Paul statueIn Acts 13:12, a politician actually repents and believes on Christ.  What do you think of that?  How in the world did that happen?  Isn’t that the antithesis of what we would expect?

What did Paul say to this leader, Sergius Paulus, to convince him to trust in Christ?  The passage doesn’t recount Paul’s words, but other passages do, filling in the blanks of Acts 13:12, which just says Sergius was “amazed at the teaching of the Lord“.

Paul probably said what he usually said.  The man stayed on task, you have to admit.  When he stood before King Agrippa in Acts 26, I think we get a pretty good idea of Paul’s message to Sergius Paulus (and other leaders he addressed throughout his ministry).  We also get a good insight into the message the Church is still responsible to take to government officials.

1)  Personal testimony – Paul did this several times through Acts, but he recalled for Agrippa his personal encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus.  What did he share?

*  His previous life – “And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them” (26:10).  Paul honestly identified himself as a sinner in need of forgiveness.

*  When he met Christ – “While so engaged as I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, at midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me.  And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.  And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting’” (26:12-15).  Paul pinpoints the time he heard Christ’s message stopping him in his tracks.

*  The call to follow and serve – “‘But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me'” (26:16-18).  Paul’s affirms why he sharing this message in the first place.  It is good news for all sinners.

*  His obedience – “So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance” (26:19-20)

 2)  The Gospel – “that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He would be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles” (26:23).  Christ’s death and resurrection was central to Paul’s interactions with leaders of his day.

3)  An apologetic opportunity – “While Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad.” But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth.  For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner” (26:24-26).  Notice Paul handles objections that come up during his statements from a by-standing political leader, Festus.  This could easily have occurred before Sergius as well.

4)  An appeal for decisions – “Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.” And Paul said, ‘I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains’” (26:28-29).  Agrippa didn’t believe, Sergius did, but Paul’s desire was the same for both rulers.

Can you see yourself saying these things to your governmental leaders?  Can you pray for open doors so that others might take this message to them?  Do you even have thoughts of caring for your public officials spiritually?  How we answer these questions will determine to what extent the Body of Christ will carry out the mandate to make disciples of every nation, including political types.

For many in today’s American church, this is going to take a major change in mindset, priority and action.

Mark Sanford, Governor of South Carolina

Mark Sanford, Governor of South Carolina

Some friends have asked my opinion on the recent admission by South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford that he had an extramarital affair.  Specifically, I hear the question “Don’t these politicians know they’ll get caught?  Don’t they know what they’re risking?  Surely they aren’t that dense.”

First, we need to remind ourselves that improper sexual relationships aren’t relegated only to the world of politicians.  In fact, if this admission comes from someone in, say, the entertainment industry it may even help their career.  Bed-hopping in some vocations can actually advance one’s goals.  But we’re talking about politicians now, and for them (at least some of them) the fallout can be a career-ender.  Are they so obtuse to believe that adultery is a valid option for them?

This ties in with the Paphos Paradigm of Acts 13.  Another governor, Sergius Paulus, who was the highest ranking Roman political official on Cyprus when Paul and Barnabas came through on the first missionary journey, is described as “a man of intelligence” (Acts 13:7).  He summoned Paul and Barnabas to meet with him personally so that he could hear their message himself.  This wasn’t uncommon since customarily public orators traveled the ancient world speaking new philosophies all the time.  Sergius had the intellectual curiosity to seek out those who presented new thought in his day. 

It has been my experience (and I expect it to hold true in the future) that those I’ve met who have risen to high office didn’t get there by accident.  They are driven, ambitious and very, very smart.  As you browse through their education and achievements this becomes clearly evident.  Since I seek to minister the gospel to these folks, that fact can be intimidating, but there are several biblical principles that need to be kept in mind. 

