The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, September 12, 2010.  The text for this week’s message is 1 Timothy 1:12-17.
Today we are beginning with the first of three weeks that we will be spending in Paul’s first letter to Timothy.  During these messages, we are going to walk away with some advice from Paul.  Paul was a mentor to Timothy, and what we are reading is a personal letter to Timothy.  We get an idea of who Paul is, and we begin to see what ministry is all about.  Today’s passage in particular is about Paul’s approach to ministry in the first place.  We are going to get some of his thoughts on the subject and see how we can apply it to our lives right here, right now. To begin, though, let’s get an important question out of the way – who is Timothy?
Timothy is first introduced in Acts 16.  Paul is traveling throughout the Mediterranean, and meets Timothy in Lystra.  Timothy’s mother was Jewish and a believer in Jesus Christ, and his father was Greek.  Immediately, we see Timothy traveling with Paul, strengthening the faith of the churches throughout Greece.  As we continue through Acts, we see that Timothy is entrusted with a lot of responsibility.  He is often left or sent places to continue Paul’s ministry in that place.  He was a young man, but his faith was strong and Paul entrusted him with a great deal of spiritual leadership.
As we read through some of Paul’s other letters, Timothy is mentioned several times.  He is referred to as Paul’s “fellow worker.”  Paul calls him “my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord.”  He spreads the gospel of Christ, strengthening and encouraging the churches that have been founded throughout modern-day Greece and Turkey.  Timothy is not just some random person that just so happens to be mentioned one time in the New Testament.  Timothy is a central figure in missionary endeavors throughout the Mediterranean.
Paul is writing to Timothy, his co-worker and successor in ministry, because he has left Timothy in charge of the church in Ephesus, where there were false teachers who were teaching doctrine contrary to the gospel.  We can learn from Paul’s interaction with Timothy.  While this is certainly a personal letter, there are some principles that apply in our lives as well.  
At the beginning of today’s section, Paul gives thanks for three things.  First, that Jesus has given him strength.  Second, that Jesus has judged him faithful.  Third, that Jesus has appointed him to service.  Let’s take a look at those three things.
First, Paul gives thanks because Jesus has strengthened him.  What does he mean by that?  The word translated “to strengthen” can also mean “to enable.”  So, what Paul is saying is that Jesus has enabled, or has empowered, him to be in ministry.  We talked a couple weeks ago that God has called all people to ministry.  If you have decided to follow Jesus, then you are responding to a call to ministry.  And if you’re thinking, “Well, there’s no way that God has called me to ministry, look at the things that I’ve done in my life,” then you need to pay extra attention to today’s message.  We’ll talk about that in more detail in a bit, but here’s the thing that we want to focus on for now: Paul is empowered for this ministry.
Paul was a very well educated man.  He basically had his PhD in Judaism.  However, that was all put aside when he encountered the risen Christ on the road to Damascus.  The path that Paul’s life was on was dramatically altered.  He was no longer a zealous Jew who persecuted the early Church.  He was a follower of Jesus Christ, who was set apart for a particular ministry – a ministry to the Gentiles.
He didn’t go to school to learn how to fulfill this ministry.  Realistically, nobody had done this before.  Jewish people didn’t actively seek out Gentiles with whom to share the message of God’s grace.  Jewish people tried as hard as they could to not associate with Gentiles at all.  There was nobody to teach him how to do this type of ministry, and he didn’t need there to be.  Paul was filled by the Holy Spirit, called to ministry by God, and empowered by God to do that ministry.  
Do you know what you need to do in order to fulfill the ministry to which God is calling you?  You need to draw close to Him.  A relationship is worth nothing if we don’t do our part in it.  We need to spend time reading the Word and praying.  We need to listen to what it is that God is trying to say to us throughout the day.  God never speaks to us in one way.  God’s call comes in a variety of ways, just so we don’t miss it.  Listen for that call in your life.  Like Paul, we are empowered to do ministry.  The ministry to which God calls us will not look like Paul’s.  It will be tailored to who God has designed us to be.  Like Paul, we need to remember to give thanks that God has empowered us for ministry.
Second, Paul gives thanks because Jesus judged him faithful.  Again, the Greek carries a lot more weight than our translation.  Jesus didn’t just look at Paul and say, “Okay, you’ll do.”  The word implies a carefully considered course of action that takes into account all of the various issues that are at stake.  In other words, when Paul was called to ministry, it wasn’t just a flippant, off-hand act.  God intentionally called Paul into ministry.
In spite of Paul’s persecution of the church, one thing could never be called into question: his faithfulness.  Now, I know that may sound like a strange thing to say about a man who was the equivalent of a bull in a china shop for the early Church.  Paul refers to himself as a blasphemer, persecutor and insolent opponent, so how can he possibly say that Jesus has judged him faithful?  Paul recognized that there was something at work within him, in spite of the evil deeds that he was doing.  That something was God’s grace.
