pastoring in ephesus

Jesus addresses the church of Ephesus first from the seven churches in the region.  This is one of the churches from which we can glean lots of history right out of the Biblical texts.  In Acts 19 Luke records the origins of the Ephesus church.  Some “disciples” where discovered in Ephesus who knew nothing of the Holy Spirit.  After some teaching these 12 or so men received baptism in Jesus name and they received the Holy Spirit.  After three months teaching in the synagogue, Paul spent two years discussing the kingdom of God daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.  The ministry in Ephesus was accompanied by miracles, spiritual confrontations, and with public acts of mass repentance regarding the systems of sorcery and of idolatry.  The Ephesus ministry had its share of conflict; in fact in 1 Corinthians 15:32 Paul says that he had fought wild beasts there.  Though we do not know the occasion of the event we can surmise that the emergence of the Gospel and the church in Ephesus, casts a wide net of influence.  Luke shows us that the economics of Ephesus were beginning to change because of the number of people who had come to Christ and had abandoned idol worship.  The tradesmen of Artemis raised a ruckus to protest against Paul and the Way until the city cleark read them the riot act and dispersed the crowd.  Paul soon left for Macedonia.

At the next appearance of the church of Ephesus Paul stops in at Miletus, south of Ephesus and sent for the elders of the church to meet him.  The account in Acts 20 is extraordinary to me because of the urgent and emotionally raw appeal Paul makes to these elders for their continued devotion to Jesus and to their oversight of the church.  He warns them that “savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.  Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.  So be on your guard!  Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” 

The next appearance of Ephesus is the letter known by the name Ephesians.  There are extensive studies done regarding the authorship and the destination of the letter.  If it truly is to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus we are confronted with a church for whom things are still going well.  Paul, writing from prison, is intent on setting out a condensed view of their life sitting with Christ and forming their identity in Him, walking with Christ and forming a life of relationships shaped by Him, and standing with Christ and forming a stance toward the world that engages in the spiritual battle.

But when we get to 1& 2 Timothy, we are confronted with a church that is in trouble.  Timothy it appears may want to quit the job pastoring a troubled and divided church.  There has been a leadership catastrophe.  Paul writes,

“As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies.  These promote controversies rather than God’s work–which is by faith.  The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.  Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk.  They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.”  Paul goes on to encourage Timothy to hold to a Gospel of grace in Christ as illustrated by his own life and then goes on to even identify some who have abandoned this Gospel and good fight.  “Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to the faith and a good conscience.  Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith.  Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.”

The letters of 1st Timothy and 2nd Timothy are filled with prescriptions of how to Timothy is to maintain his own vibrant faith in Jesus Christ and to lead the church out the mess they are in theologically and relationally.  The prescriptions involved extensive instruction on the reformation of leadership in the Ephesian church and encouragement to Timothy to not be drawn into bickering, false teaching, greed, power struggles, or any compromised position on the Gospel.  Paul writes, “Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care.  Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith.  Grace be with you.”  1 Timothy 6:20-21

When we get to Revelation Jesus indicates that the church has persevered and endured hardships for his name.  He references the leadership crisis that they had weathered:  “I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.”  However, this journey through catastrophe has taken a toll on the very spirit and vibrancy of their faith and relationships.  Jesus says, “Yet I hold this against you:  You have forsaken your first love.  Remember the height from which you have fallen!  Repent and do the things you did at first.”

It is not enough when pastoring or leading a church to lead through crisis and problems, or to teach for sincere and true understandings of the faith.  Church leadership is ultimately about calling people into vibrant, loving, caring, trusting relationship with Jesus Christ and each other.  This “first love” that Jesus reminds them of captures the idea of tender yet zealous appreciation and devotion.  It is action accompanied with deep feeling.  Notice, Jesus says, “Remember…repent, and do the things you did at first.”

What was there “at first,” for the Ephesian believers?  What had love for Jesus and each other generated?  Let’s look again at Acts 19 and 20.  Here is a list of what I observe in their lives:  Yieldedness to the Holy Spirit, daily dialogue about the Kingdom of God, a desire to engage those who don’t believe in the Gospel, kindness toward the sick, sacrificial repentance and abandonment of the deeds and trappings of darkness, a shift in their economic habits, distictiveness in Christ shared across diversity of cultures and backgrounds, high value for the people of God, attentiveness to the needs of the church, emotionally openness and love.

These activities and attitudes are commended by Jesus indirectly.  However, it is the direct commendation of Jesus to which we must pay the most attention–first love–trusting that repentence from a reduced love for Him and His Church will generate the action that overcomes deathliness and enters into the promised life of God.  I believe that by calling and shepherding the followers of Jesus into deep and vibrant love for Him, we can create systems of relationships in the church that cooperate with the wind of the Spirit to draw more and more people to the grace-filled and prevailing life of Jesus and His Kingdom.

the sound of many waters

cheakamus lake, 28 July 2008

cheakamus lake, 28 July 2008

After all the Sunday service and gatherings my family with our friends Ryan and Andrea headed north into Beautiful BC.  In spite of our anxiety about traffic and the Pemberton Music Festival it was smooth sailing all the way to the parking lot for the trail into Cheakamus Lake in the Garibaldi Park.  We went in about 4 km before setting up our tents right on the lake in front of spectacular mountain views.  I was in awe!  Now I must confess that our plastic children’s wagon being pulled, dragged and cajoled over this trail was quite the sight!  We have been car-campers up until now, so all of our stuff is BIG, and weighs a lot!  Our guides were very kind!