Let’s just get this first one out of the way.  All of us are sinners and need the gospel of Jesus Christ for forgiveness and the power to obey Him.  We all won’t struggle with the same sins, but we all will struggle.  Governor Sanford claims to follow Christ which is another reminder that Christians can give in to their flesh and fall as well.  This doesn’t address the issue of intelligence, but is just a statement of fact:  “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Next, there is a wisdom that this world provides and a wisdom that comes from God.  There are some very intelligent people who have no heart for God.  There are some who don’t have the degree from Harvard, but love the Lord and seek to please Him.  Paul made this clear to the Corinthians when he said “Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”  (1 Corinthians 1:20)

Not only does Paul show that there are two sources of wisdom (God’s vs. the world’s), but he also demonstrates that the qualities of those two ways of thinking are very different:

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.  (1 Corinthians 1:25-29)

The smart person (in the world’s definition) will see God’s wisdom as foolishness.  But any “wisdom” apart from God is destined to destroy.  We see it every day in marriages, families, communities and nations.  The impact has a wider range when leaders fall, so again we should be in prayer for them to act wisely, from wisdom that comes from God in His Word.

So when a politician cheats on a spouse, are they being unintelligent?  It’s the wrong question.  We should ask “To what source do our leaders look for wisdom and their ability to make God-glorifying decisions, professionally and personally?”  When they are unfaithful in marriage, it only shows their source and quality of wisdom is man-based, not God-centered.  But let us take care to cast stones: “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted”  (Galatians 6:1).

I say in the title that Governor Sanford’s struggle is shared by all leaders.  Obviously, I don’t mean that all officials cheat on their spouses.  But they do all have a sin nature, like every person.  The struggle for the right wisdom is the fight we all must wage.  The Church has a dog in this fight and we must wake up to our responsibility before God to speak loving truth to the leaders of men to see their hearts changed.  The time and treasure we are spending to merely force them to give us the society we want is one of the greatest acts of neglect in the Church’s legacy.

The historic Dunker church at the Antietam Battlefield

The historic Dunker church at the Antietam Battlefield

I stopped by the Antietam battlefield today.  I do this from time to time to connect with my area’s historical roots and, since the battle was the single bloodiest day in American history, remind myself things could be worse.

Today I decided to do my daily Bible reading in the small Dunker church building around which much of the fighting took place early in the day on September 17, 1862.  It was a little cool for mid-June and all one could hear was raindrops slapping the window panes.

When I finished reading, I took a few minutes to look out over the quiet battlefield from the open doorway.  How could something so horrible have happened in such a peaceful place?  Then a challenging thought came to me: I’m in a battle.  I’m in a battle every day as a follower of Christ.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

I’m reminded, too,  that we in the Church must focus on this battle.  I’m concerned when pastors or political activists quote this verse (as I’ve heard them do), acknowledge the spiritual nature of our struggle, then spend the rest of the time railing against people – the very flesh and blood we aren’t ultimately fighting against.

After verse twelve, Paul lists the weapons of the Christian: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation and the Word of God.  Then he asks for prayer.  Not prayer to have success combatting bad government policy, but that

utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:19, 20)

Where is the virtue in winning a war we’re not even called to fight with weapons fashioned by the world’s political system?  When our involvement with our government looks suspiciously like the world’s approach, that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Dr. fruit of the SpiritJohn Piper posted this to his Twitter page recently:  “Filled with the HOLY SPIRIT Paul said, “You son of the devil, enemy of righteousness, full of villainy” (Acts 13:9). Which fruit is that?

It caught my eye for two reasons: 1)  I’ve wondered the same thing many times and 2) it’s a crucial question in the Paphos Paradigm found in Acts 13:1-12.  If you want a little more background on the quote above check out the entry on this blog from June 1, 2009 (“Lessons from Wichita and Paphos – Appropriate Confrontation of  Evil”).

So here are the two seemingly contradictory concepts Piper is asking us to reconcile:  1)  Paul was full of the Holy Spirit, the evidence of which is found in Galatians 5:22, 23a: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;” yet 2) Paul verbally rips into the false prophet and magician Bar-Jesus with the words quoted in Piper’s tweet.

There are several layers to the answer, I think.  The first is Paul’s motivation for addressing Bar-Jesus so firmly.  It’s the same motivation that drove him to be the greatest missionary as well as endure suffering, hardship and loss.  Paul’s primary goal was to proclaim the gospel and Bar-Jesus was keeping that from happening.  Hence the reproof and judgement of temporary blindness (Acts 13 :10, 11).

