A Great Mentor (8:30am Worship)
September 11, 2016 Series: Exploring the Pastoral Epistles
Topic: Christian Living & Discipleship Scripture: Psalm 14, 1 Timothy 1:12–1:17
Sheriff Andy Taylor was a fictional TV dad and father-figure to many in the village of Mayberry. Author Craig Fowler notes, he was also a mentor to practically everyone on the show. His son Opie, his deputy Barney Fife, and Otis Campbell whose alcohol addiction put him in and out of jail: all were beneficiaries of Andy’s wisdom, kindness, and time. He helped Opie raise three baby birds, face a bully at school, and overcome disappointment. He showed respect and civility toward Otis and made him a temporary deputy. For Barney he instilled confidence, showed forgiveness when he messed up—which was frequently—and helped him do his job better. Sheriff Andy was an ideal mentor. They didn’t call him a mentor on the show, but his influence was deep and lasting in the lives of others.
Over the next several weeks, the lectionary will take us through 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. They’re called the “Pastoral Epistles.” Pastor Matt and I will be preaching through selected passages. These three letters are named after the addressees, who are colleagues of St. Paul. The epistles deal with a whole variety of topics including church governance, family relationships, Christian living, and theology. Throughout the letters, Paul shows concern for the person in ministry. His desire is to encourage, instruct, sometimes to correct, and always to build up and strengthen in faith. Although it seems to be directed to fellow church leaders, it has value for all kinds of interpersonal dynamics—including marriages, families, employer-employee, and friends.
Paul demonstrates a key virtue: his openness about himself and his own experience. He shares honestly about who he was before he encountered the living Christ—his sins and mistakes—and what God had done in his life. This openness matters. When others know that the mentor has stumbled and been less than perfect, they are encouraged to believe that they too can make progress in their lives. If the mentor seems to have it all together, then we might think, “I can never reach that point…I have too many flaws.” When we share the good and the bad, the ups and downs, then we offer hope and encouragement. “If she or he did that, or went through that trial, then maybe I can endure this too.”
Many people in business have been called on to be a mentor, or to receive a mentor. For women and minorities, the mentor has often been someone who has pioneered in that position and is thus a great resource for those who come after. A mentor instructs, of course, but the greatest benefit comes from the mentor’s moral qualities, his or her inner integrity and strength of character.
We are left in no doubt about how the apostle’s transformation occurred. He attributes all to the mercy of God. In the book of Acts we learn of Paul’s Damascus road experience. His encounter with the risen Christ was a lightning bolt. He had been on his way to destroy a Christian community, convinced that he was doing God’s will. By divine intervention, the persecutor was changed into a follower of Christ. Paul received a mentor himself—Ananias, who assisted him until his eyesight returned.
Because of his past brutality, Paul considered himself the worst of sinners. Objectively, we might say, “No, Paul, whatever you did, you’re not the worst.” Yet, for each of us, there is good reason to admit the depth of our lostness apart from God’s grace. We are all the “worst”, and we by faith are all the focus of God’s amazing grace.
The life story of John Newton is reflected in the famous hymn he wrote. His conversion from slave-trader and all-around horrible person to devout Christian and abolitionist has inspired generations. Some fault his too-slow rejection of his former “career.” But the hymn speaks to many about their own faith journey, and their own being lost-and-found. Newton’s mother was a powerful influence on him. She was a mentor, and her voice of faith and kindness spoke to him even through the years of his moral degradation. Such is the power of a good mentor.
Today it is increasingly recognized that mentoring is not a one-way street from old and wise to young and inexperienced. Many of us who are getting along in years have been, if not mentored, then at least instructed, by much younger friends in the ways of technology, smart phones, and computers. More than this, we have much to learn from the faith and courage of those who have been on the planet for a far briefer time. I am often struck by the joy, love, and gratitude that seem to pour spontaneously out of a certain 6-year-old in my life. “Oh, Grandma, this meal is so good. Thank you for making it.” And, triggered by nothing in particular: “Grandpa, I love you so much!” It makes me wonder, “Was I ever that openly thankful. Did I ever express my love that forthrightly?” Actually I don’t need to wonder—I wasn’t, and I didn’t. So I’m being mentored by a 6-year-old.
Mentors-young, old, in-between-are being placed in our path in a God-directed way. They might even be people who died long ago. Tony Bennet cites Martin Luther King as a personal mentor. Our mentors could be people from the pages of scripture. Jesus was and is a true Mentor, for his disciples and for us, if we will study and heed his words. The author Parker Palmer tells of a point in his life when he realized he had no living mentor, but was being guided by figures from an earlier time, and was also his own mentor to a degree.
At the end of this section, Paul urges Timothy to fight the good fight, “having faith and a good conscience.” Paul knew that our conscience can be an asset, or it can trip us up. A God-influenced conscience can guide us, if we heed its voice. “Some,” writes Paul, “by rejecting conscience, have made shipwreck of their faith.” This can happen, if we fail to listen to the inner voice saying, “Don’t do that.” On the other hand, our conscience might accuse us of sins we’ve already been forgiven for. Faith says No to these self-accusations, and affirms the total grace of God in Christ. “Nope—I’m covered for that.” We say to a weak conscience, “Forgiven—fully, freely, now and forever.”
A friend had agreed to look in on our dogs for ONE day while we traveled to Wisconsin and back. I put the food in their bowls—all the friend had to do was put the bowls down at meal time, then let them out the back door. Simple, right? Except, when we got home that night, the bowls were still up on the counter, full, and the dogs hadn’t been let out. (I won’t say how we knew that.) The dogs were fine, but I was a little surprised. For our friend, though, it became a real thing. He felt guilty, and avoided us for several days—weeks, really. Finally, he came over and apologized. By this time I had nearly forgotten about it. I was deeply touched by the apology, because I know how hard it is to apologize to anyone about anything. With the apology, relationship was restored—no more avoidance—conscience cleared. Then I let the dogs out to greet him, and they were so happy to see him. I told the dogs, this is the guy who didn’t feed you--and they bit him. Just kidding, of course.
If you’ve had some mentors along the way, you know the value. Does someone look to you for the example you set? Is there someone older or younger that we can be learning from, and/or be mentored by? This too is part of our Christian calling.