Tuesday Tidbits

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The Meeting at Miletus: Mentoring God's Leaders

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Paul was on a mission. He intended to get to Jerusalem by Pentecost, and his route there had already taken some unexpected and unintended turns (Acts 20:1-5, 13-15). Thus, he did not have time to stop in Ephesus as much as he might have wanted to (Acts 20:16). Paul had spent the better part of three years laboring in the city in Ephesus, was instrumental to the radical conversion of many, and no doubt had developed strong bonds with the Christians there (Acts 19, cf. 20:31, 37). As much as anywhere else since Paul's conversion, save maybe Antioch, this was home. Though he knew he did not have time to stop in the city, he felt it was important to meet up with leadership in Ephesus. Being certain of little other than a future of hardship and affliction and the likelihood that he would never see these men again, Paul called a special meeting in the city of Miletus (Acts 20:17, 22-23, 25, 38). The details of this meeting provide one of the strongest examples of what leadership ought to look like among God's people (Acts 20:18-38). 

Though not an elder in any official sense, Paul left behind a powerful example of what an elder should be. He modeled a balance of humility and boldness (20:19-20) of perseverance and selflessness (20:22-24), of hard work and deep concern for the wellbeing of others (20:31, 33-35). These characteristics were evident to all, and Paul encouraged the elders to not only call them to memory but to embody them in their own lives (20:18, 31, 34, 35*). But while these characteristics (much like those given in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1) provide a sketch of the type of person elders ought to be, this is still very much a 2-dimensional rendering in black and white, in need of depth and color. 

The term elder, especially when used of a man with a special position in the community, emphasized his maturity, wisdom, and experience. To stretch Ezekiel's metaphor, two related terms add flesh and function to this basic form or structure. Paul admonishes the elders to "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flockamong which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood" (20:28, NASB italicized and bolded for emphasis). When Paul, with the rest of New Testament witness, describes the work of elders, they describe it as a shepherd among sheep; they are those who care for/feed/shepherd the flock (John 21:16; 1 Pet. 5:1-2; Jude 12). They have been put in, called to, raised up to that position for the purpose of caring for God's people by providing for and protecting them (Acts 20:28-31). In this way, they become imitators of Jesus, the chief shepherd and overseer, who gave His life to provide for and protect His sheep (John 10:2-16; 1 Pet. 2:25; 5:2; Heb. 13:20). The term overseer connotes an added level of responsibility and protection (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:7; 1 Pet. 2:25). They serve as those who keep watch over the souls of God's people (1 Pet. 2:25;  Heb. 13:17). (Note: thus, while each of these terms refers to the same group of men in the New Testament, they are not entirely synonymous. Each adds an important layer of meaning and significance to leaders' role among God's people). 

The primary means, at least that Paul mentions here, that these elders were to provide for and protect the flock as shepherds and overseers was through the word. Paul's own example was of someone who gave himself entirely to the proclamation of the word in order to teach, admonish, and encourage (20:20-21, 24-25, 27, 31). Thus, his charge to the elders in Ephesus was to be men who are given to the word, using it to nourish the flock (v. 28, 32) and to combat those who would twist it (vv. 29-30), being especially careful that they don't lead the flock astray.

After instructing these men, Paul led them in prayer, and they all said their heart-felt, or better heart-wrenching, good-byes (20:36-38). There are a few takeaways that we can take away from this. These apply first and foremost to shepherds or aspiring shepherds and the rest of us to a certain degree. 

  1. Mentorship and Continued Development: During Paul's time in Ephesus, he had spent time with these men, instructing them and modeling for them what it means to lead God's people well. This was a continuous process, as even the very fact of this conversation in Miletus suggests. Here were men who had met the qualifications of being Elders, yet they hadn't arrived in any triumphal sense. They still needed to grow and improve. God's people, especially its leaders, need to continue to learn from/be mentored by others as we all grow to be more like Him. The flip side is that those who are mature ought also to be training up others after them at the same time. This applies especially to the need for elders to groom and train other men to be elders after them. The general concept of mentorship arises a couple of times in Paul's letters and is modeled in several relationships (2 Tim. 2:1-2; Tit. 2:1-8; Moses/Joshua, Elijah/Elisha, Barnabas and Paul/John Mark, Paul/Timothy, etc.). 
  2. Introspection and Self-Deception: Paul's tragic (prophetic?) statement about a destructive influence infiltrating not only the flock at Ephesus but the leadership itself calls for all God's people, especially its leaders, to practice great circumspection and introspection to avoid self-deception. Indeed, Paul warns them to pay close attention to themselves (20:28) and tells them to be alert (Acts 28:31). We all must regularly check our motivations and intentions, especially those of us who have a greater influence on others. 
  3. Selfless Abandon and the Mission of God: Paul knows that he is called to suffer and sacrifice as a follower of Christ. Rather than shying away from this, Paul is willing to endure this because of his overwhelming sense of mission and purpose. He is willing to spend and be spent for the proclamation of the Gospel and the growth and health of the flock. While this is essential for all Christians, it is especially pertinent for those in or aspiring to leadership. It is a call to service, not splendor, and to giving rather than to gain (Matt. 20:25-28). We must allow God's mission to reorient every aspect of our lives. 