Another consideration, as I wrote on June 1, is that these words we read in Acts 13 probably weren’t the only ones Bar-Jesus heard from Paul.  Chances are Paul spoke the truth of the gospel in the magician’s hearing, offering to him the same forgiveness and new life as any other hearer in Cyprus.  He just chose to reject it and tried to prevent the governor, Sergius Paulus, from hearing it also.  That sent Paul off.

So, to answer the original question, which fruit of the Spirit did Paul display in his treatment of the false prophet, Bar-Jesus?  A couple come to my mind.  The first is love.  I doubt that in 21st-century America we have a very accurate idea of what love really is.  Our definition is to make much of a person; if we are the recipients, our expectation is to be made much of.  Without getting into a deep theological discussion, God Himself doesn’t always treat people He loves by this definition.  His definition of love is to give people the opportunity to make much of Him, which is our highest good.  What happened to Bar-Jesus showed the greatness of God, pointed others to Him and had a part in the salvation of Sergius Paulus.  It was the loving thing for Paul to do.

Faithfulness would be another fruit seen in Paul’s words and actions here, again based on his goal of getting the gospel out.  How many times do we let obstacles keep us from sharing the truth as we should?  Is faithfulness in shorter supply in today’s churches and if it is, can we trace that back to not being controlled by the Spirit as we ought? 

All followers of Christ should reflect Him and these fruits that show the Spirit indwells.  But we will collide and disagree with our culture.  It will make us mad (which is not necessarily wrong biblically, but can be sinful).  But WHY does it make us mad?  What will our response be?  How does Paul’s example inform our motivation and our treatment of those who are hostile to our message of the gospel? 

It’s an interesting question.  How would you answer it?

In my email Inbox this morning, I found two messages asking for prayer.  One was a forwarded note focused on 2 Chronicles 7:14, and one was marked “urgent” from a lawyer who will be standing before the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics to defend traditional marriage.  While any call to prayer is encouraging to see, both of these emails caused me to stop and ask myself, “Before I pray, what exactly am I petitioning the Lord for?  What’s the goal of these prayers?”  You can infer from the writers what they would like to see happen, but is that the same thing as what God would want to happen?  After all, aren’t we all concerned that His will be done?

praying womanDeep questions for early in the day, I’ll admit, but worthy questions, I think.  I don’t claim to have the answers, either, but I’m trying to wrestle with the content of my prayers for America – are they biblical?  Are they motivated by the heart of God and His priorities?  Again more questions.  Sorry.

I just don’t want the prayer lives of followers of Christ in America to fall in the category of James 4:2, 3 – either failing to pray or praying with misguided motives.

Take the first message.  It quotes a well-known verse: “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land”  (2 Chronicles 7:14).  The rest of the note speaks of the “slippery slope” we’re on in America and our “corruption, greed, moral decay, and a steady move away from the things that made us great.”   It’s a call to pray, yes, and even gives some reasons why we should pray, but I see no specific WHAT here.  Forgiveness and healing are mentioned – a tremendous prayer based on this verse – but again, I still think we can do that with wrong motives and without a clear vision for what our role is beyond the prayer itself.

The second email has a more specific (and urgent) tone.  The Coucil in the District of Columbia recently voted to recognize same-sex marriages from other states and a Referendum has been presented to block that law.  The email is from the lawyer who will make the case for the proponents of the Referendum.  He says, “I am sure you understand how difficult it is to defend this kind of Referendum. It is a huge political and legal challenge.”  I can see the need for the prayer and for the blocking of the law, but I’m left wondering how many well-meaning Christians will consider that fight the end of their relationship with the D.C. Council? 