In the morning as I awakened I was delighted to hear the roar of many waters–a small stream, a waterfall on the other side of the lake, and the Cheakamus River.  I was reminded of the Elder John’s description of Jesus’ voice, “His voice was like the roar of many waters.”  (Revelation 1:15)  When you are right in the midst of such a sound it is all you can hear.  It drowns out any other sound.  However it is not an overwhelming sound; rather it is comforting, soothing, peaceful–but ever-present and even commanding.  This is the voice of the Resurrected Jesus, familiar yet bigger.  John says, “I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me.”  (Revelation 1:12)  John’s experience is not something just happening in his head; rather this is an experience of Jesus’ revelation that occurs outside of him; it is real.

Day in and day out the spiritual discipline of making space to meet with Jesus means that I must clear out, turn down, and even turn off the many other voices that compete for my heart.  The moments of great clarity are not as frequent as I would like.  However, I am confident that Jesus still speaks and that He is guiding His church into fellowship with Him.

worship exiles

The dominance of Jesus in John’s heart and mind confronts my own preoccupation with problems.  Even as John, the exile of Patmos, took up the pen to write the letter and record the revelation he was aware of Jesus’ concern and correction for the churches.  However, in writing the letter the dominant concern of John was not in providing solutions to their problems.  John is absolutely gushing with praise for God.  Jesus’ revelation in John’s letter invokes worship in John even as he writes to the churches.  The revelation pulls back the curtain so that Jesus may be seen.  “Look, he is coming and ever eye will see him, even those who pierced him.”  (Rev 1:7)

John erupts into worship just as he greets the seven churches declaring that Jesus would have glory and power forever.  Notice how John’s worship is in response to God.  “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father.”  (Rev 1:5-6)  Then as if to punctuate how Jesus is their very life–God greets them in the letter:  “I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is and was, and is to come, the Almighty.” 

I am too easily occupied with my own voice and contemplation of problems and challenges.  When I lean into those problems I too often lean in first–with a sense of aloneness.  I realize that problems can turn us into worship exiles.  Without a compelling and truthful vision of who God is and what He has done for us, problems usher us into a void in which we become functional atheists.  We act as if God is dead, inattentive to our situations, unable or unwilling to act.  Perhaps this was part of the danger attendant to John’ audience who might have felt that the persecution of Domitian or the pressures of gaining or creating wealth were more present than God.

John was physically exiled to the Island of Patmos.  But the churches were in danger of self-generated spiritual exile from the presence of God.  The danger remains for us as well.  If we cease to respond in thanks and praise to the One who has loved us, freed us from our sins, and made citizens in His Kingdom with purposeful intent we will become worship exiles.

revelation

I am reading Revelation with my Wednesday morning coffee group.  I encouraged them to read it through in one sitting.  I made my read on Sunday afternoon and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Revelation is a text full of encouragement on how to walk with Jesus in a world where it doesn’t appear that He has won or is winning.  I am astonished that it is the actual revelation of Jesus Christ to His churches.  I am thankful that it comes via the pastoral heart of John. 

I made my first reading of Revelation as a teenager, 13 or 14 years old.  I remember being enraptured by the imagery of the text.  Why it competed with that of Lord of the Rings!  As well I was also taken with fear that perhaps I might be the one who was somehow complicit with the Devil’s rebellion against Jesus.  Besides my fearful self-centered reading I was also deeply influenced by questions of when all this was happening and when Jesus was coming back and who all the national or global players in the events described might be.

I have read the text many times and with each reading I take heart with the promise that by simply reading it I will experience the blessings of God.  “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.”  Revelation 1:3 NIV  I do find that I take it to heart.  However, my concern is not so much for when this all happens but for who it all happens.  I want to know and live for my Lord Jesus Christ who has pulled back the curtain on a reality that He knows but I miss.

It is easy to read the Revelation of Jesus Christ and fear that pain and persecutions would be the death of faith and the church.  However that does not appear in the text as the greatest challenge to those who claim the name of Jesus.  Complaceny is the greatest challenge.  The “letters to the churches” set the scene for us to get a glimpse of how quickly the heart is drawn away from attentive devotion and obedience to Christ the Lord.  I believe the rest of the text then calls us back to Jesus by giving us a glimpse of the “end game” to which all of humanity is hurteling.

Through our journey through Revelation I am now reading Darrell Johnson’s Discipleship on the Edge; An Expository Journey Through the Book of Revelation.  I invite you to pick up your own copy and join in on the conversation.