I have deep gratitude for the men who work among us in this capacity, those who have before, and those who are aspiring to engage in that work someday. Indeed these men are worthy of "double-honor" (1 Tim. 5:17-18). Let us all glean from the instruction and example of Paul in Acts 20. 

The World Versus the Way (Acts 19:23-41)

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

“And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.” (Acts 19:19-20)

To say that the Gospel had an effect in the ancient world is to severely understate the case. It transformed lives and subverted the world’s value systems as it called people to follow an entirely new “Way” (this is the earliest self-designation for the Christian movement Acts 9:2; 18:24, 26; 19:9, 23; 22:4 24:14, 22). For those on the outside of this movement, their worlds were being turned upside down (Acts 17:6-7), and this had the expected effect (Acts 17:8). We don’t like it when our categories are shaken up, our convictions are challenged, and our systems are overturned. The rest of the world is no different. Thus, it should come as no surprise to us that as the Way grew, so did its detractors and opponents.

In Acts 19:23-41, we read about one occurrence of these competing “ways” that may shed some light on our own experience in the world. Demetrius and certain craftsmen in Ephesus were starting to notice the work that Paul and many others were doing, and a great disturbance arose concerning the Way (Acts 19:23-25). This occurred because their sources of security, in this case, their occupations and their religious convictions, were undermined as a result of the rapid spread and influence of the Gospel (Acts 19:26-27). The ground on which they stood was shaken, and they responded in unsurprising ways.

First, they responded in anger and outcry as they boisterously continued to assert their stance, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” (Acts 19:28, 34). In all of this outcry, there is not a whole lot of room for listening. Some didn’t even know what they were yelling about*; they were just angry (Acts 19:32)! In fact, when a man named Alexander steps forward to make a defense, he is met with louder and even more persistent cries (Acts 19:33-34). Notice that the why they don’t listen to him. It is because he is a Jew; that is, at the very least, he is not one of us. This is the “grown-up” version of the phenomenon we observe in toddlers/ young children when they plug their ears with the fingers and say, “Nah, nah, nah, nah, I’m not listening.” We can expect that the world will often, though not always, refuse to listen to us because of who we are or, perhaps more precisely, who we aren’t. We are not them. We don’t share their convictions and values; therefore, they don’t listen.

Second, notice how a moral/religious objection is co-opted and conflated with a personal/financial concern. This happens far too often in our current climate. Moral objections, to be sure, at times perfectly valid ones, are levied against the broader world of Christendom of which we are a part, but many times, these are used to masquerade the true motivations of those who cry out. This doesn’t necessarily invalidate the arguments that are put forward, but it certainly calls into question the sincerity of those making them. When we fail to realize these smoke screens for what they are, we end up embroiled in conflicts we have no chance of successfully navigated because we are unable to deal with the root issues. (To be sure, when the world raises legitimate issues, even if the motivations are less than noble, we must humbly and introspectively consider the criticism. The history of God’s people is replete with examples with them.

Third, when the world feels threatened, it often threatens in return. Notice how they treat Gaius and Aristarchus (Acts. 19:29). Because of what’s at stake, the world will often resort to acts of physical and emotional violence. It may attempt to yield its political, economic, and/or judiciary clout against us (Heb. 10:32-34; Rev. 13:7-10; 16-18). It is significant in this case that for all the commotion, the accusations against the Way are ultimately declared empty (Acts 19:35-41, esp. v. 40). While we are not guaranteed that the threats will subside as they do here, we must never give the world a legitimate reason to threaten us (1 Pet. 4:12-16).