Do you think Paul ever prayed 2 Chronicles 7:14 for his society?  The passage is pointed to the people of God.  He lived in a corrupt, greedy world that was decaying morally.  Persecution of Christians was very present – much more brutal and violent than what we see in America.  He may have, but we don’t have to speculate on what Paul’s goal was when praying for his government:

1 First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men,  2 for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.    1 Timothy 2:1-4

praying manThis isn’t just a call to pray for leaders without specificity.  The motivation and results are clear.  Pray for leaders to get saved.  Pray for them to grow in knowing God and His will (“knowledge of the truth”).  How will that happen?  Well it needs to be part of the Church’s mission – we need to go to them, not with placards of protest but with spiritual care.  Speak the truth of God’s Word into thier lives with Bible studies and one-on-one meetings.  Pray for their hearts to be opened to the gospel.  For believing lawmakers, encourage them in their walk not to compromise God’s principles found in Scripture.

If that approach sounds passive or not militant enough, consider this: there is no more urgent message and it’s the mandate left to the Church by the Lord himself.  “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19, 20).  We decry where we are as a nation now, but where would we be if we had been doing this all along with our government officials in office or before they got to office?

Prayers for leaders are required of God’s people.  They are non-negotiable.  But they must be underpinned with a motivation to see God glorified, not just save our land for our children.  And the goal must not be just a change in laws, but in the hearts of lawmakers.

police tapeYesterday’s murder of the controversial Dr. George Tiller, notorious for his prolofic abortion activity, will no doubt be written and spoken about much in the next few days.  The vigilante nature of the murderer’s  act is obviously immoral and unjustified.  It made me question, though: does the Paphos Paradigm shed any light on confronting evil in the political arena?  I believe it does because Paul and Barnabas came across an obstacle in the capital of Cyprus.  

6 When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they found a magician, a Jewish false prophet whose name was Bar-Jesus, 7 who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence. This man summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God.  8 But Elymas the magician (for so his name is translated) was opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.  9 But Saul, who was also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fixed his gaze on him, 10 and said, “You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord?  11 Now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and not see the sun for a time.” And immediately a mist and a darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking those who would lead him by the hand.  (Acts 13:6-11)

Several principles can be observed from Acts 13 in relation to responding to those with opposing priorities.  First of all, I think we can agree that opposition will occur in this world and we shouldn’t be surprised or intimidated when it does.  Especially in the political sphere we tend to take great offense that others don’t share our point of view when this is one inescapable reality.

Second, notice why Paul was stirred to action: Bar-Jesus was placing himself between Paul and the governor to block the gospel from having any effect (v. 8).  Paul wasn’t passionate about policy differences as much as he was displeased that a wall had been placed in the way of his message.  His actions clearly reflect a priority of seeing his mission through – witnessing to Sergius Paulus.  He wouldn’t let anything get in the way of that, because he knew the powerful impact the gospel has in the human heart.

Third, motivated by the right reason, Paul has sharp words for Bar-Jesus and calls him exactly what he is: an enemy of what is right.  But again, let the passage define “right”.  Bar-Jesus opposed Paul’s gospel message while his political views aren’t even mentioned (or seem to concern Paul at all).  Passion for seeing the gospel reach a leader is the issue here, not to change his mind on a policy.  When the truth of God does its work, the Church must believe that worldviews are changed and spiritually regenerated leaders can then make laws that are more moral and equitable.

Fourth, think about what isn’t recorded in this passage.  Given Paul’s pattern of ministry and his priority of proclaiming God’s truth, I believe he witnessed to Bar-Jesus (or at least spoke within his hearing) before this recorded confrontation took place.  And who knows what the result was from the combination of Paul’s teaching and Bar-Jesus’ temporary blindness?  For Sergius Paulus, it was faith in Christ.  We aren’t told what happened ultimately in the magician’s heart and maybe the author, Luke, never found out.  But from the impression left by Paul’s response to his opposition, Bar-Jesus may have believed as well.

Murdering a political opponent is never right.  With prayer and proper confrontation from the Christian community, perhaps Dr. Tiller would have drawn close to Christ.  Our concern over the negative effects of the actions of those hostile to God’s principles in Scripture must be spiritual rather than merely political or opinion-based.  It’s important to speak up for righteousness in our world, but the battle is won and lost in the hearts of people as they respond to God’s truth.

cyprus-mapMD county mapAn interesting thought strikes me as I read Acts 13:4-6.   