God’s grace and the love of Jesus Christ were so powerful in Paul’s life that he had a complete turn around.  He is no longer a persecutor of the Christian faith, but he is its biggest evangelist and the most prolific writer in the New Testament, and it is only by God’s grace that this is the case.  Paul was judged faithful because of his response to the mercy, grace and love that were injected into his life when he experienced the risen Christ.
For those who think that God can’t possibly use you in ministry, take a look at Paul’s story – from persecutor to proponent, from enemy to evangelist, from wretch to redeemed.  That’s Paul’s story, and there might be something in it that resonates with your story.  Do you feel like God can’t use you?  You are wrong.  God used Paul in some unbelievable ways – so much so that we are still talking about it, nearly two thousand years after Paul was martyred for his faith.
How do we respond to the grace of God at work in our lives?  By giving thanks.  By devoting our lives to draw closer and closer to Him.  By going out of our way if we have to in order to share the good news of Jesus Christ.  Above all, we are called to be faithful.  That means not turning away after pursuits that do not fall in line with the kingdom of God.  We read over and over again throughout Scripture of the need to turn away from the things that pull us away from God.  Being judged faithful is about putting away the old self and embracing the new life that we have in Jesus Christ.  Like Paul, we need to remember to give thanks that Jesus has judged us faithful.
Third, Paul gives thanks because Jesus has appointed him to service.  How’s that for a different perspective?  Typically, when we think about doing things for the church, I imagine that more than a handful of people start to get a little anxious.  They are worried about what God is going to call them to which will force them out of their comfort zone.  Being appointed to the service of Jesus Christ is not something that should make us anxious.  We should be excited because we will finally have an opportunity to do what it is that we have been called to do.  We finally have the opportunity to be who we are supposed to be.  That’s not nerve-wracking.  That’s exciting.
There’s an old saying, “Find what you love to do.  Find somebody to pay you for it, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”  If we love what we are doing, then there’s a good chance that God can use us in ministry in that area.  If you aren’t good at something, then that’s probably not where God is calling you to ministry.  I listen to a lot of podcasts on my iPod, and one of the podcasts I have to come back to from time to time talks about the myth of the well-rounded individual.  There’s this idea in our society that we have to be balanced individuals; that we should work on our weaknesses in order to get stronger.  But is this really true?  Should we avoid honing our strengths in order to beef up our weaknesses?
Think about it this way: if Randy Johnson spent more time working on his hitting, do you think he would have been a 10-time All Star with over 300 career wins, nearly 5,000 strikeouts and 5 Cy Young Awards?  Absolutely not.  Hitting wasn’t his strength, and he didn’t need it to be because he was a phenomenal pitcher.  I can guarantee you that Albert Pujols doesn’t practice his pitching.  He works on his hitting and defense.  As a result, he’s won 3 MVP’s and a Gold Glove.  They hone their strengths so that they can become the best at what they do.  The same should be said for those of us in the church.
If you get so worked up about public speaking that you can’t stand even the thought of doing it, then maybe God hasn’t called you to preach, and that’s all right.  If you love to cook, then maybe God is calling you to use those talents to further His kingdom.  Where are your strengths in ministry?  What do you get excited about, and what are you good at when it comes to serving others?  Instead of fretting over where God has called us to ministry, we should take a cue from Paul and rejoice in the fact that Jesus has appointed us to his service.  God is going to call us to be who we are, where we are and to serve those He has placed in our lives.  Like Paul, we should give thanks to God because He has appointed us to His service.  So, how does this all come together?
Next week, we are going to take a few minutes during worship to fill out a leadership inquiry.  We are coming up on a time when we are going to start taking a look at the leadership for this congregation for the upcoming year.  This is going to be your opportunity to think about the areas where you have served in this congregation, and the areas where you might like to serve.  
I won’t make any promises that just because you put down that you’d like to be on a particular committee that you will end up on that committee.  We have a nominations committee that will be getting together to help make those decisions, and that’s why the spiritual gifts inventories were so important.  We want to be able to match your gifts with an outlet for ministry that you will be excited about and that will see you thrive in what God is calling you to do.
Jesus counts us faithful to fulfill the ministries that he has entrusted to us.  We discern this in the midst of community.  If and when you are approached about taking part in the ministries of this church in a specific way, I hope that you will take the time to pray about it.  I hope that you realize we don’t need to just fill slots in our leadership roster, we need people to step up and fulfill the call to ministry that God has in their lives.  Nominations time is not a dreadful time; it’s a joyful time in which we can respond to God’s call right here, right now.
There is so much more that we can learn from today’s passage, but I think that is enough for this morning.  If we learn nothing else from Paul, we should walk away this morning knowing that God has called us to serve in His kingdom.  This isn’t a scary call.  Responding to this call means that we are fulfilling our purpose in life.  God is the one who created us.  Who better for us to listen to when it comes to the great question in life – why am I here?
As we read again and again what Paul has to say to Timothy in this passage, we would do well to realize that this isn’t just a private conversation between two guys.  It is a call to ministry.  It is a call to respond to what God has in store for each one of us.  It is full of lessons that are important for each one of us as we move forward in our journey of faith.