Just this past week, I observed all four of these responses to followers of the Way and have experienced all of them in various ways in the past. I’m confident you have as well. The takeaways for us are three-fold:

  1. As followers of the Way, we ought to expect and prepare for these sorts of reactions. The world will hate us because it hated Him (John 15:18-19; 1 John 3:13). Those who love the darkness will recoil when we shine as lights in the world (John 3:19-20, cf. Eph. 5:11-14; Phil. 2:14-16). Therefore, we are not surprised by this inevitable eventuality (2 Tim. 3:12; 1 Pet. 4:1-4, 12-16; 5:9).


  1. But this begs the question, am I following the Way in such a way that I garner this sort of reaction? Certainly, we are not seeking such or being intentionally obtuse or obnoxious in our interactions with the world (Rom. 12:18; Phil. 4:5). But the fact of the matter is, as we have witness to in the life of the early church and the abiding word of the Lord through the inspired writers, as the Way increases, so does its opposition. If we live, walk, and move according to the Way, we will make waves in the world around us, both positively and negatively. What waves am I making?


  1. Finally, the world's reactions should serve as negative examples of how not to respond to those we disagree with. We must 1) carefully listen to our opponents, not just plug our ears. 2) Make sure our motivations are right even while arguing for the right things. 3) Respond with calm conviction rather than corroding coercion. "The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim. 1:5)

I Made Them Childless Jer. 15:7

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Once in my career, I played a minor role in a modern tragedy that had a father lose his only son. The sound of the parents crying when they knew their child had died, still echoes in my ears. It was impossible not to feel those emotions and empathize with that family. It probably has happened more than once, given that my job often subjects me to being a participant in the final moments of some individual's lives; however, this occasion was one that was abundantly clear to me and will forever remain in the forefront of my mind. I saw, from a later interview on the subject, into the father's mental state after such a loss. It was heart-breaking to visualize. It was impossible not to sympathize with parents facing such a loss.

I remember years ago when my father passed away. I was at the funeral home with my grandparents, who despite my father being almost 50, never saw him as anything else but their little boy. My grandmother turned to me and said this is deeply wrong and the most unnatural thing that can happen to you as a parent. Parents aren't supposed to see their children die.

In movies, we are often given a villain who is trying to get some information from the hero or inflict terrible pain on him or her. They often threaten their children. I recall one of the most moving scenes in cinema in the movie Saving Private Ryan. When movies are done well you know it, because emotionally you forget you are watching something and instead feel it. Early in the movie, Steven Spielberg must make you understand the reason for the rest of the drama and action that is to take place. He does that with one scene where Private Ryan's mother gets news that 3 of her sons have been killed. That realization makes her too weak to stand. You truly feel that pain even if in life you have never lived it. You sympathize with her and hope and pray never to face the same event.

When we read all of the punishments placed upon the children of Israel as they are about to be destroyed and sent off into Babylonian captivity, I cannot find one more punishing than is recorded for us in Jeremiah 15:7. "I made them Childless. He of course is not saying he caused them simply to be barren. Instead, he is telling Jeremiah to let the people who survive know how he is going to decimate their children. The most unnatural thing that can happen is about to happen on a national scale. We think of the anguish when the Egyptians lost their firstborn on a national scale. What must the cry have sounded like that day when all the people felt the same unbelievable pain. 1Cor 10:13 says that there will be no temptation that we cannot bear. This punishment would be one that seems would test anyone's ability to endure.

We know of another case of enduring loss, when Christ our father's only son went to his death on the cross. When such a tragedy befalls us we have no power to stop it or slow it down. However, in the case of Calvary, not only could Jesus have called down 10,000 angels, but God also had the power to stop everything and leave us without hope. He did not alter his promise. He did not spare his son. He loved us too much, so despite the pain that seeing Christ subjected to so much would have caused, God endured it. God felt the unnatural feeling, so we in our sin and filth could feel his love for us. Praise the Lord for his loving favor.

Joe Johnsey

Your Last Meal

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

I’ve been listening to the book Dispatches from Pluto writing by an Englishman who translocated to the Mississippi delta to learn more about the area he had come to know through his love of the blues.  In his “research”, he found himself at Parchman Prison.  As he noted it is impossible to know all there is to know about the delta without learning about something that so dominates the area.  During his tour, the Warden explained about death row that then sent all involved down the “rabbit hole” of contemplating their own last supper.  For a moment, it sent me considering my own choices.  I certainly would select a last meal, although the choices probably would vary or be quite wide-ranging.