So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus.  When they reached Salamis, they began to proclaim the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews; and they also had John as their helper.  When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos…  (Acts 13:4-6a)

Paul and Barnabas are just starting off on their first missionary journey, landing on the eastern side of the island of Cyprus in a town called Salamis.  They then work their way across the island, preaching the gospel, headed west eventually to reach the capital city of Paphos.  I’m reminded that each of the State Directors for Capitol Ministries is seeking to do the same thing.

In addition to developing ministry initially at the state level in our respective capitol communities, we also want to partner with churches throughout our states to reach leaders on the local level.  This would include elected officers in county commissions, city councils and school boards.  This kind of local outreach can only be done with the involvement of like-minded believers through the state who share the burden to see leaders encouraged by the Word of God.

Instead of Salamis to Paphos, I’m thinking of ways to make this happen from Ocean City to Oakland in the state of Maryland.  Maybe you have a thought on putting together a strategy in your area.  I’d love to hear it!

 

touching the worldThe Paphos Paradigm of ministering to government officials is found at the beginning of Acts 13, and immediately the emphasis on the local church is made.  Five men are listed who were teaching in the Antioch church when two of them (Saul and Barnabas) are singled out for a new task.  Two important things are evident:

1)  The Holy Spirit called Saul and Barnabas – “While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2).  There was no strategy session, no committee meeting to express opinions and take a vote.  While this staff of teachers carried out their ministries of teaching and prophecy, the Spirit spoke and called out who He wanted to go on the missions trip.

The process of “the call to ministry” has long been a mysterious source of debate in the Church, but at the core of the issue is the working of the Holy Spirit – in the heart of the one called as well as in the church as a whole, who should observe, pray, affirm and commission the called one.  There’s something deeply inspiring about seeing someone who’s available to follow this spiritual leading and willingly submits themselves to the oversight and authority of the church who also seeks the Spirit’s leading.  This whole endeavor must be initiated and sustained by the Spirit of God.

2)  The church sent Saul and Barnabas – “Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away” (Acts 13:3).  The “they” in this verse was the Antioch church and it’s a pattern that we must follow today.  What a connection, an identification is in this verse.  The church is behind this effort because it is an extension of its ministry, just in a different location.  Saul and Barnabas aren’t leaving to independently set up their own autonomous work.  They are an extension of their church, still connected, supported and encouraged by them.  They will later return to Antioch to give a report of the trips and be accountable to the church’s leadership (Acts 14:26, 27).

Missions begins and ends with the local church; that’s the pattern in Acts.  Any ministry activity apart from the oversight of the church has no accountability or direction to prevent derailments like discouragement, lack of counsel or doctrinal error.  The partnership and support displayed between the First Church of Antioch and Saul and Barnabas is an indispensable example we must duplicate.

From there, the ministry on Cyprus took off, with the eventual opportunity to witness to the governor.  When Sergius Paulus came to faith in Acts 13:12, it was the result of the church carrying out the mandate to make disciples, not just two men on an independent gospel expedition.  Taking the good news to leaders and everyone else is a responsibility we all share in the church.

May we think of that the next time we see our representatives on TV or in the papers.  The onus is on us to care for them spiritually.

praying soldierThe past three days have been good for the Aldermans.  Tracy, Megan and I spent the weekend in the hills of southcentral Pennsylvania in fellowship, worship and fun with some new friends and that’s always good.  Mark Benz, with the Officers’ Christian Fellowship, called recently to ask if I would lead the worship at this weekend retreat for some military chaplains and their families.  Mark, a retired army chaplain, is a dear brother who has a true servants’ heart and understands what these folks deal with.  It was eye-opening to get to know these remarkable people and Memorial Day is more meaningful with this experience so fresh in my memory.

I can’t completely identify with their work, even though I’m also a minister.  The physical suffering of those in their charge is sometimes the result of war.  The unseen, but very real, emotional and psychological trauma they help to ease is constantly present.  Some are facing moves to new assignments, some just got back from deployment, all are faithfully following a special, sacrificial call.  Whether at the War College, Walter Reed or on a base these caring ministers seek to bring healing and truth to needy, hurting families.

