Five for Friday (11.21.14)

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Have a great weekend everyone. Never stop learning! Here are five links (plus a bonus video) to keep you thinking.

Hope for Women in Hell – Amazing interview with a woman ministering to this caught in the sex industry.

How I Learned to Embrace the Stand and Greet Time – Great counter-argument for an article I shared last week about the stand and greet time in churches.

When Movies Aren’t ‘Biblically Accurate’ – Incredible wisdom in a reactionary and judgmental world.

Don’t Buy Stuff You Don’t Need – great financial advice for married people!

Check Diversity Where You Live – Type in your zip code to see the demographics of your neighborhood.

Bonus video: “I Haven’t Slept in 7 Years” – this video describes my life!

4 Life Lessons from Epaphroditus

Today I’m sharing a Bible study at Noonday at the Baptist Student Union of Mississippi State University (#HailState). Since I went to already went to the trouble of collecting my thoughts for them, I thought I’d share them with you as well.

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My assignment was to do a character study of Epaphroditus from the New Testament. Never heard of Epaphroditus? Don’t worry, no one has! He gets fifteen seconds of fame in the book of Philippians. And yet from those few short verses, we can learn some timeless truths. Let me set it up this way: how many of you have an older sibling? How many of you grew up in your older sibling’s shadow? How many of you are secretly convinced that your parents had a favorite child growing up, and it wasn’t you?  That’s a little tougher because your parents will deny it, but you know . . . you know.

The reason I bring all this up is because I sense a little of this relationship when I read the passage in Philippians 2, the only time in Scripture where Epaphroditus is mentioned.

19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you.

Paul wants to send Timothy to the church in Philippi as his ambassador/surrogate to check on them, and Timothy will return and give Paul an update on the church.

20 I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. 21 For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

“I have no one else like him.” Paul knows a lot of people. He’s about to mention Epaphroditus, but about Timothy he says, “I have no one else like him.” Paul loves Timothy. He says, “everyone looks out for their own interests.” The context is that Paul is talking about other ministers. He’s saying out of all of his surrogates, Timothy is the most faithful, because he’s completely sold out to Jesus Christ.

22 But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. 23 I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. 24 And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.

As a son with his father. That’s where Paul makes the father/son reference. Paul loves this guy! So, to sum up: Timothy is awesome, he’s sold out to Jesus, he’s like Paul’s son. Now, we’re about to get to Epaphroditus. I’m going to read it straight through, and I want you to actively listen and see if you can tell any difference about how Paul writes about Timothy and how he writes about Epaphroditus.

25 But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. 26 For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. 29 So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, 30 because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me. Philippians 2:19-30

I mean, he compliments Epaphroditus. He’s a brother (not like a son to him), co-worker, fellow soldier. Compliments, but not the warmth. His task was to take an offering from the church in Philippi in modern day Turkey to where Paul was imprisoned in Rome to help him with his expenses. So the picture is of Epaphroditus being sent to help and minister to Paul, and it was just short of an epic fail. Yes, he got the money to Paul that he needed, but Epaphroditus got deathly ill while in Rome. He almost died. So Epaphroditus was sent to take care of Paul because Paul was imprisoned under house arrest, and in the end Epaphroditus became a burden to Paul because he almost died and Paul had to bring him back to health. Now obviously it wasn’t Epaphroditus’ fault. Health conditions were bad back then. But it’s not like Epaphroditus would ever look back at that trip to Rome, to minister to the great Paul and say to himself “nailed it.” He almost died. And you almost get the sense that Paul is relieved to be sending Epaphroditus back to Phillipi, that Epaphroditus was a burden to Paul. He says, “Timothy, he needs to stay with me. Epaphroditus, you can go back.” Who seems to be more important to Paul?

Now, Paul is very gracious about the whole thing by saying at the end, “Welcome him in the Lord and honor men like him,” but if you had to pick the favorite son out of these two, we’d all say it was Timothy. That’s why there are millions of people named Timothy walking around this earth (currently ranked #125 in US births. Highest ranking was #11 in 1967) and hardly anyone named Epaphroditus. If we had choose between the two, I think all of us would rather say, “I’d want to be Timothy.” So, just to keep things interesting (and because there are already a million sermons on Timothy), I want to give you 4 lessons from the life of Epaphroditus.