However, given our recent study in Luke 22, my mind rapidly moved to a last supper that I am intimately aware of.  Our Lord and savior had a last supper.  I am not aware of him eating later. While Jesus joined the disciples in the upper room in John 20 and on the beach in John 21, the text does not explicitly state Jesus consumed anything.  Therefore, I am led to believe the Passover meal Christ partook of with his disciples recorded in Luke 22 was his last.  And as a death row inmate is aware, our Lord was aware of his pending death.

That is why I am so struck by the selection and the desire Christ had to partake in this meal.  While much of the Passover meal was prescribed by law, the point to me was that this was Jesus’ desire.  He wanted to eat this meal because of its meaning to him and to all of those that ate it.  He wanted to share the power of the moment and the memory with this e disciples he had spent so much time with.  And he wanted to impact us, his future disciples, with that same impact.  He wanted to connect for them and us the power of the sacrifice and the blood.  He wanted to recall the power of the lamb’s blood that had spared so many Israelites of the awful pain of losing a firstborn child.  He wanted to show the impact his blood would have for them and us.  He wanted those emblems, which he left behind for us, to have an impact upon us as we partake if them.  And he wanted to remind us all of the future supper that awaits us and that he longs to have again with all of us.

So what do you desire for your last supper?  Are your thoughts like mine were initially focused on the physical?  If so I suspect you are like the majority of us.  Or are you looking to something more impactful and permanent and important as our Savior is?

Joe Johnsey


I really appreciate Joe's thoughts on this. I think viewed through this lens, with all of the significance that Jesus placed in this last meal, perhaps the Lord's Supper is unshackled from the monotony that can often accompany it. The Lord's Supper is at the same time a tragic memorial and a triumphant celebration. It is a reminder and extension of the relationship we have with Him through His blood, and it is the time where we recommit ourselves to Him. And as significant as it is, it is just the appetizer, the Hors d'oeuvres, a tasty morsel of what will be. Of course, we are not talking here about some tasteless bread or the semi-sweet and sometimes bitter cup that we drink. Rather what they symbolize. Every Sunday we get a rich foretaste of the grand banquet that we will have the delight of partaking in with our Savior and the entire community of His people. Oh what a day that will be! Dining and denizening with the Divine. 


Rubble Under the King's Feet

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

The crowds hovered around Jesus questioning, marveling, hoping as they listened to Him debate and silence the chief priests, the scribes, and the Sadducees on the temple grounds. Jesus had come into their house and overturned their entire system (quite literally in one instance cf. Lk. 19:45-46). Fuming with rage and oozing with jealously the religious authorities and the leading men sought to detain and destroy Jesus but found no opportunity because of the great esteem He had among the people (Lk. 19:47-48).

Jesus continued to frustrate their efforts and demonstrate the folly of their faith, tied to a particular place, and failing to see God when He stared them in the face (Lk. 20:17). Having been interrogated with a barrage of questions by the authorities Jesus then countered with an interpretive riddle they could not answer (Lk. 20:41-44). The Christ would be the son of David, but he would be so much more than that. He was also David’s Lord. And God was raising him up to crush his enemies. That bit the religious authorities readily accepted, so long as the Christ’s enemies were also their enemies. Little did they realize that they were the ones who stood opposed to Him.

After confounding their minds, Jesus pressed on to condemn their hearts and their hands by pointing out how these men’s piety was really a pretense for their pride and a platform for their social and political gain (Lk. 20:45-47). In seeking to climb higher up the socio-economic ladder they stepped over and stepped on the most vulnerable of society, namely the widows. It is in this moment that Jesus turned and saw through the dust and the crowds someone that no one paid attention to. A widowed woman, who had nothing more than two pennies to rub together. She dropped both into the offering box at the temple, their sound no more discernible than their purchasing power. Meanwhile, many rich men were pouring in bags fulls of coins of great value, clanging loudly as they rattled in. ‘Now these contributions were actually worth something’ some thought as they marveled at the Temple’s grandeur, ‘look what beauty and bounty these can buy’ (Lk. 21:1-5).