Their stories are compelling.  At meal times, I just kept asking questions about their work and ministry.  The dedication and sacrifice of their wives also amazed me – they understand their call and what it means for their families.  Frequent moves, prolonged periods apart from each other, pressures of ministry to others even during war time: these are not people whose daily lives are like mine.  It was fascinating and humbling at the same time.

It was also a reminder that, spiritually, my life should be like theirs.  Paul used military imagery to describe our life in Christ.  He called fellow Christians “soldiers” (e.g., Epaphroditus in Philippians 2:25 and Archippus in Philemon 1:2) and he mentored Timothy with the same image: 

Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. (2 Timothy 2:3, 4)

If you were in the infantry in Iraq or Afghanistan right now, what would your “war awareness” be?  Every second of the day would have to bow to the truth that “I’m fighting a war”.  Can you imagine being a soldier with hostile enemies all around, but not carrying your weapon or reviewing your training much?  That would be a pretty worthless soldier, putting himself, his buddies and the mission in jeopardy.  The reality of the spiritual warfare Christians face mandates that we commit ourselves to the cause, acknowlege and accept the hardship with the goal of pleasing the Commander.  I need to think more that way.  Anybody else?

Driving home, I also was struck that these military leaders should be included in our 1 Timothy 2 prayers for “kings and all those in authority”.  Pray for their safety, wisdom and families, but don’t forget their spiritual life as many walk the line between life and death every day.

On this Memorial Day, let’s take a moment to realize that we followers of Jesus are also enlisted and are in a very real battle every day in this world.  And God bless our military and the great example they display.

funeralA friend of mine died this week.  Rocky was a good, solid guy who loved the Lord and loved his family.  All who knew him will miss him, but we’re glad he’s with the Lord.  At his funeral, I thought about the thing I think about at every funeral:  a week ago this person was with us.  Maybe sick, maybe comatose, maybe feeling great, but they were here in this world. 

Then I wonder where I’ll be in a week.  There’s no guarantee that I will be alive – that’s the nature of an unforeseeable future.  But for the child of God, it’s not a reason to dread tomorrow or lose heart.  Faith instills assurance of heaven so that if my funeral is next week, well, I hope my family and friends give glory to the Lord and enjoy the chicken.

Funerals should serve to remind us of our mortality (something we don’t consider too much), but there’s another important lesson to relearn.  Others around us are in the same boat which, for some strange reason, doesn’t cause us to have a great sense of urgency to make sure they hear the good news that their sins can be forgiven.

One of Isaac Watts’ great hymns describes the certainty of death like this: “Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away”.   Or to cite more familiar words: “…it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).  It’s a reality, we all know that.  But how does this truth fit into the Paphos Paradigm of ministering to leaders?

Paul lists four types of prayer for all people in 1 Timothy 2:1, then specifies these prayers should include “kings and all those in authority”.  One of these types of prayer is translated “supplication” (dee’sis) which means “an urgent request or plea for a pressing need”.  What is the urgency?  What is the need?  Is it a bill coming up for a vote on the floor?  Is it wisdom for the next multibillion dollar appropriation?  Is the need to have any given office holder reelected or booted out?

I would submit that the urgency, the reason for the plea, the pressing need is found two verses later:  “God our Savior desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”  The salvation and subsequent spiritual growth in the heart of a leader is the need.  The glory of God is at stake, not the appeasement of passionate constituants.

These leaders, like you and me, aren’t guaranteed their next breath.  The Church must stop fooling itself into the false notion that the real urgency is the next election cycle.  Elections are important, but they cannot be our primary focus to impact the culture when we’ve been given such a clear mandate to evangelize and disciple leaders.  To neglect the eternal impact of sharing the gospel in order to make temporary changes in governmental structure is a redefinition of God’s priorities. 

He made it clear: 1 Timothy 2 starts with the words “First of all”.  In other words, get ready to hear My priorities.  Don’t hide your head and pay no attention to who is leading you.  And don’t give yourself primarily to grassroots movements to change the balance of human power.  Get in a closet somewhere and acknowledge Divine power and plead with urgency for the souls of those in authority.

One day, they will stand before the Lord and the only thing that will matter is what they did with Jesus.