 

1. Serving doesn’t exclude you from suffering.

Here Epaphroditus is doing something great, something meaningful, something in service of God. And he almost dies. God is sovereign. He could have kept Epaphroditus from becoming ill, but in his sovereign wisdom and choice, he chose not to. There is this prevailing myth out there that if we just love Jesus enough, he’ll take all of our problems away and it will be nothing but rainbows and unicorns. So when life gets tough, we figure we’re doing something wrong or God doesn’t love us that much. Serving doesn’t exclude you from suffering.

2. Failure is a normal part of life, including serving God.

Epaphroditus’ mission was by many accounts a failure. That doesn’t mean that Epaphroditus was a failure. You will fail. If you allow failure or the fear of failure to cripple you, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy and you’ll actually become a failure. I pastor a healthy, vibrant church. Now I can whitewash my past and leave out the part where several years ago I was fired from my church. I just wasn’t working out for them. Failure is a part of life. Failure doesn’t make you a failure. Failing to learn from your failures makes you a failure. Failure will be one of the most incredible teaching tools you’ll ever have in life. No one wants to fail. No one plans to fail. But when you fail, learn from it.

3. Value in the Kingdom will always spring from community.

Why did Epaphroditus make Scripture? Because he was so vital to the community in Philippi. They were genuinely concerned about him. He had spent years faithfully serving, leading, helping, teaching. The church at Philippi was his family. Don’t drop from community when you’re in college. Get involved in a local body of believers. Plug in. Teach middle schoolers. Sit next to senior adults. Value has always sprung from community. It you want to make a difference, you have to be plugged into community.

4. The majority (or all) of your life will be out of the limelight.

Are you okay with that? We all want to be Timothy. In reality, we’re more like Epaphroditus. It’s tough for us. You’re the ‘selfie’ generation. Our fascination with ourselves. You want to change the world, but you want the world to watch you do it. What if you serve God with all your heart, but don’t get any earthly recognition for it? Are you okay with that? You may never be famous. You may never be up in front of people as a pastor. If you are, maybe you’ll always serve in smaller churches. Maybe your life will be something out of the limelight, like a nurse, an engineer, an accountant. Not exactly the flashy roles like missionary or pastor. But you still have a role to play. Are you okay if your role is out of the limelight?

If we ever want God to do anything through us, there has to be a death to self. It’s not easy, it’s painful, but it’s the price tag for being used to do something meaningful in your life.

5 Things I’ve Learned After 500 Posts

Yesterday’s post was my official 500th blog post. That’s over two years of writing. I thought I’d take a moment to pause and process some things I’ve learned after 500 posts:

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1. Dreaming of a blog is easy. Writing a blog is difficult. I’ve dreamt for years about the possibility of writing a blog. In my visions of grandeur, the writing was easy, conversation generating, and of course, heavily trafficked. And then I actually started it. All my great ideas dried up in two weeks, but I had still committed myself to write. Writing is one part creativity and inspiration and four parts discipline and hard work.

2. You never know which blog will go viral. This continues to surprise me. I’ll work on a particular blog, knowing for certain that it will take off and go viral. I’ll spend extra time to word smith and polish for when a major news outlet picks it up. Those blog posts tend to bomb. And then every once awhile, one will take off and go viral. It will get hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of hits. It’s usually never the ones I’d expect. That’s why the discipline of writing everyday is so important. You never know which blog post will go viral.

3. Anger is easy. Hope is hard. I made a conscious choice early on to avoid the angry rants that can too easily fill up a Facebook newsfeed and reinforce the negative stereotype of the judgmental evangelical. After 500 blog posts, I now see why so many blogs and Facebook rants are angry: anger is easy. It’s simple. It’s can be devoid of actual facts. Hope, on the other hand, is hard. It takes focus. It takes effort to see the silver lining through all the clouds. But more than anything I want my blog to offer hope. So I do things the hard way.

4. Sometimes I wonder if it’s making an impact. There’s honestly seasons where I just write and write with little to no feedback. Am I making a difference? Am I actually helping people, inspiring people, or simply clogging up the internet with another useless blog? It’s in those moments that God usually steers someone my way. Recently I walked into my local cell phone provider’s store and the sales associate who helped me shared how it was crazy he saw me that day because just yesterday his wife emailed him my blog post from the previous day for them to discuss together. Moments like that remind me that it’s making a difference.

