] Exodus 2:1-3
[ii] Exodus 18:17-18
[iii] Exodus 4:24-26
[iv] Exodus 2:4-7
[v] Exodus 15:19-21
[vi] Numbers 12
[vii] Exodus 4:13-16
[viii] Leviticus 8:6-9
[ix] Matthew 28:19
[x] Numbers 13:16-30
[xi] Matthew 28:20

Monday, April 2, 2012

"Cleansing MY Temple"

Spirit & Truth # 267
“Cleansing MY Temple

By Greg Smith

            Every year around this time, my wife gets the notion to do some spring cleaning.  She’ll say, “Honey, we need to de-clutter the basement.”  Or, she’ll tell me, “Look at those windows!  They need to be washed.”  Or she’ll ask me to go to the hardware store and buy some paint.  Every year around this time, I get the urge to go fishing.  I wonder if somehow there’s a connection.  I don’t think I’m alone.  A lot of men try to avoid spring cleaning.

            In Mark 11:1-20, Jesus doesn’t avoid spring cleaning, but marches right up to it.  He doesn’t just choose any house.  He chooses God’s house.  Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey while shouts “hosanna!” that ring from the palm-waving crowd.  He then goes to the temple, takes a look around, and walks away.  Yes—He just walks away.

            Every now and then, I’ll read the Bible and discover something I’d never noticed before.  Previously, I’d always pictured Jesus entering the temple, seeing the money changers, and overturning the tables immediately.  But in actual fact, his first trip was a reconnaissance mission.  He scoped it out, got angry about what he saw, but didn’t immediately react.  Instead, he walked away to plan his protest for the following day.  When Jesus drove out the merchants, He wasn’t throwing a “temple tantrum.”  He was staging an intentional demonstration.  Jesus was angry over the commerce that kept people from freely entering the house of worship.  But if he had acted the first evening, his anger may have led Him into sin.  Instead, He contained his anger and applied it to a deliberate decision to stage a more controlled complaint the following day.  Yes, Jesus’ near-violent response was more controlled than it might have been, had he reacted the moment anger began to burn within him.  Waiting a day allowed Jesus to temper his temper, and approach the situation in a sinless way, rather than a senseless way.  All who have anger issues would do well to take a lesson from Him.

            As He overturned the tables, Jesus said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”  Just as He drove the rip-off artists out of the temple that day, Jesus wants to drive the robbers out of my heart today.  In John 10:10 (NIV), Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  Jesus wants to cleanse MY temple (my heart, where God desires to dwell), and drive out everything that steals true worship and service from my soul.  This means He wants to drive out my sin and anything else that robs me of purity, obedience, and blessing.

            Jesus still cleanses temples.  Today, He wants to drive the anger, greed, laziness, pride, lust, envy, and over-indulgence from your heart.  I believe He wants to cleanse MY temple today.  Don’t you think it’s time to let Him cleanse yours?