They were missing the point. Where they saw great acts of faith, Jesus saw greed. Where they observed piety, Jesus pointed out pride. What they called religiosity, Jesus called robbery (Lk. 19:46). His driving the merchants out of the temple and overturning of their tables had been a foreshadowing, a foreboding portent of a greater upheaval. There would come a day when every one of these magnificent and majestic stones at which the crowd marveled would be overturned (Lk. 21:6). God would not abide their hypocrisy and injustice anymore. The religious elite who had stepped on the backs of widows to attain their positions of power would soon find themselves under the feet of the Christ (Lk. 20:42-43). Their house would be destroyed.

This was perhaps the most scandalous thing that Jesus had said to this point, but the disciples were starting to understand it. They could now see through the thin veil the leaders had pulled over the eyes. ‘When would these things be?’ they asked, ‘and what signs should we be looking for?”

Here is where we need to begin to watch the time markers that punctuate this text. Jesus warns that there will be many who say that the time is near, and rumors of war will excite their ears and terrify their hearts. In other words, ‘the world is going carry on as it always has, but you carry on your way, continue in your business, complete your task. The end is not yet.’ First, the disciples must bear witness about Jesus while being turned over by friends and family, rejected by those who continued to remain obstinate in their rebellion. As they faced the same rejection as their Christ to which they testified, the cup of wrath was being filled up against the leaders in Jerusalem and all aligned with them. Given ample opportunity to repent, and remaining as rebellious as ever Jerusalem would soon find themselves surrounded by enemies, ready to be trampled underfoot (Lk. 21:20-24, cp. 20:42-43).

Up to this point in the story, we remain pretty confident that we get the gist of what is being said, but here things start to take a turn, and questions and confusion abound. Jesus begins to use cosmic language and apocalyptic imagery and thus we might begin to think that He has shifted from the destruction of Jerusalem to another topic entirely. He hasn’t. This language, while exciting and novel to us was the way that the ancients would’ve expressed a major change in world orders, the rising up of new kings, or the overthrow of powerful kingdoms. We hear this language and are prone to think of THE end of the world at the end of history, when in fact the Bible uses this sort of language to describe events that occur within history that while significant, are something less than the final end of the entire world. Read the oracle of judgment against Babylon in Isaiah 13. Nations rise up, the sound of tumults are heard, God is purposing to destroy “the whole earth,” the stars, the sun, and the moon all turn dark, the heavens and the earth tremble and “the world” is punished for its evil. That Jesus picks up on this language here prepares us for the possibility that something less than the end of the world might be in view.

However, we face another hurdle at this point, because Jesus begins talking about the coming of the Son of Man with the clouds. Surely this is a reference to the second coming and the end of the world, right?! This comes straight from Daniel 7 where Daniel sees a vision of “one like a son of man” coming with the clouds approaching the “Ancient of Days”, defeating the beasts which represent the enemy nations, and being given an every lasting reign that would never be destroyed. At base, it is a text about the king reigning over His enemies. Now, like the cat who hides under the chair with his tail sticking out, hopefully, some of what is hidden is starting to become obvious. Already, Jesus has referenced Him sitting enthroned over His enemies (Lk. 21:42-43). The question is when would this happen? Like the cat’s tail sticking out, we see a glimpse of what will ultimately take place. This is already beginning in the events of Jesus’ day as He silences His enemies. Continuing to follow the time markers in Luke 21, Jesus says to His disciples that these are signs that they will observe. The king will reign over His enemies in their lifetime, their time of redemption is near (Lk. 21:28)!

Jesus drives this point home by telling a parable about trees, leaves, and fruit. When the leaves begin to sprout, it is evidence of something coming to fruition. So too when the disciples faced the persecution, bore testimony to Jesus, and eventually saw the armies surrounding Jerusalem they would know that the time was near, the kingdom was at hand, the Son of Man was at work in defeating His enemies. All of these things would happen before that present generation passed away (Lk. 21:32). The real scandal in all of this was that the Son of Man would come to destroy not Nineveh, Babylon, Athens, or Rome, but that He would come on this occasion to destroy Jerusalem, the home of the Temple, the height of the Jewish culture and religion.

So this text is not about the final end of the world, at least not primarily or directly. It is about the destruction of Jerusalem, cast in apocalyptic language, as with many previous judgments and this would happen during the lifetime of Jesus’ disciples. Derivatively, however, it foreshadows, as all judgment scenes do, the final judgment for which we must all be ready. Let us “stay awake at all times, praying that [we] may have the strength to escape [the judgment] and to stand before the Son of Man” (Lk. 21:36).

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