5. At the end of the day, I’ve loved it. Countless hours have been put into this blog. I’ve yet to make a penny off of it (some people actually make their living off of a blog. Pipe dream!) At the end of the day I love writing this blog for two reasons: I’m continually learning new things as I teach others and I’m helping people. It’s made me a better person and a better pastor.

To all of you who are reading this, thank you! Here’s looking forward to the next 500 blogs!

* (Technically this post is #501, so only 499 to go!)

A Cynical View of Why the World Wants You To Get Divorced

Your wedding day is a beautiful, emotional, magnificent promise of what you want your marriage to be. We love weddings. We celebrate weddings. In 2012, the median cost of a wedding was $18,000. That’s a nice wedding! Little girls dream about this day for years! To help you plan this incredible day, there’s an entire wedding industry designed to help you have an incredible experience (and make some serious cash on the side). Walk into a bookstore and there are entire sections of wedding magazines.

Our society loves weddings. Our culture celebrates weddings. Our society wants you to have a successful first day of marriage. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a day that culminates with a beautiful promise. What society is horrible at is helping you at is the next 18,250 days of marriage (if you’re going to be married 50 years). Think about it: there are tons and tons of wedding magazines out there, helping you plan an amazing wedding. But how many marriage magazines are there, helping you be successful at marriage long-term? None!

Look at this: I searched Google for the “top wedding magazines.” Here were my results:

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 9.27.56 AM

Next, out of curiosity, I googled “top marriage magazines.” Here were my results:

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 9.28.15 AM

Isn’t that amazing? Google, which can find anything, couldn’t find any magazines on marriage, so it just pulled up all the results I’d just searched for with weddings. I would make the argument that from society’s standpoint, the wedding day is the most important day of the marriage. That’s where all the emphasis is.

Here’s my cynical take on why all the emphasis is on the wedding and not the marriage: society today doesn’t care about making your marriage work, they care about you have an amazing wedding day. In fact, the wedding industry wins when you get divorced, because then you can start planning your next wedding and fork over another $18,000.

QUESTION: What are your thoughts? Am I off base here or am I on to something?

Five for Friday (11.14.14)

five red buttonHave a great weekend! #HailState

7 Truths About Marriage You Won’t Hear in Church – Harsh but true words about marriage!

10 Reasons Why Friends and Family Struggle to Believe the Gospel – This may help explain your frustration in witnessing.

Why Mississippi Hates Washington – This hits a little close to home, but helps explain the culture I live in.

Altar Calls: Are They a Biblical Approach? – This helps explain why we don’t do altar calls at Mt Vernon Church.

Why I Don’t Endorse Candidates From the Pulpit – My thoughts exactly.

Who Wouldn’t Want to Be Married to This Spouse?

Romantic movies continually portray society’s picture of the ideal spouse (namely cute and witty). But I’ve got a better picture of the ideal spouse that I think we would all rather be married to. Who wouldn’t want to be married to a spouse:

ideal spouse

  • Who overflowed with visible, tangible love for you all the time?
  • Who was so full of joy that it was contagious to everyone around them?
  • Who was at peace with who God created them to be; never needy or clingy?
  • Who was patient with you, always quick to give you the benefit of the doubt and forgive you when you made a mistake?
  • Who was always kind, never mean or spiteful to you?
  • Who was a genuinely good person, whom you knew would always do the right thing?
  • Who was faithful to you, in such a way that you never had to doubt it? What if your spouse’s faithfulness became a bedrock that undergirded your entire relationship?
  • Who was gentle towards you, forgiving of your faults, full of mercy, never assigning blame, always there to help you and comfort you in your moments of weakness?
  • Who was full of self-control, discipline, worked hard, didn’t give into temptation, made you and the family better people?

Here’s my question: who wouldn’t want to be married to that person!?! This ideal spouse was described 2000 years ago when the apostle Paul wrote to the early church about the characteristics of someone who is full of the Spirit of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23

As much as you wish this for your spouse, realize that your spouse is sitting opposite of you, wishing the exactly the same thing about you! As I wrote in yesterday’s blog, the way to be the best spouse you can be is to get as close to Jesus as you can, to the point where His characteristics, His values, His power begin to bleed over into your life, making you the ideal spouse.